Initial Thoughts on Busyness (Part 1)

An Interest in Busyness.

My impression is that people are often too disorganized or busy to:

  1. Do anything besides what they presently have momentum for
  2. Think about planning something else

To-do lists are popular, time-blocking is another one that comes up these days, and sometimes people know about entire frameworks like GTD.

But to-do lists are limited, time-boxing isn’t really effective if you experience many disruptions, and every solution tends to require all sorts of manual effort to effectively manage and deploy.

This means they’re primed to persistently fall prey to the original problems of being disorganized and busy.

So, what can we do about freeing up people’s time?

The problem is so pervasive, that it’s most noticeable when speaking with folks that just don’t seem to have the problem. The last time it happened I remember thinking something like, “these people seem to do a lot of cool things and don’t appear rushed at all.” *¹

This leads me to believe that the problem is not only about being busy, but about doing things you value. So I want to make an additional note, potentially at risk of inviting busyness back into the fold.

Would it be worth presenting alternative activities which they might value more?

Naming the Knowns

  1. There is a psychological component to the feeling of freedom (as in having more time for self-determination)
    eg: having more time for self-determination doesn’t mean one will feel freer, nor that they won’t use the time to detract from their overall sense of freedom.
  2. To-Do lists and GTD type approaches suggest this is also about time management.
  3. The volume of tasks, distractions, “fires” in a person’s life at present is likely to be a significant factor.
  4. Tasks will come in a few forms
    1. A task is essential and needs to be done (taxes, eating, garbage disposal).
    2. A task is not essential but appears related to some goal (writing blog posts on design, a/b testing landing pages)
  5. Thinking about freeing up time from tasks involves type 1 and type 2 risks:
    1. Type 1: You don’t stop doing inconsequential tasks.
    2. Type 2: You stop doing consequential tasks.

Naming the Unknowns

  1. Is busyness the source or a symptom of what I’m trying to pin down?
  2. How does the psychological component of being and feeling busy, work? What is it connected to? What are the flows?
  3. Where is the boundary between the mental and material states of busyness?
  4. Does this need to focus on both? What are the existing options for mental and material busyness?
  5. How can we identify and measure mental and/or material busyness?

Naming the Constraints

At present, the scope seems pretty big and poorly defined. This is an obvious issue. I’ll need to decide which part to focus on as the project moves forward. I’ll also need to identify whether it addresses the core challenge, or whether it changes my observations fundamentally.


– being rushed seems related to the ideas of contaminated time, time serenity, and even flow