If you’re too busy, you’re doing something wrong

When did being “busy” become a badge of honour? Why do we celebrate busyness and assume that if we’re not busy, we’re not being productive and getting stuff done?

In this post

The busy trap

Okay, I’ll put my hand up right now and admit it – when someone asks: “How’ve you been?” my default response is usually something like: “Yeah good, but busy!”.

Why would I say this?

I think it’s because being “busy”:

  • Makes us feel important. When we’re racing around, jumping between different projects and people, we feel more needed. And it’s good to feel needed, right?
  • Is expected of us. When you have a job, you’re expected to be working all the time. If you’re not as busy as the person sitting next to you, well surely you can’t be adding as much value to the company, can you?
  • Is something we enjoy. Often we get bored when there’s nothing to do, so we make ourselves busy with lots of “stuff”. This creates a false sense of productivity.
  • Is something we can use an excuse. If someone questions why you didn’t do something, or why a result wasn’t that good, you can just say you were too busy. Problem solved!

So, I’m going to commit, right now to remove the word “busy” from my vocabulary. I’m not going to use it as an excuse, nor am I going to use it to describe my situation.

Because truth be told, I’m not busy. Sure, I get a lot done and if someone followed me around for a week, they would probably describe me as someone who’s busy.

But, I’m not busy because I plan everything I do. I’ve actively decided how I want to spend my time and even though my days consist of lots of actives, they’re all deliberate choices I’ve made.

Because I plan my time and focus on completing a few essential tasks each week, I can take my time doing a few key tasks really well. And, best of all, I still have time to work on my fitness, relax in the evenings, read and spend time with friends and family.

Celebrating laziness

When I started writing this post, I had to listen to this chapter reading by Tim Kreider, author of We Learn Nothing:

It’s a great reading which challenges busyness vs laziness.

Perhaps one of the reasons we feel we have to be busy is to avoid laziness. Laziness is something we associate with sitting around on the couch, doing nothing. But in this reading, Kreider celebrates laziness and having the ability to do what you want, whether that’s going to a new gallery exhibition on a work day or having sex in the middle of the afternoon.

It’s either “HELL YEAH! or no”

You may well have heard this expression, but it’s worth repeating.

As explained by Derek Sivers1, when deciding whether to do something, if you’re answer isn’t “HELL YEAH!” then it’s “no”. In other words, if you aren’t totally stoked about doing something, then don’t do it. Simple.

But I can’t just abandon all of my responsibilities!

The main argument here is that when you say “no” to most things, you leave far more room for the one or two things that you’ve said “HELL YEAH!” to. The trick is to make sure that the few things you say yes to are things that really matter.

It comes down to what you consider to be your biggest priorities. Because when everything is important, nothing is important. You’re doing yourself and others a disservice by spreading yourself so thin. Remember that!

I love the way Casey Neistat describers this2; you can choose to focus on 10 things and chip away a little bit at all of them, or commit 100% to one thing and do that thing to the best of your ability.


You can progress 10 things by a small amount each, or one thing by a whole lot.

Being busy implies you have too much to do

When you’re busy, you have to rush from one thing to the next so that you can get everything done. This implies you have too much to do. The goal should be to complete a task to a satisfactory level in a reasonable amount of time, without rushing.

Now, if you keep the amount of work the same and simply slow down, you’re days will just become longer.

On the flip side, you can reduce the amount of work you’re doing (by using “HELL YEAH! or no”) and spend a quality amount of time on a few essential tasks.

To help you remember this idea, keep the following in mind:

Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions.” – Tim Ferriss3

This isn’t easy… you’ll literally have to change the way you approach busyness. But when you find yourself complaining about how busy you are, take this as a sign that you’re not prioritising enough.

Schedule laziness into your day

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll know that I use my calendar to plan when I’m going to work on specific tasks.

sunrise-calendarOf course, your calendar isn’t just for planning your next meeting. Use it to plan all the stuff you actually want to do. Like hanging out with friends, playing a game of tennis, going for a long-walk or reading for 5 hours straight.

Even if you want to do these things, it’s highly unlikely you’ll just magically find the time in the day to do them… unless you plan. So, make time for these things and plan your work and chores around them.

You should also schedule when you’re going to work on the few high priority tasks. After going through the steps above, take the tasks you’ve decided “HELL YEAH” to, and schedule blocks of time on your calendar to work on these things. That way, you can clearly see how long various tasks are going to take and how they fit in with the other appointments on your calendar.

Decide on a cutoff time in the afternoon or evenings to stop doing work by. Even at work, if you finish at 5 pm, why not plan your actives so you can stop at 4 and use the final hour to strategise or learn something new.

When you reach some white space on my calendar, you can treat this as guilt-free “lazy time” to do what you want.

Key Takeaways

  • Celebrate laziness and having the ability to do what you want.
  • Use “HELL YEAH! or no” to prioritise your life. Remember that you are doing yourself and others a disservice by spreading yourself too thin.
  • Remember that being busy is a form of laziness.
  • When you complain about being busy, take this as a sign that you need to prioritise more effectively.
  • Use your calendar to schedule time for the things you want to do and the essential tasks you’ve decided to work on (spend 5–10 minutes doing this now).

  1. Read more about “HELL YEAH! or no” on Derek’s blog. ↩︎
  2. Watch the full blog here ↩︎
  3. Read Tim’s awesome article: “Productivity” Tricks for the Neuroritc, Manic-Depressed and Crazy (like me) ↩︎