The Art of Being Un-Busy

Because being busy doesn’t mean being productive.

“A clock, a notebook and a smartphone on a white desk” by on Unsplash

When asked how our weeks or days have been, we often answer, “Crazy busy”! We like to tell others how busy we are, because we’ve been taught to think that we aren’t worthwhile if we aren’t acting busy.

When my husband and I were just dating, we used to eat out a lot. I remember one incident where we visited a restaurant that was nearly empty. When we sat down, we assumed this meant we would be served pretty quickly. But the waitresses seemed very busy — they were literally running from one end of the restaurant to the other — and they took a while to take our order. My husband and I looked at each other and wondered why were they seemed so busy when we could count on one hand the number of occupied tables in the restaurant. The food also took longer than average to arrive and, by the end of our meal, we were more than ready to leave the place with one question in our heads: why were the waitresses acting so busy?

It’s important to take a step back every so often and assess our busyness. Are we busy for good reasons? Are we making an impact and following our dreams? Are we serving our customers better? Are we growing and expanding? For a restaurant, being busy should equal one thing: more customers and, therefore, more profit. Similarly, whether at work or in life, when we’re busy, it should be because we’re working towards our goals, becoming a better version of ourselves, and making a difference.

If one of the answer to the above questions is no, then perhaps we need to refocus so that we can use our time and energy to do things that matter.

Let’s have a look at a few things we can do to make sure we’re busy in the right way.

Practise Mindfulness

Every one of us has the power to decide whether we want to be busy or not, and the first and most important step is to be aware of what we’re doing — being mindful about it. For example, maybe we have the habit of checking our email or social media feeds every 10 minutes, and as a result we might end up not achieving as much during the workday because we were too ‛busy’ checking emails. If someone were to point out this behaviour, we might realise that we’ve never really thought about why it’s become such a habit!


By prioritising our activities, we can be intentional about how we spend our time and refocus on what matters to us. If you’re a busy executive, you could find opportunities to delegate, or to develop your team, or both, which would help you be less busy. Or maybe there are some things that you can eliminate entirely because they no longer add value.

Change Your Mindset

As I mentioned earlier, we tend to think that being busy is equivalent to being important; as long as we think that, we’ll unconsciously find ways to be busy. We need to shift our thinking in order to make the decision to become un-busy, or at least more productive with our busyness. When we look around us, we can see that the people who are happiest and most successful are never the busiest people — they’re the ones who’re productive with their time but who also find the time to sit back, relax, and just be.

Schedule ‛Me Time’

Michael Jordan, an American athlete, once said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” It’s a very powerful statement. We may say that we wish we were less busy, but without any action on our part, nothing is going to change. We can schedule ‘me time’ by setting aside time in our calendar for doing the things we like — baking, for example, or taking a walk, or just relaxing with nothing to do. At first it might seem unproductive, but research has shown that taking breaks is essential to our overall well-being — it refreshes us, which enables us to think better afterwards and thus be more productive. We lose our false sense of urgency, so we don’t feel the need to rush and act like we’re busy. And truthfully, we don’t need to reply to every email or every message the minute we receive them. The world’s not going to stop if we just take an hour’s break to unwind.

Back to Saying No

As I’ve mentioned earlier, most of us have the desire to please and help others, so one of the reasons why we don’t like saying no is because we don’t want to seem rude or appear selfish. While I think it’s absolutely wonderful to be at the service of others, we need to be mindful about whether we’re spending too much time pleasing other people and saying yes just for the sake of it. I used to be like that, until I truly understood that it’s about quality, not quantity — it’s about how much value we bring by helping others, rather than how many times we help them or how much time we spend doing it.

By applying the above tips where possible and becoming more mindful of how we spend our time, I believe that we can all become less busy and at the same time make an even greater impact with the things that matter to us.

Unlocking your success

This is a chapter from my book, “Unlocking your success: The secrets to experiencing joy in your career and life”. Head over to Amazon to find out more about the book.