There is a difference between having a lot to do and being busy. And there is an even bigger difference between being busy and getting things done, i.e. being effective. When asked “How are you?,” how often do many of us respond, “Busy, so busy!” with a bedraggled, hassled air?

Our culture has made ‘being busy’ one of the highest valued currencies in our social market. Tweet This Quote

Our culture and our ever-connected, high-speed times have made ‘being busy’ one of the highest valued currencies in our social market. We use it to pad our egos. Saying “I’m busy” is a proxy for saying “I’m important” or “I’m a valuable person” or “I’m living a full, engaged life.”

Being busy, or even just seeming so, is considered a valid excuse for almost any of life’s demands. It’s considered a justification for not actually listening, not speaking genuinely, being late, being inconsiderate, and, perhaps most ironically, for not actually getting much done.

Being busy is an excuse to ourselves and others for not doing the important things, the scary things, the difficult things. Busy is the new lazy.

Being busy is an excuse. Busy is the new lazy. Tweet This Quote


We are too busy (or lazy or intimidated) to prioritize, so we may never be getting anything important done. Tweet This Quote

There are plenty of reasons why so many of us feel so busy all the time, though. We don’t get a lot of support to breathe some space into our busyness and find a more effective approach. Some of the main culprits that get in the way are interruption, distraction, lack of clear priorities, and attachment to the idea of being busy. Interruption and distraction run so rampant that apparently the average IT worker is interrupted on the job as often as once every 3 minutes—up to 20 times an hour.

The same study shows that three-fourths of all interruptions are handled immediately, whether they need to be or not. We are on a roll, filling every last moment with tasks, regardless of whether those tasks get us closer to our bigger goals. We are too busy (or lazy or intimidated) to prioritize, so we may never be getting anything important done. We are too busy to be effective.

Being effective means being deliberate, and in order to be deliberate, we have to pause. Tweet This Quote

But there is a trick; it’s simultaneously the simplest and the most difficult hack there is: pausing our busy lives. Being effective means being deliberate, and in order to be deliberate, we have to pause. We have to create a gap in the steady stream; we have to create openings for space to integrate and infiltrate our lives. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the more we look up, go for a walk, and find other ways to create space in our hectic schedules and cluttered minds, the more we can accomplish. For example, brain-science is now showing that the more we try to multi-task, the less productive we are.

There are lots of tools in the box for breathing this kind of accomplishing space into our lives. In our organizations, we can support effectiveness by baking that space into our company cultures and systems.



The more deliberate we are about how we spend our time and energy, the less likely we will get bogged down in trivial tasks, and the more likely we will build successful, meaningful businesses and live accomplishing, engaged lives. The lineage of Zen meditators seem to have figured it out a while ago:

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” —Zen proverb

This originally appeared on DOJO4’s blog and was used as material during a workshop at the B Corp Leadership Development Event.

About the author

Corey Kohn

Corey Kohn

Corey is the COO of dojo4, a creative software design, development and media team in Boulder, Colorado.

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  • Corey, I LOVE this post – thank you! Such a needed reminder on a Tuesday to reset perspective =) One of the Unreasonable Values ( and part of our culture is to take a long weekend every month in order to take that pause (though much longer) and recharge and truly not work even a little bit (no email no anything). I’ve been a serial culprit of not adhering to this until this month and I had forgotten how important it was to truly take the time to regenerate and I came back to work more productive and more energized. I likewise love this post in adherence to the GyShiDo rules ( – for those of you readers who are interested in more productivity insights, the GyShiDo manifesto is the ultimate litmus test for truly getting sh*t done. For more reading, check out some of my favorite posts on this topic – this post by @veritynoble:disqus ( and this post by @sethlevine:disqus ( are some of my other favorite reads on productivity. THANK YOU Corey for yet another incredible post!

  • I agree with all the sentiments shared in this post and especially love the last quote
    that truly sums it all up “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” —Zen proverb.

    I do value the idea of meditating and taking breaks to truly manage a busy schedule. I also think its important to understand that every individual has a different capacities and endurance. Not everyone can handle huge workloads, heavy schedules or a chaotic existence and what is an endless calendar of event to one, might be considered “a walk in the park” for another person. Luckily we can all value the teachings of the effectiveness systems.

  • I love the ideas of building effectiveness into workplace culture, especially redesigning where and how we hold meetings. At my job we have a cross-functional team that meets about every month. We always met in our main office, which has a very “hustle-bustle” feel and comes with countless interruptions. We decided to meet at a coffee shop down the block instead and it has completely transformed the tone and outcome of our meetings. People are more relaxed, authentic, and there is definitely more room for ‘pause’. Thanks for the tips!

  • I thought this was a great reminder of the do’s and don’t of really being effective in all phases of the production process! Especially in graduate school during group projects: hint, hint!!

    Thanks for sharing such sound advice!

    Enjoy the rest of your day world!!!!!

  • I thought this was a genius article especially when it came to the words, busy is equal to being lazy. It definitely described a large number of our generation and the way we work. I do believe that taking a break and having some personal time is a huge benefit to being effective. Something that I consider useful is having a quick conversation about what you’re currently working on or ideas you might have to someone in your family or some friend that have a different perspective or background, that’s the real challenge and it helps you realize some errors. When having this type of balance in life ( personal life and professional) you’re able to step out of your comfort zone and grab some realizations.

  • This article was written for me. I am being so busy that actually I get nothing done. “Busy is the new lazy”. Although I do not consider myself lazy, I can relate to moments when I let myself be interrupted by things that do not need my attention in that exact moment, or perhaps I set to many goals for one day without taking the time to breathe and prioritize.
    Thank you for the good advice!!!!

  • An article that really resonates with many people in social impact work! This lens on being busy vs. effective is useful personally, but it can also be applied to institutions, organizations and social ventures. An institution can be busy serving thousands of people, but if you aren’t being thoughtful about how you design, measure and evaluate those services, in order to ensure that you are actually having an impact upon peoples’ lives, then there really is no point.

  • Corey is speaking truth, living it and bringing her human(e)(ss) on the daily. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  • I read the “Four Hour Workweek”. It’s the same concept applied here. She described the concept very beautifully with the yellow charts. Excellent use of visuals! Most entrepreneurs are running “Busy-nesses” not businesses. The systems she described, seems to flow. Reduce all interruptions (a no brainer) while practicing pausing to let the brain take a deep breath. The idea of clustering all meeting to one day maybe ideal, but that assumes you have very few meetings. If the number of meetings is too high that becomes impossible. Maybe delegating each type of meeting to a different day. Divide and conquer strategy. An example would be all product development meetings are done Friday while all deployment meetings are done on Monday. This strategy can be applied to email. Email can be checked for an hour a day. Just make sure to put ann automatic response stating that you only check email from x time to x time each and every day due to the overabundance of emails. The best and most interesting idea of the article is that of understanding co-workers’ working styles. Everyone has a different style and approach to work. The more I work the more I have come to accept this fact. Some people actually like to be interrupted while other don’t. Some people are scatter brained. They don’t have a streamlined process and that suits them fine. For me, that’s too much chaos. I like my work to be streamlined.

  • I love the ending Zen proverb “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour. This concept of pausing and taking a break is not just a good idea it is imperative to maintain a level of sanity and effectiveness. I agree that busy is the new lazy. Usually when I tell someone I am busy I am really just not in the mood to do something or I have so much going on that at the end of the day I accomplish nothing. Prioritizing is key and you wont be able to prioritize effeciently withought taking a break and thinking about what matters most. I love how this article provided ways to incorporate effectiveness through systems and culture. If you think about the culture of southern Europe and other cultures that shut down for naps. When the culture demands what is considered a necessity change can occur, but keep in mind that we are all active members of culture and can create what we view as a necessity. overall great post!

  • This was an awesome article. For one, I appreciate the bluntly honest tone that Corey used. It seemed at first that she took that tone to chastise us but as I read further I realized the purpose of her tone was to challenge us. Secondly, I appreciated the facts/stats that she used. They were inserted well and didn’t make the article seem like a lofty academic article. Finally, I really appreciate the visuals and a recommendation on how to DO better. Often times, I think we get caught up in theories and our own opinions that we get to “busy” to actually SOLVE our issues. We are all guilty of the “busy spell” or have been at one point. Thank you for an informative and practical article.

  • I can definitely relate to this article in more ways than
    one. So many of the statements that are made in this article I have personally
    experienced either myself or through my fellow peers. One of the many
    statements that stood out to me was in reference to how being busy is now one
    of the highest valued currencies in our social market. This is something that
    is sad to see but very true nonetheless. People use the term ‘I am busy’ to set
    themselves up for something greater at times. They use it as a tool that lets
    them know they are being productive right then and there by simply stating that
    they are busy rather than actually going about doing something. The key,
    simply, advice that is offered here as well though is a building block for
    people to look at their work from a different perspective and to look at the
    work busy and the idea of it with a different mindset. Being able to step back
    from what one would typically set themselves up for allows that person to
    better tailor their work day in the most effective manner. By simply stating ‘I
    am busy’ and moving forward without allowing anything or anyone to pull you
    aside so that you can continue being busy and getting your work done is a habit
    that must be broken. And that is what it has become nowadays, a habit. A bad
    one at that. Habits take time to change and so getting away from the mindset of
    being busy and not being able to accomplish anything because you’re ‘too busy’
    will not be an easy feat. We must understand that we must give ourselves a
    chance to see the benefits of stepping back from the ‘busy’ schedules we have
    set ourselves and looking at it from a different perspectives. Then compare our
    productivity rates over time to those we had in the past when you might have
    been ‘too busy’ doing something of importance.

  • This article reinforced concepts I have slowly become aware of over the last year or two through personal experiences and various news outlets. Being busy is not the equivalent to being productive and serves as a scapegoat to avoid the tasks which I dread completing either due to the input required or my lack of desire to complete. Also that a break is needed to gain perspective on what I want to accomplish and if the tasks I am completing are leading me down that pathway.

    Also Corey brings up a valid point on multitasking. A discussion on NPR’s Science Friday addressed the myth of multitasking. This discussion
    addressed the lack of a human’s ability to multitask. One of the research
    studies discussed compared people who regularly multi-tasked to people who
    rarely multi-tasked, the results showed that people who multitasked regularly
    are chronically distracted. Multitasking becomes a habit that is hard to turn
    off and makes filtering out irrelevancies very difficult which becomes problematic when an individual needs to have a laser-like focus to complete a task. So, not only do individual’s become less productive the more they try to multitask, but multitasking could become a bad habit that interferes when trying to be effective.

    Secondly, I completely concur about the need for a pause
    and especially in the work place. From my work experience, few of my coworkers leave their desk or building during their lunch break, and some just work straight through with the intention of getting more done; however their actions may be blunting their own productivity. Professor Kimberly Elsbach from the University of California stated that, “Creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment…so staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking and the rumination needed for ideas to
    percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an “aha” moment.” Professor Elsbach ideas further confirm the need to incorporate moments for pauses/breaks into our work culture. I remember when I first started to incorporate a daily walk or run into my lunch break even if only for 10 minutes; it changed how I addressed the remainder of my workday. I felt more focused, refreshed, and excited to finish out the work day strong.

    I found this to be a wonderful read and a welcomed reminder of the need to be effective rather than just busy. Also, a refresher to the importance of pausing to gain perspective and be effective.

    Link to Science Friday “Myth of Multitasking:

    Link to article with Professor Kimberly Elsbach on the need for breaks:

  • It is exciting to hear there are companies implementing these ideas. I worked for a company in which these types of outings where not supported and I felt distant from my co-workers. I knew them only as the tasks they completed in the business. However, when I moved to company that did implement these kinds of breaks I felt more connected to my coworkers. It allowed for interactions with coworkers outside of work scenarios, which fostered a bond between friends and not just as co-workers. I feel that when co-workers know each other outside of the workplace it fosters more empathy between them. So in addition to taking a break from the hustle and bustle which can increase effectiveness, people are also able to form stronger bonds with each other which can lead to more collaboration.

  • Hi DM,

    I really like the idea of divide and conquer strategy, it is also one of my favorites for getting things done. More interestingly like you, as I progress through my career and schooling the more working styles I come across and in times need to modify my own. I personally am a fan of streamlining with not interruptions. However, one position I was in required me to juggle several tasks at once and for an individual like myself that likes to complete one task at a time, there was an adjustment period. This experience provided me some perspective in how to interact with co-workers who have different work strategies. For example, some co-workers I have to approach and wait for them to engage, while others are okay if I come up and just start chatting.

  • Hey Jessica,

    I know what you are talking about. Work flow is different for different people. Its hard to adapt for me. If there is too much engagement that comes off bad, however if there is not enough engagement that is seen as a lack of commitment. This is both with co-workers and with superiors. I suppose its the balance that matters.

  • This article definitely makes me feel better about how I have been recently been allocating my time. I have never been a multitasker and have felt mildly self conscious about the fact that I wasn’t very good at it.
    For the past few years, I have been trying to improve on that and become better at multitasking with mediocre results. I would often fill a planner with in between ten and fifteen things to do each day and I would find myself trying to run down the list and complete as many tasks as possible in no particular order. This would lead me to almost never finishing all of my tasks. This would do a couple of things, first it would leave me feeling down on myself without a moment of self satisfaction not only deserved, but needed for working hard all day. Secondly it would leave me with a bunch of tasks that I would proceed to carry over to the next day, and when I didn’t complete them the next day, I would move them to the day after that. Basically I would leave things on my planner that wouldn’t get done because I kept carrying them over to the following day.

    This all changed last week when I stumbled upon an article by Entrepreneur titled “3 Strategies
    for Creating a To-Do List That Almost Does Itself” (here is a link It breaks making a to-do list into three main steps. The most important being to “stop treating your to-do’s like a grocery list.” What it means is that we need to prioritize our lists on importance so we at least get our most important tasks done first, so even if we don’t
    complete our entire to-do list, we at least will have gotten the important things done. I have found that since I
    have started doing this, my level of stress has decreased throughout the day because I feel a sense of relief when I finish each important task. I feel as though these articles draw a lot of parallels from each other and anyone who found this article interesting should check out the link I posted above.

  • This article has given perspective to what I believed to be a rather busy life I had been leading in the past couple of months since school started. We fool ourselves into thinking we are busy, when in reality all we do is fill up the time of the day with actions that we think are important. I have personally gotten out of actually doing work that matters by saying that I’m busy, while in reality, I was merely wasting time on the trivial issues of everyday life. The quote “Being busy is an excuse. Busy is the new lazy.” resonates with me as I am guilty of using being busy as an excuse on more than one occasion.

    Also I have noticed that there is one major thing in life that we never seem able to put off by claiming to be busy and that is communication. As you have mentioned in the article, I find myself constantly distracted by a phone call or a message or an e-mail that pops up when I am working on and that has the capacity to pull us from whatever we are working on and keep us occupied for a period of time more than it merits.

    I felt that this needed to be changed and being busy should actually lead to some measurable outcome of significance and not just eat up my time and hence adopted some of the suggestions you have made over the past week. Even though some of the changes were drastic and needed getting used to, I am able to see a positive change in the amount of work I get done in the given time. The easiest of the solutions was to just take a break and the most difficult of tasks were to stick to a fixed schedule and to switch off the communication streams for a couple of hours each day, but I truly believe that they along with the other suggestion you have given helped me and can help most people to actually do work instead of just feeling busy!

  • I really enjoyed reading this article. I found it to be very informative and self-revealing. Unfortunately, I can
    relate to the persons you described at the beginning of the article. I find myself constantly trying to “busy” my
    schedule as a means of trying to feel a sense of accomplishment. I did understand what I was doing to some
    degree, but reading this article really hammered home my need to deviate from this strategy. I found that I related a lot more with the “busy” category side of the busy/effective graphic. Although this is somewhat concerning, the first part of solving any problem is realizing there is one. Luckily for me, the article does a good job laying out simple ways I can make changes. I look forward to implementing these changes into my daily life. I have always felt that multi-tasking was a poor choice of time. It was encouraging to read that
    because I have preferred to focus all my attention and efforts on one thing at a time versus trying to string myself out. I look forward to making a conscious effort to take a break in order to disconnect. Such a break in my normal routine will help me better focus my efforts on what I truly want and need to accomplish. I hope to engage in some of the activities listed under how to support effectiveness through culture and systems. I believe that they can be very beneficial and will channel my time and efforts in a much more productive
    manner. Reading this article was a wake up call for myself and thusly a call to action.
    In addition, I had read the Zen proverb previously, but did not understand it’s true meaning until I read it with the article. I am tad ashamed to admit this, however the proverb is much more valuable to me now.

  • I enjoyed this article as well. It is true, and I have been guilty of these myself, when asked how are things and my automatic response to is “I’ve been busy”. When the truth is I have a metal to-do list that I keep adding things to but don’t get too much done. But I also agree that society has taken that statement ads a sign of accomplishment of some people. But is also very damaging to personal relationships as well. When someone calls you or texts you and you don’t get around to it to about day or even a week later the automatic response is ” I was busy”. Now in this sense you don’t sound like an accomplished person. You sound like someone who cannot tell the truth or you become a horrible friend or companion. “I am so busy” has become quite an excuse especially amongst the meillennials. As the generation that grow up with distractions: cell phones, the internet and social media.

    Once we pause and turn of the distraction, het a pen and paper. And use goal driven language. (Doing to accomplish). We can set ourselves up for truly getting things suggestion made in the article, which I am a firm believer of since my undergraduate years is to take a nap. The body needs various levels of rest throughout the day. When I found myself needing a beak or my mind was just on overload from all the studying I would just simply take a nap ranging from 20 mintues to an Hour.

  • This is such a great discussion and a great article with a lot of insight. I really enjoyed the graphs that give successions for changing the culture in one’s organization. Although change culture can be a very difficult things these seems to be strategies that can utilized effectively. I find them to resonate with my personal experience because I have seen for myself how effective pausing can be.

    Pausing doesn’t necessarily have to mean doing nothing. From my perspective, pausing, can take the shape of slowing down to listen. Many times we are either pretending to be busy, creating a mess that makes us more ‘busy’, and being distracted by small things. However, slowing down to listen can help create bond with your coworkers, learn about what they are doing, find ways to collaborate, discuss strategies or perspectives. Slowing down in a sense is a way of shifting gears to go faster. This is what occurred to me at work. I find the authors suggestions very useful.

    In reference to the naps portion, I’ve noticed the difference for myself of taking power naps vs. red bull power shots (not actually the name but you get my point). When I have taken a power nap, I can feel my mind rested and alert instead feeling hyper and tense. Although both might accomplish the end goal, one is more sustainable in the long run than the other.

    Even though I don’t see my self taking naps in the workplace (something strange about that). I can’t imagine someone walking in on me and thinking “oh this is what this guy gets paid to do” but during long project or intense practices, maybe taking a 15 minute shut eye can provide all the boost you need.

    Overall, great article and definitely something I can see myself using in the future.

  • I felt this article was a very realistic snapshot into many
    lives of working Americans and even just general people. When thinking about
    workplaces in a retail setting, being busy and effective are on opposite sides
    of the spectrum. For example, recently I went to a coffee store and there was a
    gargantuan line practically out the door. Yes they were extremely busy, serving
    each customer with coffee and tailoring their personal orders, but they were
    not making the coffees very well. Their effectiveness and result of their
    coffees being made were sub-par because they could not handle their how busy
    they were. As the article states, you need to stop and breathe and re-evaluate
    where you are and what needs to get done. Many times plans get interrupted
    because of all of the distractions life throws your way. The most distractions,
    the more work, and the busier you may be. This is when goal setting is
    extremely important and following through with those goals.

    I have also recently learned in a current undergrad business
    class about how distracting emails are during the workday. With them flying into
    your inbox all day long, checking them when you get them is the biggest
    distractor. You begin to lose focus on the task you are currently on and when
    you pick it back up after responding or reading an email, you are lost. Though
    being busy may make some people more productive. Everyone operates differently
    under stress and some even perform better when they have more on their plates. For
    me, I need everything to be organized with a list in order of priority and I am
    able to cross things off when I complete them. This is when delegating to
    people can come in because if you have too much work and are too busy, things
    do not get done. Sometimes you need to ask other people to help you out. Very
    much enjoyed this article!

  • This article takes an interesting spin on a common problem that many people confront in their lives. Even more fascinating is that people equate being “busy” with being productive. In actuality “being busy” is simply a term utilized by people who may just be lazy. I think Kohn’s distinction between “being busy” and being effective is remarkable. Furthermore, Kohn draws a correlation between being an effective person and
    setting clear priorities. Though this may be true, many people who prioritize still aren’t effective.
    Those who have undefined prioritizing parameters end up being just as, if not more, ineffective as those who do not prioritize at all. They might think they are getting work done when in reality they are chasing false goals. One key mistake people make when prioritizing is confusing tasks that are urgent and tasks that are important.
    From my point of view, pausing can be a lot more than just a daily ritual to re-energize. Kohn’s idea of pausing can be compared and contrasted to the habit of “sharpening the saw” presented by Stephen R. Covey in his widely popular work The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey explains that once someone has mastered the first 6 habits that tackle different aspects of effectiveness, the 7th serves as a refining tool.
    It almost seems biblical, like a Sabbath of rest on the 7th day to recharge for the other 6th.
    Moreover, Cohn provides strategies to be effective through two mediums; culture and systems. Like anything is life it is important to look at problems and their respective solutions from multiple angles. When you take a deep look at companies like Facebook and Google and their cultural makeup it is clear that designing effective corporate culture leads to higher productivity and happier employees.
    This article could not have come at a better time as I read it at the beginning of my fall semester finals. Now as I write this comment, looking back on my finals week, I can say the strategies
    here helped me stay focused, effective, and do well on my exams. I hope to
    extend these lessons into all the goals I have set forth for the rest of my

  • This article is interesting and makes you think about life. I agree with some of it, but disagree with some as well. People do tend to use “being busy” as an excuse to not do something or because they are lazy. However, a lot of the time when I say I am busy, it is because I actually am. It does not necessarily mean I am not being productive either. I usually do get important tasks done. I do think the author makes some valid points in her distinction between busy and effective. It is smart to prioritize tasks and complete the
    most important one first instead of doing them in a random, chaotic order.

    The Zen proverb intrigued me; “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day, unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Taking a break is key to success. No one can be effective if they go nonstop and never stop to breathe. This is what the author is saying about pausing and I agree with her. I also agree that healthy sleep patterns and organization help a person to be more effective on a daily basis.She is right when she discusses how prevalent interruptions are in our society. They often take us away from important tasks.

    I do not necessarily agree that multitasking makes us less productive. I do think at times in life that we have to multitask to get everything done. Some things are easier than others to do at the same time. Of course, in an ideal world, we would like to do one thing at a time. However, we cannot always do that and I do not think that is a bad thing. My mom is a single mom and always had to multitask and she did it successfully.

    Overall,I enjoyed reading this article!

  • Guilty! I need to read this article over & over again and make some adjustments. I agree with most of the article, except being lazy. I am busy, but also productive, very productive, but also stressed. The problem for me, not prioritizing very well. It sometimes feels like I can’t get what I had planned to get done because of interruptions of both the external & internal variety. I think I need to take some time to work on a better plan.

    I think that multitasking can be either good or bad. Some things are easier & more efficiently done at the same time, while others really don’t go well together. I think the key to multitasking is to pick & choose what things get multitasked, being realistic about what might be a good choice, rather than choosing based just on what is currently being viewed as urgent.