Blake Smith

create. code. learn.


don't tell me how busy you are

Busywork isn’t work. It’s a cheap substitute for a feeling of self-importance. For whatever reason, we’re quick to praise someone who stays extremely busy and shun those who go slowly and at a more relaxed pace. The marketers keep telling us our lives are busy and filled so they can sell us more fast moving products and services we don’t really need. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. We’re told we should be busy all the time, or we’re not worth as much as someone who isn’t.

It’s a lie. It makes us feel safe. It means we can get by without actually doing anything important and people won’t notice us. Seth Godin calls this the lizard brain. If we don’t do anything hard, make some serious noise and change something significant in our lives, we’ll remain safe. No one will question us. No one will laugh at us or tell us that our idea was bad; They’ll just choose not to notice us. Lizard brain. It’s so much easier to appear to be busy but not actually do anything important. Stay in meetings all day, check your email, surf the internet. It’s easy, and our lizard brain encourages us to do it because it’s safe and we won’t get noticed.

Don’t tell me about how busy your schedule is; I don’t want to hear about it. What I do want to hear about is how you’re making a difference. How are you changing the world? How are you making the lives of others more enjoyable and worthwhile? If you’re trying to get my praise for being extremely busy, I’m not going to give it to you. What will inspire me and make me admire you is when you have passion, dedication and direction heading towards the greater good. When you pursue your art with such unwavering dedication that no matter what someone tells you you’re going to continue your journey in pursuit of bettering your craft. Tell me about your dreams, your desires, what you’ve accomplished - but even more importantly what you plan on accomplishing. Make me so excited that I want to join you or be a part of your journey in any way that I can.

I’m working to improve my aversion towards busyness. I load my plate up with too much, biting off more than I can chew. This makes me feel important, like I have a lot going on - but in reality not much gets done at all. I have so much to work on that my lizard brain tells me just not to work on anything at all. It’s too hard to make a decision about which project to pick up, so why pick up any project at all? My lizard brain would rather me surf the internet, grab a beer and kick my feet up. But you know what? I’m going to tame the lizard brain before it turns into a lizard dragon. Let’s make it a lizard salamander or something.

This whole idea of busyness reminds me of an interesting quote I saw last weekend:

“No one on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I spent more time at work.’”

This could easily read, “No one on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I sent out more emails and was in more meetings and wrote up more status reports.” No. No one would ever say that. But people would say, “I wish I had made something cool that would have bettered people’s lives.” Or “I wish I had taken that risk, I wish I had practiced my art more so I could give it away to those I care about.” Care about something. Make something cool. Inspire people with your art and your passion. Then give it away. And for heaven’s sake, stop it with the busy work.

about the author

Blake Smith is a Principal Software Engineer at Sprout Social.