How busy are you?

Vali reflects on navigating the "seven levels of busy" with Allan, seeking advice on balancing a bustling academic and upcoming project management career without losing sanity. This letter ignites a conversation on effective time management and maintaining focus amidst life's relentless demands.

How busy are you?

Dear Allan,

a couple of months ago, I posted a blog article on my LinkedIn, talking about how busy one can be. I found this cool classification of being busy on Michael's blog called Rands in Repose. He calls it "The seven levels of busy".

It's a simple system that I can genuinely relate to. Here's a short summary of the levels:

  • Level 1: Not Busy - Schedule is open, life feels good but questions about living the best life arise.
  • Level 2: Stuff to Do - Few commitments, manageable without a schedule.
  • Level 3: Significant Commitments - Enough commitments to require tracking tools, infrequent calendar checks.
  • Level 4: At Capacity - Full to-do list and calendar, decisions on prioritizing tasks, feeling in control.
  • Level 5: Cracks in the Facade - Feeling overwhelmed, failure to maintain Inbox Zero, sloppiness in execution.
  • Level 6: Crushing Commitments - Inability to triage incoming tasks, work spills into personal time, feeling constantly tired.
  • Level 7: Unsustainable - Living minute to minute, neglecting necessities, to-do lists and calendars are unhelpful, zero work-life balance.

I really want to learn how to manage these levels in my life to do all the stuff I like without making to many tradeoffs to my physical and mental health. Whenever I took a difficult exam at Technische Universität München, I jumped from level 4 to level 7. I canceled all private and work meetings, and you could find me 24/7 in the library sitting in front of endless amounts of formulas melting my brain. I'm sure you remember, we spent lots of time there together.

It feels super unsustainable for longer periods. During my studies, I was constantly at level 4 to 5. During the exams, this level rose to a 6 or 7 and I've been doing that every 6 months for about 7 years. I'm pretty sure you experienced something similar during your time at TUM. Certainly these high levels were also caused by doing a full-time academic program and working a part-time job at adesso on the side. It truly made me question my sanity, but in the single month before the exam, I ingested more knowledge than in the entire 4-5 months prior. And it worked.

Currently, I'm working on my master's thesis and I am at a solid level 4. It feels good and I genuinely enjoy the work. However, as I need to highly prioritize the thesis, my level of busyness at work rose to level 5 or even the beginning of level 6. That's not good. I want to be able to juggle multiple responsibilities without being stressed out.
As I now progress away from my academic endeavors towards a job as a project manager, the playing field is going to massively change. Finding the balance in all the stuff I do is a challenge that everybody is facing. I'm still searching for good methods to manage this. There's lots of advice in self-help books, the internet, and blog articles. But actually applying the often simple advice is really hard. I think it's especially hard for me, as I'm interested in soooo much stuff!

How do you do it, do you have any advice? Your focus always felt razor sharp. I'm sure committing to only one thing at a time makes everything easier, but that's simply not always feasible. I'm going to discuss this topic further with Nils and I'm getting back to you soon. I might also send you a list of helpful articles and guides on the topic, that I discover on this journey.

Hope to see you soon,

Vali