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Why Debbie Millman Says Being Busy is a Choice

by Emily Potts
art & design

Busy is a choice. Only you can decide which projects to stop an which ones to run with.

Author, designer and podcaster, Debbie Millman talks about why it’s important to make time to do the kinds of projects you want to do, now, not later.

You say that being busy is a choice. What do you mean by that? 

Of the many, many excuses people use to rationalize why they can’t do something, the excuse “I am too busy” is not only the most inauthentic, it is also the laziest. I don’t believe in “too busy.” I think that busy is a decision. We do the things we want to do, period. If we say we are too busy, it is shorthand for “not important enough.” It means you would rather be doing something else that you consider more important. That “thing” could be sleep, it could be sex, or it could be watching “Game of Thrones.” If we use busy as an excuse for not doing something what we are really, really saying is that it’s not a priority.

Simply put: you don’t find the time to do something; you make the time to do things.

How do you break out of the “busy” routine? 

We are now living in a society that sees busy as a badge. It has become cultural cache to use the excuse “I am too busy,” as a reason for not doing anything we don’t feel like doing. The problem is this: if you let yourself off the hook for not doing something for ANY reason, you won’t ever do it. If you want to do something, you can’t let being busy stand in the way, even if you are busy. Make the time to do the things you want to do and then do them.

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With so much on your plate—CMO of Sterling Brands, host of the Design Matters podcast, editorial and creative director at Print magazine, chair of the Masters in Branding program at SVA, and curator of the HOW Design Conference—how do you manage your time to fit in personal projects?

I like to do a lot of different things, and I think the reason that I can do as much as I do is because I’ve been doing a lot of things for a long time. I have (if I say so myself) outstanding time-management skills. I also get a really good amount of sleep of almost every night.

I am convinced that the more sleep you get the more you can do!

The reality for many people is that they are busy, trying to make a living to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families. Sometimes carving out extra time isn’t realistic, or the thought of it is exhausting. What do you say to these people? 

Do what you can do. If you can’t do something because it isn’t realistic, do what is realistic. Obviously taking care of your family is the most important thing in the world. But be honest about it. Don’t say “some day” if you want to do it today. If you don’t or can’t do it today, then plan for when you can. If you really want to do it today, do it. If not now, when?

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Emily Potts

Emily J. Potts has been a writer and editor in the design industry for more than 20 years. Currently she is an independent writer working for a variety of clients in the design industry. www.emilyjpotts.com