Life & Business

The Myth of Being Busy: Making Time Off a Priority by Sanja Gardašević

by Sabrina Smelko


In my own life, I’ve experienced the pressure to appear busy. And I’m not alone. Especially when I lived in the hustle-bustle of Toronto’s advertising industry, being the last one at the office was a badge to be worn. In the lineup at any given coffeeshop, it wasn’t unusual to overhear people compare their work hours. Even now — as a freelancer working from home — the guilt I feel when I take a day off is a feeling I think many of us in today’s Western society share.

Like our European counterparts who value siestas and even ban emailing after-hours, we need to start prioritizing leisure time and celebrating efficiency — not just for our own pleasure, but to increase our productivity and creativity. A champion for this initiative, Content and Campaign Manager for Domain.ME, Sanja Gardašević is joining us today to talk about the myth of being busy, why we should all make time off more of a priority, and how self-reflection and breaking a sweat affects our creativity. –Sabrina

Netherlands has a four-day workweek policy that is accepted countrywide. France is working toward banning emails after-hours, while Sweden is slowly moving towards a six-hour workday. What are you doing?

Let me guess. It’s another long day for you, right?

Somewhere between our enthusiasm for landing that new job and ambition to do and contribute even more, “busy” becomes our new MO (modus operandi). In time, we wear our “busy badge” with pride. After all, isn’t “busy” a synonym for engaged, proactive, successful? Being “busy” comes from your enthusiasm. However, enthusiasm can only take you so far, and even enthusiasm needs refueling from time to time. Without recharging, you will not be able to reach your most significant goals.

Productivity vs. Creativity

“Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue when it comes to creativity.” Adam Grant, bestselling author of Give and Take and a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

The goal of the initiatives I mentioned above is to provide us with a greater control over our work/life integration. They all start with a premise that we are more productive and more creative when we have time to take a step back, to relax, to think. And a long line of research is available to prove it.

One study of two groups of executives showed that leaders in countries with more paid time off actually are more likely to work at a faster pace, have a higher [quality] focus, and feel more [patient]. If nothing else, this study showed that when we have less time on our disposal, we tend to be more focused and waste less of it.

But, it’s not even how much you achieve, it’s what you achieve. Does it matter that we spend all day finishing tasks if those tasks do not significantly contribute to the realization of our company’s goals, or our personal vision? Is having a hand in every little thing more valuable than making sure that a couple of key projects are done in time and thoroughly? I would say no.

Another line of thought claims that creativity needs time to grow. Creativity is not something you can force, and sometimes it’s on the completely opposite spectrum from productivity. Creativity requires us to take a step back and change our perspective. It requires learning something new, completely changing our old line of thought and abandoning our routine. That takes time, time that most often does not fit our perception of productivity, and thus, gets bumped down on our priority lists.

My boyfriend often jokes how he is working a lot less than me. If you judge him solely on his laid-back attitude you may believe him, and oh, how wrong you would be. He may spend a lot less time typing away and producing lines of code (he is a back-end software engineer), but he certainly works. He works while he walks our dog, he works while he showers and he works while he plays World of Wordcraft. He is actively thinking through the problem and by the time he sits down at his computer, he is ready to solve it.

Block off some time for reflection

Once you become a part of the machine, it’s really hard to change the way you have been working for years. You embraced the “busy” as your normal way of being and there are no New Year resolutions that can change that — at least not all at once.

What you can do is start incorporating some time for reflection and relaxation into your busy schedule – a “me” time. Make some time for yourself and your thoughts. After all, an occasional heart-to-heart conversation with ourselves can help us be more selective and decide what is it that we truly want to devote our time to.

  1. Make an appointment with yourself.

Let’s be honest. Your schedule will not magically clear itself — not matter how good your AI assistant is. So make an appointment with yourself and stick to it.

Block off an hour with your favorite book; schedule an evening out with friends; or commit to a warm, bubbly bath. Consider it something that cannot be rescheduled.

  1. Walk to your destination.

Instead of flagging a cab or hopping on a tram, consider crossing at least a part of your path by foot. Between an elevator or stairs, choose the stairs. Make small changes in your routine that will benefit your posture, sitting by the computer all day long, and get those gray cells moving.

Researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands found that people who exercise regularly think more creatively than those with a more sedentary lifestyle. So the next time you get stuck with a design or get writer’s block, grab a colleague and go for a walk around the block.

  1. Make a commitment to keep learning.

“The more you stay in one place, both mentally and physically, the more one-sided the world starts to look.” –Joel Peterson, Chairman of JetBlue Airways, and Professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business

I know you are doing your best to stay on-track with the latest trends in your industry, and that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about social psychology, neuroscience, physics, classic novels, sci-fi novels, anything at all that may interest you. Reading materials that are not related to your work encourages new ways of thinking.

As a content creator, life itself is my inspiration. I may be reading a manga Japanese comic, and getting inspired to write about what makes great storytelling. You never know on which adventure your new book will take you!

  1. Traveling often? Well, you are all set!

When traveling, I often encounter nervous travelers – they huff and puff, can’t get comfortable and keep waiting for the journey to end. Well, guess what? Your annoyance will not fuel the car/bus/plane to go any faster. And you are wasting precious time.

I love traveling for many reasons, and one of them is the act of travel itself. When was the last time you had six uninterrupted hours for yourself? Well, I know those plane seats are not the most comfortable and the food could be better, but who cares? Watch a movie, nap, plan your next trip, get onboard Wi-Fi and finish work in peace, or (yes, again) read a book!

Every professional athlete knows that high performance is a result of a careful balance between hard work and rest and renewal. That’s why they structure their day in blocks of focused and high-intensity work and blocks of rest and relaxation. The time off allows them to digest all the new things they learned and get ready for action. Perhaps it’s time we start structuring our days the same way.

As a leader, you are the one who serves as an example to your team, so think about the message you are sending and how productive it really makes all of you.

Busy is NOT the new black.

Suggested For You


  • I have to remind myself of this often. As a freelancer, it often feels as though when I’m not working, I’m leaving potential money sitting on the table. But! When I do schedule down time in, I find that I’m more productive and a lot happier when I do get back to my hustle. Thanks for the great post, Sabrina!

  • Yes. Agreed. Take some time to cook for yourself, garden, get outside and dream. If we have the time to read these articles we have time to enjoy life offline too.

  • If this article resonates with you, as it does with me, then check out “The Busy Boycott” by Courtney Carver who facilitates the inspirational minimalist blog/web site called, “Be More With Less”. There is so much more to explore with Courtney Carver as well. Quality not quantity is what my Middle School Art teacher instructed over 20 years ago, and is still true to this day.