Personal Productivity: Business vs. busyness vs. laziness
There's an ancient cliché that drives a lot of my thinking about personal productivity. "Excessive busy-ness is a common form of laziness."
Busy-ness in the Tibetan tradition is considered the most extreme form of laziness. Because when you are busy you can turn your brain off. You’re on the treadmill. The only intelligence comes in the morning when you make your To Do list and you get rid of all the possible space that could happen in your day. - Elephant Journal, 2008
The Tibetan term lelo, as I understand it, begins to describe this kind of laziness.
Kausidya (Sanskrit; Tibetan Wylie: le lo) is a Buddhist term translated as "laziness" or "spiritual sloth".
Alan Wallace explains that kausidya (lelo in Tibetan) refers to a very specific type of laziness, that is concerned only with virtuous activity. Wallace explains from Wikipedia:
[...] lelo in Tibetan, is often translated as ‘laziness,’ but it is much more specific. If a person is working sixteen hours a day, hellbent on earning a whole lot of money with absolutely no concern for virtue, from a Buddhist perspective you could say that person is subject to lelo. A workaholic is clearly not lazy, but such a person is seen as lelo in the sense of being completely lethargic and slothful with regard to the cultivation of virtue and purification of the mind. Our translation of this term is ‘spiritual sloth,’ which we have taken from the Christian tradition, where it is very comparable to the Buddhist notion.
I'm not saying you're lazy so don't get mad quite yet. I'm saying that using "I'm too busy" as an excuse or a reason to not do something important to you, then you might want to give your situation a closer look. I'm saying that sometimes we are busy with work, but not the kind of work we should be busy with.
Sakyong Mipham states: "Speediness is laziness when we use it as a way to avoid working with our minds."
Of course, there's busy people who are literally on fire and being chased by ninjas, I'll give them a pass. But when someone says "I'm too busy" perhaps they are letting you know they are too important to talk to you, or they are just using it as an excuse to not engage. Often I've said in the past that "I'm busy" when I really mean "I'm not really that into your idea to take the time to think deeply about it."
So when we say "being busy is a form of being lazy" we're saying think about what's important, and think about the work you're doing. Is it moving the ball forward? Is it moving YOUR BALL forward. The Ball that you care about?
I have an hour set aside once a week that's for a meeting. The meeting is with myself. No one else comes to this meeting but me. I think about what I'm doing, where I'm going, and what I need to be working on. I use this meeting to think about the business and busyness of my previous week. I think about what busy work I did that was a waste of time, and try to setup myself up for success in the coming week.
My parents and brother are convinced that I'm too busy to hang out or have lunch. I constantly hear "Well, we didn't want to bother you." I'm never too busy for them. Time can be made. It's amazing how quickly a day of meetings (or a half-day) can be cancelled or moved. Days can be cleared and time can be made.
It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of business. It's fun to play Tetris with your Outlook calendar. It's satisfying to pack those productive meetings in and feel important and urgently needed. It's cathartic to delete email and think that getting rid of that email is moving my life forward, but often it's not. Often I'm just on a treadmill, running to keep up. I know this treadmill and my inertia keeps me going.
The hard work is to consciously step off the treadmill, step away, turn around and look at it. What can be removed? What can be refined? In what ways have we taught our bosses or co-workers how to treat us and our time?
I was in Egypt once and the hosts wanted to take me to the Sphinx, but I didn't want to miss a weekend with my sons. They may have thought me rude, but it was about consciously choosing one priority over another. I knew my time and my priorities and made a conscious choice on how I was going to spend it.
In what way are you buying into the idea of being always busy? What are you doing to find balance?
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Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
I like the idea of the hour meeting with yourself, I may have to start doing that as I tend to drift a bit.
As for busyness itself, I think that can also manifest itself in coding as well, as developers create classes on frameworks on classes and tests upon tests upon frameworks so it looks like they're doing *something* instead of what they should be doing, which is thinking about the business issues / requirements that you're writing the software to solve, and then coding.
I find that I'm already more aware of what's really important and I'm more focused where I need to be as well.
The tl;dr is that busyness is an addiction and a trick to make your brain think you are being productive.
I know a guy who couldn't free up some time to update his resume because he was too busy looking for a job!
To be creative or to find inner concerns you must have free time.
When on weekends have free time I sometimes go for fishing. Its a kind of self psychotherapy for me even if i dont catch a fish.
Thank you for the space to write the comment
problem is that when I dial in as chair, no-one else seems to join as participant
The rub for me seems to be, that learning something like GTD or Pomodoro, or taking a half-hour out to make and prioritize a task list, are themselves tasks I've got to fit in amongst all the other ones. I don't have time to make time, or some such.
I appreciate the kick in the butt this post seems to provide, Scott, and I wish everybody else peace and productivity. If that's what you want.
Common traits are flying half way around the world to deliver an obsequious superficial motivational speech to a remote team and yet not having having time to schedule a 1/2 day workshop to resolve a problem that has been hurting a team for months. These same busy executive types will jump at every opportunity to join non project conference calls in order to press the corporate flesh (as a politician would understand it) but the same individuals cannot find 5 minutes in a day to walk around their team and provide spontaneous tactical leadership.
Scott's blog post tells us that "ineffective busyness" has been observed across millennia but my comment leads to the question, why do smart people behave like this? A poor corporate culture is part of the explanation, people can believe that superficial visibility is more important for advancement than quantifiable personal delivery. Another explanation is that weak individuals will mould a job to fit their personal strengths to the detriment of what the job position actually needs, hence a natural performer will decide to travel around giving rah-rah speeches rather than focus on persistent problems. Finally many people question their own success and fear being discovered, busyness and mobility are often a smokescreen to evade situations where their true capabilities can be scrutinized.
Okay there's a good chance you haven't but what you're saying resonates with that book.
Unfortunately we live in this culture of 40-50-65 hour work week for "go getters" like us. So often bosses, business partners, clients (and even spouses) get lose in this false deity.
How many times have I "walked away" from a programming or business problem, instead distracting myself with a workout or time with the kids, only to return significantly more prepared to solve the problem. I think we can all relate to that.
Especially in brain work, time "on the job" is not always translated into valuable output.
Also, tangentially, as you note, it's OK to say "I'm just not that interested in the thing you're trying to involve me in". Obviously one should be diplomatic about it but I think it's refreshing when someone says "Honestly, I'm not as excited about that as you so I'd rather spend my time on this other thing I'm doing."
Good word Scott, cheers!
P.S. Parents: If you have kids and you're not coaching or volunteering in whatever thing they are doing... maybe YOU're "too busy".......
You have recommended ELMAH so I would appreciate the support.
Can we get some information on this line?
"In what ways have we taught our bosses or co-workers how to treat us and our time?"
I remember Richard Campbell made a comment one time of how he kept co-workers from bothering.
I am curious what the approach is here. Contact time is only 3PM - 5PM unless its critical?
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