Tech Life Work hours versus life hours

The Seven Levels of Busy

Level 1: NOT BUSY My schedule is wide open. I can choose infinite paths. Zero commitments. The weekend. I sleep like a baby. Life is good, but am I living my best life?

Level 2: STUFF TO DO I have a few commitments wandering around my brain. They are reasonable, knowable, and not deadline-based. I can keep track of everything in my head.

Level 3: SIGNIFICANT COMMITMENTS I have enough commitments that I need to keep track of them in a tool because I can no longer organically triage. My calendar is a thing I check infrequently, but I do check it to remind myself of the flavor of this particular day.

Level 4: AT CAPACITY My to-do and my calendar are full. I frequently have to make “What is more important?” decisions to help me figure out where to invest my time. There is no unscheduled time, but I continue to feel on top of things. Inbox zero maintained.

Level 5: CRACKS IN THE FACADE I tell myself I’m on top of all the things, but there are early signs of excessive work. This is when Inbox Zero fails. I know daily surprises could be avoided if I had… just a bit more time. I start saying “I’m sorry” a lot. Stuff isn’t getting dropped, but execution becomes sloppy.

Level 6: CRUSHING COMMITMENTS The incoming amount of things are beyond my ability to triage them. Change is constant. Just saying “No” to inbound things is not enough. Stuff is falling on the floor, and I’m not noticing. Work hours spill into life hours. Tired.

Level 7: UNSUSTAINABLE I live minute to minute. Eating and other necessities are shoved in-between things, but eating and other necessities are frequently neglected. To-do lists do not help me here because I do not have time to maintain them. My calendar changes from hour to hour. It is clear by how I walk how busy I am. I get a lot of unintentional “He’s screwed” looks. Zero work-life balance. This is not sustainable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

21 Responses

  1. Excellent analysis! My book Perfect Time-Based Productivity is based on the idea that as the demands on the time rise, we experience defects….issues…problems. They indicate that it’s time to do some introspection and analysis in order to make some necessary changes.

    Thanks for this!

  2. It feels like there’s a Level 8 that’s missing — perhaps “Burnout”? It’s the level at which not only are things unsustainable, but you’ve started to not care that they’re in that state. You’ve mentally disengaged and are now just executing things on auto-pilot without enthusiasm.

  3. JohnD 2 years ago

    My Level 7: The only thing more important is breathing.

  4. I second the Level 8 – burnout.

    This is great list and so happy Stillman of Inc reposted on it so I would see it.

  5. Drew Kime 2 years ago

    It says something (probably obvious) that you have 7 levels, that level 4 is “at capacity”, and you have 3 more on top of that. And that you don’t think it’s unsustainable until level 7.

  6. Jeremy Beckham 2 years ago

    I disagree with Level 8 being Burnout. When you get to burnout, you start clearing the list because you’ve stopped caring. You are probably back at level 2 or level 3 and just shrug off the other responsibilities.

  7. Andrew C 2 years ago

    What do we call it when we’re living in Level 6 but acting as if we’re at Level 3?

  8. Sreejith NT 2 years ago

    Between Level 3 and Level 4

  9. Garrett Weaver 2 years ago

    I am at level two if I have commitments that are not deadline based. If I am on a scrum team, all of my stories shall be complete by the end of the sprint. In that case, is everyone on the team automatically at level 3 or higher? Is this list not adequately generalized? Or is this an implicit criticism of agile?

  10. John Whittaker 2 years ago

    Fun read… I’d suggest that level 4 is unsustainable. Running at full capacity or beyond is sometimes a reality when you’re looking to achieve a particular outcome… say, starting a business or launching a major initiative. For a season leaning in may or may not be worth the price, but it is unsustainable, quality will eventually suffer, the potential for burnout emerges, etc.

  11. D J H 2 years ago


    The underlying value system that seems to be suggested is that activity (commitments) is the only thing of value. This reads like a fill-up my time focus rather than achieve the outcomes I want way of working.

    At Level 3 you have the opportunity to still “think” rather than do and so have the opportunity for change in whatever is important to you.

    Anything past Level 3 is really the busyness of work determining your value rather than the outcomes of why you work being the focus.

  12. Madison Fleming 1 year ago

    I’m an ADHDer and “high-functioning” cPTSD/Bipolar patient. I operate at a 7 all the time due to the nature of my diagnoses, past trauma, and chosen field (case manager, social services for veteran families experiencing homelessness). I imagine the solution for me would differ from a neurotypical individual. Does your book address solutions for the neurodiverse population?