July 8, 2012

It’s a while since I wrote.

Time to think is scarce.

I’ve been busy.

You too probably.

If so, I strongly recommend you put aside your busyness for a few minutes, and read this, from the New York Times blog. It might change your mind:

The ‘Busy’ Trap

If you’ll excuse me I’ll quote from it extensively:
(maybe you’re too busy to read the whole thing?)

[Those who boast about being busy are] almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence”

What [my busy friend] had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.


I observe three levels to this:

Some people measure themselves based on inputs – i.e. how much time you spend working, how full your calendar is, how many emails you respond to?

Other, smarter, people measure themselves based on outputs – i.e. how much progress did you make, what did you create or learn in the process? In other words, what was the return on time invested?

Those who understand this, and act on it, get much further without working so long and hard by cutting out the unnecessary stuff. It’s incredible, but just getting something done actually turns out to be a huge competitive advantage, because it’s so uncommon.

(I wrote a bit about the difference between these two levels in a previous post)

However, I’ve only recently noticed that there is a third level beyond this (there is always another level!) where you stop measuring yourself altogether and rather than being deformed by your busyness optimise for enjoyment.

Obviously your ability to do this depends on your circumstances. For most earning a living means spending some amount of time on work, one way or another. While everybody has obligations, I don’t really have that excuse. I found myself a few years ago in the unusual position where money was no longer the biggest constraint. But, still that mindset turns out to be a hard habit to break. So I continue to allow my days to fill with busy and this level remains mostly aspirational to me.

The people who are best at this even seem to be comfortable wasting time!

I’m not sure about you, but the precious few moments I’ve wasted recently have been easily the best ones.

If only I wasn’t so busy, I’d definitely waste more time.

How about you?