Do you accept the idea that being very busy equals good, being very busy equals important, being very busy equals success? These ideas are the foundation of what’s been termed the ‘cult of busy’.
The reasons behind this glorification of busy seem to range from just plain self-important one-upmanship to overcommitment driven by worry about future prospects and a need to prove your worth. It’s pervasive on social media where it’s dropped in humblebrag-like or displayed like a trophy.
Among new library professionals the pressure to ‘be busy’ is great, perhaps down to a) feeling a need to outshine in an increasingly perceived fragile job market, b) fear of a lack of professional recognition from those outside the field, and c) demands for continuous measurement and justification of workers time. Take a look back at Kirsten-Rose’s How Much is Too Much? for more insight into some of the reasons behind taking on additional study or work in LIS.
Back in the 1930s Bertrand Russell was trying to persuade us that too much work was a bad thing for everybody. ‘In Praise of Idleness‘ argued that nothing could be more ridiculous than the kind of situation where advances which should have halved working time have instead unnecessarily doubled production. Work is good, having a purpose is necessary, but work purely for the sake of work is ridiculous.
As a new professional not only can you be vulnerable to the cult of busy, but this pressure can inevitably lead to overcommitting – when you ‘say yes to everything’ to show what an enthusiastic, able, capable new professional you are. While it’s great to get experience of different types of work and learn new things, it’s all too easy to take on too much and find that you’ve overcommitted, as well as finding that you’re doing too much work on things with little real importance. This now becomes the opposite to what you were aiming for – you have too much to do and you can’t do any of it well enough – and can lead to burnout.
In LIS? Believe it – there’s a whole blog, ‘Librarian Burnout‘, dedicated to this issue. Stress and burnout were also discussed during #lismentalhealth week and tweets under the hashtag on Twitter are well worth checking out for info and advice, including links to blog posts like Laura Schimdt’s excellent article on the pressure to say yes to everything in order to remain competitive, resources including a list of zines, and a storify of the related #uklibchat on resilience in the workplace.
“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” – Lin Yutang
Just as having no focus in life can feel bad, it also isn’t good for your health to be too busy and it’s bad for your work in general. Resisting excessive business and overcommitting is good time management, and this should be praised. Perspective and priorities are the key things to keep in focus rather than the amount of hours or tasks. Why do you work? Why do you do the type of work you do? What are you aiming to achieve? What are your values and beliefs? Just as you schedule in time to complete your work-related tasks, schedule in time for your other priorities like family, friends, you-time. Keep a balance.In practice there’s usually only a certain level of autonomy over the work we do, but as far as possible rather than aiming to fill the day with work alone, or populating stats on how much ‘stuff’ is being done, aim to fill the day with meaningful achievement, work that first and foremost aligns with our values and ethics as LIS professionals. Meaningful work, work with a purpose, should be what we are aiming for rather than just ‘more work’.