How to Prioritize Your Life and Make Time for What Matters (#304)

“Busy is a decision.”

– Debbie Millman

This special episode is shorter than usual and features one of the most popular guests we’ve ever had on the podcast. Debbie Millman (@debbiemillman) was named by Graphic Design USA as “one of the most influential designers working today.” She is also the founder and host of Design Matters, the world’s first and longest-running podcast about design, where she’s interviewed nearly 300 design luminaries and cultural commentators including Massimo Vignelli and Milton Glaser.

Debbie’s done it all. Her artwork has been exhibited around the world. She is the President Emeritus of AIGA (one of only five women to hold the position in the organization’s one-hundred-year history), the editorial and creative director of Print magazine, and the author of six books. In 2009, Debbie co-founded (with Steven Heller) the world’s first masters program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, which has received international acclaim.

In this episode, Debbie outlines:

  • How to bounce back from rejection and criticism.
  • The importance of mental health.
  • Whether courage or confidence is more important.
  • Five questions to help clarify your own purpose.
  • And much, much more.


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

How to Prioritize Your Life and Make Time for What Matters

Want to hear my first episode with Debbie Millman? — Listen to this episode, where we discuss how to recover from rejection, how to overcome personal crises of faith, class exercises from her most impactful mentors, and much more. (stream below or right-click here to download):

#214: How to Design a Life - Debbie Millman

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Debbie Millman:

Website | Design Matters Podcast | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Show Notes

  • Influential and most-gifted books. [08:31]
  • Debbie reads us her favorite poem. [09:47]
  • What recent purchase of $100 or less has had the most positive impact on Debbie’s life? [11:31]
  • Does Debbie have a favorite failure that set her up for later success? [11:54]
  • What would Debbie’s billboard say? [13:38]
  • One of the most worthwhile investments Debbie has made. [15:16]
  • An unusual habit or absurd thing Debbie loves. [21:32]
  • What belief, behavior, or habit has most improved Debbie’s life in the past five years? [22:37]
  • What advice would Debbie give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real” world (and what advice should they ignore)? [26:04]
  • Bad recommendations Debbie hears in her field often. [28:52]
  • What fortune cookie advice does Debbie heed to overcome feeling overwhelmed or unfocused? [29:49]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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13 Replies to “How to Prioritize Your Life and Make Time for What Matters (#304)”

  1. Really enjoyed this episode on my 3rd listen … Really trying to break down the information to get the most out of it … Thanks again for bringing use this awesome information 😁

  2. This has nothing to do with the podcast (have not finished listening) and I am sorry to post such a superficial commment, but has the header always had other pictures of Tim and other people in the background? Was I just not paying attention?

  3. I really appreciated her focus on the importance of mental health. As she was talking about therapy and how expensive it can be, it reminded me of my own experience. I’m hesitant to plug a service in your comments, but as a working mom, online therapy was a lifesaver for me. It’s more cost-effective (in most cases) than traditional therapy and you have the benefit of messaging your therapist whenever it’s convenient for you (like while you’re feeding the baby at 3 AM). Personally, I used the app Talkspace and had a really beneficial experience. Just wanted to throw that out there for anyone who might be struggling but is hesitant to try therapy due to cost or their schedule.

  4. That bit about preparing for your job search was so spot on! That preparation is a requirement to beat the competition was awesome. Wish I could play that section in every candidate interview I have, just to leave the candidate with something, because they aren’t getting an offer….

  5. Tim, I bought the book. Read it all. I’ve had the ingredients but not the recipe until now. Thank you. Question:- Should I eliminate all my music gear I’ve not used for 10 years (because of the 9-5) or keep it and use it for muse purposes?

  6. With all the sincerity one can muster thank you for all the work, time and effort you put forth to research and communicate. Your work has been a guiding companion since the initial launch of the 4hr work week and week after week, year after year provides tremendous value.

    Thank you.

  7. Hi Tim,

    Wasn’t this basically a rerun of a Tribe of Mentors podcast episode? I remember listening to this before, but I can understand if maybe this week there wasn’t enough time for a new recording, especially with the change I see in having videos and even transcripts.


  8. Hey Tim,

    I have been listening to your podcast for a couple years. Thanks for all the inspiration and information always. Now I have something to share that you might be interested in. On our last trip to South Africa, my wife and I first tried and loved Red Espresso – It’s basically rooibos tea but extracted like an espresso. You read it right “espresso”. So you get the same great ritual of a cup of espresso coffee but it’s naturally caffeine-free and packed with antioxidants, it’s ideal for us since we are always looking for healthy alternatives to coffee and caffeine. [Moderator: additional text removed.] Curious to hear if you ever tried and your thoughts about it. [Moderator: additional text removed.] – Cheers, Doug

  9. Hey Mr. Ferriss!

    I’ve recently read in a 5-bullet friday email that you were interested in visiting Portugal.

    If and when you do, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me, I am 18 years old living in Portugal and you’ve been a role model that really shaped me for the past 2 years.

    It would be an honor to host you and give you an insider’s look into our beautiful country.

  10. Love the content, but not the format. This was one step away from having the guest read both the questions and answers. From my perspective, where you shine is with the back and forth chemistry. Thanks for featuring a woman though. Keep up the good work.

    best regards,


  11. This particular passage was so powerful, I had to come home and transcribe it:


    Debbie Millman:

    Busy is a decision. I say this all the time ad nauseam, and here’s why. Of the many, many excuses people use to rationalize why they can’t do something, the excuse ‘I am too busy’ is not only the most inauthentic, it is also the laziest. I don’t believe in too busy.

    Busy is a decision. We do the things we want to do, period.

    If we say we’re too busy I believe it’s shorthand for ‘not important enough.’ It means you would rather be doing something else that you consider more important. That thing could be sleep, it could be sex, it could be watching Game of Thrones.

    If we use busy as an excuse for not doing something, what we are really— really saying, is that it’s not a priority. It’s not as important to us. 

    Simply put, you don’t find the time to do something. You make the time to do things. 

    I think we’re now living in a society that sees busy as a badge. It has become cultural cachet to use the excuse ‘I am too busy’ as a reason for not doing anything we don’t feel like doing. The problem is this: If you let yourself off the hook for not doing something for any reason, you won’t ever do it.  If you want to do something, you can’t let being busy stand in the way—even if you are busy!

    Make the time to do the things you want to do, and then follow through and do them.