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The cure to being busy

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

The cure to being busy

Scott Miker

I find it funny how busy everyone is. Rather, I tend to find that everyone assumes that they are incredibly busy.

By some standards they are. There are things to do that take time. We have to shuffle the kiddos to piano and karate. We have to pay bills. We have to take the car for an oil change. All this while still working more than 40 hours a week and spending quality time with our family.

One thing that I have noticed is that I don’t meet many people who think they aren’t busy. Everyone thinks that they are incredibly busy and have no room for additional tasks.

I fall into this trap all the time myself. I start to feel as though I am moving and knocking out tasks from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep. “I can’t possibly take on more,” I think.

But then I start a new habit or routine and start fitting in something completely new. It takes a little time but soon the new habit is built into my day. I feel exactly as busy as I did before, no more, no less. How can this be? If I added to my full schedule, how can it still be just as full?

The answer comes from 2 things. First is mindset. Being busy is relative. In our society being busy shows we are important so we buy into the notion that we must be busy. We can prove it by pointing to all of the tasks we complete in a week.

While this may seem that we legitimately are busy, we don’t see the available time we have. We disregard the 4 hours a day of TV watching as necessary to relax. We don’t optimize our movements or the organization to make us quicker and more effective. So we let whatever we are doing, fill up our life instead of trying to optimize what we do so we have extra time available.

The second part comes from the fact that humans rely so much on habit. In Habit by William James, the author quotes Dr. Maudsley and says, “If an act became no easier after being done several times, if the careful direction of consciousness were necessary to its accomplishment on each occasion, it is evident that the whole activity of a lifetime might be confined to one or two deeds – that no progress could take place in development. A man might be occupied all day in dressing and undressing himself; the attitude of his body would absorb all his attention and energy; the washing of his hands or the fastening of a button would be as difficult to him on each occasion as to the child on its first trial; and would, furthermore, be completely exhausted by his exertions.”

Therefore, as we develop the motions we take as habits we start to automatically do them. We do them without conscious thought.

This allows us to get much more done in a day than simply “dressing and undressing.” We can spend the necessary time to learn something and form the actions into habit, then drastically reduce the time it takes to do them through repetition.

This is the framework of the systems and habits approach to improvement. We rely on habit to help us direct our life. We spend the time up front to structure the actions so they provide the most benefit, then we turn them into automatic processes.

This allows us to keep building and building. We take something that we know is beneficial if we could do it, and then work to build that into our normal routines without much disruption. As it transfers to an automatic action, we can then shift our conscious thought and efforts to the next piece of the puzzle, rather than continuing to place the same puzzle piece over and over. This allows us to hit our maximum that we can do, and then keep going and going and adding more and more and more.

Everyone is busy but if we worked to optimize the actions in our life we would likely find that we have an incredible reserve of time and energy that is available through optimizing our life. We adjust our routines and behaviors until a new set of routines and behaviors emerge, ones that provide even more benefit but still require little conscious focus.