Like too many things in this era of social media and shameless self-promotion, busyness has become a status symbol. A cheap heuristic. Saying “I’m busy” is like flaunting your prestigious alma mater or job. It’s a way of signaling to the world: “Look at me. I’m important!”
Unfortunately, as with so many heuristics, the inference that someone’s important simply because they’re busy is often false. It’s fueled by a false premise and a false implication. The false premise is that busyness invariably yields a rich, fulfilling, meaningful, enriching life.
The false implication is that anyone who’s busy is busy with something worth busying oneself with.
In their new book, Make Time, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky label this obsession the busyness bandwagon. In doing so, they demonstrate why busyness is a false prophet: There are things you can see only when you slow down.
The same goes for things you can do.
Underlying Knapp and Zeratsky’s thesis is the paradox that technology is doing the opposite of granting us control over our chaotic world. Our tools have made us into their tools. We controllers have become the controlled.
As Knapp and Zeratsky write, our attention is scattered among a sea of “Infinity Pools” — tools like Facebook and Gmail that update constantly and, due to our human hunger for novelty, beckon constantly. Combined with the “Busyness Bandwagon,” technology offers us an easy way to feel productive without actually being productive, to signal ersatz productivity at the expense of real productivity.
It’s not difficult to discern the downsides of too much tech. Like cocaine or even coffee, technology is addictive because it promises a quick and easy dopamine fix.
If you think I’m exaggerating, ask a neuroscientist, or consider how excited you get when you see a Facebook notification. Indeed, technology may be even more dangerous than drugs because in addition to offering an illusion of control, it lacks the stigma associated with illicit substances. Yet technology’s harmful effects mimic those of the worst drug abuse; it can (1) cheapen social interaction while (2) scattering our attention, thereby changing our neurochemistry for the worse.
There are a ton of themes in Make Time, but two stand out: (1) If you hop off the “Busyness Bandwagon” and choose one or two tasks to focus on every day (the authors label these your “Highlights”), you’ll get more done; (2) if you eliminate “Infinity Pools,” limiting temptations like Facebook and email that in reality can wait but in fantasy seem urgent, you’ll also … get more done. And you’ll feel less exhausted — mentally and physically.
I’d say more, but I don’t want to ruin the book. So I’ll end on this note: I made time to read Make Time.
You should too.
Originally published on Medium. Republished with permission.
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