Working Instead of Staying Busy

Someone recently sent me an article that, among other things, lamented the busyness that people experience at their jobs and the amount of time and energy that this busyness wastes. The author’s goal was to get his readers to move from busyness to action, from working a job that may or may not pay the bills to finding ways to deal with weightier societal issues like the breakup of the republic, the mass extinction of many of earth’s animals, war, disease, famine … the list goes on.

The author pointed out that many people discovered during the pandemic that their jobs involved far
more busyness than accomplishment. From picking out appropriate work clothes to sitting in traffic to
finding a parking space, workers found that they could accomplish just as much by staying home as they
could by going to work. And all that time was saved before they even started working. Once they added
on the time saved by avoiding interruptions by coworkers and other workplace inconveniences, they
had to come to terms with how much of their lives had been wasted with activity that produced

The article went on to examine how this realization may have influenced many people to resign their
jobs to find something more fulfilling. At least, I think that’s what it might have said. I stopped reading
because my mind had wandered off in a different direction. I had begun thinking about my past jobs at
agencies that “served” the homeless, and how many times our clients told my co-workers and I that we
were “only in it for the money”. Since none of us expected to make millions working in social services,
we often got offended (or at least amused) by these comments.

But our clients had a point. We were getting paid a reasonable wage (complete with health insurance,
PTO, and other benefits) to fill out forms, attend meetings, make phone calls, and anything else that
would get our clients into housing. But they were still homeless. They understood that we were
benefitting from them being homeless much more than they were benefitting from cooperating with us.
In other words, we were staying busy, but we weren’t working, and we were part of a system that
wasn’t working.

This scenario gets repeated in other industries every day. I’ve seen many people in all kinds of jobs who
know what they are supposed to do, but they seem clueless about why they are supposed to do it. They
run lawnmowers over the grass thinking their job is to cut grass, not to make the lawn look good. They
conduct employee satisfaction surveys because management books say that’s what successful
companies do, not because they want a happy and engaged workforce that will want the company to

I doubt the pandemic is going to grant great insights to individual workers who don’t put a lot of thought
into their jobs, but I think there is a lot of hope for those who do think about what they want to
accomplish, whether in their jobs or in their personal lives. For all those who are doing do more than
just keep themselves busy, there will be a sense of pride and of purpose in their efforts. For all the
frustrations we’ve endured, we can at least hope that we experience the joy of meeting some people
who truly enjoy and excel at what they do.

by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong

This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.