What You Can Learn About Productivity From Bill Murray

Alexis Haselberger
5 min readMay 22, 2023


Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Bill Murray is one of my favorite actors. Seriously, I can’t get enough. Love the guy. I even loved the documentary about Bill Murray.

But, why am I talking about Bill Murray?

Well, because I think there are a couple of things we can learn from him when it comes to stress, time and habits.

Baby Steps

First, let’s talk about his character from the amazing “ What About Bob? “. If you haven’t seen it, well, that probably means I’m old. (But you should go watch it; I just did the research for you and it’s available for streaming on Amazon, AppleTV and the Google Play Store.)

But if you haven’t seen it yet, and want the rest of this article to make sense, here’s the tl/dr:

  • “What About Bob?” is a comedy about a guy with some serious anxiety and OCD and his therapist. Ridiculousness ensues along with some heart-warming moments. It’s a good movie. Trust me.
  • And central plot line of this movie is that his therapist teaches him coping skills through the use of “baby steps”.
  • Instead of trying to make big changes all at once, he teaches Bob to make meaningful change one baby step at a time.

And this is something that I’ve found very useful in my work with folks on building habits.

Let’s say you’re trying to start meditating.

  • Instead of starting with 20 minutes a day (a big ask), what about starting with 1 minute a day?
  • Once you’ve got one minute under your belt, bring it up to 2 minutes.

Baby step by baby step, work your way to your goal.

Sure it might feel slow, but by the time you’re at your goal, the habit will be pretty darn sticky.

Or, let’s think about exercise. Let’s say you want to start jogging.

  • What if for a week, all you do is put on your running clothes?
  • And then the next week, you put on your running clothes and you leave the house?
  • And then the next week, you put on your running clothes, leave the house and walk for 3 blocks?
  • And the next week, you put on your running clothes, leave the house and run for 3 blocks?

You see where I’m going here.

Instead of making very abrupt changes all at once, work your way up to your goals via baby steps.

Restricting Access to Your Time and Calendar

Now, the next thing we can learn about time comes not from a Bill Murray character, but from Bill Murray the human.

Now maybe what I’m about to say is apocryphal, but there are enough articles out there about it, that I’m going to believe it’s true.

Bill Murray restricts access to himself in a way that I think is pretty uncommon. And it’s also pretty genius, IMO.

If you want to get in touch with Bill Murray, he has a 1–800 number where you can leave him a voicemail. And he makes no guarantee you’ll get a call back.

  • You’re a big Hollywood director and you want to cast Bill Murray in your new movie? Leave him a message. Pitch it. If he’s interested he’ll get in touch.
  • You want to interview Bill Murray? Leave him a message. Maybe he’ll get back to you.

What this means to me is that Bill Murray values his own time. A lot.

And he’s not going to let you have his time just because you want it.

If you want to work with Bill Murray, well, it’s got to be mutual.

Here’s why I think the 1–800 answering machine is genius:

If you were to call and talk to Bill on the phone, he might feel compelled to say yes, even when he wants to say no.

When we’re face to face, voice to voice, in a 1:1 communication with someone, that part of us that wants to be nice and appeasing kicks in hard. It’s harder to say no.

But when you’re on the receiving end of an asynchronous message, you don’t have that other person and their emotions right there in front of you.

And as a result, you’re likelier to make a decision that’s more in line with your values and your priorities.

You want Bill Murray? Well, it better align with HIS goals too.

But you, you’re a regular person. Just like me, right?

And as a regular person, you’re probably not in a position to only be in touch with folks in this very unilateral way.

However, as a regular person, there are ways that you can restrict access to yourself in a way that serves you, but doesn’t greatly impact others. Here are just a few:

Process, don’t check, your messages

  • Want to know an uncomfortable truth? Or perhaps a liberating one?: No one, and I mean no one, uses written communication in an emergency. If there’s a true emergency, someone will find you. They will call you. They hunt you down and find you.
  • So what does this mean for you? It means that you can safely turn off those pesky notifications and batch process your emails and messaging at a time that works for YOU, instead of answering things as they come in.
  • This goes for email AND Slack.

Keep your phone on DND (with Emergency Bypass)

  • If you’re like most people, your phone is your biggest source of distraction.
  • You get calls. Most of them robo-spam-calls. You get texts. Most of them are not urgent. You’re on group chats. Also, not urgent.
  • Instead of being at the beck and call of every notification, you can take control. Turn your phone on silent (and remember that vibrate is NOT silent). Or better yet, use the Do Not Disturb setting.
  • Worried you’ll miss something important? You can use “emergency bypass” which allows you to select certain phone numbers (Your spouse? Your kids? Your kids’ school?) to ring through, while everything else is silenced.
  • We have a real signal to noise problem with technology, and particularly phones. BUT, you can help correct this ratio by changing the default settings.

If you have an EA

  • Got an EA managing your schedule? Send all requests on your time through them. Give them guidelines about your schedule preferences and let them be the gatekeeper, the heavy, the protector of your time.
  • If people ask you directly for your time, I bet you’re going to say yes, even if it doesn’t align with your priorities. You’re going to make an exception. Because you’re nice.
  • But your EA? They don’t have the same emotional connection to these requests, so they’re going to be much better able to protect your time on your behalf.

Now, you tell me: Are you ready to start restricting access to yourself (even just a little bit)?

Let me know in the comments.

Originally published at https://www.alexishaselberger.com on May 22, 2023.