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November 27, 2018

Busy and Bored: Two Sides of the Same Coin

When I ask leaders how they’re doing, the number one response I get is some version of “I’m busy.” I might hear: “I’m swamped,” or “I’m overwhelmed,” or “I’m stressed.” They might sigh with visibly tight or slumping shoulders, or say “great, move on, let’s get to coaching. I’ve got a lot to do.”

Whenever I hear this response, or feel this energy, regardless of the words spoken, I have a pretty good hunch the leader is below the line. Specifically, they’re experiencing a scarcity of time (Commitment #12) and a sense of a loss of control (Commitment #11). I imagine that most of you can relate to believing you don’t have enough time. This is why we say that most people (and leaders) spend most of their time below the line.

Remember: being below the line isn’t bad. It’s just a state of consciousness, and many leaders prefer this state of consciousness because they believe it’s more conducive to getting things done. Believing that there is never enough time focuses the leader, helps them prioritize, and energizes them (with stress hormones) to get shit done.

The flip side of the same coin is: “I’m bored.” Now you might be saying, “I’d give anything to be bored.” And I’d say, with a smile, “I don’t believe you.” In fact, most leaders will do anything to avoid being bored. Boredom is anathema to them. This view makes sense.

I currently spend time with leaders who are no longer in the game, who are retired in some form or fashion. The demon they’re running from is boredom. They constantly distract themselves with hobbies, and the dreaded experience of “not enough meaningful things to do” still stalks them. The emptiness is too painful so they numb it out. Leaders who aren’t yet retired take vacations and fill every moment with something to do because, “God forbid, I can’t be bored.” Free time, if there ever were such a thing, is filled to the max, if not with work then with family activities. All in service of avoiding boredom.

The coin is time: busy is too little time and boredom is too much time. To the observant witness of consciousness, time is not a thing.

Time is a concept, and like all concepts, it simply appears as a phenomenon arising in consciousness (as a thought). Now, at this point, you may be rolling your eyes and your bullshit meter is flashing red. You might be saying, “I don’t really care what time is philosophically, I just know that practically speaking I don’t have enough of it!” This is why many people say, “Time is the one thing you can’t get more of. It’s the truly scarce resource.”

But what if that’s not true? What if it’s not a scarce resource? What if you already have enough of it and even beyond that, what if you can make more of it? How would life be? My sense is that this is what Einstein and many of the great sages were pointing at, and in my experience it’s true.

To that end, I have a few propositions for you to consider. What if …...

You have all the time in the world to do what you’re meant to do?
If you don’t have enough time, you’re either not doing what you’re meant to do (a purpose issue) or you’re not doing it the best way (a productivity issue).

You can’t feel bored or busy when you stay in the present moment?
The only way to experience not enough time or too much time is to leave this present moment and go into the future or the past. (BTW, like time, past and future are only concepts.) Developing the skill to stay here now eliminates busy and bored AND allows you to have all your energy available to do what is yours to do now. One definition of presence is “having all your creative energy available to this now moment.”

You aren’t facing your unconscious commitment?
Believing there is not enough time and that you’re really busy is a strategy (often unconscious) you’re using to...

  • Avoid boredom
  • Stay on your edge so you get a maximum amount of things done (even though there are better ways to accomplish this goal that leave less toxic residue).
  • Continue your addiction to the stress hormones coursing through your body.

The world I’m pointing to is a world in which a leader, when asked, “How are you?” might respond, “Great. I’m at peace and optimally creative because I have all the time in the world to do everything I'm meant to do. And if I need it, I simply create more time.”

If you responded that way in our current world, you would probably be ignored, given more work because you obviously don’t have enough to do, or shunned from the club of the “always busy, exhausted and overworked.” In that club one’s status is determined by how busy one is. My belief is we need a new club.

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Jim Dethmer
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