Being Busy Isn’t the Way to Fulfillment
Article originally published on Linkedin in Feb 2017.
Last semester, I was taking 5 classes, starting a new club, recruiting simultaneously with over 10 companies for two different roles and as a result flying everywhere for final rounds. Stressed isn’t even an intense enough word to describe how I felt. I forgot how to breathe. Most of the time I just wanted to bang my head against the wall or flush myself down the toilet so no one would chase after me anymore. My effort did pay off, but I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel a single sense of fulfillment. I hated trading my time and energy for those so-called achievements.
I was doing a lot but learning very little. I know the education with the form of meeting deadlines isn’t working for me, so I was ready to design my own. This semester, I found myself at Oxford. Two tutorials per week is light. As a visiting student, I have no exams and grades don’t count, so suddenly I have a handful of time to allocate. Instead of optimizing for achievement, I choose to optimize for life, and the impact was profound. I have never been this happy before and I hope to share this happiness with you.
In the US (also other parts of the world), we are defined by what we do, what we produce, and whom we know. Especially in Silicon Valley, relationships are rather transactional. If you aren’t useful to others, you are worthless. As a result, imposter syndrome prevails. In the student community, we constantly live in the shadows of others. Every day we go on Facebook and see the amazing accomplishment of our friends, and conclude that so-and-so has better lives than I do. We fear missing out. On the surface, we are calm as swans, but deep inside we are paddling for dear life.
Our unhappiness comes from the ruthless comparisons, not only with peers but also with our role models (those Forbes 30 under 30s) and the self we could strive to become in the future. We are here but we always want to get there. Yet how many of us clearly know what exactly is there? And why we even want to get there? The fact that we are not there yet stresses us out.
It seems like we are achieving a lot by being so busy. But the reality is our mind is congested, our goal blurry and our feeling blue. Being busy prevents us from being the best version of ourselves, simply because we miss the opportunities to find:
- Time for ourselves
- Time to reflect and find our purpose (What are we doing this all for?)
- Time to meet people who stimulate great ideas from you
- Time to work on that side project that helps you discover your passion
- Time to innovate (How can we switch to the creative mode if all we do is surviving stupid assignments? Innovation deserves more mental space)
But how do I become less busy? I hear you ask. To do that, you need to first recognize that you are busy and you want to change that. And then, check out the following ways that had worked for me:
- Become more self-disciplined.
It’s not that you don’t have time, but rather you aren’t optimizing it.
a) Turn your phone off when you work. Nothing hurts productivity more than constant distractions. It seems like everyone knows this, but few could do. The difference lies in your self-discipline.
b) Get off Facebook. It’s not only distracting but also makes us more depressed …Well, I can’t, coz I still want to stay up-to-date with cool events on campus and stay in touch with friends. Then make yourself disciplined and only allow yourself to check it once at night. Download Messenger and delete Facebook on your phone.
c) Organize your day. Keep a good sleep schedule. Develop your morning rituals. Small things like making your bed make a difference. Psychology research shows that making your bed in the morning gives people a sense of accomplishment at the start of the day.
d) Never have more than 5 tabs open. Multiple tasking kills. Focus on one at a time.
e) Keep a to-do list and EVALUATE at night. Getting your to-do list super long makes no difference. It’s your evaluation on whether we actually accomplish those tasks that matter.
2. Allocate your time wisely.
a) Quit the irrelevant commitments. A good friend sent me Mark Manson’s article Fuck Yes or No when I asked him for advice on whether to pursue a client project. “Would you say Fuck Yes to the project?” he asked. “No,” I answered. “Then it’s a Fuck No.” Such a simple principle. If you are part of a club, organization, project, research group that you wouldn’t say Fuck Yes to, quit it. It’s better to get involved in something you are truly excited about and give it 100% than getting involved in 5 and give 20% each.
b) Be selective on whom you spend time with. You are the average of your 5 closest friends, so choose wisely. If you aren’t having fun or engaging in meaningful conversations with someone, then consider cutting down the time you meet or spending time with others.
c) Get a B early on. If the difference between getting a B and an A is 50 hours more work, then I will optimize for a B and use that 50 hours to run a side project and read a couple of books. Maybe it’s one of the best things that could even happen to you. Get a B early on so you will stop worrying about grades and focus on learning.
3. Prioritize the “me” time.
a) Celebrate being alone. We live in a society of social networks. We aren’t alone but we constantly feel lonely. It’s a fear for many people: spending Friday night alone, eating alone, sitting alone. What if you change your perspective by actually appreciating being only with yourself? Take silent walks. Go for a silent run. Breathe. Let your thoughts come and go. Ideas don’t come to you when you are purposefully seeking it.
b) Be mindful. Try to meditate or simply be at peace with yourself and the surroundings. 10 minutes a day in the morning changes how you feel the whole day.
c) Be your best valentine. We don’t need others to feel loved. The best love should come from ourselves. Pay attention to what makes us happy. A hot shower? Chocolate? Nature? Treat yourself coz you deserve it.
4. Take time off.
Seriously. Come to Oxford. Go study abroad. Leaving society’s, friend and family’s expectations gives us a chance to reinvent our lives. If you are bolder, go take a semester off. Take a step back and realize how young we are, and do something crazy. Education is not what we learn in class, but gaining the ability to become a lifelong learner and design our lives to maximize our impacts.
Being busy isn’t the way to fulfillment. So set your mind free and reinvent the life you always wanted to live.