The cult of busy

Acknowledge the Impatience


Tutti Taygerly

3 years ago | 6 min read

“Hey, how are you?”

“Phew, so crazy busy. You?”

For many years, I held on to my busy-ness as a badge of honor. I would proudly brandish my calendar that’s packed with double- or triple-booked meetings as a mark of how important I was.

Often when people stopped by my desk to talk to me, my snippy glare and body language let them know that I needed to get back to the urgent emails and pings on my laptop rather than take a couple of minutes to connect with a human.

I worked at design firms for 10 years. It was the perfect environment for my restless spirit. Projects were often 3–6 months long and focused on envisioning the future for all the world’s top technology companies. We all had shiny-object syndrome.

Ooh, we get to work on a social gaming system! And now switch gears to design a videophone for deaf people! And now a mobile phone OS built around relationships! Woo-hoo, it’s a connected smart home! It was constant pings moving from shiny object to shiny object.

I never had the chance to focus and go deep because there was always something new to do—collaborate with talented designers, run sprints with clients, create more future-facing design concepts, and shoot day-in-the-life videos of happy people fiddling with their devices.

The constant stimulation and motion meant that I was never bored. My shiny-object-obsessed spirit kept happily bouncing from project to project.

Until one day I had enough of the brutal work hours, the loneliness of being one of the few female creative directions in a misogynistic culture, and years of creating concepts but rarely shipping anything.

I had lost my way. I felt like a kid who’d spent too long in a candy shop and was now suffering from a massive belly-ache and longing for healthy food.

This led me to years working at startups and at Facebook where I could both conceptualize the product North Star as well do the long-term work to create an MVP (minimal viable product), and iteratively launch over months and years to hone the entire product system.

Busy-ness and restlessness are both distractions and and escape from dealing with discomfort. Negative feelings such as anxiety, boredom, fear, anger are all part of the discomfort.

The path of fulfillment is working through these feelings, rather than running away from them to the next shiny thing.

The restless saboteur¹ is a limiting belief that has us continue to search for more excitement in the next shiny object, or immerse ourselves in constant busy-ness. These distractions mean that we are rarely at peace or content with the current activity. We often feel extreme impatience and a desire to move even faster. And frustration when others can’t keep up with us.

There’s also a strength within this feeling of busy-ness and restlessness. I’m an Enneagram 7, The Enthusiast with high energy and vitality for life. I’m creative, spontaneous and always seeking out new experiences. I was once described by a team member as having “x-ray vision and the energy of a 5 year old.”

The key to escaping the cult of busy-ness is to balance out the wisdom of the Enthusiast while mitigating the impatience, anxiety, and boredom that come with a fear of missing out of something better.

1. Acknowledge the Impatience

Table of negative emotions
Table of negative emotions

Negative feelings are uncomfortable and we shy away from them. Try acknowledging the feelings & emotions instead. If you don’t know what the emotion is, scan this list and pick out the top 3 that you might be feeling.

You can try two techniques to acknowledge the emotion.

1. Take 5 deep breaths to reset your mind & body. See if you can feel the emotion, e.g. impatience anywhere in your body. For some people, it can be a tensing of the shoulders or jaws. Or others it’s a gripping sensation in the chest or stomach. Put your hand on that body part and and think of that body part while breathing.

2. Alternately journal about the emotion. Sit and write how impatient you are with the task ahead of you. Capture your anger with all the people who are moving too slowly and not dedicated to the project. Tear it up afterwards.

Run the experiment and see how you feel when you name and acknowledge the negative emotion.

2. Stop Multitasking

Multitasking is a myth. Nobody does this well. Rather than being able to simultaneously do 3 things at once, we actually do rapid context-switching between the 3 things. There’s a tax on our brain when we switch as we have to remember and refocus when we transition between the things.

One of my professors at Stanford, Clifford Nass, has done multiple research studies on the myth of multitasking. Listen to him in this 18-minute NPR clip or dig into his research of cognitive control in media multitaskers.

Of course this is easier said than done. Multitasking is what we do to survive and to feed our cult of busy. I am guilty of multitasking so many times in each day. The first step is awareness. Try to notice when you’re multitasking and choose a different path.

3. Pick your Level of Scale

I continue to be inspired by Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten 9-minute video. It starts with an ordinary lakeside picnic in Chicago before zooming out 10x every 10 seconds until you end at the black expanse of the universe. The voiceover reminds us:

“This emptiness is normal. The richness of our own neighborhood is the exception.”

We are in default-mode when we seamlessly fall back into busy-ness and multitasking. Instead, remind yourself to zoom out into a metaview and observe the situation from above.

Figure out if you’re lost in the details of the trees and if it’s time to zoom above the forest. The best designers I’ve worked with have been able to deliberately shift their scales. They can focus on the minute details of a microinteraction or tiny UI element.

They can also scale far up to see the business context and the user needs that are driving the product strategy. The trick is to be aware of what level of scale you’re at during any point in time. Then be deliberate about picking what level of scale you want to be at.

You can choose to be in busy-mode for a short spurt of time to get some crucial things done. But don’t stay there simply for the sake of being busy. Be able to zoom out to the metaview and get a perspective of what scale you’d like to choose next.

4. Focus on Creation

One most effective antidotes I know to the feelings of busy restlessness is to immerse in deep focus. For myself, and many of my clients, that focus comes from creation, the craft and joy of making something from nothing. Creation doesn’t have to be limited to a craft like painting, knitting, woodworking, or filmmaking.

It doesn’t have to be good or perfect. In a professional sense all of the following activities allow for a focus on creation—writing a product specification, sketching out a workflow diagram, building a slide-deck, or recording a product demo.

Notice which acts of creation let you disappear into ease and flow where you lose track of time. That feeling of restlessness wants to have you skim the surface of things and quickly move on to the next shiny object. Instead, focus on going deep into one creative act.


It’s too easy, especially as we hurtle towards the end of the year, to get caught up in the cult of busy. We can wear busy-ness as a badge of honor commensurate to our importance. Instead, harness this energy and enthusiasm by 1. acknowledging the negative emotions, 2. stopping multitasking, 3. picking your level of zoom, and 4. focusing on creation.

¹The concept of the restless saboteur is from Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence research


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Tutti Taygerly







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