How to Avoid the Busy Trap (and Other Misuses of Your Time)


“A good man will not waste himself upon mean and discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of being busy. Neither will he, as you imagine, become so involved in ambitious schemes that he will have continually to endure their ebb and flow.” – Seneca

Today’s episode is a bite-sized morsel for your brain and for your life. This is an excerpt from my favorite writing of all-time. This letter is #22, “On the Futility of Half-way Measures.” As usual, Seneca takes a little time in his preamble to get warmed up. That is his style. He seems to enjoy feeling out the recipient of his letter before jumping into the details.

I love this letter because it addresses how we spend our time, which is one of the biggest stresses for all people, and especially entrepreneurs.

My favorite portion is:

“Hence men leave such advantages as these with reluctance.”

I encourage you to listen to this and think of ways that you can adapt Seneca’s wisdom to your own life. Enjoy!


Want to hear another segment from The Tao of Seneca? — Listen to How to Achieve Self-Ownership. In this episode, I dig deeper into how we think of gain and loss and how to be a good person (stream below or right-click here to download):

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: How did this episode help you reconsider your current use of time and energy? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Show Notes

  • Start of Letter 22 – On the Futility of Half-Way Measures [5:28]
  • We must withdraw from showy, depraved pursuits [5:34]
  • Do not hamper yourself, be content with your current business [7:43]
  • A motto for Stoicism [9:33]
  • Eluding the slavery of bickering [11:33]
  • Finding a way out of the trappings of wealth [12:42]
  • Final words on living nobly [13:22]

People Mentioned

Posted on: March 21, 2016.

The Tim Ferriss Show is generally the #1 business podcast on iTunes, and it was selected for iTunes' "Best of 2015." Each episode deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use. If you want to 10x your productivity, click here.

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23 comments on “How to Avoid the Busy Trap (and Other Misuses of Your Time)

  1. “Men do not care how nobly they live but only how long.
    Although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly but within no man’s power to live long.” – that’s my favorite from the episode.

    QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: How did this episode help you reconsider your current use of time and energy?

    Besides getting concerned more with quality not the amount of days I have, made me think of and reconsider:

    – opportunities that come into my life and easy to act on/reap benefits from, even when they are not part of any of my plans

    – acting on things only when the timing is right according to all the signs from reality, not my fantasies

    Thank you Tim!
    Loved it!

    Timing couldn’t be better🙂


  2. —- TL.DR. —-
    Thank you for Tao of Seneca!
    It might need some improvements but I don’t know whether you or John would have the time to do so.

    —- Longer Version —-
    Yes. One of my favorites too. I also like 1, 24, 101 and 106 very much.

    By the way, thanks for your Tao of Seneca. I can not thank you enough for creating it.
    A feedback would be that John’s voice sounds a bit “dry” compared to the version of the Vol. 1 that he himself had made earlier. His pace is also a bit slower and he emphasizes on some phrases too much, sometimes bordering on shouting.

    I listen to these letters about 2-3 times a day while commuting or eating, switching between John’s Vol. 1 and your Tao of Seneca, and that’s why these details have come to my attention.
    My solution has been to listen to Tao of Seneca with 1.15x speed and change some settings in my phone’s Equalizer. 🙂


  3. Have you ever read the Tales of the Dervishes? Easily my favorite writing and it’s in the same style of Seneca. There is always a counter intuitive lesson to be had, revealing some truth we may not know or even agree with at first. It’s true “writing is thinking” which is why I like Seneca and Tales of the Dervishes so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hey cool person
      I had the inspiration to mention the dervishes book here a while back when Tim referenced Seneca. thanks for the reminder!
      It is one of the BEST books I have EVER read
      Unlike Seneca the tales go beyond ethics and morals (and are actually entertaining and fascinating in their own right) but as oral spiritual teaching tools are designed to activate, inspire and stimulate the psyche and consciousness on the level the listener is ready or able to receive. They have all been hand collected by the author on his travels – some are 1000 years old

      ‘ Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching Stories of the Sufis’ by Idries Shah

      the author is a highly respected authority on Sufism. His books are gasp out loud amazing and inspiring. PLEASE have a look.
      The Tales of The Dervishes is easily found, really easy to read and accessible. His other books go in many directions teaching a lot of skills and insights. Controversially, but well supported, is his statement that Sufism/ to be a Sufi does not belong to Islam at all but is ancient and belongs to no race, time, religion or place – Islam just happens to be a contemporary ‘custodian’ of Sufism. To be a Sufi is only defined by two fundamental things 1. Being in the world and not of it 2. Actually i can’t remember the second!! very funny I know. It’s something along the lines of not being attached to results and outcomes/ a state of equanimity because you know in your heart that nothing lasts, everything is temporal, and so you don’t have any attachment to fortune or failure regardless


  4. Hi – Can anybody share their favorite, currently available, new paperback edition of THE LETTERS? I have it on my Kindle, but this is one of those instances where a bit more tangibility will make a difference for me. Thank you.


  5. I wasnt planning on using a forum post as my vehicle to reach you but you said this would be the best way.

    We are both design thinkers and you seem to be one of the best shots I have at explaining a pattern of variables that if replicated could integrate several advance but current sciences in a way I can’t find any evidence of. I hope this means something to you. Neurofeedback, emotional chain s, lucid dreaming, reverse patten breakdown, while incorporating very specific simply stimuli. The reason i know there is something to it is because it happened to me and another. Both isolated incodents and shared qualities they shouldnt have been able to. The patterns were easy to identify. Here is my current roadblock: Explaining a ruegoldberg to someone that has never studied one specific section results in fear rejection / False Evidence Appearing Real.

    I’m hoping this next part speaks to you as well, as I believe you will know why I am including it.

    In a brief bullet background I:
    -Grew up a day dreamer obsessed with mastering difficult skills and got very high scores in subjects that interested me only.
    -Played warped tour and arena level shows by 17 as a signed musician. Achieved this by restructuring current systems.
    -Immediately performed on par to earn a six figure income in finance sales at 21.
    -Acquired one of the highest commission contracts ever obtained in my field by 29.
    -Im 30 now and have recentlly/succesfully executed a series of planned events to gain a grip on the sacramento cannabis industry.

    I never knew where the term mind shattering came from before . A physical sensation takes place when we allow our selves to truly believe an “fantasy” is tangible to our core. The central nervous system goes crazy analyzing all of the new blind. I lost the ability to move correctly but i understood what was happening and had zero fear while maintaing conversation.

    I believe I may have led my life in a very specific way that allowed me to process information from one part of the mind to another without my ego/mental and physiological defenses scrambling the signal.

    If this can be replicated the possibilities are endless. The applications are endless. It could litterally reshape the way we percieve humanity, mental illnesses and conciousness.

    I have already spoken with top professionals in each field. Same thing every time. They can validate their section of the ruegoldberg but not others. I learned that the Cia is researching multiple components but I have no idea what they connected and havent. For some reason I can’t detach myself from what I know is sociological fear of being looked at like I’m crazy for going there though. Especially since I do not have a formal education.

    The urgency of the matter is that ever since having this “epiphany”, I believe I know exactly where my skill sets need to be placed but I am trapped within the life structure pre-epiphany. I feel like i am wasting every hour that i place elseware
    . This can help too many people, including many loved ones of mine. I feel completely isolated because no one speaks this language around me and need someone capable of helping me lay it out in a very strategic way. I believe a secondary level of validation could be vital. I think you may be able to help.

    Please know this still took a lot to write. I am practicing brutal honesty and vulnerability. I was originally going to post this on reddit, looking for direction but my heart told me to start here first. Thank you for even this small amount of your most precious commodity. I greatly hope to hear back from you, take care.


    • Hey, somehow I think I know what you’re talking about, although I’m not as far along. I’m currently 21, consider myself a polymath, and love mastering different skills. I’m a senior studying finance and marketing but also play music shows on the side. I agree that there are pieces of the puzzle that people in different fields don’t know how to put together because society is so focused on specialization now.


    • Hey I’m a bit of a musician/finance person as well. And I agree with a lot of what you said, especially the part where people from different disciplines can’t put all the pieces together. I’d love to talk more about this!


  6. awesome!

    “there are a few men to whom slavery holds fast but there are many more who hold fast to slavery”

    This busy concept is something that you have not only introduced to me but something that I think and grow on all the time through your content. I appreciate it!

    I noticed that audible began advertising on your podcast and that you produced other books like Vagabonding (thank you I am an avid audio book guy and loved listening to Potts). Are audio books something you see growing in the near future?

    Thank you Tim!

    Clay Steadman


  7. Damn.

    I forgot about this letter. I remember when I read the full selection of letters of my kindle a few years ago, the bit of Seneca happily allowing himself to borrow from Epicurus, even though those two schools were at odds.


    Because it was a reminder that you shouldn’t dismiss a nugget of wisdom, simply because you disagree with the source.

    Such a shame the Penguin paperback of Letters from a Stoic don’t have the full selection of letters, as you can’t find Letter 22 in them.


  8. Hi Tim, great podcast Tim! I’ve read your 4 hour workweek book, it’s amazing!

    And I have a question about your blog posting:
    1. Do you outsource writing the “Show Notes” and “People Mentioned” part of your podcast description?


  9. Hey Tim,

    I always get told by people “Man, you have way too much time on your hands!” and i always respond – ” we both have the same 24 hours a day.

    What i found interesting about all this, is that even in Senecas time, lets assume somewhere in 45-60AD (you would know more about when he wrote this letter?) .. people were still strapped for time. So really no ones made that much progress since then, except we just replaced the things we do with our time.. Instead of frolicking in fields of dandelion and talking trash in the Agora, we use twitter and facebook and instagram.

    Cheers to that.
    PS, im hunting a technical co funder who loves cars for my latest project. message me. thanks


  10. Tim Ferriss! Hey, I’ve been a fan for a long time and, in the past year, became a regular listener of your podcast. I’ve noticed we have a lot of favorite reads in common. I wanted to suggest Into the Magic Shop by James R. Doty MD. I think you’ll really dig it. I just finished it yesterday, it’s great, and I thought it’d be right up your alley.


  11. Hello Tim, I receive your e-mail every week, and I like this. But my english is not good and I don´t understand the videos that have not subtitles. Could you include then, please? or a transcription. This will be fantastic. thanks Priscilla


  12. Hi, Tim! Thanks for this! Now a fan of audio books. I personally like #101 (On the futility of planning ahead) and #107 (On obedience to the universal will).


  13. “Hence men leave such advantages as these with reluctance.”

    The time we spend acquiring such advantages should be balanced/measured against the well-being we derive and its resilience/sustainability.


  14. Seneca is a strange cat in history. Would that he and the contemporary figure of Jesus have met – I think they would have been 95% aligned by first principles – and Jesus may have found himself governor of the Jewish territories!
    But I also find that he has flaws in his arguments that assume omniscience actually lacking. I am for arguing for purpose, and perhaps for refinement and proper management of it, but for purpose over design – even over the entire life and not just work.
    Good intro – looking forward to hearing it.


  15. avoid the busy trap isn’t playing on any of my devices. all the other episodes ive had no problems with on the same devices. but when i download this 9.6MB file to save as it just skips like a corrupted file on all my devices even when downloaded again.