Why I’m Not Busy & You Shouldn’t be Either

I’m not busy.

Mainly because I all but refuse to use that word in description of my status. I may say, “It’s peak loading time right now,” or “It’s a little stressful, but I am managing through it.” That may seem like just semantics, but in my mind, it’s more than that.

Living in a continuous state of busyness reflects poor stewardship of time. It reflects an inability to prioritize. I get that sometimes no matter how well you steward and prioritize your time, you’re still busy. I’m in the same boat. But I’m talking about excessive busyness. I’m talking about feeling busy most days of the week. About the mentality that people like to wear on their sleeve as a status symbol. I don’t think that type of busyness is healthy, and therefore I try to avoid it (and I have so much free time, I’m writing to tell you I think you should avoid it too).

Here are some reasons I’m not busy:

  1. I limit what I put on my calendar. This is a priority exercise. What’s the best use of my time? Some efforts of time are best, whereas others are just good. Determine value and calendar accordingly,
  2. I block time on my calendar to work on specific projects (and I don’t spend it catching up on emails).  Whenever I’m least pressed for time during the week (for me, Sunday afternoon), I view my week’s calendar and either do work or schedule time to do that work in the week. I head into Monday knowing I’m prepared for the week or have blocked time to prepare.
  3. I leave margin in my calendar for the unexpected. Scheduling to 80% is a good rule of thumb. This allows for me to respond to the urgent and unexpected. (I’ve blogged before on “Surviving the Unexpected Time Consumers”.) It allows me time to help those I serve alongside. This 20% margin time allows me to “grab five minutes,” or to adequately respond to my boss, or even quickly read those emails with the little annoying red exclamation point ‘!’ on them.
  4. I say “No.” I may not actually speak the word, but I’ve discovered ways to pass on opportunities and tasks that aren’t job critical.
  5. I continuously look for better ways to be efficient. For things I can’t say “no” to, I examine whether I can lessen my time commitment. Sometimes that means changing my philosophical approach to workflow, as explained in the book Essentialism, and sometimes I just adopt a work-hack I’ve seen. (I’ve listed a few of them, in a later paragraph.) If I see someone who stewards their time well, I ask them how they do it. Here’s some resources I’ve read recently, and in part, put into practice:
  1. I don’t compromise my time with God. I could spend a lot of words on this point, but suffice it to say, the time I spend with God in the mornings has a direct correlation to my effectiveness. I could use that time to complete more of my tasks, but I choose to wait to do them knowing I’ve brought them before God.

Best hacks I’m currently using, keeping me from being busy:

  • I add buffer to most meetings. If I think a meeting will take 45 minutes, I book an hour. The buffer isn’t in case the meeting runs late, it’s actually for me to deal with output from the meeting. If I can do any follow-up in that fifteen minutes, ( send an email based on meeting conversation, I do it then. If nothing else, I can file my notes from the meeting.

So that a new day’s emails and unplanned tasks don’t overwhelm my most productive time (for me, early mornings), I strive to end each day by leaving a project on my desk for the next morning – ideally,  an hour’s worth of work that doesn’t require a computer, or at least not email. This allows me to focus quality attention to an important task, when busyness rarely interferes.

It goes without saying, I sometimes violate everything I’ve written (including the last bullet). But typically I follow these, and despite a lot of people and things vying for my time, I’m able to say and believe, “I’m not too busy.”

But what does all this mean for you?

If you’re not doing one of the things numbered above, should you be? Would doing one of these not only relieve you of the semantics of being busy, but actually slow your life to a pace in which you can accomplish the most important work you have?

If you’re a person that likes to say, “I’m busy,” I encourage you to rethink this and evaluate why you’re attributing your value to living a frenetic life.

If you’re one who thrives on living in the “tyranny of the urgent,” I propose to you that it’s not sustainable, and warn that something is going to get missed. That’s the nature of urgency… urgent is rarely done beautifully… it’s messy.

And if you’re like a lot of people (including me) who can sometimes feel overwhelmed by their tasks, I suggest trying one or more from the list above. I hope they can make a difference.

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