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Addicted to Busyness? Yes or no?

INTEGRITY BEAT - Henry Schumacher - The Freeman

Ever since humans have learned to write, we have documented how special we are and how we differ from other animals. Imagination, morality, and culture are traits thought to only be found in humans.

Another aspect that seems to be uniquely human is the need to keep busy. Most animals would be happy if their basic needs are met: food, shelter, rest. In contrast, we humans don’t like to stay idle. Even if it means falling prey to the illusion of productivity.

The Need to Keep Busy

In a research study about busyness and idleness, scientists asked participants to go deliver a survey in one of two locations which they could choose from.

The first option was nearby, allowing people to complete the task quicker, come back to the research center, and wait, doing nothing (the idle option); the second option was far away, with very little time to wait once they’d come back (the busy option).

Which option did people choose? Turns out, it depended on one small element: whether or not they had a justification—even if only specious—to choose the “busy” option.

The participants were told they were going to get a piece of chocolate as a reward. If they were told the chocolate would be the same regardless of the option they picked, only 32% of participants chose the faraway location. But if they were told they would get milk chocolate at one location and dark chocolate at the other, 59% picked the “busy” option.

It doesn’t seem that groundbreaking at first, but the implications are profound: as humans, we tend to do whatever it takes and to use any justification to keep busy, even if the task is meaningless. In the words of the scientists behind the study: “Our research suggests that many purported goals that people pursue may be merely justifications to keep themselves busy.”

Busyness and the Illusion of Being Productive

Being busy does not equal being productive. When I get distracted by email notifications or when I check social media in the middle of writing an article, the interruption may give me the illusion of being busy. It will take longer to write the article because I keep breaking my state of flow. I will feel like I have worked all afternoon on something, when in reality I just didn’t manage to focus enough to get it done quicker.

By feeling constantly busy, I also don’t leave room for pure creative thinking—instead, I’m filling my brain with external stimuli to give it something to do. As the study I mentioned earlier shows, it feels good. We like being busy. It’s reassuring. But it doesn’t mean it’s good for us.

Getting Off the Hamster Wheel

Breaking our addiction to busyness doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require a conscious mindset shift. Having more free time is something we say we want, but it’s going against our deeply rooted fear of being alone with our thoughts and facing the reality of our lives. That’s why it can be liberating, but also pretty scary. Here are some simple changes you can implement:

1. Change your perspective. First, stop saying “I don’t have time”. Instead, say “It’s not a priority.” Remind yourself that there is enough time in a day to do the things you care about.

2. Less doing, more achieving. Don’t measure productivity in terms of how many tasks you get done, but rather in terms of doing the ones that matter. Clean up your to-do list. Shift your focus from tasks to outcomes.

3. Start saying no. Don’t take stuff on just because someone asked you. Question whether this new task will translate into meaningful outcomes. It may be strange at first (you could say “not right now” instead of “no” if that’s easier) but it will help you better manage your time.

4. Make peace with inaction. To help you get comfortable with doing nothing, schedule time with yourself for dedicated downtime. Reflect or take a short walk.

Reclaiming your time to focus on what really matters can have a big impact on where you will be one year from now. All these moments we spend on irrelevant and meaningless tasks to avoid being alone with ourselves can be used for thinking, exciting work, or time spent with loved ones. It all adds up pretty quickly, so getting rid of the illusion of productivity is worth the initial discomfort of confronting our own thoughts.



In conclusion, we must make the important decision whether we really want to be addicted to Busyness. I would love to hear from you where you see your future. Being busy and productive is certainly attractive; but imagination, morality, and culture are traits also found in humans. Email me at [email protected]

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