There’s a counter-intuitive Buddhist line that has stuck with me: “Don’t just do something, sit there.”
It’s particularly useful in times of uncertainty or even panic, when the temptation is to follow the herd, or take action for the sake of taking action. Sometimes the best action to take on a situation is no action at all.
For me, it’s a reminder to respond, not to react.
It’s also an antidote to the “culture of busyness” that psychologist and Kellogg professor Adam Waytz explored in this month’s Harvard Business Review. He writes:
“Busyness has become a status symbol. People also consider those who exert high effort to be “morally admirable,” regardless of their output.”
There’s an illusion of productivity that comes from being constantly busy.
It can also be hard to separate the urgent from the important, which Dwight D. Eisenhower famously framed in a 1954 speech:
“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are never urgent.”
Johns Hopkins professor Meng Zhu explored this “urgency bias” in a 2018 study and found that humans are prone to spend time on tasks that merely seem urgent instead of tasks that are not pressing, but ought to carry more weight.
The tectonic shifts in business right now, from generative AI to the future of work, will require us to rise above that culture of busyness.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: