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.

  • http://toptenblogthemes.com Chris

    Great post Ross!

    I believe that balance is the key to happiness.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Thanks Chris! Appreciate the comment.

  • http://www.marketo.com Rick Siegfried

    Truer words were never spoken. Time management between work and play/free time is essential, although I’m being a bit of a hypocrite by saying that. ;) Either way, a great post which has inspired me to view my day as “my own” and not “my tasks”.

    • Ross Hudgens

      I don’t think “play” and “work” have to be black/white, because work *can* be play. But I don’t think working on someone else’s schedule can maintain that separation forever, or even for a decent amount of time. Thanks for the comment Rick!

  • http://www.searchbrat.com Kieran Flanagan

    I don’t get this post :) You work 80 hours a week, but that’s not busy, because what work you achieve in that 80 hours is entirely up to you ? If you work 80 hours a week, that leaves 88 hours to do everything else. If sleep 5 hours a night, that would leave 33 hours a week to literally do other things outside of “work”. Having that little free time, regardless of how you are filling the 80 hours (assuming it’s all work related), will leave you busy or semi busy ? i.e. getting shopping, taxing the car, everyday life becomes a bit manic. Is the life balance, not to work 80 hours, figure out how to work less and spend time on other activities or have all those entrepreneur gurus been lying to me i.e. the 4 hours week.
    I set aside time for my own projects. I kind of think of this as play time, but it’s still work related i.e. its not spending time with friends, family, reading, watching movies etc etc. I still have to complete a number of set actions in a defined sequence or my project would be all over the place.
    I am a scatter brain at heart, I think all people in search are as we are easily distracted because we are passionate about data, trends, testing, new shiny things. I am at my happiest when not working to set tasks and probably at my best (maybe this is what you are getting at, which kind of makes sense), but i also don’t think I would get certain projects complete without some kind of road map.
    Nice post, a different perspective on something is good. I will challenge my own beliefs with some of this.

    • Ross Hudgens

      I didn’t make 80 hours a math equation, since I don’t check in or out I based 80 hours a week on working a whole lot. During the week if I’m not A) working out or B) commuting I am working, and on the weekends I probably spend 1/3 of the time working in some capacity. So maybe that’s not 80 hours exactly but it’s a lot of work. I’m with you, most of that time is “my own projects” so it’s play time, but it’s technically work as we generally define it because it has monetary benefits.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • http://www.searchbrat.com Kieran Flanagan

        Ha, yes, apologies, I do the same really, I don’t count every hour, I just seen 80 and my “lets map that out” side of my brain took over :)

        • Ross Hudgens

          Understandable. Rough count (based on your callout) is actually 68-72. So you caught me in a lie. :)

  • http://www.canuckseo.com JIm Rudnick

    @Ross…while I’d love to attribute this to it’s creator, I’ve been using it so dang long I just can not remember where I found this little gem —

    “being rich is having lots of cash…being wealthy is having lots of time!”

    me? would love to be both…but just too dang busy to measure, eh!



    PS coming from a programming background and being an MCSD, I have automated about as much of my SEO practice as I’ve been able to…does help quite a bit….fyi…

  • http://www.seattlesummers.com Dave French

    “Don’t work for money, make money work for you….” Thats scalability. Good post Ross, very good.

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  • http://www.coolmarketingstuff.com Charles Sipe

    I like these posts about happiness for SEOs. For me, I’d like to spend a maximum of 40 hours a week doing work projects and the rest of my time on other things I’m interested in and recharge my brain. I’m trying to think of ways to work smarter, not harder. For instance, can I have someone on Elance do a daily task for me that would cost half as much as my hourly rate? Working from home, I also have the problem of work expanding unless I set strict time parameters, like that I must stop working at 6 pm.

  • http://www.clicproject.com Ben

    80 hours a week! How on earth do you sustain that! I remember a few years ago when I started my first business I was pushing 70 hours a week and could only sustain that for about 6 months before becoming utterly exhausted!

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