How Relentless Prioritization Can Transform the Way We Work
Don’t be trapped in a perpetual time famine
Happy Independence Day! I hope you get to take some time off. But if you’re like a lot of Americans, you’re just too busy, which is why we leave over 700 million vacation days unused every year. The cult of busyness doesn’t take off for the summer.
It might seem like an inevitable fact of life, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes published a paper entitled “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren,” meant to provide an optimistic counterpoint to the “prevailing world depression.” Economic progress, driven by “technological improvements,” was going to be so rapid that “100 years hence,” the grandchildren of his generation would be enjoying a three-hour work day. “For the first time since his creation,” Keynes wrote, “man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem — how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.”
As we all know, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. Yes, Keynes was right about the coming age of science and technology, but the life they’ve produced for the grandkids is less the triumph of leisure than the triumph of busyness. Our problem isn’t what to do with all of our free time, it’s how to keep up with our inboxes. “I’m slammed” has practically become the default greeting. Variations on the theme include “I’m swamped” and “I’m underwater” and “I’m drowning.” In any other context, hearing these from a friend would prompt you to call 911. Now it’s just a way of saying “I live in the modern world and I’m overwhelmed with demands on my time.”
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