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Busyness gets a bad rap in productivity circles, and often for good reason. When someone declares that they’re “so busy,” they sometimes do so to project an air of importance. Busyness is proof that the world needs and depends on you—or at least that’s how the story goes. Projection of status aside, busyness can sometimes be a sign that you’ve taken on too much, or that you’re unable to manage everything on your plate.
But busyness can also be a good thing. What if you’re busy with projects and commitments that provide a sense of purpose, through which you make a positive contribution? What if you’re busy running development projects around the world, spending quality time with your family, and delving into the greatest books ever written?
With so much talk about busyness, how should we think about it in the first place? I’m still wrapping my own head around this. The way I’ve come to see it, busyness comes in two flavors.
The first kind is moment-to-moment busyness. The busier you are in each moment, the busier your mind becomes in turn. We feel more productive when our schedules are crammed because our evaluating mind looks to how busy we are as a measure of productivity. But a busy mind does not mean we’re making progress. In fact, the opposite is often true.
The second kind is overall busyness. The more projects and commitments we take on—in both our work and personal lives—the busier we become at this more abstract level. Generally speaking, a work project or commitment is valuable when it makes a contribution, and a personal project or commitment is valuable when it’s meaningful.
When reflecting on how busy you are and how busy you feel, keep in mind that these two states of busyness are not created equal.
The key, I’ve come to believe, is to minimize how busy we are in the moment—while taking on new projects and commitments that make a difference and prove meaningful overall.
In addition, the less busy we are in the moment, the greater our capacity for busyness overall. In other words, moving away from momentary busyness means we have more time, energy, and attention to dedicate to valuable and meaningful projects. Good productivity will help to strike this balance.
Busyness may make you feel important. But be sure to distinguish between moment-to-moment busyness and overall busyness. One is worth minimizing, while the other is worth optimizing to make a greater contribution and live a more meaningful life.