“To me, ‘busy’ implies that the person is out of control of their life.”Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby,
I didn’t send my newsletter out last week on schedule. I had been drafting this one for a while and it was never quite right so I decided not to send. Then I got an email from Marcus Sheridan on simplicity and I thought damn, that’s what I was writing about! Then I saw another one on the same topic and couldn’t help but think everyone is writing the email I wanted to but was not able to.
So I decided to skip it. I mean, it’s not like you’re staring at your inbox waiting for my email.
So I here I am finishing the one I started. It’s about how people use the term “busy” as a metric for success and why I stopped doing it.
For some context on the quote above, Derek Sivers, created CD Baby in 1998. It became the largest seller of independent music online, with $100 million in sales for 150,000 musicians. In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22 million, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education. He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with more than 5 million views of his talks. Since 2011, he has published 34 books.
In a podcast interview with Tim Ferriss (linked below), he said that he often gets emails that start with “I know you are extremely busy…” and he said, “…but I’m not busy.” He manages his time for the things that truly matter to him.
It’s interesting because just over a year ago, P and I sat at a bonfire outside a brewpub in Joseph, Oregon staring at the Wallowa Mountains enjoying a locally brewed beer. It felt good. and simple. We decided at that moment that we should do this more often. We should simplify our lives. I was tired of being constantly busy, running from one thing to the next, constantly feeling behind and unprepared. I didn’t want to work so hard to maintain my lifestyle. It felt like no matter how well we did at work, we were able to do equally well at spending.
If our household were a sinking ship (which it is not) and the ceiling of the galley was our revenue, it felt like the room kept filling with water and I was constantly gasping for the last few inches of air.
Most importantly, I wanted to be able to say “yes” to things I wanted to say yes to. Like when friends invite me on a week-long hike in the Idaho wilderness or a backcountry ski trip in British Columbia. Even if I was invited for a day trip or a trail run for a few hours, too often, I had to say no because I had too much shit to do.
I mean, what’s the point, anyway? I love my work, but even that had taken a turn where I was taking on business I didn’t love because I had to keep that ship afloat.
Ironically, simplifying life is a complicated thing and we got busier from the mere act of trying to be less busy. The to-do list to simplify proved to be daunting. (Sell our house and downsize meant projects to get the house ready for the market, list it, sell it super fast omg, now inspection repairs, find a smaller house, documentation, pack, move… yeah)
Now, a year later, we’ve done it and I feel like I can breathe easier on a ship afloat on calm waters – I can even go out on the bow and watch the full moon.
To get here, P and I both asked ourselves a few things:
- What do I want to do for work? What is meaningful and makes me excited to wake up every morning?
- Outside of work, what things do I want to leave time in my day for? Things like exercise, and thinking/doing creative work, taking the dogs on long walks in the woods (and doing great work during that time).
- How can I leave weekends and evenings to not work (for the most part) and do things I usually don’t have time for?
I budgeted my time starting with all those fixed expenses above and found I had very little left after that. Now, I say no to a lot of things not because I’m too “busy.” It’s because it doesn’t meet the above criteria and it’s not the way I want to spend my time.
An unexpected consequence in this change is that I am not interested in giving brain bandwidth to trivial things that don’t matter like why the guy in the parking lot had to take two spots or why my internet company decided to do network maintenance during work hours rather than overnight. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I’m not a fan of the “busy story.” The badge of busy shouldn’t be a badge of honor, and wearing that badge on your sleeve is not one that garners admiration from those around you.
Either make time or don’t. Make that decision and be good with it.
More listening and reading:
Derek Sivers on Tim Ferriss’ podcast
Deep Work, Cal Newport – I loved this for the ideas on setting priorities and living your life by them. In the end, giving you time do to the “deep work” or whatever it is you want to spend time doing.[ssba]