Busy is a decision - Debbie Millman

Three ways to be more Unhurriedly Productive

3rd Feb 2022

Here we are at the beginning of February. After the break, is your world starting to speed up again? I bumped into a client last week who told me that the calm and zen she’d experienced over the holiday period had evaporated within 40 minutes of her first day back at work. Sound familiar?


It doesn’t have to be this way.


I’ve spent the summer continuing to experiment and learn about how to create a state of unhurried productivity. That’s about being productive yet not flat-out busy all the time. For many of us, it’s a coveted nirvana state. It’s a state of mind more than a state of movement. And I reckon you can attain it by developing a few key disciplines.


Here are three ideas to help you be more unhurriedly productive as you begin the year:


1. Decide what’s most important, and learn to say ‘no’ to the other stuff


No one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is busied with many things – Seneca


Time and time again, I’ve learned the hard way that committing to ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’s drags me away from what I really want to be spending my time on. Which I then never get to. As I get older, I’m getting a lot better at discerning the signal from the noise, and protecting the things and time that are most important.

I don’t work Fridays. Meetings without an agenda are off my agenda. Replying to every email is something I can happily live without. These are all lifelong challenges that I’m slowly learning to work with. As Oliver Burkeman says in his book 4000 Weeks, we can’t do it all, so we might as well come to terms with that, and focus on what’s most important. And learn to say ‘no’ to everything else. 


What’s most important to you this year? What will you commit to saying no to?


2. Develop a reflective practice


The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper – Eden Phillpotts


Without question, the most effective people, and teams, that I know all have some sort of regular reflective practice. That’s the discipline of standing back from your activities, evaluating them and learning from them. For you as an individual, that practice might be daily journalling (I like Ryan Holiday’s definition of journaling: the conversation we have with ourselves about who we want to be and how far we are from that at any given moment. For your team, it might be your commitment to a quarterly offsite, as many of my clients do. 


What will your reflective practice look like this year?


3. Hang out with unhurriedly productive people


You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with – Jim Rohn


Habitats shape habits. The people you surround yourself with shape how you behave. If you surround yourself with frantic go-getters, some of their hurried energy is going to infect you. If you hang out with people who make stuff happen, yet seem to have all the time in the world, some of their magic will rub off too. By being in their presence, you’ll have the chance to observe and ask how they make decisions, respond to requests, and structure their days. 


Who might you hang out with that is incredibly productive yet really unhurried? What do you want to learn from them?



There you have it. Three tips to remove the noise, keep on top of things, and to stay at your best.


Final tip: begin each day by writing three bullet points starting with the following:

  • What I’m saying no to today:
  • What I’m learning right now:
  • Who I’ll connect with today:




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