I’m Busy, You’re Unimportant

Stop the Glorification of Busy


“This week’s really busy”. “Sorry  I’m slammed at the moment”. “We’re manic”.”It’s crazy”.

I get about 100 emails every week with something that let’s me know that me that the sender is really very busy.

We’ve created a culture where it’s necessary, cool even, to exclaim how busy we are. The amount we have to do is proffered as a currency of importance. The busier we are, the more important we must be… The more we are needed because everyone just wants a piece of our delectable selves.

I try to avoid these descriptions. My weeks are sometimes quite full, but I hope never manic, busy or crazy. I try to book in time, if necessary, to enable space and spontaneity. Whenever I get too busy, all the work I do suffers. My ‘busiest’ weeks are rarely my most productive. I try to work like it’s the weekend if I can.

If Barak Obama asked to meet you this afternoon, you’d probably find time – as much as he wanted. If Warren Buffet wanted to call round, you’d clear your diary. If Natalie Portman decided she wanted to do an impromptu reading of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in my living room, booked events would magically vanish from my schedule. Hell, she could have all week.

So ‘busy’, ‘manic’ and all the other ways we describe ourselves are basically a way of telling someone they’re unimportant – it’s a passive aggressive way of telling someone to get lost.

The most successful people have full lives, but Warren Buffett isn’t ‘manic’, he has time to ‘read all day‘. I’m fairly confident that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are/were rarely hectic.

I don’t want to hire manic, busy or crazy people. Whenever someone tells me they’re overly busy then my instant reaction is to wonder whether they’re much fun to be around, or whether I want to work with them. Sounds like a stressful, unbalanced culture they’re emanating. It suggests the work they’ll be doing won’t be deep, or carefully thought through.

It makes me think that perhaps they’re not very good, organised or successful enough to not be so busy, which would surely be preferable, given there are sunsets to be seen, kites to be flown, fields to be tromped through and songs to be learned…


Work Like it’s the Weekend

I've no idea who this is, but I like his attitude... and his painting

I’ve no idea who this is, but I like his setup… and his painting

Over the last month I’ve been living in a van in Silicon Valley, more on that here and here. I’ll post some adventures soon on Simpletom… but today I want to explore working like it’s the weekend.

I get my best work done at the weekends. Not that I want to be working at the weekends, mind. But weekend works comes with a calm that is enviable to my midweek self.

In Leonard Cheshire’s, (a hero of mine) biography, he mentioned that whenever he wrote a letter, even if he had a pile of them, he’d write each one as if it was the only one he needed to write. Although it meant the pile took longer, he was able to give himself to each letter, without the shackles of time constraining his focus and commitment to each. It meant he wrote fabulous letters.

At the weekends, I’m not subjected to the deafening tick-tock of the progress clock, which leaves me rushing from moment to moment, task to task and meeting to meeting. I’m not sure I finish anything, or am ever ‘in the moment’, during the week.

We should work like it’s the weekend everyday. At the weekend, there’s time make a cup of tea, stare out of the window, take 15 minutes off to play the guitar, write a Simpletom blog (the infrequent nature of my posting is perhaps indicative of the healthy lack of weekend work) and do meaningful stuff that ‘I don’t have time for’ in the week. We’d have time to think and put that thought, carefully and considerately into our work.

We would do more substantial, more committed, more thoughtful work, if we always worked like it was the weekend. Today, we’re so subjected to the immediacy of things that work has become frantic. The bygone days of long boozy lunches, trips by steamer, disconnectedness seem far, far away – yet some pretty epic work (and thought) was achieved. Most modern thought-leaders and doers seem to want more time to think and breathe. Why don’t we just give it to ourselves. Why does midweek work have such a different texture from weekend work, even though it’s the same thing. Why do we prescribe one pace for one and another for another?

If we worked like it was the weekends, perhaps we’d not get quite as much done, but I’m pretty confident we’d get what we needed to do done, with more meaning and quality – of life and work. And so for another cuppa…


(or the art of Growing Down)

A previous, very silly, birthday

A previous, very silly, birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. I was dressed as a ninja cow at a festival, squeezed into a west-country barn full of ‘Almost Farmous’ revellers. We were ‘The Moo Fighters’, naturally. Seconded only by ‘Daft Skunk’.

The weekend consisted of dancing, laughing, drinking, firing water pistols at unsuspecting crowd members and generally indulging in large dollops of mischievous fun.

All perfectly acceptable fun for us youngsters, right? The issue being that I turned a wizened 34. My birthdays haven’t much changed since I was 18 and today my bones ache.  Peter Pan is alive and well and, as a casual glance around the festival would suggest, he’s not alone. You can spot him easily – he’s the one with the bags beneath his eyes.

Are we eternally young, or merely adulesents?  I wonder at what point we’ll become too old to find squirting people with water on a dance floor and then hiding most entertaining, and whether or not that constitutes a good or a bad thing?

I hope never. I’d like to nurture many of the wonders of youth – the lack of responsibility, humour, mischief, laughter, untidiness, carelessness, late nights, giggling, dancing that immaturity brings. I’d much rather live in a Roald Dahl novel than one by Austin, or Tolstoy, with their endless stream of grown ups, or children masquerading as adults.

We have many interwoven, sometimes contradictory, relationships with youth and growing up.

I was a late developer. As a summer baby, I was always playing catch up with hairier and taller friends in my year, some of whom had 11 months ‘extra time’. Not inconsequential when you’re a wee nipper on a frozen ruby pitch. Amongst those peers, I’ve now friends who’ve had three children, are captains of industry, divorcees, widows, drug addicts, alcoholics and celebrities. Some seem exceptionally grown up, with houses in expensive parts of London, pristine wardrobes, pensions and all the dinner party chat that complements their choices.

Others… well… haven’t. Yet some of the latter are more emotionally mature than the former and have had ‘richer’, more interesting lives. One friend could be described as the ‘furthest behind’, in terms of their careers… is one of the wisest, most worldly, experience-rich person I know. Another, a great friend who writes wonderfully here has just set off backpacking around the world, one-way, in his mid-thirties.

I’ve never understood the rush to grow up. Being one seems to mean attending parties where conversation never steers beyond pleasantries or politics. It means subverting ones true beliefs or self-expression. It results in wearing a uniform of chinos, collared shirts and boat shoes. It can mean rounding out all the passionate edges of youth and becoming ‘just another’ conformist. Add a bunch of reality, a sprinkle of boredom, a dash of failed ambition and a liberal sprinkle of responsibilities, loneliness and hard work to the mix and slow bake… and before we know it we’ve become a grown up. Past tense.

And yet, on the flip side, I’m envious of those adults who seem settled, self-confident and aware.

At a wedding a week ago the electronic music selection resulted in every person over forty retreating to the bar, save for one sixty-something who wasn’t scared to get involved. I’d rather be that person. Yet I want to do it because it feels authentic, not because of psychological stunting, or because I refuse to accept I’m the age I am. I’d like to be the godfather than a child goes to for both fun and sage advice, not one or the other.

Being ‘trapped in escapism’ is often an attempt to maintain the freedom of youth and avoid responsibility. Responsibility and maturity, particularly emotional maturity is, in my mind, always a good thing and yet so is a youthful energy and disposition to trying new things. Youth evokes passion, dreams, a healthy recklessness and hope that a weary elder can swat aside in the desire for routine, conformity and comfort.

So what to do? Can we bounce around like a child at a festival one weekend whilst holding down a job that requires huge responsibility, without giving one or the other short shrift? Can we extract the best from both maturity and immaturity?

There are good examples of a balance – The Dalai Lama, despite the weight that comes with being a religious leader, has a lightness, a giggle and a curiosity to match any child. David Attenborough, when asked about his passion said, “Many people ask me when I became interested in natural history. I’ve never met a child who isn’t, so I ask in reply at what age other people lost interest in the wonders of the natural world. I just never did”.

It’s a great shame when someone becomes too sensible to swim in the sea, dance, laugh, play practical jokes or takes things too seriously because they might look silly or get dirty. Both this beautiful poem as well as our deathbed regrets suggest that retaining the better parts of our youthfulness is important, and hard.

Let us nurture the wonders of youth. Let us be sillier, swim more rivers, make more mistakes, keep in touch with friends, work less hard, walk barefooted earlier, pick more daises and allow ourselves to be happy. I’ve started already this summer and it’s working. Come join.

(And I must leave you with this, which is the view from my window as I write this…)

Bristol evenings...

Bristol evenings…

Time and Time Again

My friend Tim, who has a wholly different take on Time. We think he may have dropped an ‘e’

I’m reminded, as I tickle life into my new project – 3Desk – that things always take way more time than I anticipate.

I presume it’s the entrepreneurs curse (and blessing) that they continue to remain over-optimistic about how long things will take and what can be achieved in a given amount of time. The blessing is that if we knew the truth, we often wouldn’t start. Fortunately that’s not true in the case of 3Desk… the reality is slower than the anticipated, but it’s still proving very interesting.

Nonetheless, things take time. Lots of time.

I came across a nice article this week about time – by the founder of SongKick. He claims that startups ‘lose’ years in their attempt to be the newest shiniest big thing. A gentle reminder to people that start dates are often under-estimated. Overnight successes are often over-decade successes when you probe a little more closely.

Another article suggests that your formative years are your twenties –  so I’m now a bit late. Although, perhaps I’m a late-developer like Dave McClure, an indefatigable evangelist of all things web, who claims that his Damascene moment came later in life. Heartening.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m surprised at how often ‘time’ forms a component of my writing and thoughts. I seem, it would seem, to battle with time – from an attention ‘in-the-moment’ point of view, as well as recognizing what I might have been.

I’m aware that if I was to loosen the noose of time, or as Steve Jobs explained, to ‘live every day like it was my last, because one day it will be true’, then I might actually conquer some of the things that time is currently throwing in my way. There is a delicious irony in the idea that if you are too aware of time and achievement, you get less done. We should Let Go.

Someone asked me yesterday what I took time for and the only thing I could think of was sleep. Bad Simpletom.

So, how to remedy this issue? My own solution is embryonic and undisciplined, but here’s what I’m working on…

1) Taking 5 minutes each morning, whilst my coffee brews on the hob, to meditate. Should do more, but I’m going gentle on myself.

2) Integrate breathing and attention as often as possible into my day. Just 10 breaths, as often as I remember and trying to use mnemonics, like going to the loo, eating, stepping outside in order to remind.

3) Being more deliberate about time ‘off’. Even if just a few minutes walking to the shops, or having a drink with someone. Trying to banish ‘work’ or ‘stress’ from that moment.

4) Reducing obsessive email checking. I’ve been using RescueTime and have noticed that every week, without fail, email is my number 1. I’m trying to bash it to number 2+.

5) Not having too many things I’m working on at any given time.

Now for a bit more time to blog a bit more often. This has felt good, productive even in the telling and explaining. That’s why we do it, us mad bloggers, or naturists… as, it has been claimed that “Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public” – Paulo Coelho

Plus, it would seem, from the number of links to other posts on this blog, none of this is new.

One of These Things First

One of my favorite songs is by the great Nick Drake, called One of These Things First.

It’s a wonderful tune about ‘could haves’ – Nick’s fragile, angelic voice tells us that he could have been many things. The full lyrics are posted below. Hear the song on YouTube

Nick could well have been many of these things. Tall, bright, and good-looking, he got into Cambridge and had huge potential.

Sadly, he became more and more a recluse and finally died of an overdose – whether deliberate, nobody knows. He leaves a magical legacy,  in the form of the three albums released, and the sound of his voice lingers, like a wisp of smoke from a past fire – daily he is still able to add value to peoples’ lives through his melodies, extraordinary finger picking guitar, and haunting lyrics. However, be never saw his success, nor will be the things he could’ve.

As the New Year begins, we turn to resolutions. I have mixed views – part of me believes that resolutions lead to unhappiness and are rarely fulfilled. The other is that they help sharpen the mind and retune.

I’ve also noticed some regret creeping into my thoughts recently. I’m fortunate enough that I could do many things I’ve dreamed of. Yet much of my reminiscing is tinged with regret – that I didn’t continue with the piano, or that I never worked at languages – of the times when I’ve  let fear get in the way of approaching people I’ve fancied.

I could have done so many things better and I have wasted so many situations – when I failed to carpe diem as I wish I had. There have been times when I’ve taken the easy route and let laziness take hold.

Yet regret is a waste, unless we use it. We learn from our experiences and our regrets and try to make small increasing changes. That’s why we make resolutions – to accomplish little changes in our lives to try to regret less, and live more.

The smaller they are and the more we enjoy them, the more likely we will keep them.

For me one of my resolutions is to try not to regret, but to move forward. To try to achieve the readily achievable, and ignore the rest.

Happy 2012

One of These Things First Lyrics   

I could have been a sailor, could have been a cook
A real live lover, could have been a book.
I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock
As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.
I could be
Here and now
I would be, I should be
But how?
I could have been
One of these things first
I could have been
One of these things first.

I could have been your pillar, could have been your door
I could have stayed beside you, could have stayed for more.
Could have been your statue, could have been your friend,
A whole long lifetime could have been the end.
I could be yours so true
I would be, I should be through and through
I could have been
One of these things first
I could have been
One of these things first.

I could have been a whistle, could have been a flute
A real live giver, could have been a boot.
I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock
As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.
I could be even here
I would be, I should be so near
I could have been
One of these things first
I could have been
One of these things first.

24 Hours Later

24 hours ago, I was (at the time or writing, not posting) on the tube somewhere between Acton and Rayners Lane. In these 24 hours I have transported myself through time, continents and society.

Since landing on Kenyan soil I have watched a group of people surround the staff at an airport gate and shout, dance, giggle, collective eye-roll and generally behave extraordinarily, (through the lens of a Londoner’s eyes), on account of a delayed flight. I wasn’t exaggerating – dancing, just to amuse one another (and, of course in Kenya, for a bit of a show).

I have driven through villages with no plumbing or electricity, alongside passangers that live four to a single room.

I have swam in a lagoon and watched ospreys circle overhead and fishermen paddle around in dugout canoes.

I have arrived at a house (or folly?) that now constitutes about two-thirds of my wordly wealth and wandered, filled with excitement and anxiety, around rooms I’ve never seen before.

I have seen people I haven’t thought about since I left, 5 months ago, who’ve continued their daily lives tirelessly.

… and yet it feels like I never left. The constrasts couldn’t be more marked, yet the ability to adapt improves with every swing.

and now I sit exactly 7.3m above the ground, watching those Ospreys dive for fish in Mida Creek in front of my house as a tropical storm rumbles on the far side of the creek and a little geckko on the wall above me eeks out its daily bugs.

I’m here for 2 weeks +, alone in my house wondering if I’ll enjoy the solitude, or if it will start to creep up on my sociable bones. Either way, I will be sowing the seeds for future love within Ruby’s (the house’s name) walls.

More shortly…

PS – I’m really not trying to rub it in, promise

An evening on Mida Creek

A Hard Day’s Night

We’ve gazed into the eyes of creatures on the bottom of the oceans, played with the dark side of the moon and as of the last few weeks, potentially managed to make something travel quicker than the speed of light.

Clever beings are we.

Yet I still find it somewhat strange… amusing even, that Michael Phelps, Vladimir Putin, The Dalai Lama, Mark Zukerberg, Madonna and even the seemingly indefatigable Berlusconi probably spend at least 5 hours of their days unconscious.

These are some pretty energetic people and yet their bodies render them immobile for perhaps a quarter or more of their lives. One minute a nuclear scientist is tinkering with quantum physics and a few minutes later they could be asleep, dreaming of sweet nothing.

My own battle with sleep has been ongoing.

The adage, ‘you get all the sleep you need when you’re dead’ makes no sense to me. The extra couple of hours I gain by reducing my sleep are easily outweighed by the grumpiness felt. I’d rather live less, or die early and feel energetic and awake, such is the drag of tiredness on my mood.

I sleep about eight or even eight and a half hours a night.

Shocking, I know.

What a waste. I could be fluent in an extra couple of languages. Many an evening might have had a more licentious had it not been for my drooping lids.

When I tell people how ‘much’ I sleep, I’m often met by the same pieces of advice. “You’ve just got to train myself” they say, chirpily before diving off to set their alarms for quarter to six in order to enjoy a morning’s yoga session before a breakfast meeting.

Perhaps I haven’t trained hard enough, but when I’ve tried or been forced to reduce my sleep I’ve just not enjoyed my days nearly as much and after a month or two, I find that a rather compelling reason to give up the training.

Perhaps it’s time for some rigorous analysis of diets, exercise and some serious scientific experiments.

Yep, you guessed it.

I could just accept that I need a bit more sleep and enjoy that fact. We’re all different creatures. Just because some of my friends can hop and skip all night long only to spring out of bed 5 hours later doesn’t mean that I too should be able to too.

Nowadays, I sleep without an alarm. The benefit of being self-employed means that if I’m clever about my meetings and calls, I can build this ‘disability’ (or to an insomniac, perhaps a coveted ability) into my life.

It would be nice to linger a little longer at weekday dinners, or be a little perkier in meetings after a sometimes inevitable shortage of sleep. As such it is certainly worth doing a few experiments. But rather than it drive me mad, I’m happy to slip into bed a little earlier than some and sleep a little longer than most.

Some sleepy achievers:




I decided not to wake him up and ask if he was actually the secretariat…