Our Obsession with E-mail and “Busyness”—and Finding a Balance

October 3, 2012

Why do many of us need to check e-mail all the time? Why do many of us choose to work on e-mail and other things even in our free time? In other words, why are we so obsessed with busyness?

One view is we are trying to get ahead. It’s the competitive American way. We work hard to try to get the big rewards (or at least to keep up).

That may be true for some of us. Our constant busyness is part of a thought-out strategy to achieve more—for ourselves and our family.

But I wonder if for many of us, rather, this constant search for busyness is an attempt to fill a void. That for whatever reason, we have few other positive personal focuses in life that gives us a similar sense of purpose. To me, a recent New York Times opinion piece states this possibility well:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/

My point is not to disparage very busy people (believe me, I am one!). Rather, it’s to suggest that a bit of self-reflection may be useful every so often.

So maybe now is a good moment for that. Ask yourself, Why do I need to check e-mail every moment? Why do I need to jump on the work laptop when I get home in the evening? Am I truly passionate about my work—I truly love it—and so this near obsession is a good thing? Or am I trying to fill a void caused by the absence of other sources of true meaning in my life?

If after some self-reflection you decide it may be the latter, then it’s time to find that meaning! I leave how to find that up to you—there are no lack of sources for finding a positive purpose in life. If you do not know where to start, I discuss some ways in Chapter 14 of my 2010 book Master Your Workday Now.

But no matter how you do that, be sure to find a balance between work purpose and life purpose, you’ll be happier if you do!

Michael

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