Acting busy can be an art form unto itself.

You pull out your phone, tap-tap-tap on your email, and check to see if anyone has clicked Like on that Instagram post from a few minutes ago. The frantic action makes us think we are working and getting things done, when in reality we're just acting a part.

It's called Being Busy.

Yet, in 2019, it's important to take a moment and consider all of the digital chaos around you. Phones and tablets, laptops, wireless connections, connected cars--frankly, it's getting overwhelming even for the most brilliant multitaskers among us.

You may already know that the human brain is pretty terrible at multitasking. That's a good thing, because we have an incredible ability to focus on one thing. Imagine if you had to constantly refocus your attention. The brain is wired to be unusually attentive to one thing at a time (say, your kids or your spouse). Yet, it can get derailed. That's why it's so important to manage your attention.

A few years ago, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett appeared on the now defunct Charlie Rose show. They talked about their friendship and many other topics, some of which you may have read about many times. Yet the one comment that sticks out to me has to do with our attention and being busy. During the segment, Buffett pulled out his scheduler. It wasn't on a phone. It was a tiny little pocket calendar about the size of two pinkies. He let Rose thumb through it and revealed how he had only a handful of meetings scheduled.

Gates jumped in and said there are times when it is OK to let yourself not be busy. He said it's OK to sometimes sit and think. No phone, no meetings, no books.

It seems counterintuitive to most of us. We have to use up all of the minutes in our day. On a plane, we can't sit and think but instead play Scrabble on an iPad or read a book. At night, before we go to bed, we have to browse the latest news on television.

The funny thing about "being busy" like this is that it doesn't really help. We're not busy producing work; we're just busy. Gates and Buffett are two of the richest people on the planet, but they didn't accumulate that wealth by being busy. They didn't fill every minute of every day doing something. Both men exhibit an even temperament, as though nothing would ever phase them. They seem calm, unhurried, and assured.

What about you? Have you figured out that the path to success is not paved with broken relationships, a full Google Cal schedule, and constant swiping on your phone? I laugh sometimes at the way people are always on their phones, swiping, reading, tapping, and clicking Like. That thing owns us. It is making us all terribly unproductive. 

If you or people you know are always on your phones, always in meetings, always processing information or sharing social media content--stop for a moment. Realize that you busy beavers are not really moving forward. In fact, constant phone use may be the thing holding people back from finding true success.

What does it take?

To stop.

To sit.

To think about what matters.

To ponder, and let the insights pour over you.

Will you accept this challenge? Take at least a few minutes each day or even more time (especially in the morning) to linger over your coffee and think about your life, your day, your relationships. Let your thoughts germinate. See what happens.

It can change your life.

Published on: Jan 11, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.