Why Being Busy Is A Terrible Thing To Be

by on May 5, 2011 | posted in Marketing

I’m so busy.

You’ve heard it. You’ve probably said it. Hopefully you’ve done the former more than the latter, but this phrase is something of a hero’s tale for the American working class. To be busy is to be popular, to be busy is to be working towards something bigger, and to be busy is not be lazy, one of the most frowned upon characteristics of the human persona.

Being busy, though, isn’t something we should lift on high. In fact, we should do the opposite, and put it somewhere closely muddled above lazy, but nowhere near the pinnacle of a hypothetical lifestyle ranking system.

The reason busy is a failure is because it’s a non sustainable mechanism that encourages unhappiness. “Busy”, as I define it, is the state of having a loaded, pre-determined schedule that requires you be in a certain place or perform a certain action, mostly because that action must be satisfied to match the needs of another individual. This can be a meeting, this can be work, this can be a yoga class – anything that matches these “pre-determined” characteristics. When you’re busy, you have a schedule of must-fill actions throughout your day.

If you have two jobs, you’re busy. If you have to run around to pick up kids after a job and then wait 30 minutes to pick them up after a game, you’re busy. If you have an 18-unit college class schedule and a full docket of homework assignments, you’re busy.

When your life is filled with must-fill action steps, you will inevitably become unhappy, because musts mean that other variables, such as your desire to perform them, play no part in the process. To be busy also means that you are in an environment that is the opposite of entrepreneurial – your life is largely defined by someone else’s need for your imminent actions. This is superior to no action at all, but it is a next-best option as compared to independently choosing when to act.

Towards a Life of Autonomous Work

I work 80 hours+ a week, commute to my Long Beach coworking space, eat, take calls, exercise. But I’m not busy. I can literally drop anything, besides my day job, and go have drinks with friends, or watch a movie if I don’t feel the need to plug away at something. This is because I have very few pre-determined actions I must perform on any given day. I know that I want to achieve and I must do things to get there, but since I can do them intermittently and on my own schedule, my ability to work 80 hours a week is extremely sustainable. Most importantly, I maintain a level of happiness that makes my last “bad day” impossible to remember.

It might be difficult to avoid pre-determined action steps for other people completely (or even somewhat), but what you must strive towards is must-fill action steps that aren’t day to day. If you do client work, you have monthly reports. This gives you flexibility to perform the work as you want to. It must be done eventually, but the flexible timeline alleviates stress and allows freedom to go fly fishing or watch the Royal Wedding. If your day is a loose idea of “work” you must show up to that your boss gives you the freedom within to be autonomous – and you enjoy doing it, you likely always enjoy that job. But if your entire day is awash with meetings you must punch a clock for or otherwise be at the whim of others within, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in one or more of them with a growing sense of disdain.

Similarly, you’ve probably noticed some of the jet-setters who are now speaking everywhere exclaim that they are “very happy to be home” or “tired of traveling”. This is because they previously had the ability to define the speed and consistency of their pre-determined actions – but now, as they’ve grown exponentially, they’ve suddenly been set within day-long constraints that make an entire day a “must-fill action step”.

Clear the Calendar

The happiest, most successful people who have been able to sustain a long path of hard work and success have done so by the eliminating the need to “be busy”. If you think you’re going to get rich by having things you must do for other people all day every day, you’re probably wrong. And even if you’re right, you’re probably going to get there by having many unhappy days along the way.

Being rich – and being rich in happiness – means defining the hour to hour actions of one’s own day. Anything else is just a talking point that feels cool to say to someone else at a dinner table – “I’m so busy.” – but, in reality, actually hurts like hell to do.

Last week my post YOUMoz regarding Static Marketing went live, a concept that is simple in implementation but high in “starting” – which means that few people actually do it to the fullest potential. Also, I will be speaking at SMX Advanced on the Tough Love: Link Building for the Real World panel on June 7th in Seattle with some extremely talented folks.

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