You’re Busy, Or You’re Nobody

It seems like society often uses being busy as a measure of success. I suppose it kind of makes sense because if you are busy, it is probably because you are in high demand. If you are in high demand, it is likely because you are good at what you do. And if you are good at what you do, you are probably successful. While on the surface this seems like a valid argument, I believe that this premise of busyness being a marker of success leads a lot of professionals to prioritize being busy for busy’s sake. It has created a generation of people who are so stressed about both being and appearing busy that they really don’t get much done.

Think about it, we have all had those weeks where we sit down and look at our calendar and suddenly feel so overwhelmed that we cannot think about our to do list for the day, never mind our board meeting tonight, or the networking event tomorrow. Sometimes weeks like that just happen, you cannot help how the stars aligned. However, often times this is our own doing. I often have overscheduled weeks and I know that it is my own fault. I’ve decided I am making a conscious effort to make my schedule less busy. When we overschedule and overcommit ourselves, we run the risk of not doing a very good job at any of the things we set out to do. So here are my tips for how and why you can and should embrace not being busy. I promise, not being busy will not make you less successful, it will make you your best self.

1. Set your priorities. What is it you want to accomplish this week, this month, this quarter, this year? Make strategic and thoughtful choices about what you want to get done and how to get there. Warning, you will have to say no to things, but this is good. People who say they are too busy are a pet peeve of mine. We are all too busy to accomplish everything which is why we must prioritize. Being too busy is not the actual issue, the truth is you cannot or choose not to prioritize a certain project so just be honest. Not everything can or should be a priority.

2. When planning your projects outside of work focus on one or two projects and dive deep. We are all at that age where volunteering and board membership are important for our professional development. I urge you to be strategic about which organizations you get involved with. Do you know that you are committed to this organization? Do you know you will make a positive contribution to the organization? Do you have the time and resources to join the board? Ask yourself those questions and commit to making a strong impression on one or two organizations. Again, you will have to say no to certain opportunities, or choose to make a limited commitment but you will have a greater impact on the organizations you serve.

3. Plan unstructured free time. Having open space on your calendar allows you to recharge, reflect, and gives you the opportunity to say yes to things that you would not normally be available to do. Stop thinking about what you have to do next and enjoy the moment. I struggle with this, I hate downtime, but I am really working on putting blank space on my calendar because having this time allows me to be more productive overall.

4. Schedule open thought time. This is like unstructured free time, but at work. I am sure there are times my coworkers walk by my desk and think that I am doing nothing, just staring out the window with a notepad in my hand. This is time for your brain to recharge and wander. It allows new and creative ideas to float to the surface instead of being trapped by your to do list.

5. Find something you love to do and prioritize scheduling that activity. We all have at least one activity that helps us deal with stress, an activity that leaves us feeling both at peace and energized. For me, it is working out. No matter how busy I am, I need to get a workout in. In fact, the busier I am the more I need to make sure I get to the gym. Even when I do not want to get up at 6:00 am, I feel like I can take on the world after a short run. What is the activity that leaves you feeling empowered and confident? Make that activity sacred and do your best to make sure it’s one of the few things that you do multiple times a week.

About the Author


Stephenie Lazarus is the Development Director at Providence Englewood Charter School. Formerly, Stephanie was the Development Manager at LIFT, a nonprofit working to help Chicagoans lift themselves out of poverty for good. Stephenie is a graduate of both University of Michigan and University of Chicago and volunteers her time with Erie Neighborhood House’s TEAM program and the Junior League of Chicago.