People’s Endless Need to Stay Busy Even During Lockdown
Thu, October 21, 2021

People’s Endless Need to Stay Busy Even During Lockdown


Amid the current lockdown, many people complain of being bored. / Photo by Ekkaratk via Shutterstock


Being busy is not just a lament or excuse anymore. It has become a badge of honor or a sign of status. When asked “How are you?” the standard answer has become “Busy!” instead of “Fine, thanks.” It has become a prevailing belief that if one is not busy, they are not hard-working or are not important. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed people’s endless urge to remain busy.


Busyness, a status symbol

University College Dublin’s professor of philosophy Brian O’Connor, who authored the book "Idleness: A Philosophical Essay," said in an interview with news station WBUR that there is that kind of busyness that is dedicated to establishing an identity or making a name whether that be a personality, professional, presence, or a social media identity. There is that need for relentless visibility.

Yet, O’Connor believes that building visibility is also probably one of the most stressful things that many people put themselves in. This is because it is highly dependent on whether one wants to look at you or consider you as someone worth looking at. An escape from such a way of thinking is a “liberating possibility,” he added.

O’Connor welcomes the idea of reducing busyness to have more space for meaningful change in our life but he also has doubts. This is because we have come into such a place not by accident but by training, education, a process of social evolution, and socialization. It has become deeply ingrained in almost all of us.



Keeping busy amid coronavirus pandemic

Amid the current lockdown, many people complain of being bored. But it is a sign that a person does not know how to spend their time in a way that would satisfy them. This is because people do not have much experience of spending so much of their time by their initiative. We have been so used to being given tasks and accomplishing these tasks that are in front of us. Those labeled as successful people are the ones who can determine the tasks and finish them impressively and quickly. Remember, however, that we are humans of a certain type.


Meaningfulness and busyness: are they the same?

Duke University professor of Islamic studies Omid Safi also opined he would rejoice if everyone finds that the work they do is something that gives a sense of meaning to their life. However, he is not persuaded by others' way of thinking that meaningfulness and busyness are the same.  A person can be busy all the time but that does not necessarily mean being engaged in particularly meaningful things.

For instance, when you listen attentively to another person or sit down with a loved one, it may not look busy at the moment but it is one of the most meaningful things that one could be doing. He added that a lot of us, himself included, were raised into measuring our contribution through the extent of the meaningful difference that we contribute to the society but this should not come at the expense of reflection.



Refocusing on the real world

Before the global health crisis, Stanford professor Jenny Odell also highlighted in her book "How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy" how to redirect our attention towards our natural surroundings and resist the profit-driven digital landscape. She also permitted her readers to be in a place, in their body, and to be human. She encouraged people to notice things they have not noticed before. For instance, when you begin paying attention to a population of a certain type of bird in your neighborhood, you can notice when they’re gone one year and how that creates a difference than simply reading about climate change. Reading a book about natural disasters is important but the Earth needs a more “credible demand” of our attention.


Average working hours and hours spent in leisure and sports

While people feel busy, the working hours of people in the US have steadily decreased in the last seven decades. When the US government started keeping track in 1948, Americans worked at an average of 42.8 hours a week but now it went down to 38.7 hours per week. This is according to the Current Population Survey of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Those in the mining and logging sector have the highest weekly hours (3.1) as of April 2020 among private nonfarm payrolls. This is followed by the utility sector (42.6), nondurable goods (38.5), goods-producing (38.3), durable goods (38.1), wholesale trade (37.6), and financial activities (37.6). Full-time workers spent an average of 8.50 hours working on weekdays while part-time workers work 5.17 hours.

But numerous studies have shown that job stress is the major stress of American adults. The American Institute of Stress shares that the main causes of stress are workload (46%), people issues (28%), juggling work and personal lives (20%), and lack of job security (6%).

On an average day, nearly everyone age 15 and over engaged in some sort of leisure activity. Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.84 hours per day) of Americans, followed by socializing and communicating (0.64 hours),  participating in sports, exercise, and recreation (0.29 hours), relaxing and thinking (0.32 hours), playing games (0.28 hours), reading for personal interest (0.26 hours), and computer use for leisure, excluding games (0.18 hours).



Busy vs. productive

As we live in a world where internet connection and computing power are faster than ever before, we have become both overstimulated yet bored, connected yet isolated, and enriched yet empty at the same time. People dread idleness but busyness can also make one less productive. University of Michigan’s David Meyer conducted a study about how multitasking can slow one down and can increase their chances of making a mistake. Meyer said that interruptions and disruptions are a bad deal if we think of our brain’s ability to process information.

So, the next time you burn your valuable time doing things that are not important or necessary but you do it anyway just to shield yourself from the fear of failure or laziness, slow down. You might not like the consequences.