Remember when people congratulated you if you told them you’re really busy?
Nowadays, there is a backlash against busyness backed by simplistic dichotomies that stress is bad and more leisure time is good or that busyness will actually kill your ability to have a remarkable life. It’s like the new protest created an elite group: People Against Busyness!
Does it really help us to pit stress against leisure or busyness against accomplishments? I don’t think so.
To promote my own way of thinking, I offer you a much more useful simplistic dichotomy to consider:
There is good busyness and bad busyness.
(What does that mean? Consider this question as you read on, then please let us know with your comments what kind of busyness serves you very well.)
Let me frame the argument people make against busyness as honestly as I can. People who are too busy struggle to:
- Be spontaneous.
- Make strategic decisions.
- Take advantage of important opportunities.
- Accomplish long term goals.
- Discover important revelations.
- Accomplish remarkable accomplishments.
- Have deep personal interactions.
- Take care of their health.
I say these struggles emerge when people fill their lives not with busyness but with bad busyness.
Behold, there is good busyness. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it, and I think we need more of it, and we need to seek it whenever we plan our weeks and days and every minute we make decisions about what we will do and what we will don’t.
Dissolving the Busyness vs. Accomplishment dichotomy.
I love what Cal Newport is up to, but I’m going to blow apart what I think is a misguided hypothesis: You can’t be busy and remarkable. Cal does define “busy,” as “a schedule packed with non-optional professional responsibilities.” I agree that is a type of hell, but narrowing his definition doesn’t add to credibility of his headline.
Here is the comment I left on his blog:
“I was just talking to a colleague about space in our schedules. I have too much unstructured time and lean too hard on my own discipline to focus. I need more meetings and deadlines where other people rely on me to show up and deliver. In contrast, his schedule is jammed with meetings. But he feels like he needs only a bit more little unstructured time just to rest.
“I consider him one of the most disciplined and accomplished people I know, yet recently, when he gained a lot of open space in his schedule for a short period, he found himself wasting his time instead of daydreaming, engaging in productive play, and doing deep work. Without the structure he flailed.
“My colleague is a university professor and researcher. He’s organized most of his structured time around managing his research team, teaching, developing patentable ideas, and creating new companies. The structure he set up for his busyness actually drives his accomplishments (which are arguably remarkable). For example, when he has to prepare for a new class, the deadlines drive a productive period where he makes his team’s discoveries understandable in bite-sized chunks.
It’s true for his health, too. When I told him my own workout schedule, which requires a lot of discipline, he suggested he would never get the exercise he does if he didn’t have exercise commitments in his schedule with other people. His busyness has made him extremely fit. Plus, he loves those activities.
“Obviously there’s not just balance to craft; it’s about what you do with your structured time that effects your accomplishments. I have so much unstructured time that my willpower gets tested too often. In contrast my colleague needs just a little bit of ease in his schedule, but only for the sake of some down-time because it’s the structure of his busyness that keeps his accomplishments flowing.”
The criteria for good busyness.
Having eradicated it last July, I am rebuilding my busyness. My plan is to add good busyness in the form of more meetings with the following attributes— suspiciously resembling what people feel busyness deprives them of.
- Most people in the room are smarter than I.
- Presentations that invite critical feedback.
- Focus on long term goals.
- Collaborative play as work.
- Playful, physical exertion.
- Listening as a shared skill.
- Flow as a shared goal.
- Love as a core value.
Specifically, this week:
- I’ll be launching Pilot Fire group for supporting each other around roles, planning, and long term goals. Interested? Sign up for first alerts.
- I’m joining a regular improv gathering.
- I’m signing up for Meetups on Divorce Support and Mobile App Design.
- I’m playing tennis 2-3 times this week.
- I’m attending the World Domination Summit in July.
You can choose to quit bad busyness and make good busyness.
What is your criteria for good busyness? And what are you going to change this week?