Weekly Thoughts


Weekly Thoughts: Busy Busy

Here is one thing that caught our eye this week:

Busy Busy

We sometimes notice that we talk about jam-packed days and sleep-deprived nights as if the number of hours worked in any given week is a badge of honor. Accordingly, this week we spent time reading about the drivers of this tendency as a cultural phenomenon. For instance, we readily identify with Harvard Business Review’s observation that “In today’s America, complaining about being busy and working all the time is so commonplace most of us do it without thinking. If someone asks ‘How are you?’ we no longer say ‘Fine’ or ‘I’m well, thank you.’ We often simply reply “Busy!’”

To help us understand why we may use “Busy!” as an automatic response, we were keen to stumble across some Columbia Business School research which outlined ways in which the overworked lifestyle has actually become somewhat of an aspirational status symbol. The research, titled Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol, outlined various experiments gauging the degree of this dynamic by having participants compare individuals based on their allocation of time in certain situations. The allure of busyness is so powerful that the research showed even actions such as using food delivery services (as opposed to shopping for oneself) or handsfree headphones (as opposed to holding the phone to one’s ear) were seen as the higher social status choices.

In contrast to conspicuous consumption in the traditional sense (when people spend money on products to signal status), the authors posit that in our current knowledge-based economy, conspicuous consumption in relation to time is a useful tool to project status and importance. From the research abstract:

“A series of studies shows that the positive inferences of status in response to busyness and lack of leisure are driven by the perceptions that a busy person possesses desired human capital characteristics (competence, ambition) and is scarce and in demand on the job market. This research uncovers an alternative kind of conspicuous consumption that operates by shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals.”

Interestingly, the research also notes how status related to busyness changes based on perceptions of social mobility. Put simply, if you believe hard work can translate into getting ahead, you are more likely to view busyness as aspirational. The Chenmark team wholeheartedly believes and embraces the idea that a certain amount of grinding is necessary to get things done. However, we also believe in being efficient. Our research this week is an important reminder to avoid viewing jam-packed schedules as ends in themselves or as opportunities to build social capital. Instead, we should aim to be deliberately busy when necessary while allowing for leisure time when it is available, even if it costs us a couple of status points.

Columbia, HBR, Quartz


Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Capital Team

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