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


First Thoughts on Poshmark

I am interested in Poshmark as an online marketplace that borrows a lot of ideas from the social media space.

I haven’t yet used it, but know a bit about it and wanted to jot down my initial thoughts going into it.

Marketplaces & Social Media

Topping the marketplace layer with a social media layer seems like a logical next step given the amount of preoccupation with social media by the creators and primary audience of such an app. I want to take a closer look at what aspects of “social” have been borrowed, and how.

Ethical Concerns

I suspect that the combination of designing for addiction (a la Nir Eyal) with monetizable on-site social media type behaviors make for very high-order ethical concerns that challenge existing business models (Tristan Harris, Chamath Palihapitiya, Jaron Lanier). It seems like a tighter integration of liking and sharing to revenue generation for the user.

New Design Patterns

I am interested in the resulting interaction design patterns shaping these emergent platform models.

Technology in the crypto space will definitely borrow these novel design patterns, and incorporate new layers of incentivization. I want to keep this in mind.


Notes on Projects, Calendars, and Planning as they Pertain to Busyness (Part 3)

Coherency vs Interruption

A normal calendar has the basic function of visualizing your time and the hours of the day as space in a grid. If there’s something you want or have to do, and you’re a relatively organized person, you find an open slot and fill it.

There are however, other variables which normal calendars don’t automatically factor in, which productive people do implicitly. For instance, the number of concurrent threads one can manage, the cost of context switching, and considering an activity’s overhead.

In the comic, these other variables are all sort of visualized at once as size and position.

If this were a visualization of projects, we can safely assume the block size doesn’t simply represent the time to complete a task, but to how all the factors add up.

Each person will have their own thresholds which would determine the size of a project block, but I bet there’s a generalizable baseline from which a person can either gently expand or contract.

Calendar Events as Interruptions

A few years ago some friends and I had the idea that a calendar can quickly feel like a series of interruptions. In some cases, even the things we want to do on the calendar might feel like interruptions.

The challenge is to try to frame these events within a longer timeframe.

However, the assumption is that people can hold long timeframe goals and not feel as though the day-to-day activities have also somehow become distractions.

Incorporating Ideas From Budgeting and Project Management

For some perspective, I’ve started thinking about the tools for financial budgeting, estimating, and project management as analogs to dealing with attention.

  • There are different budgeting approaches. What are some of the inputs for budgeting time effectively? 
  • When creating estimates, we might factor in buffers as shorthand for admin work, for instance. Would you factor in 40% time buffer for your time estimates? (eg: related to one’s stress tolerance. A lower tolerance means greater buffer)
  • Considering all the things on a person’s weekly to-do: what is their work in progress (WIP)? How many goal-threads can we manage at once?

My Personal Experience Budgeting

One of the early problems I’d had with budgeting involved ‘over analyzing’ my budget and getting too granular.

What worked best was simplifying the approach. Simple, I set a single savings goal.

I decided how much I wanted to save by a specific point in time, made sure the monthly savings wasn’t eating in to “operating costs” like rent and utilities, gave myself a little weekly wiggle room (we’re better at managing scarcity than abundance), and put regular increments into savings.

Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.

What worked for me was to budget around my goal and to think about that goal first, rather than around my operating costs.

I knew that by X date I would have $Y, my operating costs would be covered, and that I would intuitively take care of the rest.

It was incredibly motivating and I saved a bunch of money.

Re-Introducing the Context of Busyness

Yet, I know I don’t always think about my time and attention this way.

I don’t know what my “operating costs” are in terms of time and attention.

To budget my dollars I know I need a goal, and I need to pay out money for things like rent and insurance.

But where am I paying out time and attention? and to what end? What is the goal?

What involving time and attention is required for me to have a healthy mind and body?


Sources of Busyness (Part 2)

My Design Problem is Too Vague

See Here

Busyness can come from a state of mind which is totally independent of being busy. This is to say it can be present as a psychological phenomenon or a material one, and is likely a system involving both.

Not to mention, I haven’t really thought about who I want to help. “Busy people” is too general since different people are often busy in very different ways. There could be some important overlap, but I’ll have to look deeper and find out.

Learn Form Normal People

I spoke in-person with a University Professor and a Television Producer regarding their own busyness.

I also posed questions in various Facebook Groups,, the UX Mastery forums.

The prompt for all the above was usually some version of the following:

My impression is that being disorganized and/or busy stops us from doing things we might prefer to do, or things we might value more.

If you agree, why do you agree? How do you know when you’re busy? Where do you think it comes from? What do you do?

If you don’t agree, what do you think I’m missing?

Learn From Existing Material

I read several articles and 2 scholarly works.

I looked through this amalgam of research related to busyness, contexts for thinking, and managing time in Digital IT:

I also read and continue to read parts of the book Thinking, Fast and Slow and Scale by Geoffrey West.

Thinking, Fast and Slow seemed relevant to build an understanding of the psychological components involved in thinking and responding, and the limits of these components

Scale seemed relevant as it makes references to the “speed of society,” and attempts to link it with mathematical considerations of physical structures.


As immersive research, I took up work at a digital marketing and development agency full-time for several years. I acted as our client’s primary point of contact, UX designer, and oversaw resource allocation through design and development on projects averaging about 5-9 months from kick-off until about 3 weeks post-launch.


Hooked Canvas

Something that stuck out to me was the association between “busyness” and the hook model in Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked.”

It shouldn’t really have come as a surprise that the hook model would be a part of this, but I overlooked a few things.

Fundamentally, each quadrant of the Hook model canvas correlates to a stage in the loop of habit formation. The extreme claim would be that the object of the canvas is, functionally speaking, the human psyche itself.

For the Business Model Canvas, the object is a business. For the Hook canvas, the object is human behavior.

To this end, I had overlooked that you could actually use the Hook canvas on yourself to break the loops which in some sense, belong to others.

In order to do this, you would need to observe your reaction (action) to specific stimuli (triggers), identify the rewards, and pay attention to how you become more invested in the stock of these rewards.

So, returning to the original question of busyness and narrowing the scope.

The parent problem seems to involve identifying whether a person is actually busy, or if they are feeling busy. Every new moment inherits the challenge of this parent problem, “am I really busy, or do I feel busy?”

I think this is what makes busyness and other psychological states with corresponding actions and rewards, so insidious. The threat can reassert itself at any moment provided the right trigger.

I find that I keep returning to the idea:

The heavy lifting is left to people while they’re likely in a poor psychological position for focus and intentional deliberation.

I think this is the problem that the Hook model presents us with, and one of the symptoms is busyness. For users, these hooks stack on top of each other within the individual’s unconscious.

I think these are important questions:

  1. How do we differentiate between being busy and the perception of being busy?
  2. How can we resolve the problem once we have differentiated?

Proceeding further, the problem space will vary depending on which way it goes.

  1. Should it go the way of “actually busy” then we still have to decide if the task is critical, non-critical.
  2. We also have to determine the nature of the task. Perhaps it involves sensitive data or is really specialized.

Zooming out from these lower-level questions, being open to the influence of others’ “hooks” might mean a lack of guiding purpose.

What Are Some Possible Solutions?

First approach

Provide a simple repeatable process that we can use at regular intervals, and help turn that into a habit.

  1. This process would help us identify whether our feeling of busyness aligns with the material state.
  2. If not, then I would look towards mindfulness routines.
  3. If so, then we might incorporate something like an Eisenhower matrix, or a method to realign ourselves with our goals.

Second approach

Simplify the outsourcing process and expand the range of tasks folks outsource.

Some Of The Challenges

For the first approach

  • Disinterest in explicit self-care. Explicit interest in self-sufficiency.
  • Not knowing what more “relaxed and in control” feels like, and mistaking that for what you already feel.

For the second approach

  • Getting people to offload chores
  • Getting people to trust others
  • Getting people to see and try the app