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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