What’s Your ‘Futz’?

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Perhaps the biggest obstacle to living the life of our dreams is not fear or lack of ability, but simple, mundane habits that keep us in a holding pattern, waiting for nothing in particular.

An Ancient Word for a Modern Phenomenon

Some words are just fun to say and use. ‘Futz’ is one of my favorites. While the polite definition of ‘futz’ is to ‘fool around’, the original Yiddish source has an earthier meaning which I will leave as an exercise to the reader. For the sake of this article, I’ll define futzing as a habitual action or activity that tends to consume lots of time for no beneficial outcome. For the second half of the 20th century, TV was the futz of choice. More recently, the Internet, console games, and social media like Twitter and Facebook soak up countless hours in many lives. We’re drawn to futzing because it is easy, soothing, and repetitive.

Futzing wouldn’t be worth writing about except for two critical facts. First, futzing consumes our time and energy without bound and second, futzing seems to be the most popular way to misspend time.

What is Futzing?

When I criticize futzing around, I’m not suggesting that every action we take every day should have a productive outcome. Everyone has a fundamental need to rest and recover from focused, productive work. I also believe a life well lived includes time to sit back and just enjoy existence. Futzing is neither of these things.

Futzing differs from rejuvenation in that futzing leaves us no more energized, empowered or inspired than when we started. Similarly, futzing usually fails to be enjoyable over the long haul. True futzing makes the futzer feel numb or blanked out. Time slips away during futzing. Many can relate to the experience of getting on the Internet to look up one simple thing, only to find themselves surfing aimlessly for hours with little recollection of what they viewed.

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Futzing can even disguise itself as productive activity. While most people need to do some amount of cleaning and upkeep of their person, their clothing and their living quarters, how much time gets devoted to this activity varies massively. Although everyone has their own comfort level with what is ‘clean enough’ and ‘neat enough,’ cleaning and organizing can degenerate into futzing when the activity stops being productive and starting being a time-sink.

Futzing isn’t an addiction or a compulsion. Addictions are distinguished by the continued addictive behavior in the face of negative consequences. On the face of it, futzing seems like a fairly neutral activity. Your boss or your spouse might complain about your lack of initiative, but I don’t believe there are any laws on the books banning futzing. There are no 12-step anti-futzing groups. The worst thing about futzing is that it seems innocent, but in the long term it quietly steals years of people’s lives.

Steps to De-Futzing

If futzing is the problem, then what tools can we use to defeat it? The strongest tool against futzing is a well-defined sense of purpose. When you know what your life is about, where you’re going and how you intend to get there, you have a compelling alternative to checking your email for the hundredth time this morning.

Scheduling is another ally in the fight against futzing. Without structure, any work expands to fill the time available. When you block out time for a given purpose, that helps you build resolve to push futzing to the side.

Disregard for rest and recovery may be the predominant cause of Futzing. People feel the need to push themselves harder to get more results sooner. But our minds and our bodies can endure only so much, and when our reserves of attention and dedication are tapped out, we often turn to mindless diversions to soothe our distress, not out of choice but out of desperation. Over time these habits ossify into futzing around that can last a lifetime and has nothing to do with the original triggers. If only we treated rest and recovery as a required counterbalance to productive work, we’d avoid numbing activities and choose recreations that truly nourish, renew and inspire us.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Pat Orner Oliver on .

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