Ours is a culture that idolises speed. We assume cramming as much work into as little time as possible, moving through life with relentless haste and busyness to be unquestionably virtuous choices.
When you ask someone how they are doing and they reply “I’m so busy,” what do you say? My reply is often “I’m sorry to hear that,” which I know throws some people. But, I don’t feel busyness is something to be admired. On the contrary it seems like a kind of misfortune and certainly not a sustainable frame of mind.
Full Is Not The Same As Busy
Busyness implies a feeling of having more tasks to do than the time available to do them. It’s like having bills to pay that total more than what you have in the bank. When we decline a task by saying “I’m busy” or even describe the engaged sound on a phone line as the “busy tone” we are suggesting there is a limit to what is possible, to how many tasks we can undertake, or how many people we can speak to at one time.
But, is this feeling inevitable? Sure, life sometimes throws us more than we can manage. But, just as often, perhaps more often, being overcommitted is another way of saying, we are poorly committed, unclear about the choices we want to make, or their importance to us.
I’m a firm believer in living a full and rich life. I like when my work takes up every spare moment I have. It’s a satisfying feeling, especially if you love what you do. But, it takes a little work to organise oneself to keep the pace of work right. It’s tempting sometimes to just react to what comes in, via email and social media, cut corners, be lazy and then complain about being “busy.”
It Takes Time
Here’s a video that taps into what I’m trying to say. I’m a huge fan of the guitar repair store Stewart-Macdonald and, in particular, their tutorial videos, many of which feature well known guitar tech, Dan Erlewine.
In this video, Erlewine shows us an ingenious way to repair a scratch on a guitar body. What impresses me is not just how fast he does this, but also the care and detail in the preparing for the task. While talking about preparing sanding blocks, Erlewine says,
“It takes time. If your too lazy to do it, you won’t get as good a result.”
Even though this is a relatively quick repair job, Erlewine is encouraging us to take the time to write down numbers on sanding strips, make proper sanding blocks and generally pay attention to the task at hand. This is the difference between being a craftsman and being a hack.
Do Something You Are Proud Of
I sometimes wonder if the focus of our culture leans too heavily on feeling good about our work regardless of how good the work actually is. Short term happiness is allowed to triumph over long term quality.
But, there’s a lot to be said for the satisfaction and contentment that comes from attention to detail and patient craft, from what we used to call “doing something you’ll be proud of.” Of course, such a mindset asks us to stop viewing what we do as the cranking out of endless, disposable, consumer decisions and instead, focus on fewer, more lasting and more meaningful choices.