Busy Work

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As defined by Merriam-Webster:



: work that usually appears productive or of intrinsic value but actually only keeps one occupied

The definition of what constitutes busy work versus productive work varies in the eye of the beholder.  Whereas God created work before man sinned, work has been impacted by sin. The sweat of our brow, the harshness of toil and labor. It can sometimes make us question the validity of our efforts. This is why man invents tools; to increase our productivity with greater ease. With a better use of our time and energy.

I have an assortment of tools in my garage. The handsaw has its application, but so does my powersaw. What might take me minutes to cut by hand, takes seconds with my powersaw. It might take me 20 minutes to walk a mile, 6 minutes if I bike and less than a minute if I drive a car. We were created to make the most of our efforts.

That’s probably why, some work seems to have less value, not worth our time. When your employer asks you to do something that seems to you not the best use of your time, it’s good to take stock and evaluate the long-term impact that task assignment has on the goals of your job or the project at hand. 

Sometimes our perception of what constitutes busy work is influenced by several factors: time, effort, and attitude.

Time. Perhaps the task I’ve been asked to do will take me away from what I really want or need to do. Perhaps the task is actually beneficial work, but to me, it’s an interruption, not busy work.

Effort. Some work is hard. It takes a lot out of us; physically, mentally, or emotionally. We aren’t looking forward to putting in the effort; so we label it busy work instead.

Attitude. This one is probably the biggest culprit to one’s perception that certain tasks are busy work. How many times as a boy did mom ask me to take out the trash, and I complained? She always asked me at the most inconvenient times, which was when I was watching my favorite TV show, or playing with my Hot Wheels cars. 

“Mom! You’ve got to be kidding me! I was just in the middle of something very important!” I’d rebuff. Or, I’d fake a bad leg that I couldn’t walk out the curb with the trash cart. (And yet, 30 minutes later I could ride my bike down to the Quik Trip for an Icee!)

At issue is when you become a young adult with that first real-paying job, idealism can blur the lines between what is the glory side of your job with the ordinary, even mundane tasks that need to be done. Tasks essential to the work, but sometimes seem more of a nuisance than anything else. We falsely label it busy work and the next thing we know a cantankerous attitude starts oozing out of us. 

Frankly, in our tight labor market, we can construe what is legitimate tasks as busy work, playing that card with our employer, to get more out of him or shove that work to someone else. And, in those cases, someone ends up being the fall guy.

Here’s the deal about work of any kind, be it the glorious tasks or the menial ones we label busy work. What should be the attitude of a guy who says he follows Jesus when it comes to work?

Colossians 3:17 says And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In whatever I do. In the glorious parts of my job. In the mundane and yes, the things I dread about my job. All of it done to the glory of God, with thanksgiving.

Easier said than, done, I know. Keep in mind, it’s not you trying harder to do the work. It’s allowing Christ to live through you as you do the work. 

Granted, there is such a thing as busy work. Oxford Dictionary defines it as “bogus work”. Work that has nothing to do with what you are supposed to be doing. Like, rearranging the deck chairs, rewashing the clean dishes, checking your emails after you did five minutes ago, and scrolling reels on social media. There are times when real work has a lull. Sometimes we busy ourselves to look productive. At some point, real work will either pick back up or in an employment situation we get laid off.

How would Jesus do your job? 

If your employer assigned a mundane task to Jesus, would he push back, show some attitude, and take his sweet time getting that task done?

You and I both know the answer to that!

Sometimes I label a task as busy work because I do not see how it fits into the bigger picture. It is a matter of seeing the end game to understand the smaller task that at first impression seems to be more of an interruption than a key part of what we are accomplishing.

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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