Thursday, August 11, 2022

Busy, Busy World!

Saying you are "Super-Busy" is a way of claiming importance for people who really aren't.

Mark always use to mock the Real Estate Hair Hags at his office. "I'm so BUSY!" they would say, mostly with make-work tasks and unnecessary errands.  You have to go to Starbucks, get the car washed, take the kids to their Tuba recital and Rugby tournament, and get home in time to make dinner for hubby!  So busy!

It is a way for people to say, "I'm important!" when they really aren't.

In other words, a way of coping.  It's also a way of manipulating others.  The "Busy" person can push their tasks off on someone else, on the grounds they are "busy."  Workers can avoid additional work by claiming busyness.  It is a rather convenient get-out-of-jail-free card for a lot of people in the working world.  It also is a way to make  your boss feel you are working hard.  "How's it going, Carol?"  "BUSY!!"   That Carol, such a hard worker.   Fortunately the boss didn't see the Microsoft Solitaire running on her computer screen.

Busyness is also one of the distractors - a way of not thinking about the greater issues in life or where you life is going.  Who has time for that?  We're too busy!  It is akin to saying you have no time to steer the ship because you're repainting the deck chairs.   Busyness can be so distracting it can cause people to drive off a cliff.

A reader sends me this link to an oldie-but-goodie from the New York Times.  Boy, 2012 seems ages ago.  But I remember that era of Soccer Moms over-scheduling their children with multiple after-school activities - all of which required Mom to shuttle the kids back and forth via minivan.  You couldn't just come home from school and zone out in front of the television for three hours until dinner time, as my brother and I did for nearly a decade.  I watched every re-run of Hogan's Heroes and I'm a better man for it.

Or maybe not.

Since 2012, "Busy" has taken on a whole new meaning in this labor-shortage side-hustle "gig" economy.  "I'm so busy!" today doesn't mean getting a Starbucks but instead working a shift there, before doing your Uber hustle or perhaps Door Dash, before going to your regular job - at least for some folks these days.

People still "busy" themselves to drown out the deafening silence.  And busyness becomes competitive.  Back in my law firm days, lawyers worked maybe 40-48 hours a week.  But it became a competition in the race for Partnership (which never materialized for 90% of young Associates).  People humble-bragged about working 60 hours a week, then 70, then 80 - then numbers which were not physically possible, unless you were sleeping in your office or on mood-altering drugs.

Quite frankly, I found that the longer I worked, after a point, the less work I got done.  After a while, the brain just zones out and you need to unwind and do something else.  Particularly in the Patent business, the intellectual intensity of the intersection of Engineering and Law was sometimes exhausting.  I could come to work on Saturday or stay a couple of hours late, the effect was the same - I ended up just staring at the screen while the words there meant nothing.  I was done for the day.

Plus, I guess this concept of "hustle" or "flex" never appealed to me.  Working hard and putting in that extra effort for someone else's business in return for vague promises of raises, bonuses, or partnerships, seemed kind of stupid.  And as I noted, these unwritten promises were never fulfilledYou'd think lawyers would be smarter than that and get it in writing.  Law firms are the world's oldest pyramid scheme.

I started my own law practice not to hustle but to un-hustle.  My idea was to cut overhead (the 33% of billings that goes directly to partnership profit - plus the billable hours partners would "pad" onto a case while cutting yours) so that I could work less and work for less.  As a result, I was never for want of work and always had enough to do.  I also had a lot of free, unstructured time.  I was no longer competing with my coworkers as to who could be the best brown-noser in the firm - a game than no one actually won, but so many played.

Busy, Busy, Busy!  You can busy yourself right into the grave.

I think also there is another aspect to busy.   When Mark was selliing real estate in the early 2000's it was stupid-easy to make money and quite a lot of it, without much effort.  People were selling, people were buying.  Get a listing or get a contract, you get 3% or 6% if you get both.  With houses selling for astronomical prices in a matter of hours, there was not a lot of work involved - no listings that languished for months, no buyers who couldn't make up their mind.

I noted before that a lot of people in America make pretty obscene salaries for doing little or no work, or work that doesn't justify the salary.  Most support staff in any company is scandalously overpaid - I'm not talking about secretaries or janitors, but useless middle-managers, HR people, and "office managers" who often create more trouble than they solve, and take home six-figure salaries that even they don't think they deserve, deep down.  So to rationalize that they deserve all this bling, the tap into the 'busy" mantra.  They must be worth $250,000 a year, they are so busy!  Do you have any idea how long it takes me to leave the office, cross the street and wait in line at Starbucks for my mocha latte?  And I have o do this three times a day!   As my Cuban friend likes to say (among other things), "You do not know how hard I have it!"

Nailing one's self to the cross is one way of saying you matter.  This is not to say there aren't busy people, particularly these days when stores that staffed six people before the pandemic, are today staffing only two - and giving them the job responsibilities and quotas of the six.

But others, less so.  And maybe, if you run some big company and you want to reduce headcount, walk through the office and ask people how they are doing.  If they reply, "I so BUSY!" then fire them.  Because chances are, they either aren't all that busy, or are just poor planners.

It's a busy, busy world!