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.

Learn from 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, Relevant.community, 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: https://ulyngs.github.io/cog-design-space-ict-self-control/an-integrative-dual-systems-approach-to-digital-self-control.html

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.

Immersion

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.

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 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