Trying to Become Un-Busy

As I’ve moved deeper into my career, one of the things that I’ve found is that I keep expanding my work quantity to fill the hours I have available. I’ve started to buy into the idea that my value is measured in the amount of work I do, and how “Busy” I appear to be. I’ve spent a lot of time doing make-work projects just because I didn’t want to look like I had nothing to do.

This is the grand fallacy of North American business, and global business, that we draw a direct connection between productivity and worth. It’s a fallacy that I fell into, and one that I am desperately trying to pull myself out of. It’s driven by smart phones and our addiction to an “always on” society, coupled with the perverse “Protestant work ethic” that drives North American culture.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: If I want to be productive, to find new ways of doing and seeing things, and want to be able to articulately share my ideas with others, I need to stop being busy. I just need to stop.

The benefits of mental downtime are many, but for those of us who aspire to be leaders, the most important benefit is that it gives our brains time to make connections between seemingly unrelated problems. What we often refer to as inspiration is actually our brains using our mental processing power to make unconscious connections or find solutions. If we are constantly “on”, then we cannot make those types of connections.

When our brains don’t rest, we become worn out and weary, never having had a chance to consolidate learning or memory, and never giving ourselves the freedom to daydream and explore our own thoughts. I’ve started to build in some unstructured time during my daily routine that allows me to get into my own head and spend some time exploring new ideas. I’ve blocked an hour a day for work planning and focused work, which means that I’m spending my time looking at what is on my plate and deciding where I’m going to focus my attention and energy.

As a result, I’ve started spending more time on the things that really matter, and reducing the amount of time I’m spending on trivial things. I’m feeling like I am getting more accomplished, and that the quality of my work is better. I’m also more present at home because I’m not worried about the important things at work. That being said, I’m not in a position to always be “off the clock” at home because of the needs of my job…but I’m more “off the clock” than I used to be!

This also means that I’m finding more solutions to problems and making more connections where they need to be made. Getting rid of the mental deadweight means that I have the ability to compose articulate articles (instead of just writing for the sake of writing) and to look at things in a new way. It’s a daily struggle…I still feel the urge to check my phone on a regular basis, but that speaks more to my addiction than the need to actually always be connected.

It’s an interesting process, and I look forward to sharing more about it with you in the future as I figure out how to un-busy myself even more!


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