The Busy Badge

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Earlier this week I heard a co-worker say something surprising.

“In my old department, we used to have a scheduled time once a week when the entire department shut down, we were all in our offices, and we caught up on our professional reading, did some training, or something to improve our skills.  No email, no phone calls, just learning time.”

Confession – the first image that popped into my mind was a Mad Men scene – you know, someone (probably a partner) stretched out on a fabulous mod sofa, thoughtfully swirling some amber liquid (not diet coke) in a short glass.  Close the department?  For two whole hours?  To learn? Can you imagine your co-workers’ reactions?

Of course, it’s really not that absurd, when you think about it.  I don’t know about you, but I do most of my learning in micro-bits.  Teeny-tiny-tweets, email digests (and yes, I usually only read the half of the summary that shows up on my smart phone), scans of articles and news while I eat my lunch.  It’s not real learning.  And yet the idea of shutting down for two hours sounds, well, decadent if not downright drinking-at-work unacceptable!

I think part of that reaction is a sort of peer-pressure.  We’re all so “busy”.  I’d be willing to bet if you work in an office you can’t make it through a day (or even an hour) without engaging in the “I’m so busy!!”  conversation, right?  Busy is a badge of honor.  It’s a symbol of power, importance, desirability. Busy is the new norm.  But I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  We have so much information at our fingertips – literally – and yet we have a hard time finding time to make good use of it.

I’m not sure I can yet imagine how we could all reclaim that dedicated time to think, learn, get better at what we do, but maybe it starts with small steps.  Like carving out a few more minutes to finish that article or read that whole email digest.  Trade a little busy for better?

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