Busier is not better
Views 5 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 10 - 2 - 2019 | By: Nathan Tudor
“Well *I* stayed up until 3AM to finish my homework!”
While most folks seem to have left this phrase in high school, the underlying sentiment lurks everywhere: the insidious notion that the more plates you can spin at a time, the more units you can take, the more jobs you can work — all of it goes into some sort of unseen calculus of your value as a student, as an employee, even as a person.
Odds are, all (or most) of us have encountered the belief that the more we do, the more we fill our Google Calendars or stay in the library until closing, the more we are worthy of respect or praise. It’s certainly a belief that I held when I arrived at Westmont, and it’s taken me years to get to a point where I can admit it’s a toxic attitude rather than a noble one. This mentality is harmful because it redefines our humanity in accordance with productivity and results.
To clarify, I have nothing against productivity, efficiency, or even busyness: work is good and inherent to the human condition, and there is something undoubtedly energizing and motivating about accomplishing a task. Our species’ capacity to get stuff done has brought about artistic, technological, and cultural achievements that will long stand as testaments to the power of human will and ingenuity.
However, something has gone deeply wrong when we start to act proud of how little time we have for relationships, food, and rest. When we normalize constant overwork, fatigue, and burnout as though they are indications of a strong work ethic rather than the sign of a grossly unbalanced schedule, we implicitly state that work is the most important thing we can do with our time. Note that I’m not referring to genuine laments about workload, but to self-important boasts and humble brags. It’s as though suffering and overcommitment have become badges of honor.
While we may live in academic and economic environments that esteem constant labor and big results, the effects on our wellbeing do not bode well. Humans are not wired to be constantly productive; we need cycles of rest and rejuvenation. Without this balance, harm to physical and mental health is inevitable — and, ironically, only makes us less productive.
“But I feel lazy and terrible if I’m not productive — I need to reach my full potential!” you might respond. I understand that impulse — but gut reactions are not inherently accurate. Various scientific studies conducted by institutions such as Stanford University and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health show that humans work *better* when we have time away from work to rest. In other words, constant busyness does more harm to productivity than good.
The real challenge, it seems, is not taking on five classes with four extracurriculars and three part-time jobs. Rather, we face the challenge of containing our work within proper boundaries, the challenge of remembering how to rest. To paraphrase a quote often attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, we are human beings, not human doings. Let’s try to live like it.