Stop Being Busy Being Busy

Written by Scott June 13, 2010

Written by: Scott Dinsmore

Average Reading Time: 3.5 minutes

“Life is just a quick succession of busy nothings.” -Jane Austen

Do you remember the last time you asked someone how work was? How about life in general? What was their response?

What did you say the last time you were asked those questions? I bet I know. It’s the same thing almost everyone I talk to says, and something I’ve been keeping track of the past few weeks.

The unanimous answer: “busy”

The response is almost programmed. No need to even think. And then they look at me proudly, as if I should be impressed. Well, I can’t say that I am.

I must admit that “busy” has been my response for years. But how did we all of a sudden find ourselves in a society where busy was the most acceptable way to be spending our time?

We’ve talked of being busy for so long that we’ve forgotten that being busy was never the goal. We are not on this earth to be busy. We are here to build relationships, experience life, go places, create things, help others, or whatever else you decide. Our reasons for being will all be different but I have a feeling that none of us feel we are here simply to be busy. But this thinking has lead us to think busy is good…no matter what we’re busy with.

Being busy is not the way we should measure our worth. As mentioned in The Beginner’s Guide to Being Congruent, it is up to each of us to decide how we ought to be spending our time. I do not believe being busy is a worthy goal for any of us. Before you know it, you might get caught up being busy doing worthless things.

Sadly the business world continues to train us this way as employees are expected to put in 8 (or 10 or 12) hours of work a day even though some days we might have only 2 or 4 hours of productive things to do. But since we must seem busy, we fill the time. Maybe with Facebook, chatting, or web surfing. It’s poor life training. Tim Ferriss calls this Work For Work’s Sake and it isn’t helping.

I propose a revolt against being busy

Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging laziness or not getting things done. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve known business leaders and executives who’s schedules have enough going on to give you a migraine, yet they don’t feel busy at all. They feel calm, happy and congruent. If something important comes up, they have time for it.

Then I’ve met retired men who have all the time in the world to spend as they please, yet they always seem to be too busy for this or for that. Too busy for the things they love. They can never find enough time.

How can this be?

I’ve realized that busy is simply a state of mind. A state that often causes stress, unhappiness and waisted energy.

Commit to not being busy

I propose that we all take a moment to stop, recognize this unhealthy state, and make the decision to no longer be busy. Enjoy the weight that gets lifted off your back simply by changing your focus. Perception is reality and none of us need busy to be that reality. I bet you’ll get even more done and have time left over to do the things you really care about.

Personal Story: Don’t be too busy to serve your purpose

Last week I had a very full schedule. All kinds of things going on. Meetings, events, projects. I had mapped out my whole calendar to be sure it all fit. Then right in the middle of the week I got a call from someone who wanted to get together for an hour to discuss her potential career transition. She had been with a company for over 14 years and recently began feeling as if she was in “career purgatory”, as she put it.

A while back I decided that anytime someone needs help with a topic of such importance (especially when they use those words…), I’d make it a priority to do all I can to help. My calendar was packed, but there was no way I was too busy to sit down with her. I met her for an hour coffee and didn’t leave for two and a half. It turned out to be the most rewarding, fulfilling and entertaining two and a half hours I’d spent all week.

She thanked me for meeting on such short notice and said “I can’t believe you could make time so quickly with how busy you must be.” Everyone assumes everyone is so busy. Little did she know I’d recently decided that busy wasn’t for me. This was exactly how I wanted to spend my time. I just hadn’t planned on it when the week started.

Life can never be too busy for the things that matter most to you. If you don’t have time for those, the busywork won’t matter anyway.

I am done being busy. That is no longer my response to life…and I am the guy who has a pile of todo’s and actions so long that they will likely never all get done. My calendar looks like a 19th century mosaic with all the things scheduled and planned. But that does not mean I’m busy. And that’s liberating.

Give it a try. This week, take the “I’m not busy challenge”. All you have to do is commit to not responding to anyone with how busy you are (even if it feels like you are totally swamped). Don’t even adjust your schedule. Just change your language. It will be harder than you think. You’ll stumble on what words to use to replace the cultural norm. Try “exciting” or “full” or maybe “all kinds of fun things”. And if they ask directly if you’ve been busy…give the refreshing answer “Nope I haven’t been busy at all.” Then begin to act like it. Enjoy the tranquility that follows.

How busy are you right now? Pride and satisfaction are not found in busy. Decide not to be. It doesn’t mean you don’t get things done. It just means you do them calmly and with intent.

Tell us how it feels to have left busy behind in the comments section below.

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these needs there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.” -Thomas Alva Edison

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Books You Might Enjoy:

4-Hour Work Week

The Art of Time

The Power of Now

Learn to Meditate

Photo by Ken Kayne

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“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn