Meaningful work in a culture of compulsive busyness

talk for FOCUS, 12/6/17

So there I was: I’m leaving for Haiti in a week and I haven’t gotten a mosquito net, or pretty much any supplies for that matter. And I’ve booked my schedule so solid that I don’t have time to do it. Not good. That’s what compulsive busyness looks like.

What if, instead, we looked at meaningful work as the goal? What does that look like, and what are the pitfalls to avoid? In this talk, I walk you through a framework for defining your vision for meaningful work, identifying psychological obstacles, then picking a problem to solve and devising solutions.

Since the slides are a little hard to see in the video, here they are

Also, here’s the handout, I highly recommend you fill it in as you go

You don’t have to plan your life all at once

The hidden power of “experiment and tweak”

Analysis paralysis: you don’t want to do anything until you’ve thought everything through, and I mean EVERYTHING. Too many options, too many ideas, and the result is no action. But what if I told you that you don’t have to plan everything at once? A far more effective way to make changes to your life is to experiment and tweak. It solves three major problems, which I outline below.

experiment and tweak

You can rest and not feel guilty about it – make an “enough list”

No one expects the hero to be fighting bad guys day and night with no rest, that’s just not feasible. But, how often do we expect that of ourselves? Enter: the Enough List. Make a list of things that once you’ve done them, you’ve done enough for the day, you don’t have to feel guilty about being done and resting.

Busy isn’t a status symbol

“I’m busy, really busy.” You can almost see a smug grin behind the exhaustion, a grin that says ‘look at me, look at all the things I’m doing, I’m important’. Ask someone how they’re doing and that’s the answer you might get, or maybe something similar. “I’m just trying to keep my head above water” or “I’ve got a lot on my plate.” Being busy has become a status symbol.

I, of course, don’t think that’s a good idea. Even as I’m busy, as I overcommit, as I fall into the same mindset, I see the danger in it.


Ever had a vacation where you’re more tired after than before?

That’s not what leisure is supposed to be like

You were hoping to be rested and recharged after your vacation. But now you’re even more tired, even more drained. And it doesn’t just happen with vacations (which are extended breaks), it happens with short breaks too. What gives?

Super short answer: not everything is life-giving. Shocking, I know.