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Opening Monologue: Chronic Busyness Show

The following is a transcript of the opening monologue I do at the top of each show on WGN Radio. My show, the Saturday Night Special, is a single-topic program on which I discuss one topic all night. This week, I discussed chronic busyness. (Listen)


The simple “hello, how are you?” it’s innocent enough, it’s polite and expected of us when crossing paths with each other– but, the words we use in reply are nothing short of loaded. Say too much or answer too honestly and we risk making it awkward for all involved, and so, as is often the case, we complete the transaction of interaction with the simple, “great! How about you?”

But, there’s been a shift over the past few years, and it’s a troubling one. Rather than a pithy, cheery reply, we’re in the habit now of answering with a surprisingly complicated phrase and it is this: I’m crazy busy.

In three simple words, we bring up notions of expectations, productivity, capitalism, our core beliefs about leisure and laziness, our productivity and our value, about language and achievement, about, even narrative and reality. A recent-ish Gallup poll indicated a majority of Americans reported not having enough time for things they most wanted to do. So, what gives? We prize being busy as an ideal, yet, we aren’t getting around to the things we most want?

It’s fine to be busy, and it’s fine to have a week or two here and there that stretches our capacity, no doubt, but we’ve moved into a place that looks a lot more like chronic busyness, busyness as the default setting of our lives, in which we do what’s more immediate and not what we most want, and to not be busy suddenly means we’re either, say, lazy and unambitious at one end of the spectrum or terminally affluent at the other end, not say, just a person who took care of the things on her list and had time left over to relax. That seems a bit broken.

So pervasive is the assumption that busy equals value and status that we even use it as both an excuse and a compliment when we want to ask someone a question. Think about it– how many emails have you gotten that open– Hi, I know you’re busy…

And, we’re burning out. A recent study by Kronos, and published in Forbes, polled US HR leaders and 95% of them indicated employee burnout is gutting the workforce, causing high employee dissatisfaction and turnover rates. And, demands, particularly around work hours scored high as a culprit.

So, busy-ness is real, but is the way we talk and think about how busy we are contributing, if not downright prizing and rewarding the culture of too-busy? Is living in a state of constant stress helping anyone? And, are we as overwhelmed as we think? That’s what we aim to find out tonight. And, maybe expand our thinking on the matter a little too. After all, shouldn’t we value our being more than our doing? Let’s think about that.

I’m Amy Guth and that’s all coming up tonight on the Saturday Night Special on 720 WGN.

(Break for show opener music)

Tonight we are talking about the notion of chronic busyness– yes, people are busier than ever before, and yes, hundreds of lights and ads and tasks and pings and bells compete for our attention in a given day, but what’s it all for? And is the way we’re talking about our activity and productivity levels making it worse?

The bigger question here, too, is– what does it say about us, as a culture, to put so much value on activity over achievement, over doing over being? Perhaps quite a lot.

As ever, we’ll have guests joining us to talk about different aspects of this topic– Jon Jachimovcz, Columbia University PhD candidate will join us to dive into history, psychology, and narrative that came to create the culture of the chronically busy, Laura Vanderkam, author or “I know how she does it” will join us to talk about her book, her radical experiment with time, and to challenge us– indeed, she says we have a whole lot more time than we think. We’ll also be joined by psycholoist Dr. Lisa Kaplin, to help us dig into what motivates us to stay busy in both the positive and negative sense, and Fast Company writer Vivian Giang will join us to talk about the health implications of being busy.

And, of note, in planning this show, and talking about it with others, the reaction for many was a defensive one. How precious our busyness is to us, when it represents so much. So, with open minds, let’s get into it.

We’ll be right back to get the conversation underway, on 720-WGN.

(Listen to full show)