The Badge of Busy

Busy is not a badge to wear with pride. Yet we seem to want to show it to anyone who asks. How’s it going? Oh really busy. How about you? Yep, busy as.

I was running a workshop last week about how to create unhurriedly productive team cultures. The people in the group were really torn. They yearned to create a less busy environment. Yet they felt guilty if they weren’t busy themselves. Unhurried was reserved for the weekends, and they spent most of those two days recovering from being busy all week.

Sound familiar?

What appeared to be most frustrating for these leaders was two things:

  1. Their roles required them to have plenty of ‘white space’ in their calendars to think. Yet they couldn’t bring themselves to create and protect that white space. They seemed to compulsively fill the space with busywork!
  2. They knew that the way they showed up set the tone for the culture. If they were projecting busyness, that would create ripple effects across the entire team.

What’s going on here?

We tend to feel more hurried when we operate from what psychologists call a Reactive mindset. The Reactive mind is driven by fear. The fear of disapproval, the fear of losing control, the fear of looking stupid. From this mindset, we can give away our power to the external environment. We act to ‘stop bad things from happening’. Short-termism, Heroism and Perfectionism are all symptoms of the Reactive mind.

In contrast, our Creative mind operates from a deep sense of purpose, vision and personal agency. It’s less focused on stopping bad things from happening, and more focused on creating more of what we most want. Adult development psychologist Bob Kegan calls this the Self-Authored mind. It’s a cool term because it suggests that we’re holding the pen and can write what happens next. When we operate from this place, we’re committed to creating what matters most over the longer-term. And that helps us to transcend the Reactive mind. It’s easier to let go of the need to be liked by everyone, or to control everything, or to get it right every time. And when we can do that, we can more easily prioritise all-important breathe-out time.

For years, I was driven by a need for approval. I honed this strategy so well that I got a lot of business by being the friendly, flexible, available guy. Yet there was a cost. Because I wasn’t able to say no easily, I found myself working all hours and ended up feeling busy and resentful, even though in others’ eyes I was really successful. Nowadays, I’m super-clear on my purpose, and my vision for my life and how I can contribute to the world. I’ve examined the assumptions behind my need for approval and found them wanting. My Reactive mind is still there, but ‘I have it’ rather than ‘it has me’. I catch myself sooner and I’m more deliberate with my decisions.

As a result, I’m learning to drop the badge of busy. And it feels great.

If you wear the badge of busy a little too often, here are some questions for you to reflect on:

  • What are the upsides of your busyness?
  • What are the costs (to you, to your team, your family, the world)?
  • What’s driving your busyness?
  • What assumptions are you holding that might you want to test? (eg I need to be busy because….)
  • What would be the upsides of slowing down?
  • How might you manage any downsides of slowing down?

For more on the Reactive and Creative mind, check out Where’s Your Focus?

Unhurried Quotes

Last week, I shared some of my favourite quotes to keep me unhurried. And I promised that I’d share some of my community’s favourite quotes too. Here’s what readers shared:

Poipoia te kākano kia puāwai. Nurture the seed and it will bloom. From Sonia

In order to speed up, sometimes we have to slow down. From Maree

Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast (Mitsuyo Maeda) From Chris

I apologise for such a long letter - I didn't have time to write a short one (Mark Twain). From Paul

Make haste slowly. From Julie

Slow down so you get there on time. From Janne

The early bird gets the worm. From Bill

The second mouse gets the cheese. From Jo (this one has me a little befuddled!)

Go fast if you must, otherwise go slow. From Kirsten

Less is more. From Connie

More haste, less speed. Also from Connie

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. From Brad

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished (Lao Tzu). From Richard

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get. From Debby


A few weeks ago, I wrote about the value of having an Unhurried Project. My most recent project has been building a guitar for my son’s 21st. In case you were wondering, it’s done! He’s very happy. And so am I :-)

Here’s the finished product:

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