Manifesto: I’m Not Busy


Get Shift Done: Management

Imagine standing in a wind tunnel: you’re doing your best just to keep upright, the noise is overwhelming, and you can’t really see, hear or make sense of whatever someone is shouting at you. That’s how busy people operate, day in and day out. Days jammed with meetings, email, there’s always something they need to urgently respond to, get on that conference call, finish yet another presentation. Have you ever tried scheduling fun with busy people?

I was this person. I lived on busy: I had three careers going in parallel, a family, and a deluge of emails spilling out of my inbox daily, so much so, I couldn’t even force myself to put the phone down in the evening. It’s just that, well.. Life was happening to me. I wasn’t happening to life.

It took stepping out of 9–5 for me to realize I lived in a wind tunnel of my own, and just how much that environment affected me. I remember distinctly walking around my neighbourhood on a nice summer day, thinking to myself: “Was summer always this nice?” I didn’t remember what a good long summer day felt like. I was the only one on that street, out for a walk.

I’m still walking on my own a lot, but I am definitely noticing changes. I see more people in the local parks during the day now: doing photoshoots, walking dogs, playing tennis, working on their laptops in the shade, reading books, running, breathing, living. My local coffee shop used to be empty during the day: now, it’s packed with people on their laptops, families with young kids, elderly ladies having tea, older gentlemen reading books or playing chess. It’s a lot easier for me to make coffee and lunch dates with friends now, because increasingly, more of my friends find themselves outside of 9–5, by choice or not, and realize how crossing to the “dark side” isn’t perhaps the worst thing ever.

I offer support to friends going through the transition, because it’s not that easy to change the way you live and do work, and because for many, this change comes with a certain sense of loss and burnout; a confusing time. We build it back up: new networks, habits, ways of doing work, managing teams and projects. With so many ways to collaborate and work remotely, we get creative, get a lot done, and have enough time left over to enjoy life, make plans, think.

I’ve also had good luck connecting with people in executive roles in big organizations, personally and professionally. These people have founded million-dollar companies. They manage large teams and budgets. They’ve answered my emails within minutes. They’re less busy than you might think, because they set their own priorities. And — surprise — you can’t be proactive or creative on a set schedule. Your best ideas don’t usually come to you when you’re busy, surviving the wind tunnel, answering emails, in-between conference calls. Your best conversations don’t all happen inside the office walls.

Life is too short to be busy

What’s really happening to us when we rush from one meeting to the next? I know what happened to me: I started to value my time outside of work a lot more, which led to making careful choices about what I do outside of work. Since I only had maybe 1–2 hours daily of “my own time,” I had to narrow it down to people I really cared about and activities/projects I was passionate about. Best of all, I could see the impact of that work, the progress. I got to grow a few really great things: HoHoTO, Toronto Maker Festival, BetaKit, YongeStreet, to name a few. Then it occurred to me… All of my time is valuable. All of it. Including my 9–5: what was I spending those 8 hours a day on? What if I took back all that time, what would life be like then?

Busy much?

Everyone arrives at a certain fork on the road, sooner or later, when choices are binary and stark. I’m convinced many of us are at that fork now, and that we chose busy by default.

Maybe busy comes in waves. Since my time is mine to manage, I try to not operate at full-speed of my 100% unless I absolutely must, because then I can’t keep these energy levels up for too long, and can’t easily scale down or up. When I worked 9–5, taking breaks, coming in or leaving early was almost unthinkable, even when there wasn’t that much to do. I still don’t understand what’s up with that “be in the office by 9” arbitrary, daily deadline. No, thank you.

So take more of your time back, where you can. Go for a walk in the middle of the afternoon and don’t even check your phone while you’re out. Can you do that?

You’ve got to leave space: for your dreams, for the unknown, for everything that isn’t yet written.

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