Most of us are pretty busy, just about every day.
Some like it that way — being busy is almost a status symbol, as it shows you’re important and productive and a go-getter and achiever. If you’re in a power meeting and sending emails on your Blackberry and making calls, you must be important, right?
I say we should reject that little game of who’s busier than whom. We should opt out. We should say, “I’d rather find peace of mind, and be able to relax, and really enjoy life, than allow it to pass me by just so I can be ‘productive’ and show everyone how important I am.”
OK, maybe say something shorter instead. Like, “No thanks.”
Why busy is a fool’s trap
Thing with busy is, it never ends. You’ll never get out of it (unless you make a very conscious effort), because there is no end to the to-do list, the emails, the IMs and phone calls, the meetings and meetings and yes, more meetings. We’re hamsters on a treadmill, running for no real purpose, except to make a boss happy, to make money for someone else, or perhaps to make money for ourselves … but to what end?
The treadmill will never end. There is never an end, because there is no destination.
But guess what? The journey is the destination. We are already there — what we do today is what our life is, what it’s all about. Is being this busy really the meaning of life? Or is there something more? Is there a better life?
I believe we should eschew busy-ness for things with more value. Eschew the urgent for the important. And even then, if we’re doing important things, we should not fill every minute with important things. We need to learn to relax, and be happy, and enjoy life. Otherwise, it’s not worth living.
We need to rediscover what it’s like to do nothing, to sit still, to enjoy silence. We need to put more space in between things, instead of cramming them together all the time. Let’s stop being busy, and start being happy.
How to be less busy
It starts with a decision: I want to be less busy. I don’t want to do this anymore.
What follows really depends on how much control you have over your day.
If you have at least some control: Make two lists: your ideal day, and all the things that fill up your day (all your commitments). Start by eliminating commitments that are not essential, that don’t make up your ideal day — call or email people and tell them you can no longer commit to the commitment, that you don’t have the time. People will be disappointed but will live.
Then start following your ideal schedule. Be sure there’s spaces between things, so you’re not rushed. Leave large blocks of time wide open, so you can focus on creating or doing what makes you happy. Leave at least one big block for doing non-work stuff, whether that’s spending time with family, or exercising, or doing a hobby, or just relaxing.
Look at your to-do list and see what you can eliminate or delegate or postpone until later. Each day, just choose one or three things to focus on. Have a block of time designated for doing emails and phone calls and smaller tasks, so they don’t interrupt you throughout the day.
Disconnect from the Internet for large chunks of time. When you go places, turn your mobile device off, or leave it behind, so you can be disconnected from the online world and interruptions, and connected to the real world and real people. Clear away distractions and interruptions so you’re not always switching your attention between things.
Avoid meetings. Seriously. They fill up our days without being productive.
Single-task instead of multi-task. Focus on important things rather than a bunch of little things. If you get caught up opening new tabs to read, bookmark them later with delicious or instapaper or some other service.
And enjoy the peacefulness. Relax, take naps, breathe.
If you have little control: See how much of the above you can already implement — you might get further than you think. Mapping out an ideal day, eliminating commitments, simplifying your to-do list, single-tasking, clearing away distractions and interruptions … most people can do most of these things, or if not most things then at least a few.
Also, talk to your boss. Tell your boss that you’d like to be more “productive” and that the interruptions and meetings are getting in the way of accomplishing more important things. Tell your boss what you’d like to accomplish, and what you’d like to change about your schedule. Work out a compromise.
Also, think about changing jobs, if you really have no control. This is a longer-term change, obviously, but it’s possible, and maybe even desirable. Something to consider, at least.
In the end, whatever changes you make, you can be less busy simply by changing your mindset, to one where you live in the present rather than always thinking about other things. Slow down, breathe, enjoy every moment. Learn to focus on what’s in front of you, and find peace in whatever you do.
Then raise your fist against the world in victory and laugh quietly, having beaten this busy busy world.
Leo Babauta is a simplicity blogger & author. He created Zen Habits, a Top 25 blog with a million readers. He's also a best-selling author, a husband, father of six children, and a vegan. In 2010 moved from Guam to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he leads a simple life.
Image credit: James Jordan