Why I’m Not Busy Anymore

by Stephen Mills on March 21, 2010


I sat down to write an article on why being busy is a mistake and I decided I should check the dictionary definition of the word.

bus·y –adjective: actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime

That’s not exactly what I had in mind.  That definition of “busy” makes being busy a good thing.  If I’m sitting on a beach lost in a good book, then I’m busy; I’m actively and attentively engaged in a pastime I love.  It’s very important to me.  However, most people wouldn’t call me busy nor look upon what I was doing as something important or productive.  The soccer mom with 1,000 things to do while helicoptering around her children would be called busy.  If she was my wife I would be called lazy.

Imagine an office.  Compare and contrast two employees.

One of them has a to-do list of hundreds of tasks.  She is constantly on the go with phone calls, emails, instant messages, and meetings.  She moves at 100 mph, barely stopping to breathe.  She comes in early, works through lunch, and leaves late.  She’s always connected  and working issues when out of the office.  She is definitely “busy”.

The other employee casually and calmly walks in around 9:00 AM.  He spends a bit of time chatting with some of his co-workers.  Then he quietly sits down and concentrates on some work.  He doesn’t go to any meetings.  At 11:45 AM he opens his email and spends a few minutes answering them and makes a few notes.  At 12:00 PM he wraps up for the day and leaves.  He doesn’t seem to be “busy”.

In a modern corporation the second person would probably be fired while the first would be considered an extremely valuable employee.  Most people knowing nothing else would probably strongly prefer the first over the second as she demonstrates hard work and extraordinary dedication.  In my former days I would have done the same.

Now I think differently about all this.  Nowadays, knowing nothing else I would choose the second.  The first employee may be “busy”, but that doesn’t mean she’s doing valuable or important work.  In fact her busyness may be disrupting other people and preventing them from doing important work.  The second employee may be a game changer.  The fact that somebody works 15 hours a day means nothing.  What matters is what they create, not how many things they do.  One good idea is worth more than 1,000 trivial completed tasks.

I used to be busy in a way that looked more like the first.  Now my goal is to be more like the second; I’m much of the way there.

Important work can be hard and lonely.  Doing a 1,000 small things is like a drug addiction.  Every time you respond to an email, go to a meeting, complete a trivial tasks, it is like taking a hit.  You get a temporary high.  You feel good about completing something.  You feel important and needed.  It’s a sickness and an addiction with long-term consequences you don’t want.

Everybody has the same amount of time.  Everybody gets 1440 minutes a day.  Don’t say “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy”.  In that respect we are all equal; we all have the same allocation of daily minutes.

I’m tired of being busy in a 24/7 connected world.  I want to be valuable.  I want to do what is important to me.  I don’t want to be in a constant state of high-tension stress because I’m “busy” and because I have too much to do.  I want to be calm and reflective and quietly go about getting important work done.  I’ve decided being busy is no longer for me.

“Less is not more.  Less is better.” — Leo Babauta

You might also be interested in Scott Berkun’s The Cult of Busy.

What do YOU think?  Are you busy?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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{ 3 trackbacks }

Creating my business plan – Part 2 | Little Deer Creations
December 4, 2012 at 3:43 am
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March 29, 2016 at 12:51 am

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Schryer March 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

I love this one sentence: “I want to be valuable.” To me, that sums up the essence of what work should be. I want to provide so much value that I don’t have to be busy. I want to work slowly and comfortably on one thing at a time, like an artist or a craftsman, and have that work be so valuable to the consumer that they happily pay me what it is worth, and I don’t have to be busy with several different clients at a time. Thank you for putting it so simply for me, you just helped me clarify my life a bit. 🙂
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..The Perfect Time =-.


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Hi Jay! That’s great; I really love the way you put that 🙂


Steven Aitchison March 21, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Hi Stephen, you’ve made some brilliant points here. I think a lot of people busy themselves with trying to look busy whilst, possibly, the smarter person is much more organised and gets exactly the same amount of work done as the ‘busy’ person.

In work we have 8-10 hours of work to do per day. How on earth can we fill up this time every single day, some days we won’t get enough done and others days it will take us 2 hours to do a days work, but we still have to busy ourselves with looking busy for the other 8 hours. I bet if we all got paid to do a certain amount of work per day we could all find ways of finishing that work, to a high level, within a few hours. It’s because we are forced to stay in work 8-10 hours every day that our work takes 8-10 hours.

Great stuff Stephen
.-= Steven Aitchison´s last blog ..This is Why Some People Hate You =-.


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Hello Steven, I think you are absolutely right with this one:

“I bet if we all got paid to do a certain amount of work per day we could all find ways of finishing that work, to a high level, within a few hours.”

Now if we could only get all the companies in the world to give it a try.


Nea | Self Improvement Saga March 21, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Unfortunately I am still busier than I find ideal. But I love the idea of scaling that back, simplifying, and taking more time to just live. So, shall I say I’m busy working on not being so busy? I think that’s a fitting statement for me right now. Great post Stephen.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..10 Ways to Live in the Now and Reawaken to the Present Moment =-.


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 7:32 pm

Hi there Nea! That’s a funny way to say it and I wish you great luck 🙂


Lana-{Daring Clarity} March 22, 2010 at 3:51 am

Stephen, I am so there with you! Busywork. Hate it. I choose to let go of it. You are so right, everyone has the same amount of time, but some people choose to do what matters, others choose to do what makes them busy.
.-= Lana-{Daring Clarity}´s last blog ..9 Steps To Get You Back On Track When Things Are Messy + Out Of Balance + Out Of Flow =-.


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Hi Lana, thanks for commenting. I hate it too, but I think some people thrive on it because it gives them a false sense of accomplishment.


Elaine March 22, 2010 at 4:06 am

Good point, well made.

But really I wanted to offer some random feedback. I just unsubscribed from two other blogs that I read regularly that don’t allow comments. I got fed up feeling as if I was being preached to. Just in case you were thinking about it… :0)


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Hello Elaine. I’m not thinking about it. I love people commenting!


zmajeva March 22, 2010 at 5:09 am

Good point. Slow life doesn’t mean you are less effective, it means you are more organized and focused.
.-= zmajeva´s last blog ..BASIC COMPONENTS OF GOOD FITNESS PROGRAM =-.


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Hi zmajeva. That’s the point. It took me a while to realize it though 🙂


Tracy Todd March 22, 2010 at 7:41 am

There was a time in my life where I believed that “busy people are happy people”. That was the time I was always busy “doing”. Everything changed after I was paralyzed. Now I have learned the importance of not only being busy with pastimes that make me feel enriched and fulfilled, but I have learned the value of simply “being”.
.-= Tracy Todd´s last blog ..How do I… =-.


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Hello Tracy. That’s a great way to put it. Sometimes it is important to just be. It took me many years to realize that and by a different route than you but I got there too.


Derrick March 22, 2010 at 3:08 pm

You hit the nail on the head once again Stephen,great post!



Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Hi Derrick, thank you again! 🙂


Grampa Ken - Social Fix March 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Maybe this feeling of a new era, hectic existence is not entirely new.

“This strange disease of modern life with its brisk hurry and divided aims.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)
.-= Grampa Ken – Social Fix´s last blog ..Product Quality Disappointing =-.


Stephen Mills March 22, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Hi Grampa Ken. I’m sure you are right that it is not new, but I still think it is relatively worse 🙂


Grampa Ken - Social Fix March 23, 2010 at 7:54 am

Much worse Stephen!
.-= Grampa Ken – Social Fix´s last blog ..Product Quality Disappointing =-.


Michael Michalowski March 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm

We get used to be busy the first way, because that’s how we get approval of others. They see that we are rushing through our tasks and assume that we provide lots of value.

You have nothing to laugh if your Boss in one of that type. But if you commit yourself to pursue the second way of being busy, we can accomplish enough things in high quality to prove ourselfes and in case your boss, that we are indeed of high value. If he does not appreciate that, another boss will.

Maybe that’s the key to happiness: It’s more important how you perceive yourself, instead of how others do. Reach your own expectations and you’ll have nothing to be ashamed of.
.-= Michael Michalowski´s last blog ..The Simplest But Best Way for Anything You Want =-.


Stephen Mills March 24, 2010 at 7:26 am

Hi Michael, I think you are right in the sense that people like to look busy because it makes them feel important. It’s a false feeling though. Thanks for stopping by to comment.


Tess The Bold Life March 23, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Not sure what I can add here. Lana says it nicely. Choose to do what matters!
.-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..My Dad and His Tool Shop =-.


Stephen Mills March 24, 2010 at 7:03 am

Hi Tess, thanks for stopping in to comment 🙂


Mar March 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I totally agree with Jay Schryer.
What Jay said pretty much says what I wanted to say Haha 😀


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