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Last week I was at a meeting and asked what I should write about in this blog post. Someone suggested, “Are you planning to take it easy this summer? Not us!” And then I would mention all the stuff we’ve got going on at Boom Chicago over the summer. But I had to say to the meeting, “Um… I don’t know about you all, but I totally plan on taking it easy this summer.” And as it was coming out of my mouth, I thought: yeah, but you can’t tell people that in an email. You want them to think you’re busy.

But do I?

I’ve heard it said a few times at recent events that “busy” is the new “fine.” As in, “busy” is the new go-to answer to the question, “How are you?” As in, someone asks how you’re doing, and with a mix of pride and exasperation, you say, “Busy!” Then the person who asked gives you a knowing look and walks off. Busy means happy, right? After all, idle hands are the Devil’s playthings, and you have to make hay while the sun is shining, and work will make you free. Right?

Well first of all, being busy is not always the same as being productive. After all, the phrase, “busy work,” doesn’t exactly refer to the best, most effective work you can be doing, the work that propels your company to the next level. Busy work is checking boxes for checking boxes sake. And did you ever notice that sometimes if a colleague who’s always “busy” leaves the company and isn’t replaced, no one misses that “busy” person’s “work”?

But mostly: busy is not the same as fine. And it’s certainly not the same as happy. Busy is… well… busy. Sure, sometimes busy means that exhilarating feeling that comes when you’re doing a lot of what you love and moving important projects forward. But sometimes busy just means you can’t take a break. You bring work home over the weekend. You’re tired. You have the laptop open while you and the family are supposed to be watching Supergirl together (or whatever you watch with your family). And that kind of busy kinda sucks. And hell, even that first, exhilarating kind of busy is still taking you away from the non-work aspects of your life. So I’ve learned a few ways to keep busy in check:

Know when life is out of balance, and enjoy it… but then get it back in balance.
There’s a trippy Philip Glass movie whose title is a Hopi word, “Koyaanisqatsi.”It means, “Life out of balance.” When I first learned the word, I thought, “Ah yes… I know what that’s like.” Not that it’s always bad. But it’s always a thing.


I’m pretty lucky: I love my job. And one of the things I love about it is I get to travel to cool places and take part in big, elaborate events. Frequently these events involve long days with little time to catch my breath. Rehearse with speakers at 6:30am and then sound check at 8 so we can open doors at 8:30 and go from 9 to 5 when I get on a bus to the awards dinner where I’ll host the awards ceremony and run the in-house talent show? I’m in! But in the old days, I would schedule a full day of meetings the next day… and would inevitably have to cancel one or two when my body and brain were like, “Oh, you thought we were going to a meeting at 9? No, we’re making coffee and not leaving the couch until 11:30. We should’ve sent you the memo.” So know when you’re in a state of Koyaanisqatsi. Love it. Nail it. Make it count. But then get your ass out of there.

Carve out chunks of time even when you’re busy.
In one week in May, I went to Stockholm on a Monday, did a tech rehearsal upon arrival, hosted the Nordic Business Forum there on Tuesday, flew home on Wednesday, and hosted The Next Web conference here in Amsterdam on Thursday and Friday. How was my week? BUSY! But I’ll tell you what: when the Nordic Business Forum was over, I chilled the F out by enjoying my favorite two word combination: hotel sauna. And yes, the talks at TNW were inspiring. But I made sure to have a beer on the Ferris Wheel (yes, they had a freaking Ferris Wheel at TNW this year!) before it was over. Hell, I meditate every day (My app of choice is Calm, not Headspace. But you do you); sometimes on the plane if it’s that kind of day. Some day when the machines take over, we can give up taking a little time for ourselves. But until then, take it.

And by the way: of course you live by the rule, “work hard / play hard.” Don’t we all? But don’t confuse playing hard with relaxing. After TNW there was a killer afterparty. Did I play hard and have a great time? Oh yes. Did I wake up on Saturday with my batteries charged ready for the next challenge? Uh, no. Playing hard is its own form of Koyaanisqatsi. If you work hard and play hard, make sure you relax hard too. And to that end…

Promise yourself time to sharpen the saw, and don’t break the promise.
Stephen Covey’s seventh habit is to “Sharpen the Saw,” to take the time to recharge and make sure you’re ready for whatever comes next. The trick, of course, is making time to do it. But it’s an easy trick. Here’s the two step secret: Step One, open your calendar and schedule yourself a few hours each week to renew. Read, walk, think, exercise, write down ideas… whatever.  Step Two: don’t cross out that appointment with yourself just because someone asks you to do something else. When you’re asked to go somewhere else or do something else or take on just one more task, treat that promise to yourself with the same weight and respect you would afford a promise you made to someone you love and respect… which it totally is. Right? Now, can you move the appointment with yourself? Of course! Can you cancel it once in a while? Yes… but you better have a damn good reason. And you better be aware that your need to do so demonstrates some serious Koyaanisqatsi.

Hey, life can get busy. And busy can be rewarding, and I don’t just mean financially. Though I mean that too. But you’re a person, not a robot. So know when you’re Koyaanisqatsi-ing, and make sure you’re not doing so all the time.

Let me know what you think… unless you’re too busy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a drink and watch a trippy Philip Glass movie. Gotta sharpen that saw, right?

Pep Rosenfeld

PepPep Rosenfeld

As Director of Creative Content, Pep does it all: He’s a high level event host & facilitator, writer, stand-up comedian, public speaker, coach, and developer of innovative corporate programs. A co-founder of Boom Chicago, Pep’s passion is using comedy to make hard-to-communicate messages land and stick, as featured In his 2012 TED talk, ‘Fight, Flight or Make Your Opponent Laugh.’ Pep hosts events like TEDx Amsterdam, The Next Web Conference, The Nordic Business Forum, and the Spin Awards to rave reviews, and he was nominated for an Emmy for his writing on America’s long-running television show, Saturday Night Live.