Busy is a choice

This post has been previously published on Maria’s blog

When I lived in Korea, it shocked me how everyone perceived ‘busy‘ as a badge of honor. It meant you’re a productive member of your group and people can rely on your sacrifice. It meant you’re working hard and should be praised for it. I remember how I told my colleague once that everyone was so busy, and she said “Don’t worry, Maria. You are busy too!”.

I found it funny back then, but she was right.

I’m addicted to busy in a lot of ways. I often feel that I can’t take a break, or I’ll never be able to catch up with all the things on my neverending todo list. I feel like everything will fall apart if I step away, and everyone will find out what sort of fraud I am. I feel like if I don’t take care of some things, no one will, and disaster will ensue.

I told my team lead recently how the workload in a project I lead overwhelms me. These days it’s enough for one person to get sick, and we’re barely catching up. He listened to it all very gently, then said I should consider stepping away from the lead role, cause I’m on collision course with planet burnout.

It was a hard pill to swallow, but he was right too.

The way I dealt with this challenge was very unhealthy. It was like running around with an empty wheelbarrow, too busy to actually load it. I felt I was doing everyone a favour by working overtime and feeling personally responsible for every single problem. In fact, I became less capable of deep troubleshooting, supporting my fellow team members, or making strategic decisions that would solve the crisis at its core. Because of my desire to do more, I was actually doing less, but felt more tired in result.

What he said to me was a much needed wakeup call. I realised the things that I did weren’t working, and that I can’t repeat the same steps again and expect a different outcome. So I did the scariest thing I could do.

I took a break.

I’ve let the raging fires burn on their own, and spent an entire day catching up with all the important-but-not-that-urgent stuff. The kind of things that never openly ask for your time, but can leverage your efforts elsewhere if you let them.

I felt like I was letting my teammates down by leaving them alone in trenches. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. I finally had a chance to analyse why exactly we’re lagging behind, understand what we need to get back on track, and lay out a plan how to get there. I could chat with a mentor and ask her for advice. I could kick off the training of another colleague, which I’ve been putting off for a week. You thought the empty wheelbarrow was a hyperbole?

I thought I was too busy to do all of that. I was wrong.

Whenever I’m feeling too busy to take a break, it is precisely when I most need one.

Whenever I’m too busy to exercise, or meditate, or go for a walk, it’s the surest sign that I should just do it.

Whenever I feel that everything will fall apart if I step away, I should let it fall apart. If the only thing that holds the entire structure together is my enormous effort, it’s probably not a structure worth preserving.

Whenever I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall, I should take a step back, look around, and see if there’s a door nearby, even if my first instinct is to keep smashing harder.

The feeling of busyness can be quite overwhelming. But ultimately, busy is a choice.

To rest – move

“It was stressful, so I went to the gym.”

WHAT?! 🤯

I have seen this scene a couple of times in TV Shows or maybe movies:

Some jacked dude picks up the phone. There is a woman on the other side. She wants to meet. He says something along the lines of:

“It was a stressful day at work, so I went to a gym. I am going to take a quick shower and join you in town.”

It sounded ridiculous to me. If he was stressed – why didn’t he have a nap?! The gym is the last place I think of when I am tired!

Enter Tony Robbins

I always wanted to go to a Tony Robbins seminar. Trought his career he has coached presidents, movie stars, business tycoons and thousands (or probably millions) of regular folks. This man is a machine.

His “entry-level” seminar is called “Unleash the Power Within” and focuses on helping you raise your standards and commit to a better quality of life. If you get a chance – it may be the best investment of your life.

Apart from many takeaways, 2 things stood up for me in regards to fitness and energy:

  1. We spent a bulk of time on dialing in the health. In the western culture we view our bodies as mere vehicles for the brain (Read here how I blame Plato and Aristotle), but the physical well-being is the engine powering our mental capabilities and the source of energy. We learned that the plant-based diet is right for you, that most of us don’t hydrate enough and even that somehow, the modern folk have lost the way to breathe correctly.
  2. These four days were 16-18 hours long. There was no slowing down, almost no food or breaks, and yet, I was pumped and full of energy throughout!

The key was alternating lectures with proprietary SYA technique. The SYA technique stands for Shake Your Ass.

It was also way more joyful!

And did we shake our asses like there is no tomorrow! The movement generated energy that helped us keep focus, improved learning, and enhanced the attention.

We also had Pitbull to help us.

The stress and exhaustion we sometimes experience in the modern world are radically different than what our bodies were accustomed to. We face no real danger from our overbearing bosses, nor do we have to fight for our lives daily, even though it feels that way. Physical activity gets your blood flowing, nourishing your cells, and restocking all the supplies. It grounds you in what is real and immediate.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwarz in the “Power of Full Engagement” agree with Tony Robbins. Cycling periods of physical activity with rest is the key to maintaining energy. Switching gears – mentally and physically – is the key to rest, not inactivity.

“The best way to manage your energy is to balance spending with replenishing.”

Sitting all day uses your mental energy, but let’s be honest – you are not moving much. Your exhaustion is mental, even though it feels the same way as physical. 

And, counter-intuitively, after a long, stressful day of work, the physical activity lets me gather my thoughts and rest.

According to Tony Robbins, there are

Eight gifts of pure energy

  1. Vital breathing and lymphasizing
    1. Breathe through your diaphragm, inhaling deeply
    2. Jump around, helping your lymph system to work
  2. Living water and live foods
    1. Drink water, for goodness sake
    2. Eat real food, ideally full of water – stuff that is green! (Except green cheese)
  3. Essential Oils
    1. No, not the magical aromatic ones. The ones like Olive Oil or Avocado. Monosaturated fats.
  4. Alkalinity
    1. Again, eat green stuff. It’s alkaline.
  5. Aerobic energy
    1. SHAKE. YOUR. ASS
  6. Maximum nourishment
    1. Just eat real food, mkay?
  7. Structural alignment and maximum strength
    1. Stretch.
    2. DO strength training.
  8. Directed Mind and heart
    1. Be a nice person. Don’t dwell on how people have wronged you. Think nice thoughts

Even though it all sounds a little woo-woo, it’s precisely what the doctors always said we should do. The more we keep dismissing all that as “basic”, the more critical it is to remind ourselves that we have bodies that need nourishment, water, and movement. We cannot keep punishing ourselves with Twinkies, Pizza, and beer and expect to be strong and healthy.

homer simpson eating GIF
Homer, following a Keto diet like a boss

We are somehow infected with the idea that good things have to be hard, inconvenient, and/or disgusting. It is all, of course, a matter of mindset, but physical activity can very well support mental performance. You have to get over your lazy self and shake your ass.

You’ll see you’ll feel better afterward and will have more energy to send these emails you’ve been putting off.

You’re not lazy. You may just need accountability.

This post has been previously published on Maria’s blog

There’s plenty of advice that seems to work on everyone else but me. Todo lists are a great example. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with having too much on my plate, someone inevitably suggests:

“Just create a todo list and start crossing things off.”

– A clueless person (sometimes known as my husband)

It works pretty well for a day or two, but then I see the backlog of all the things I hoped to do grow larger and larger, and at some point abandon the whole list in panic. There was once a todo list that I abandoned because I couldn’t stand the fact I still hadn’t bought that backpack I’d added there a few weeks before. This was over a year ago, and I’m nowhere closer to owning that backpack than I was back then.

I used to think this is because I’m extremely lazy and undisciplined. My fiancé somehow doesn’t have any problems with following up on the things he planned to do, why should I? I thought I need to shame myself more into working on things I haven’t done yet, or only let myself do cool stuff (like spending half a day out in the park) once I cross all the items off my todo list. In result I’d stay home, feeling guilty and grumpy, scrolling my Twitter feed, and wondering why I can’t make myself do all the things I am supposed to do. It certainly must be my weak character.

Four Tendencies

I’d probably still be thinking this way, if I hadn’t read The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. It’s a very simple yet powerful framework for how different people respond to what’s expected of them. Artur explained more about how every type behaves on his blog, so you can check the details here. For me the most important discovery was that I’d much rather do something for a stranger, or even an imaginary stranger that only exists in my head, than I’d do it for myself, or even my partner, who’s too close to me to be recorded in my books as a separate person. In other words, I’m a classic Obliger who will go to such great lengths not to disappoint anyone that I’d give up on my dreams just so that they don’t conflict with someone else’s demands on my time.

When I first heard about this framework, my first reaction was to resist it. I understood it that I’m mostly driven by external expectations, but perhaps if I worked hard enough on changing my attitude, I’d be able to switch to a different type? A Questioner would be nice I think… I somehow felt that acknowledging that I’m not going to get anything done without external accountability would be admitting to my weakness. I thought that I should not require external support to accomplish my goals. I thought that’s a sign of weak character and immaturity.

I still perceived it this way on some level, until a friend on Twitter made a joke about a foam brick she occasionally sits on for the sake of a “sport”. This reminded me I too have a similar foam brick I’ve only maybe used once or twice, and I almost started feeling guilty about it. But then I realized, I’m super consistent in doing aerial yoga a few times each week. I don’t need to put it on my todo list, or to force myself to do this. I’m excited and looking forward to it. I’m no too lazy to practice, I just prefer to do it in a nice friendly studio with some nice friendly people rather than alone at home. Why should I ever feel guilty about such thing?

The same thing happened to me with my writing. I’ve been promising myself I would write more for at least two years, until I found two accountability buddies. Since then I’ve created something for this blog for 175 days in a row, no matter how much I had on my plate. I’m still writing mostly for myself, but knowing my buddies are there cheering for me is what actually keeps me going.

Knowing this, I should finally drop the idea that strong character can only be developed in solitude, and start actively seeking buddies in other areas of my life where I’m currently lacking motivation. I know the why behind the items on my todo list, but more often than not find it hard to follow through without external support. If you find yourself in the same position, stop beating yourself up and try looking for a buddy or a support group. Perhaps you’ll end up as excited about the things you want to do as I am now about blogging and aerial yoga.

Take a walk to get unstuck

Let’s start from the beginning.
Ever since Plato (423 BC), humanity was plagued by this notion of mind-body duality. Dark Ages have really entrenched the idea that the body is only a vehicle to move around our pristine and godly minds. The flesh pursuits are of lesser concern and don’t deserve much attention.

“Plato and Aristotle, conniving about derailing humanity’s understanding of mind-body connection”. By Raphael.

And this particular idea has seeped into western philosophy. We don’t pay specific attention to the link between the way we treat our bodies and mental performance

  • We try to “save time” by sacrificing sleep, resulting in severely diminished productivity and mental skills,
  • We sit all day on our asses, getting more and more stressed about some artificial situation, avoiding the solution that our bodies were built for,
  • We forget to hydrate or eat properly, because – of course – we “don’t have time.”

🛑 😩 How taking a walk can help you get unstuck

Shinrin-Yoku

Japanese, forest bathing: The immersive experience of spending time in nature.

Spending time in nature has a profoundly therapeutic effect on thinking clarity, overall health, and is a surefire way to lower the stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) is a recognized treatment in Japan, and British doctors are looking into prescriptions for mindful walks in the woods themselves.

Our bodies evolved in green space, surrounded by trees, shrubs, streams, and rocks. We are familiar with the wild in the core of our souls. This is where our ancestors lived their whole lives, honing their genome to fit the environment.
Is life in a concrete jungle so drab? Can a few hours in a forest significantly improve my mood? I set out to answer these questions.

For a few years now, I document my thoughts in a journal. I have an Evernote-based system, where I mostly rate the previous day and recap what happened.
I will expand on this in another post, but one of the valuable insights I was able to discover is the answer to the question


“What do my happy days have in common”?

Every quarter or so, I review my notes and try to tease out what consistently made me happy during this time.
Over and over again, spending time in nature (and preferably good swimming) is at the top of the list.
Maybe it is because I was a scout for 11 years, and I am trying to reproduce the conditions of my youth. But perhaps it is because I am a human being, and this is the environment where humanity was thriving in for millennia.

My Wife, recognizing the importance of trees and taking a walk.

I try to plan my life accordingly, but as you probably know – it intervenes sometimes. Deadlines pile up, work has to be done, and I forget what restorative effect a walk has on my thinking.
I forget that it clears my head and allows me to get a fresh perspective.
I tell myself: “Tomorrow, I don’t have time today.”

🔬 What does the science say?

The science says that I’m dumb.

“To improve your thinking skills, move.”

Chris Medina, “Brain Rules”

Moving can help our brains via several mechanisms:

  1. Moving means more cardiovascular action, which means more oxygen. Our brains REALLY like oxygen. Brains like oxygen how I like the georgian meat pies. Often and in any quantity.
  2. Moving means neurons firing in the brain. Think of it as a bit of a rhythm. By making the body move, the brain gets into a groove of action, and any cognitive tasks get accomplished easier.

“Your lifetime risk for general dementia is cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.”

John Medina, Brain Rules

Before you embark on spending an exciting 60 minutes on a treadmill, consider the messy outside world. Moving helps but to get the best results, combine it with spending time outdoors.

“People living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”

This is your brain on nature, National Geographic

What could you do to combine the amazing effects of moving with restorative effects of spending time in the green? Guess what! Take a walk in the forest!

Would it help to convince you, if you knew Steve Jobs was pretty insistent on walking meetings?

Check out Outside Magazine amazing feature “The Nature Cure

🤦‍♂️ Artur, but this is basic! DUH!

I clicked on your link expecting some insightful comment, and I don’t want to be lectured about such basic things!

I hear ya. But this advice needs repeating.

Intellectually knowing something is not enough. As Derek Sivers says, “If knowledge was the problem, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs.” We can know something is true and still act totally irrationally.
By all means, I am guilty of this as well. I sometimes discard this advice as “not serious enough” and “this is fine for those wellness people, but I have serious work to do.”
Intellectualizing is not the answer. If you care about doing something, you need to build a habit around it.

🌳 The Outside Challenge ™️

Do a test! Check if going outside is really for you.

  1. Get your ass outside first thing in the morning, for a week.
  2. Just walk around, notice things. DO NOT STARE AT YOUR PHONE.
  3. After 30 minutes, go back home.
  4. Be awesome!
  5. Crush your day.

Subscribe to learn more about remote work

I have read and agree to the terms & conditions

🌄 Remote work helps again.

I know not everybody has a nice green space near home.
But… If you worked remotely, what precludes you from living near a forest?
You could even have a view on the trees, getting the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature while you work.

Have you noticed that I post lots of pictures of my laptop opened somewhere in the wilderness?

Because for me, there is no better place to work than surrounded by tress, with wind on my face.

You don’t have to be in exotic place, or wait till the weekend to enjoy time in nature.

You can pick your laptop, hop on a bike (or into a car) and after an hour, you will most likely be in the forest. Yes, I’m pretty certain that they will have LTE coverage.

Now go outside and take a walk!