“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, sang Andy Williams, a man as famous for his knitwear as his songs, for those who don’t know who the heck he is. I’d say “google him”, but you’re probably too busy. Not as busy as me, though, for I am World’s Busiest Woman, and never more so than in the week before Christmas. For while it might be the most wonderful time of the year in Andy Williams’ eyes, Andy Williams probably never had to produce Christmas. If he had, he might have sung about how it’s the most overworked, hectic, intense, strenuous, demanding, multi-tasking, too-busy-even-to-wee time of the year instead. Why, today alone, I’ve had to brine a ham, pick up a missed parcel from the unfeasibly far away Royal Mail depot and stop my kids from murdering each other. And then I have to bu... oh, forget it. Who cares?
There is nothing – nothing – more dreary than someone who bangs on about being busy all the time, as though he or she is the only person in the world who has too much to do. But wait. What’s this? I’m not the dreary, irritating cliche that I thought I was? I’m actually perceived as a dynamic, competent individual with high social status? Cool. Imma tell my kids. Right after I’ve unshackled myself from my cross and vacuumed up the pine needles from the stairs.
According to a study whose findings have just been summarised in The Harvard Business Review, we view people who are busy and working all the time as sought after, which enhances their perceived status. Via a series of experiments, researchers tested whether signalling “busyness” changes people’s social status. Participants were asked to read about someone who “works long hours and whose calendar is always full” versus someone who “does not work and has a leisurely lifestyle”, along with several other variations on these themes. They concluded that busy people = people with higher status.
“Busy” doesn’t always mean “important”: it can just as easily mean “addicted to Facebook"
I find these results a little depressing. It was only 100 years ago that leisure was the ultimate status symbol – not work. Even in the nineties, I seem to remember that the coolest people weren’t those who quested tirelessly after a promotion, but the ones who took the most holidays. “Travelling” wasn’t a euphemism for “underemployed”: it was a life goal. Work was simply a means to an end, and the end was fresh prawns, cheap beer and parties on a beach in Goa.
Speaking as a busy person surrounded by other busy people, I can conclusively confirm that the people who claim to be busiest are rarely the people who are. The busiest people I know wear their industry with nonchalance and good grace. “Busy” doesn’t always mean “important”: it can just as easily mean “addicted to Facebook with poor time-management skills”. The internet has provided us with infinite distractions, beamed to us via the very objects that should signify work. Only a fool would conclude that the person tap-tap-tapping on a laptop / smartphone is more industrious than the person staring into space. Social media isn’t an Excel spreadsheet: it’s God’s way of telling us we have too much time on our hands.
As for that army of World’s Busiest People, marching on to Christmas with a gin in one hand and a to-do list flapping from the other, don’t be too hard on them. Not all of them are reeling off their workload in a boasty way. Not all of them are thrusting captains of industry with an eye on the next pay rise or promotion. Not all of them are busy because they have big jobs and the commensurate power those bring. They might be nurses, carers, teachers, stay at home mums, staff on zero hours contracts or people simply overwhelmed by the insane, relentless, stomach-knotting, sleep-stealing pace of modern life. Maybe they don’t want a medal. Maybe they just want to be heard. They want to feel listened to, appreciated or even just made a cup of tea. If you’re not too busy.