I’m Not Impressed With Your Busy-ness
Somewhere along the way people started confusing busy-ness with importance. They equated a full calendar with achievement. A thousand unanswered emails with status. They started holding up their “I’m so busy” sign with (exhausted) pride. I’d like to thank those people for showing me something very important — not to make any plans with them.
Life is like a cup. When it is full, nothing else can come in, until something goes out. That means that someone who has completely filled their calendar up with obligations has left no room for new and unexpected things to come into their life. They’ve told mystery, serendipity, and adventure that they need an appointment, and there aren’t any available for at least a month. And they’ve convinced themselves that they are doing this out of necessity. The need to make money, the need to fill a role society has outlined for them (important business woman, top executive, industry connector), the need to go full throttle on this for just awhile until “x” goal is achieved. The thing is, when “x” is achieved, there is always “y” to take its place.
And I get it, there are startup founders, C suite executives, and other very important people who are just trying to efficiently find a way to do EVERYTHING. But like a company who claims “everyone” is their customer, someone trying to do everything for everyone is probably doing nothing very well. And they are probably disappointing the people around them by consistently not offering their best, but rather a fragment of their self that is left over. Let that sink in.
Think of starting each day with a tank of gas, which cannot be refilled until the next day. That gas is your energy. There are only so many things that you can do before it runs out (a.k.a. you need to sleep, though some lucky bastards need less of it to run than us “still holding out for 8 hours a night” guzzlers). If you’ve ever run a car out of gas, or regularly ran your car so empty that you had to roll on fumes and prayers into a gas station more than once, you’ll know the damage it inflicts on the vehicle. You’ll also know that when gas is limited, you don’t notice the beautiful landscape around you. You don’t stop for a snack. You determine the shortest route from point a (where you are) to point b (gas) and you stress out the whole way there. When you have filled your schedule with so many things, you inevitably rush around, forget things, regularly say no to things you’d much rather be doing, and deplete yourself of the energy you’d rather have for the things and people that matter most to you.
Being busy to the point of exhaustion for anything beyond the short term is completely lazy and cowardly. It means that you are unwilling or unable to prioritize what matters most to you in your life. Of course there are windows of time in which big projects, health problems, having a baby, or other major life events require burning both ends of the candle, but those should be the exception rather than the rule. Humans are not factory machines to be optimized and upgraded for maximum throughput until we break. We are creative, sentient beings, whose lives can be filled with purpose, meaning, and impact…or appointments.
I read about all these people saying yes to everything and to them, I say: No. Sure, it’s easy for me to say. I don’t have kids, I don’t have a miserable job that requires a ton of externally imposed late nights and weekends. But make no mistake — that is by design. I once stood where you stood and decided I didn’t want to stand anymore. I had to prioritize which things were most important to me and sacrifice other things that I wanted less (or at least postpone them).
It is a choice. I repeat. It is a choice. Your stack of cash isn’t going to buy you those years back. It may help with the medical bills for the blood pressure, heart problems, and other physical ailments you stressed your way into, but it seems like a bad deal to make the money just to spend it fixing what you did to earn it.
Below are a few tips for how to reduce your busy-ness:
Prioritize —Get crystal clear about the people and things that matter most to you, and honor them by reserving space and time for them in your life first and foremost. The people who really matter to me know that when they need me they have my undivided attention. They have that because I (guiltily, at first) created boundaries with the other people in my life, who I like a lot and respect a lot, but for whom I am not willing to sacrifice the quality of my most highly valued friendships. It is the same with my work. There is always room for things related to my purpose, passion, mission, or values in life, and for helping others with things that align with those. And I will say ‘no’ to things that aren’t a priority.
Limit your coffee talk — There have been a lot of people who have given me a hand up throughout my career and I want to pay that forward, so I allocate a small amount of time each month to “15 minute brain pickings,” (a.k.a. requests for advice, coffee, or connecting made by people in my network or people in their network) and when that time is up, it’s up. I also don’t ask other people for these meetings unless I am willing to follow up with concrete action and/or reciprocal support to demonstrate that I value their time. Likewise, I will spend a little more time helping someone who is helping others or who is taking action with what I’ve helped them with.
Decide what you are willing to offer — There are some things I really enjoy talking about and there are other things that I enjoy less, but they are part of my business so I talk about them when I get paid to do so (shocking, I know). For the things that I enjoy, there is no time limit. For the things I enjoy less but get paid to do, I have spent a significant amount of time putting this information in writing, so that I could share documents (freely giving away weeks worth of my IP), blog posts, resources, and introductions, with others without having to schedule a call everytime someone asks me about it (with no intention of hiring me later). Occasionally I break this rule and usually I regret it because it just results in more requests for free work.
Know yourself — I am an introvert. The same conversation that energizes an extroverted person makes me want to come home and take a nap. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking, it’s that I only have so much talking in me before I get grouchy, and I want to save most of that for my clients, boyfriend, family, and closest friends. Knowing these things about yourself can save you endless hours of chit chat or team lunches in favor of more deliberate, meaningful encounters. Or, alternately, can lead you to seek out other people who are similarly energized by togetherness. Schedule time for things that energize you.
Stride with pride — My favorite hobby is reading books. It is very easy for people to scoff at reading (especially fiction) as not really being a hobby, but it’s how I learn best. In fact, the speed with which I consume written material is a huge competitive advantage in my career. Fiction feeds my imagination and inspires my creativity and non-fiction helps me understand how things work, the history of how they got this way, and what is coming in the future. I’ve tried to force myself into other hobbies that felt more like ‘real’ skills development, that felt more like productive work, but the truth is I love reading and I am who I am because of it. I am proud to be one book ahead of the 52 books a year challenge (alas, I was 6 books ahead, but I refuse to finish a lousy book on principle, and I just had a string of them).
Enjoy yourself— Simplifying your schedule in this manner should enable you to be more present in your interactions with people. You will offer others authenticity because you have chosen to be where you are, rather than felt obligated to be there. If the priorities you previously identified are no longer giving you that positive feeling, then update and adapt. You know better than anyone else what makes you satisfied and what you want to offer to the world. Be realistic about those commitments and don’t forget to slow down and enjoy the view.