How to be busy doing NOTHING - a guide to perpetual anxiety and dissatisfaction

Updated: Nov 2

- A playful perspective on getting stuck in the busy busy culture!


I know that's a strange title for a resource to help you deal with life's challenges! It is a lesson in how not to be calm and at ease, and believe it or not I can be the best person to teach you how to be busy doing nothing! I have been that person struggling with feeling I have too much to do, and when I see my behaviour set out like this it makes me smile and realise how ridiculous it is, and somehow that shift came to do things differently. See how you find it, and if you recognise yourself in this maybe you can work out how you can change.


Hint - you can use these headings to 'teach the class' your lesson about any behaviour that you know does not serve you well and see what emerges from this exercise. Really step into the extreme of what you do to maintain this unhelpful behaviour, as if you really were teaching someone how to be like you in this respect. That helps to shift perspective and see how ridiculous it can be - in my case anyway - and work out how to approach your challenge differently.


What to do:

  • Create a GIANT TO DO list – so big that it is stressful even thinking about how much there is to do.

  • Keep adding to it.

  • Only look at your TO DO list once a week. Skip over this quickly as it is too scary to review everything.

  • Create a long daily TO DO list without checking the diary or the GIANT TO DO list.

  • Don’t write down things you want to do that are not work-related tasks. There is much less chance of doing them this way.

  • Start with the small things on your list. No need to prioritise. Don’t be afraid to get distracted.

  • Keep starting complex productivity systems, when they don’t work, just find another one and start again.

  • Don’t plan how long to spend on each task, or if you do, cut that time in half.

  • Spread commitments out over the week so there are fewer chunks of free time. That includes evening.

  • Keep telling people, especially significant others, that you are so busy, you have lots to do.

  • Model yourself on the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland.

What you have to believe:

  • That busyness makes you useful, valued and productive.

  • That you are at your best under pressure.

  • That your stuff is urgent and important, and no one else can do it as well as you.

  • That you need to keep your TO DO list long, as you may get time to do everything someday.

  • That others depend on you to do all this stuff.

  • That turning down requests to do things is a sin.

Feelings you will repress or conceal:

  • Fear of loss of identity and disappearing from view if you are not keeping busy

  • Joy in the moment as you are always planning / thinking / worrying about what there is to do.

What you will be trying and control that is not in your control:

  • The reactions and responses of others about the kind of person you are.

  • The passing of time.

What you need to feel right about:

  • All the things on your TO DO list need doing now, and you are the person to do them.


What will you not be facing?

  • The possibility of emptiness, having nothing to do, not knowing what to do.

  • The opportunities to just be and see what emerges.

How you numb yourself from the discomfort:

  • Keep going on the wheel, keep adding things to the list.

  • Withdraw from activities that take you away from this.

Your “Shoulds”:

  • You should be able to get things done

  • You should be able to do this standing on your head

What you believe you don’t have enough of:

  • Time

  • Discipline

Your either/or story:

  • You either achieve everything or your life will be out of balance and unfulfilled.

Who do you blame?

  • Significant others for not doing their share and dumping on you.

  • Colleagues who are completely insensitive to how busy you are when they ask you to do more things.

  • Friends and family for expecting you to spend time with them when you are so busy.

How do you fix it, but only temporarily?

  • Spend more and more time on the list.

  • Adopt new productivity systems

Who do you need to feel better than?

For example, my former Senior Leader / Director self

What agreements do you need to make or break with yourself or others?

  • The agreement with others is that you will keep your commitments to them, and reschedule other things to accommodate this.

  • The agreement with yourself is that working on the TO DO list is a priority, especially over personal activities. These need to be re-scheduled regularly to enable you to finish for the day.

What do you have to be afraid of?

  • Important things not getting done, with bad consequences.

  • Losing your power and value with yourself and others.