Becoming less busy isn’t about slowing down.


I recently published an article about how being busy isn’t respectable anymore and can make us miss the finer things in life. It seemed to strike a chord with many.

But ‘Busy,’ and its modern usage, has nuances worth exploring.

The man working 100 hour weeks losing his family just to keep up with the Jones is busy. But so is the stay at home mother of 3. Is she missing out on the more lasting things in life, too? Is her fast-paced and full life “not respectable?”

Obviously not.

That’s because this recent cultural reevaluation of ‘Busy,’ isn’t actually questioning a PACE of life, it’s questioning a WAY of life.

In fact, it may serve the ‘anti-busy’ narrative well to define exactly what this ‘being busy’ really is, and perhaps, what it isn’t.

Being busy is being stuck.

Being ‘busy,’ in the negative sense, is more about being stuck in the rat race than it is about the speed of our lives.

Rat Race. The term is drawn from the imagery of rats tirelessly running their wheels, but ultimately achieving nothing meaningful, collectively or individually. In the modern expression, it alludes to both a financial reality and a cultural mentality that keeps us living to work, regardless of how meaningless that work really is.

My wife and I recently took inventory of our current lifestyle. What we found was that I spent 60+ hours of my week away from my family working to afford things we didn’t actually need, including a home that we only used 25% of. (See the rest of our observations here)

Our lifestyle-to-income ratio wasn’t sinking us, but it certainly didn’t come without a price. When you take into account that I often couldn’t enjoy an uninterrupted evening with my kids, or spend a focused amount of time to read a book, or consistently take my wife on a date, it simply doesn’t add up.

Our reasons for winding up indebted to a system of busy are all different, I’m sure. Some reasons can be unavoidable (IE: health bills, student loans…etc). But many are entirely avoidable – especially when it’s a rat-race mentality that believes the more stuff we acquire, the better.

Nigel Marsh accentuates this rodent-like absurdity in his recent TED talk when he says,

“Often, people work long hard hours at jobs they hate to earn money to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”

Being less busy isn’t about working less.

One of the larger misconceptions is that becoming less busy is about becoming more lazy or pointlessly idle.

I brought the topic up over a coffee with a good friend, Jared Black, a few days back. Jared is a speaker and writer, who always somehow finds a way to articulate things brilliantly. As we looked at the busy-issue from several different angles, his perspective on work framed the conversation perfectly. He said…

There is a great disconnect in our cultural understanding about “work”.  We have wrongly categorized it as only that from which one is compensated with money.

But, the truth is that work is any and every activity upon which we spend our time, effort, thoughts, physicality, and intentions, etc – not just what you are compensated for doing.

Yes, generating revenue for your company is “work,” but so is waking up and fixing breakfast. Exercising, responding to emails, returning mother’s phone call, picking kids up from practice, commuting: All Work. Relationships are work. Family is work. Self-development is work. Humans constantly work, plain and simple.

Becoming less busy isn’t about working less. It’s about working more in the meaningful areas. It’s about doing work, yes to pay bills, but also to intentionally support the uncompensated areas that make up a meaningful way of life instead of a haphazard pace of life. (read more of his thoughts here)

Becoming less busy isn’t primarily about slowing down or working less, nor is it some self-indulgent ambition.

Becoming less busy is about your career not being the only work you have time to do. It’s about being free to do other work, like family, friendship, & self development, as well.

Becoming less busy is about defining success on your own terms and designing a lifestyle that you believe in deeply – no matter how fast or slow it may be.

  • Nate Bailey

    TY, this is soooooo good! You keep pumping out deep, meaning content that matters. These are the kinds of conversations I have with fellow bros, but never share with the world through a blog, podcast, or other form of distribution channel. The cup is overflowing my friend….

  • Blake Spencer

    Well put!

  • tyler ward

    Come on Nate! I love that you’re tracking. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on it all…

  • tyler ward

    Thanks for reading @Blake Spencer:disqus.

  • Russ

    I love reading your perspective on things. We just sold our house and bought a smaller (but still modest) one, which is putting us in position to work on exactly what you are talking about here. We are excited to refocus time and energy we have invested in material things into the meaningful areas of our lives (especially our kids). Keep up the great work!

  • tyler ward

    Love to hear that Russ! Keep us in touch with your process. Would love to know both the challenge and the payoff.

  • Todd Smith

    now that just might be the ticket for a workaholic nation – if we see the other areas of life (family, friends, self dev) as “work” that “needs to be done,” we might allocate the time to actually do it. great point, love it. see also “andy stanley: breathing room”

  • Nathaniel Durgasingh

    Spot on again Tyler, love your perspective on this topic. 2 quotes that stood out to me:

    “Becoming less busy is about your career not being the only work you have time to do. It’s about being free to do other work, like family, friendship, & self development, as well.”

    “There is a great disconnect in our cultural understanding about “work”. We have wrongly categorized it as only that from which one is compensated with money.”

    Really valid points that many people should take into consideration in this modern age we live in where, as you said, seems as though we’re in a rat race. You’re opening eyes with each new article, keep it up!

  • JWinn

    Tyler, you just nailed exactly what I’m experiencing in my life right now. There are SO many more important things to do than just my JOB. I have a strong desire to focus on so many other areas of my life. The last two paragraphs sum it up perfectly. I don’t want my success to be solely defined my compensation or title at work. I deeply want to pour my life into my family and the friends I choose as opposed to the mentoring opportunities that further my career.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  • tyler ward

    Def a decent sales point to fellow work-a-holics. Thanks @disqus_syFzjmFvOa:disqus.

  • tyler ward

    Means the world @nathanieldurgasingh:disqus. Thanks for chiming in.

  • tyler ward

    It certainly takes a rewiring of priorities. Happy to hear that it hit home JWinn.

  • Josue Molina

    It reminds me of the Wheel of Life from Zig Ziglar. It teaches us the importance of giving each divided category its full attention at the moment it’s required. Spiritual, Family, Career…

  • Pamela Black

    Great post Tyler! As a writer seeking publication, I feel this all the time. What is worthy of my efforts? While I could certainly sit in front of the computer all day and night pumping my platform and posting witty comments on Twitter or Facebook, the time I take building flesh and bones relationships and sowing into the lives of others is equally as valuable. Not to discount the online relationships I’ve built or continue to foster, but there needs to be balance. And to see the whole of our days as work, and to balance it appropriately, is extremely important. Thanks for your words and insight~

  • tyler ward

    Brilliant @jxmoli:disqus. Ive wondered where that came from. Thanks for plugging.

  • tyler ward

    Love this. Thanks @disqus_5jZzzioleH:disqus.

  • deanrblack

    I think this quote from Nigel Marsh says it all “Often, people work long hard hours at jobs they hate to earn money to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”

    I have heard that one before but it is ringing truer and truer as I get older. My wife keeps me grounded in these things too….She is much better about keeping things simple….Not buying things just to buy them.

    Family and relationships are important and I am learning that more and more everyday. I think we all know this to be true but we get caught up in the ” keeping up with the joneses syndrome.

    I know I have been there done that….Do I want to make a lot of money to be able to do the things I want? Heck Yea….but I am not willing to sacrifice my family or relationships to get there.

    I have never like the word sacrifice anyway….seems like you have to give something up to get something else…

    Thanks for your insights Tyler and you are an important part i changing our culture….Thats what is needed….

  • Vinay Umarji

    Thanks Tyler! It is the need of the hour for the current generation. Would love to read a future post on some of the tips to bring in this balance, especially for those working in organisations that demand such ‘busyness’ for most part of the day of their employees. Blessings!