To me, it seems obvious to think of time as a flow system. Time flows. Time flows in one direction, moment by moment and day by day. Time flows from the past through the present and into the future. Like a river that gathers capacity through streams and tributaries, we build capacity with the patterns we repeat over and over, day after day. Is your life designed to collect enough capacity in the right areas to accomplish your dreams and goals? Like a river that flows into a lush delta or an estuary full of life, we spend our capacity on productive work. Does what you produce reflect your priorities or someone else’s?
Flow systems in the natural world like rivers and trees and even the flow systems of our own body are governed by a law of physics that helps them maximize the flow of currents and thrive over time. What if we studied how a river is designed to increase access to its currents? What if we discovered how a tree grows and expands flow capacity year after year for hundreds or even thousands of years? What if we designed a flow system for our lives based on what we learn from nature that will ensure our time flows to what matters now and helps us grow our capacity to go after the dreams that seem just out of our reach?
I decided to give it a try. I treated my purpose like the main river through which I would attempt to channel all of my time. This purpose needed to be robust enough to guide my entire life and truly reflect who I am and what I’m wired up to contribute to the world. It couldn’t be aspirational, or something that I wish were true of me. It needed to answer the defining question of why I exist and do the things I do. Over time I have developed a way of getting at the answer to this question, and I’m excited to share it with you.
Armed with a sense of purpose, I set out to design a complete flow system for all of my time that gave balance to how I built capacity and how I spent it productively. I trusted the laws of physics that explain the predictable designs of flow systems in nature to give structure to the design of my life. I have dedicated much of the first half of this book to help you make the same discoveries that I have made. I believe it’s essential that you have an understanding of why you should design your life in this same way.
It wasn’t easy to give structure to my life in this way and then live it out each day. Even though I designed flexibility into the framework with great care, it was still hard to stick to the predictable patterns of a purposefully repetitive structure. I believe this is how we grow and change. It’s like building and strengthening an underutilized muscle. Repetition is critical to defining who we are and what we are about in this life. Annie Dillard said it well:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
Right. Obvious, no? Of course, what we are doing is what we are doing. Yet who actually decides what we are doing? I mean we all make our choices about what to do but who is dictating the priorities that seem to make some options inevitable while others get pushed to the back burner? Is it you all of the time. Is it you even most of the time? I felt utterly out of control and at the mercy of external priorities nearly all of the time. Because of this, I felt busy and unfulfilled almost all of the time.
On top of all that, our world is full of networked apps and services fighting tooth and nail to capture a share of our available time and attention. We are being pulled into smaller and smaller feedback loops that are hostile to creativity, and work to subvert our natural impulse control. If I had a free moment or two between things I did to please others, I’d fire up Twitter or Instagram on my phone or switch over to the ever-present facebook tab in my browser. These networks have no edges. They feel endless, yet they dare us to find the edge that never comes. I was spending much of my “free time” on these platforms and left with nothing meaningful to show for it. I know I’m not alone in this.
So no, it wasn’t easy to exert control over the design and structure of my time and follow through with actually living it out. I wish I could say that it was. I wish I could tell you that changing your life in an instant was possible with three easy steps and one weird trick! It’s not, and deep down I think we all know that truth. Like anything you want to learn or do, it takes practice. It takes repetition. It takes carefully designed predictable patterns that can guide the flow of your life in spite of the resistance and obstacles that will come your way. Most of all, it takes time. Some things even take large chunks of undistracted time. These rarely come along by chance.
I had big dreams. I dreamed of location-independent income streams so my family could travel and learn from the world before my kids left the house. I dreamed of writing a book. I dreamed of giving large portions of my time to my kids and fostering their dreams as they grow. I dreamed of long hikes in wild places. I dreamed of learning another language. Not one of these dreams made it on to my calendar with regularity, and most had never made it at all. It was as if I was passively waiting for some magic to happen so that I’d suddenly have both the time and the discipline to quit spending time on social media or binge-watching Netflix.
It took hard work to design the flow of my time to make real progress toward these dreams. By making that progress a predictable part of my life, I was surprised by what I could accomplish in a year. We tend to overestimate what we can achieve in a week but vastly underestimate what we can tackle in a year of regular and predictable effort toward our goals and priorities. To sustain that focused effort over long periods takes clarity of purpose and a well-designed flow system for your time. This book will help you get there.
Praise for Unbusy
“I read many self-help books. Andy Dragt’s Unbusy is different. It is well-written and thoughtful and you can tell he follows his own advice. Andy isn’t trying to sell you something. He is sharing his hard-won experience.
Unbusy is great for busy parents and working people who feel they aren’t doing enough. We fill our days with busyness thinking we are accomplishing something. But we are not. That is where stress and anxiety comes in life. is a self-help book that doesn’t want you to do more or be more efficient. Andy wants you to do less, but with purpose. Walking you through the process to assess your values and priorities, he helps the reader see how to do more that is fulfilling and do less that is what you may think others want you to do.
Highly recommended for a new perspective on how we can manage our lives to be more fulfilling and open to adventure.”
“From the start, I connected with this book. Andy’s candid stories about what led him to live a more intentional life really connected. He described what is plaguing us all in this age of “busyness” in a way that is empathetic but with the determination to get us beyond this stage. I found the stories really relevant and the actual steps towards an ‘unbusy’ life easy yet with depth. He combines concepts and principles of physics to interpret his framework and I can see these principles playing out all around me now that he’s spelled it out so clearly. I definitely recommend this book for anyone looking to create a more rewarding life from your family to finances. This framework works for well for designing a blueprint for all areas of your life.”
“I have read many books on productivity, values, and time management. But the methods Andy shares in this book really struck a chord with me, and helped me go deeper in clarifying what’s important to me, and what I’d like to create in this next stage of my life. The processes he defines I found simple to understand and very helpful to implement. I now use them regularly. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to create less busyness and better prioritize what really matters in their life.”
“As a perpetually busy person, I found great value in Andy Dragt’s book, Unbusy. It is beautifully written, and offers a helpful system for readers to get back to the important things in life. If you find yourself flirting from task to task while accomplishing little, this book is for you.”
About the Author
Andy Dragt is a dreamer and an entrepreneur who loves to meet new people and new places. He is currently traveling full-time with his family, hitting as many National Parks as possible and dreaming of slow traveling around the Mediterranean. As a certified life and leadership coach, he loves to help people live healthy balanced lives and build strong families. He and his wife Gina have been married for 21 years and have two amazing, un-schooled teenage daughters.