The Problem with Busy

I have talked plenty on the Focused podcast about how I am not a fan of the word busy. For instance, when you see an old friend and ask how they’re doing, they will often tell you how busy they are. Busy seems to have turned into something like a badge of honor. That’s a mistake. To me, busy means that you haven’t figured out yet what is truly important. Busy means you are lousy at saying no. Busy often means that you make everything a priority, which ultimately means that nothing is a priority.

Some of the most significant changes in my life over the past several years have been aimed at being able to answer the question, “How are you doing?” with something other than, “Busy.” I have made a lot of progress on that front, and my life is better for it. Though I must admit that the struggle continues, and I still need to fight off “busy” every day.

How about you? Are you busy? If so, it definitely should not be something you are proud of. Life is short. If you are too busy to enjoy things, take some steps to fix that.

Take a minute as you go through your next few days to write down each big thing you are working on and the category of life it fits. For example, my categories related to my law practice are client work, administration, client development, and client billing. All of the work I do with the law practice fits into one of those categories. Going through the day, I quantify the tasks I work on to each category. I have similar categories for the MacSparky stuff, the podcast, and my personal life. In just a week, you will have a good idea of what you mean when you say that you are busy. Particularly, you are going to have an understanding of how much time you are spending on each category. Think of it as informal time tracking.

Then it’s time to get out the machete.

Start looking at each one of those categories and ask yourself some questions:

  • How important is this to me?

  • Is this important at all? Can I throw it overboard?

  • If this makes the cut, can I hand it off to someone else or use my mad automation skills to get it off my plate?

  • If it remains important and I can’t offload it, where does this fit in the big picture of my life?

It’s not enough to just consider these questions, though. You have to act on them. You don’t have to act on them all at once, but you have to start somewhere. For me, it’s like learning keyboard shortcuts. I can’t learn all of the keyboard shortcuts for an app in one go, but I can learn a few until they become second nature, and then I can pick up a few more. I do the same thing with chucking work overboard. Not until I’ve found a way to properly delegate, automate, or quit the friction point do I tackle the next one. I'm still working on it, but each little victory adds up.

There is, however, a second level to this. By forcing yourself to ask the hard questions, you are going to find disconnects. For example, when I started looking at how much time and energy I was spending on the litigation practice of my legal career and realized the cost of that for both my personal and MacSparky endeavors, I made some difficult decisions about what I wanted to do with my future. The litigation work was by far the most lucrative, but there was no way I could continue to do it and pursue other things that I really needed to do without worshiping at the altar of “Too Busy”. That ultimately lead to a number of changes in my life where I earn a little less money in exchange for being less busy and a lot happier.

It took me a long time to figure this out. Too long. And I still fall off the wagon regularly. I understand how it can feel like an inescapable trap, and while it is a trap, it is in no way inescapable. If you are too busy right now, take some steps today and start the journey. You won’t regret it.