Busy work

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Chores such as mopping can be busy work.

Busy work (also referred to as make-work and busywork) can refer to activity that is undertaken to pass time and stay busy. In educational settings, busy work has precedence as a means to corroborate and reinforce lessons and curricula by allowing students time to practice newly learned skill-sets independently. Busy work also occurs in business, military and other settings, in situations where people may be required to be present but may lack the opportunities, skills or need to do something more productive. People may engage in busy work to maintain an appearance of activity, in order to avoid criticism of being inactive or idle.

Educational settings[edit]

In the context of education, busy work allows students to work independently, to test their own knowledge and skills, and to practice using new skills learned in the educational setting.[1] It can consist of various types of schoolwork assigned by a teacher to keep students occupied with activities involving learning and cognition while the teacher focuses upon another group of students.[1] The functionality of busy work is associated with levels of interest students have with the content of the work, levels of enjoyment students have in performing the work, how purposeful the work is, and how accomplishment of the work is perceived by students.[1] The perceived results of the work by students is significant: when students feel that they've succeeded in accomplishing a functional task, it's congruent with learning and the attainment of new skills.[1]

Busy work can also be used to keep the students occupied with educational tasks during idle times, such as instances when time in school remains but the day's curriculum has already concluded.[1] This application of busy work to consume idle time was common in primary education, but the need for work to have educational content, rather than existing just to consume time, is now preferred.[2]

Busy work has historical precedent in primary education. Entire books have been published that document various busy work activities and curricula per student grade levels, types of activities and how the work is associated with various types and stages of learning. Examples include Plans for Busy Work (published in 1901) and Education by Doing: Occupations and Busy Work for Primary Classes (published in 1909).

The assignment of homework to students over summer vacation between grades has been described by some[according to whom?] as potentially being busywork that may lack substance congruent with the processes of learning.[3]

Business and work settings[edit]

The constant processing of paperwork can be a form of busy work, particularly in situations when it is a lower priority compared to other tasks.

In business and work settings, people may engage in busy work simply to appear like they're being busy and productive, with the primary goal of actually simply maintaining an appearance of activity in efforts to protect their employment status (i.e. to avoid termination or sanctions).[4] Maintaining very high levels of constant busyness may actually be detrimental to the operations of a business or organization, in which new tasks are not undertaken in a timely manner due to workers already being in a state of continuously being very busy.[4] This can also lead to workers taking shortcuts to accomplish tasks more quickly, which can negatively affect the quality of work results.[4] Busy work also can be counterproductive in work settings because it may not be aligned with the overall objectives and priorities of an organization's plans for attaining and maintaining success in its ventures.[5]

Military settings[edit]

Busy work is used in armed forces to keep men from becoming bored, inactive and idle. Tasks of this sort include drill, spit and polishing footwear and other cleaning chores such as scrubbing the deck.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e (1901) Plans for busy work - Boston Primary Teachers' Association - Google Books
  2. ^ Paul Monroe (1910), "Busy work", A Cyclopedia of Education, p. 475 
  3. ^ Kursman, Idelle (July 13, 2012). "Busywork gets too costly in Wharton". Neighbor News. Retrieved September 5, 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c (2001) Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency - Tom DeMarco - Google Books
  5. ^ Kotter, John (January 19, 2012). "Why Busy Work Doesn't Work". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  6. ^ Randall M. Miller (2009), The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life in America: The War of Independence and antebellum expansion and reform, 1763-1861, p. 356, ISBN 9780313337031 

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