Make Time Poverty History! The Cult of Being Busy

Good morning Agnes, how are you? You know how it is, busy, busy, busy … Have you read my latest proposal? No sorry, I am very time poor.

Make Time Poverty History! The Cult of Being BusyAs affluence has spread across Australia and parts of the rest of the world, time seems to be the new frontier of poverty. When asking the average professional what is happening in their life, the word ‘busy’ is frequently uttered. If they seek your sympathy, the superlative neologism Time Poor is used.

The underlying message is that, although these time poor people are financially wealthy, we should feel sorry for them as they equate themselves with the poor people of the world. They are, however, not poor cash poor, but time poor. We need to establish a charity and sell white sympathy wristbands:


Time Poverty is, however, more often than not a self-induced state of mind and not an actual state of affairs. It is not about a factual lack of available time, but the perception of a lack of available time. Being time poor and being busy has almost become a status symbol in what Scott Berkin describes as the Cult of Busy:

“That simply by always seeming to have something to do, we all assume you must be important or successful. It explains the behaviour of many people at work. By appearing busy, people bother them less, and simultaneously believe they ‘re doing well at their job.”

For some strange reason, as Berkin points out, a manager with a long line of people at her door will command respect, but a long line at a supermarket register will create frustration.

The Cult of Busy has a large following and has spawned numerous courses and books for managers seeking to squeeze more productive minutes out of a day. A manager I worked with some years ago was always busy, but never seem to achieve much. He decided to sign up for a time management course. Unfortunately, he was so busy that he forgot to attend the course!

forgot to attend a time management course.

Being busy is a status symbol for the apparently successful manager. If you are not busy or if you have enough spare time to speak to people, you are obviously not very good at what you do, is the subconscious reasoning.

Sadly, accompanying the new Cult of Busy, is also an abundance of guides available to support this hyperactive charade. WikiHow even provides a comprehensive program for those who want to join the ranks of the apparent time poor:

  • Know what the standards are (so you just meet them).
  • Create the illusion of furious activity (somewhat messy desk, lots of windows open on your computer, post it notes around the monitor).
  • Ask lots of intelligent questions to make each task appear more complicated than it is.
  • Be alert and watch out for ‘big brother’.
  • Carry a backup prop or document and make sure you have a cover story ready.
  • Send packages to yourself with documents to ‘review’.
  • Have personal conversations and phone calls away from your workspace.
  • Don’t brag to anyone that you’re doing any of the above.

In contrast, a lucid manager is never time poor but takes control over the available time to them. A Lucid Manager might have a lot to do but rarely says “I don’t have time” or “I am busy”. A Lucid Manager works efficiently and does not choose to live in false poverty but leads a productive life full of achievement.

Next time when you are very busy, and somebody asks a question, don’t brush them off by saying your busy but listen to their needs.

2 thoughts on “Make Time Poverty History! The Cult of Being Busy

  1. Time poor is not half as drammatic as the ‘time starved’ phrase I’ve heard on countless occassions. The point u make here is so true though

  2. You’re right Kat, ‘time starved’ takes it to a whole new level! I think that if I ever get to the point where I feel ‘time starved’ I’d look back fondly on the days that I was merely ‘time poor’.

    I wonder what you feed someone who is time starved?

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