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Fellows Spotlight
Key Takeaways: Beyond Busy
December 19, 2023
Photo of Omidyar Fellows at Beyond Busy Workshop

(From L to R): Kapā Oliveira, Quinn Vittum, Ben Treviño, Jeff Mikulina, Chris Block and Dave Viotti of SMALLIFY, AJ Halagao, Chris Sakuda

Contributed by: Jeff Mikulina

If the RSVP for the calendar invite you sent SMALLIFY’s Chris Block comes back “tentative,” don’t take it personally. He’s beyond busy.

“There’s a non-zero chance I’ll be there,” he says.

It’s also a strategy he employs to keep his calendar clear for activities with greatest impactthat is, the things that clearly align with what’s most important in his life right now. “When we start saying ‘no’ to things that don’t matter, we’re able to say ‘yes’ to the things that really do,” he says.

This was the theme of the SMALLIFY “Beyond Busy” session for Fellows held by Chris and Dave Viotti, and the “tentative” calendar hack was one of the “small bets” they shared.

The session started with a “self-check”—which we all promptly failed (“Is your to-do list a never-ending scroll?” Check.)—and an exercise that made clear the misalignment most of us have between our daily actions and what matters most in our lives. And then the fun part: practicing saying “no” repeatedly. “I’m not available” was the mantra to each request for your time.

The purpose of these exercises wasn’t to simply free your time to fit more of whatever in. Rather, it’s to intentionally create the spaciousness necessary for a more fundamental reason. Chris and Dave’s thesis is that solutions to the critical challenges that we work on actually exist, but we need to be aware when they present themselves. We need to be tuned to sense the field. And when we make space for that, real transformative work can take place.

We all know this intuitively. But we’re also human. The discipline of saying “no” to friends and colleagues—particularly for their priorities in the moment—is far from easy.

“We need to be strategic because the system will keep pulling you back,” Chris says.

What to do? Open space for what really deserves your attention by looking at your calendar every Sunday and identifying what you can take away from it. Then, for each of your current three most important things, commit to three small bets you will do this week—so small you can’t not do them.

Successful completion of each provides a little shot of dopamine, that feel-good brain chemical that is linked with motivation. That motivation propels you forward, ideally in a virtuous cycle.

The adage energy follows attention holds here. And deep work—serious efforts that contribute to things the world needs—requires skillful management of our valuable attention.

So the weekly “status update” meeting? Count me as tentative.

But that invite for the holiday party? A definite yes.

Photo of Rich Matsuda
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