Busyness seems to have become a hallmark of our time, a sort of unquestioned supposed virtue. We are applauded when we are “busy,” as if being busy were necessarily a good thing.

Tell someone that you are busy and you will almost certainly receive a favorable response. Tell someone that you are practicing the art of stillness, or that you are reserving large blocks of your time to cultivate creativity, and you will almost certainly be met with an uncomprehending or even hostile response.

Today I was free of the office, but had plenty of freelance work scheduled. And then I was faced with a choice: I could spend the entire day working or take a couple of hours away to play with my granddaughters at the park on a sunny afternoon. I chose the important thing over the urgent thing and did not regret my decision. The catch is that it is precisely because I was in control of my schedule today that I was free to choose that which was truly important.

The same principle applies with creativity. If I am a slave to busyness then the endless stream of urgent tasks will crowd out the important things like creativity (and grandchildren). The pursuit of creativity requires freeing oneself from busyness.

Death to creativity

I have been working towards a more location-independent lifestyle for some time. As a long-term minimalist, the challenge of location independence is not the baggage of possessions, but recurring income. In the absence of wealth adequate enough to maintain a simple lifestyle, location independence requires the ability to work from any location.

During a several-month nomadic period this winter I experienced a downturn in freelance work and ended up taking a full-time job to rebuild my bank account. Since location independence (and nomadic minimalism) is still the end goal, I am continuing to work on building a location-independent business at the same time. To say that I am busy would be an understatement.

My typical week now involves working 45+ hours at an office and another approximately 20 hours on my business. The business growth is limited by available time, so I am trying to grow it slow and steady with quality clients. Eventually though I will need to ramp up my business efforts in preparation for taking the business full-time. In addition to the challenges of building a business while working full-time, I have also found that busyness is the enemy of creativity.

There are several “passion projects” that I was working on while I was living as a nomadic minimalist that I struggle to find any time at all to work on now. These include volunteer work with a non-profit, book projects, photography, and several website projects that are in the pipeline. All of these projects are meaningful and important to me, and several are important to my long-term financial security. Yet as a result of busyness it is very difficult to find the time and summon the creative energy to work on these projects. Even when I can block off a bit of time I find that my best hours have already been spent doing work that does not matter (at least to me), leaving me only the scraps of time, energy, and attention for work that is meaningful to me.

Based on my unscientific survey of available literature on this topic and conversations with others, I am certain that this is the experience of most people.

Towards creativity

I reject busyness as a way of life. It is, unfortunately, something that I need to tolerate and manage as well as possible for a short time, but this is not something that I will allow to define my life. Life is too short to squander opportunities for creativity in exchange for the tyranny of busyness.

Anyone can do the majority of jobs. In many cases a robot or computer could do the job, and in some cases a monkey could do the job. Most people, working most jobs, are not creating and contributing something that is uniquely theirs. They are, instead, simply staying busy. This is built in to jobs because, for the most part, someone else has already decided what should be done. (One notable exception to this rule would be small startups where each person may play a key role in bringing creative ideas to the table.)

For my part, I value the opportunity to create something that only I can create, something that is uniquely mine, to do work that I alone can do. I value creativity too much to exist merely as a busy cog inside of a busy machine.

This experience of unplanned busyness has been instructive. It has allowed me to identify some things that are important to me, and to understand the environment in which those things can best be achieved. Creativity requires space and downtime, solitude and stillness. It requires rejecting and resisting busyness.