AskDefine | Define busywork

Dictionary Definition

busywork n : active work of little value; "while he was waiting he filled the days with busywork" [syn: make-work]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Alternative spelling for busy work.

Extensive Definition

Busy work is a term for schoolwork, coursework, or homework that keeps students occupied without teaching anything constructive or interesting. Examples might include hastily put together 'projects', which are given to the student to keep them busy if the teacher is absent and a substitute teacher is present, word searches featuring lists of specialized vocabulary words, end-of-the-year portfolio project, or lab assignments with many questions that only serve to take up time.

Criticism of school busy work

Some critics have charged that busy work can cause problems for teachers: "When busy work becomes 'institutionalized,' among other teachers or the entire school, it creates such an overload of work for the slower students, that they have to 'buy out' of the system. They will always have more work than they can do because the work is assigned for control and not learning". Busy work has some positive effects as well as negative effects. One positive effect of busy work could be that, students previously absent have a chance to catch up on work that is 'covered' in the dull, unproductive, busy work.
People often have a negative attitude toward busy work, and some high school and middle school teachers have gone so far as to pledge to avoid the practice: "Homework is given to practice, review, preview, or simply provide more exposure to the topics covered in class—you will not be given homework for homework’s sake or as busy work".

Workplace busy work

The term has also been used by employees who feel their assigned duties are useless or unproductive, and intended only to occupy their time. Busy work of one form or another often features in workplace humor, such as the comic strip Dilbert, or the movie Office Space (see TPS Report).
Busy work can also mean mandatory work assignments given to inmates of prisons, done not always as a punishment for infractions but merely to keep the inmates occupied and prevent restlessness and dissent. A typical scene from a prison movie would have inmates being forced to dig a ditch in the prison, only to be told afterwards to fill it in again.

Army busy work

A popular Soviet-era pun on the army's way of keeping conscripts disciplined and out of trouble was "Private, dig a trench from that fence to dinner time".


Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

assignment, chare, charge, chore, commission, duty, errand, exercise, fish to fry, homework, job, job of work, labor, make-work, matters in hand, mission, odd job, piece of work, project, service, stint, task, things to do, work
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