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Inteview: The Cult of Busyness

Inteview: The Cult of Busyness

Move over, caffeine and nicotine; there's a new addiction in town. Canadian career self-management expert Barbara Moses suggests that the latest bad habit to hit turn-of-the-century society is busyness. Moses, president of Toronto-based BBM Human Resource Consultants Inc. and author of Career Intelligence: The 12 New Rules for Work and Life Success (Berrett-Koehler, 1998) and Career Planning Workbook (BBM, 1995), contends that most of today's workforce is trapped in a "cult of busyness" that is forcing us to forfeit other parts of our lives in favour of work. CIO recently spoke with Moses about her theory.

CIO: What do you mean by the "cult of busyness"?Moses: We're all leading these overcommitted, hyperbolic lives and juggling incredible demands on all fronts. We wear our busyness like a badge of honour.

Never before have there been so many demands on us, yet never before have we had less time to rise to these new challenges. Call anyone and they'll say, "It's so crazy" or "I'm so busy, you wouldn't believe it." But we're paying a huge price for this busyness.

CIO: What are we losing?

Moses: We're losing the ability to be introspective. We're defining ourselves by our busyness. We've so generated the concept of busyness that one general manager recently told me, "When I'm thinking, I sit with my fingers poised on the keyboard so nobody knows I'm just thinking." We've become intoxicated with being busy.

CIO: How did we get to this point?

Moses: The pressures to be productive have gone through the stratosphere, so the bar keeps going higher and higher. People say, "If you can work 80 hours a week, why can't you work 85?"CIO: What role does technology have in perpetuating the cult of busyness?Moses: It's a huge enabler. It's just one more way people can get through to you. It's too easy to fire off an e-mail or a voice mail without thinking, just to get something out of your in-tray and into someone else's. And high-tech people are particularly willing to do that, to pull all-nighters.

CIO: Are younger generations looking at this differently from older generations?Moses: There's no question that twentysomethings are questioning the effort-reward equation. A lot of children of career-obsessed parents are cynical. They're saying, "I don't want to be like that." And they're starting to push back, much to the consternation of fortysomething CEOs.

CIO: What can we do to resist the cult of busyness?Moses: We can protest. We can refuse to become an active player in this cult.

We can ask ourselves, "To what end am I working? What am I accomplishing?" We can use more thought before we act and ask ourselves if our acting is leading to achieving. And we can ask ourselves what we're sacrificing. When you're 70, are you going to remember that meeting at Starbucks with your boss at 7 on a Saturday morning?

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