"You Don't Have to" Series, Productivity

You Don’t Have to: Always be Busy

Business is all about busy-ness. We wear it like a badge of honor, not only being busy but also making sure those around us know just how jam-packed our days are.

Jonathan Gershuny from Oxford University’s time management research group describes it: “The best-off in our society are often very busy, and have to be. You ask me, am I busy, and I tell you: ‘Yes, of course I’m busy – because I’m an important person!’”

I remember at my last internship, it was a couple of weeks away from Christmas and I asked a colleague what he was doing for the holidays. He replied, “oh I just got a big pile of projects dumped on my plate, I might take a couple of days off later but I’ll have to work over Christmas to get it done.”

The saddest part about this story was that my very initial thought that popped in my head was, ‘wow, he must be so important and successful, being tasked with so much to do!’

Fortunately my rational brain spoke up with this immediate afterthought: “wow that sucks, working on Christmas? Either you or this employer should probably get some priorities in check.”

I see it all the time, or hear about it over coffee in the morning. It’s stories of 4 hours of sleep and late nights in the cubicle to meet some crucial deadline.

Not to say it doesn’t happen from time-to-time that you have to burn the midnight oil, but it should never be looked at as an honorable accomplishment, or a normal weekly activity. The annoying part as an employee, is that if I go home on time each day and others are staying late, it makes me look like a slacker.

So what is the solution to this busyness epidemic? Let’s see a few options:

1. My first vote would be a 4 day work week (or less), but I’m not sure that’ll happen any time soon.

2. Know just how irrational and counter-productive this busyness feeling is. Being constantly anxious or jittery with the imposing clock peering down on you, or your never-ending emails or to-do list, actually makes you less productive than if you were simply relaxed.

3. Figure out how to strike a balance. As much as I don’t want to work 14 hour days, I also wouldn’t do well with infinite free time. Work gives me a routine and a sense of purpose. I feel accomplished and needed at the end of the day. Balance work and play for maximum effectiveness.

4. Set a limit. I remember meeting a girl travelling, and her goal was to complete 3 desired tasks in a day. For instance: 1. get groceries and make dinner, 2. finish her homework and 3. go for a 10k run. If she did more then that was a bonus, but once she was done her 3 tasks then she told herself she could relax; she completed what she set out for the day.

It took me a while to realize the total genius in this! We live in an infinite to-do list world, so bringing yourself back to the finite will make a world of difference.


As I’ve said in previous posts, my main audience is myself. So I’m with you when I say let’s leave work on time, go home, keep the Youtube and Netflix off, put the phones in the drawer, and just see what it’s like to not be busy or distracted for even just a moment.

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