Many feel good about always rushing around as if being busy is a sign of success or productivity.
I'm here to tell you that that is an illusion, and how busyness is a sign of the lack of success.
Working for myself for over 13 years, I've found a connection to busyness and lack of progress.
The times I feel most productive and in control are when I feel like I have an empty calendar with not much to do.
When I feel rushed, I feel unproductive because I am unproductive. Rushing around creates a mental world that is the antithesis to getting deep, creative work done.
Busyness is not productivity. Let's talk about it today so you can avoid this trap yourself.
I get a lot done.
I'm a CEO, father, YouTuber, home cook, exerciser, health carer, podcaster. I write daily and record podcasts and YouTube videos multiple times a week on top of managing my team at Wild Foods.
Here's the thing about all of it: I rarely feel rushed.
This is by design, a purposeful design.
I've simplified my life so that I have as much open time as possible. Most days, I have nothing on my calendar. This gives me the leeway to do my best creative work and then fit in inspiration to do what I want whenever that strikes.
This didn't come easy. It's a goal I set out for myself long ago in my entrepreneur career—the pursuit of 100% autonomy in my time.
Over the years, I've gotten better at identifying what should be ignored and what deserves my focus. By ignoring things that need to be ignored, and saying no to a lot of good but not great things, I've given myself the space to make better decisions and be my most creative.
This is why I now believe this truism of productivity: If you feel rushed or busy, it's because you aren't in control of your schedule.
Let's dig into a few ways I think about this that you might find useful.
Why busy saps productivity
Rushing around saps productivity because it moves you further away from deep work. That's the first issue with busyness.
Deep work requires undisrupted hours of concentration, making it extra sensitive to the mental reside that comes from a day full of random events.
I've found a correlation to adding meetings and running errands to my deep work suffering. It's harder to get into a flow state. It requires more energy to figure out when to do my deep work, and in general, makes deep work feel more like a chore, especially if my deep work gets pushed back to later in the day.
The thing about deep work is it represents the most critical work you do. Maybe that's writing or recording or editing or thinking, deep work is the 20% most important work that moves the needle.
Most struggle to get even an hour of deep work in each day. For every extra item you add to your day, you get that much further away from having the time and space to get your best work done.
Working remotely and busyness and deep work and focus
I go into Austin once a week to play racquetball.
Once I get in town, I try to get at least 3 or 4 hours of work done at a coffee shop. Sometimes I find a quiet spot with good wifi and little distraction. Other times the environment feels wrong. Either way, my deep work always suffers when I'm working remotely. I've also found it more challenging to get into flow when working remotely.
All around, busyness and productivity do not go hand and hand.
If you've never had to work creatively on your own, it might seem like this is exaggerated. It's not.
Your environment and your mental space are integral for productivity and getting your best work done.
Mental residue and the importance of email over meetings
There's also a mental residue that lingers after doing a bunch fo different things in a day. I always struggle with focus ad motivation after a day of driving around and going to and fro.
This is one reason why I don't schedule a lot of meetings anymore. I've realized that most meetings should be a phone call, and most phone calls should be an email. (I think Naval Ravikant said that.)
By eliminating unnecessary meetings and phone calls, you save time while removing the mental residue of sitting in unproductive meetings.
As a CEO, I get email requests all the time to "hop on a call." I'm to the point where I immediately say block anyone that asks me to hop on a call.
It's such a presumptuous thing to ask.
Bonus tip: I ignore most inbound emails (most). If an interview or podcast opportunity comes up, I might accept that, but most other emails are someone trying to sell me a service or product. Those get ignored and sometimes blocked.
If you want to control your life, you have to curb the inbound ruthlessly.
If you need something, you'll go out and get it. This makes inbound a waste of time in most cases.
Inbound is people inserting themselves into your life, and usually, they are just trying to sell you.
I can't tell you of a single time I've ever done anything productive for myself or my business by responding to an inbound email.
How to feel in control of your time
The secret to feeling in control your time is to control your time.
Stop saying yes to every little thing that comes up.
Stop taking on every little shiny ball that enters your view.
If you're at a time in your life when you want to say "yes" to things, great, do that. Then, as you start getting results, flip your yeses into nos.
If you work for a company with one of those stupid open calendar policies, create a daily recurring block of time each day and set it to "unavailable." Then use that block of time to get your deep work done. If your boss gives you flak for this, explain to him or her how this is the most critical work you do each day, and how not being interrupted is integral for you to do your job. You should also consider giving them a copy of Deep Work by Cal Newport.
This is called time blocking. Some people use it to map out their entire day. If you can do that, you totally should. I like to be a bit more flexible with my daily schedule, so I aim to have as much free time on the calendar. Then, when I want to schedule something, I'll schedule it manually.
Controlling your schedule is how you control your schedule.
I mentioned how working remotely might cut into your deep work. That's not entirely accurate. There is an exception to this.
I go to the same coffee shop each morning for thinking, reading, and writing. I've always felt the need to get out of the house first thing in the morning, so I found a small place to do my morning routine.
Because I go to the same place each day, I can get my writing done there (deep work).
The key with remote deep work is treating it like any other routine.
Last year, I bought an iPad pro with the new keyboard case. It's become one of my favorite ways to focus. The limitations of this device make it perfect for writing and editing. Since it can't do as much as my laptop, there are fewer distractions. It is also more mobile, so I can take it and write on the porch or outside on a picnic table. Now when I want to write, I grab the iPad.
Simplifying can open up opportunities you hadn't considered. Simplification itself is a form of distraction control.
By removing options, it is that much easier to focus. Remember, the opposite of focus is distraction, so remove distraction, and you get focus.
A final note on busyness
If you have notifications on your phone or devices, turn them off.
Research suggests it takes as much as 25 minutes to get back to the same mental state you were at before being interrupted. Yikes.
Notifications are kryptonite for focus and productivity.
This is another reason I feel so in control of my time; because I use airplane mode religiously; because I check email only once a day and later after I've done real work; and because I rarely take meetings unless they are necessary.