Mental Busywork

I once worked at a small town grocery store. The work atmosphere was mostly pleasant and I liked my coworkers and the customers immensely. The single most unpleasant part of the job happened during slow business days. We had to “face shelves” that is use our feather dusters to remove dust, then bring product to the front edge of each shelf. We did this after we ran out of real work and our normal daily responsibilities were fulfilled. Most of us hated such busywork, but if the boss discovered we were idle, there would be unpleasant consequences. So most of us preferred days when we could actually perform useful, constructive tasks.

While remembering the act of “facing shelves” and other busywork I’ve done at jobs by pretending to by busy, I compared it to the mental busywork we do in order to pretend that we are not procrastinating or delaying an inevitable crisis situation. This pretense feels natural after awhile if you’re a busy person by nature.

We can use legitimate, productive work but too much of it as an escape from having to face urgent, more pressing personal issues. Because workaholism receives a nod from the business community, such mental busywork is a socially acceptable escape mechanism.

Although our personal lives may be neglected or falling apart, at least we’re busy as bees being productive in our business lives. This is especially innocuous if we do not know what to do with our lives. At least we can pretend that we’re doing something for society.

Using work as an escape is a common means of numbing. It’s self-perpetuating so we continue to stay so busy that we don’t have time to live our lives authentically. Of course, business is not the only place we perform busywork. We can do it in our off-duty times as well. It can even happen during meditation or self-evaluation. We get caught up in the pretense of not knowing what we really need to do. 

After awhile, it’s hard to shake the mental busywork and slow down to contemplate our authenticity or lack thereof. So, we continue to take the “easy way out” by pretending that we do not know what to do. However, deep inside, we know what we really need to do and face up to. We know that we need to stop the pretense and get down to brass tacks. We really need to do that one thing.

The time for busywork has ended. The real, honest tasks await. It’s no longer a slow day when we have to busy ourselves with “facing shelves”. It’s a work day and time to face the real business of living.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Bob Dylan. “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, philosophy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Mental Busywork

  1. Herb says:

    I always thought of “Facing shelves” as an important task that helped with sales.

    • swabby429 says:

      The store owner told us the same reason. However, most of us stock clerks craved “real” work instead. Eventually, I was promoted to produce manager, then frozen foods manager…those duties and the added responsibilities were pleasantly rewarding. Due to the promotions, I decided to remain employed at the store for an additional two-years.

      Thanks for commenting.

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