It’s obvious my design problem is too general.

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.

IDEO offers a set of questions for thinking about whether your design problem is too general.

  • Is the question focused on ultimate impact?
  • Does the question allow for a variety of solutions?
  • Does the question take into account context and constraints?

In order to help narrow my scope, I began engaging with others and some of the related material online. With a better idea of the parts involved, I can also begin to imagine the various audiences that different paths might pertain to.


2.1 – Learn from normal people

I initiated in-person discussions with a University Professor and a Television Producer on their thoughts 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?

2.2 – Learn from experts

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.

2.3 – Immersion

As immersive research, I took up work at a digital marketing and development agency full-time for 4 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.

2.4 – Analogs

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 is 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 generally. It’s all over the book and his blog but I had overlooked the following implications.

You could actually use the Hook canvas on yourself. You can observe your reaction (action) to specific stimuli (triggers), identify the rewards and how they function like “interest” (in the economic sense) to some aspect of you are.

This is to say, it could be possible to use the Hook canvas on ourselves to break the hook loops which others have us in.

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 the 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 in a bad place for focus or 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 this is what I want to focus on. Phrased as a set of 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’s the ultimate impact I want to have?

I want folks to feel they have more control of the demands on their time and attention.

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 constraints I’m facing

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