There Are Two Kinds of “Busy.” Is Yours the Good Kind?

It Takes an Egg Timer by Joanne Tombrakos

The following is excerpted from It Takes an Egg Timer: A Guide to Creating the Time for Your Life by Joanne Tombrakos (@JoanneTombrakos). It’s a brief but essential guide about how to get stuff done, while also helping you understand when and how self-sabotage occurs! Find out more on Amazon, or visit the author’s website.

Technology’s intent was to simplify our lives. And if used properly, it can maximize our time. I’m a big fan of technology. But one of its big downsides is how it can create the illusion that we are so much more important than we really are.

We go nowhere without our cell phones. In fact, I can break out in a cold sweat if I lose my precious iPhone for one minute in the bottom of my purse. We are connected 24/7, and we interpret that to mean we need to be engaged with it 24/7. If we are not careful, the mobile phone becomes the most important item in our life, instead of the people and work we want to engage with. We get consumed with the busyness it creates and not in creation. Worse, it produces those knots of anxiety in our belly, among the biggest time wasters of them all.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe each and every one of us to be important beings on this planet. But our interconnected world that has shown us its benefits also distorts that importance to mean being on call 24/7 to everything and everyone.

This is where we can lose sight of what we need to be most engaged with—ourselves, our work, and the people in our lives who are important to us, not our smartphone or our computer.

“I’m really too busy for all this.”

Another part of this self-important obsession is this idea of “busy.” At the moment, it is my number one pet peeve. Ask someone, anyone, right now, how they are and the first thing liable to come out of their mouth is, “I’m so busy.” Ask them what they are so busy with and all they can offer is a furrowed brow and one of those exhausted breaths that seems to have been added on for dramatic effect.

By definition, “busy” can be a verb or an adjective. It can be synonymous with occupied, involved, engaged, and concerned.

But it can also denote preoccupied, distracted, diverted, overblown, overwrought, overdone, and fussy.

Most of us say we are busy because we live in a place that is hectic and cluttered. If our busyness were more positive—being involved and engaged—our response would be specific about the great stuff we are absorbed in. But it’s not, because we are too busy to even get that specific.

Take a moment. Write down specifically what kept you “busy” today. Then determine which definition of “busy” it falls under.

Basic Rules of the Egg Timer

The point of using an egg timer is to busy ourselves with what engages us, not what distracts us from our purpose and our path. The basic rules are:

  • Turn off your e-mail.
  • Do not answer the phone unless you are awaiting a call on the cure for cancer.
  • Set the timer. Do not get up until it rings.

Work-Life Balance

Let’s be clear. There is no such thing as work-life balance, so if you think the egg timer is the solution, think again. The idea of work-life balance is that it is a destination we arrive at. I don’t believe that. Like life itself or love, it is about the journey. In other words, I think of it more as a seesaw.

There are precious moments when it is level, and you really and truly believe you have a handle on it all. But for the most part, one is always weighing more than the other, depending on the hour of the day or the day of the week or the month in the year. The egg timer can assist you to have control over which parts of your life are requiring more attention at any given moment. But work-life balance? If you continue to see it as a destination, the egg timer will not do much to improve upon it.

To keep enjoying more insights from this book—with more detail on how to use the egg timer to best effect—I encourage you to check out Joanne’s book on Amazon. The first chapter is available for free.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post and tagged , , .
Joanne Tombrakos

Joanne Tombrakos

A writer, coach and speaker as well as the author of a novel, The Secrets They Kept, Joanne blogs on living and working after corporate America at One Woman's Eye She and her egg timer reside in New York City.

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23 Comments on "There Are Two Kinds of “Busy.” Is Yours the Good Kind?"

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Darrelyn Saloom

Enjoyed the post, Joanne. I’d need to add to the egg-timer rule: lock the door to the room when working. At home, people slip in and out all day. No matter how hard I’m staring at the computer screen, the slip-ins wil sit down beside me and sigh like a cat that wants to be petted.

Joanne Tombrakos

Glad you enjoyed reading! As for locking the door, there are other sections in the book how to shut the world out.


I know a lot of “busy” people. I don’t feel like I’m one of them. I set aside time for my job, writing, reading, working out, being with the people I love and relaxing. I’m active in my life. I have a sense that people who feel too busy are not as active about controlling their lives. The ones I know seem passive. Life seems to control them instead of the other way around. 

Joanne Tombrakos

Thanks for reading. The premise of using of an egg timer as the starting point is to take control instead of being controlled.

Marina Sofia

Funny how I always feel ‘busy’ (with the furrowed brow and heavy sigh) when I am doing things I don’t enjoy or don’t want to do.  When I am doing the things I love, I feel exhilarated rather than busy.

Joanne Tombrakos

The trick is to try and make those things you don’t want to do, fun. 


I use my kitchen timer to track both my writing and my social media time. When the timer goes off, I can take a break from writing to get up and stretch, make a cup of coffee or get a glass of water, answer a text. I do the same thing for social media. Half an hour here or there and be done with it. It’s amazing how much more I feel like I accomplish since I started using it.

Joanne Tombrakos

I agree! The thing I find is the more accomplished I feel, the more I want to accomplish.

Loren Paulsson

To the extent I’ve actually tried what you describe, I think I agree. It’s like having a budget for one’s time…as long as the budget doesn’t become its own taskmaster. The question isn’t about work vs. life at all but about whether I’m doing the most important thing I can be doing at any given time. Thanks for the practical insight.

Joanne Tombrakos

My pleasure! There’s more practical insight in the book 😉

Debbie Bouwer

Your post just reminded me to check how the boundaries between my work and family shifted, and I am a little embarrassed to admit that my family’s territory has been shrinking. It is easy for this to happen when you have a home office. I will need to organize my life a little better! Great post. Thanks, Joanne. 

Joanne Tombrakos

Glad you enjoyed it Debbie! More in the book!


Good reminder that technology is supposed to work for us, not above us.

Joanne Tombrakos

I’m not sure I could live without my smartphone! But I do advocate and abide by #4 and #5 and turning off the sound when I the timer is set.

Eden Mabee

Oh, not having a “smart phone” (I do have an 8 year old cell phone, without any bells and whistles) and not being “plugged in” all day are excellent suggestions. It’s hard the first few days, adjusting things–it feels rather like withdrawal from everything I’ve seen, read and witnessed. It’s also something I need to do more often.

Thanks for the reminder.

Ethan Waldman

Love the concept, but isn’t this exactly like the Pomodoro Technique?


Yah my thoughts exactly!

What a ripoff

Joanne Tombrakos

No, it’s not the Pomodoro Technique.
And I’m fairly certain I am not the first to advocate using an egg timer to manage your time. In fact, as I discuss in the book, it was my mother who introduced me to the idea when I was a kid.


[…] her book It Takes an Egg Timer on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog in which she asks There Are Two Kinds of “Busy.” Is Yours the Good Kind? She first challenges us to define what we mean by “busy”–as in occupied in a lot […]

Nancy Moon

You know I always think I am good with my time, but alas, the day goes by and I’m still on social media and returning emails. So I used the timer today (mine from Radio Shack) and lo and behold I had a better day. Agree with this, Joanne. Thanks. 

Devon Ellington

Totally agree. I have my phone off most of the day – sometimes I forget to check it for days. I LOATHE the phone, and wouldn’t own one if I could get away with it. It is the biggest creativity-killer around. If someone needs to reach me, they can email me. I spend one day a week completely disconnected, too. Since I started doing that, I am more productive in the time I spend working AND feel less resentful and overwhelmed.


A timer is needed. Today I saw a friend who lost a sibling, visited the library to pick more books, bought tissue paper, cancelled a lesson in order that I could write at leafy a thoudand words…which have. Not. Done and It’s 8 pm. Busy day but didn’t do much. Hard bush.


[…] “It’s a brief but essential guide about how to get stuff done, while also helping you understand when and how self-sabotage occurs!” That’s what Jane Friedman had to say about It Takes An Egg Timer in the introduction to the excerpts from my book that appear today on her blog. […]