I have too many socks.
So I’m writing a guide with the best gifts for busy people full of gift ideas I’d both want to give and receive as a busy professional.
For a decent amount of people I know, the gift-giving process goes one of 2 ways:
1 – “You are a busy professional, you should get socks”.
2 – “I am a busy professional and everyone seems to love socks, lets buy gift socks”
Well, it doesn’t have to be like that. Nor does gift-giving need to be some month-long saga of decision fatigue.
- I don’t want to spend a bunch of money on some dumb arts and crafts that you won’t know where to put.
- I don’t want to give you more lame socks if you already have a bunch.
- I don’t want to give you some cheap gadgets if I know you’d prefer the expensive version, but I don’t want to buy you the expensive version if you won’t use it.
And more than anything, I don’t want to be stuck in some decision gridlock using up all my spare time concocting the best way to show friends and family I care. I mean, if you already know they’re super-into something like aquariums, French baking, or model airplanes then I guess it’s easy. But they’re probably not.
So this guide should hit everyone you might have to shop for, starting with
- Safe gifts for busy people to buy for others without thinking too hard
- The best gifts for busy professionals
- Then special sections for your:
- Your spouse
- Your parents and extended family
- All other friends
My gifts for busy people selection criteria
Rule 1 – It’s actually a good gift and not a trick.
What’s a trick?
I got this “gourmet soup mix” last year.
Sounds perfect, right? I hate wasting time… I like to be healthy… just add water and you have an easy, healthy meal. Yay, gifts for busy professionals!
Well, it took me almost a year to use it! Why?
Because it needed a bunch of extra ingredients – the kind you don’t keep around the house – and soaking overnight. WTF is that?
A good gift
- Is one they don’t already have
- Doesn’t require “homework”
- They’ll actually use and enjoy.
So it’s not “an ugly sweater” either!
Rule 2 – Values your gift-buying time
I’m not sending you on some wild goose chase. These gifts are in-stock (at publish date), are researched, and you’ll get them within a week.
Even better, I found gifts where in many cases you can get the same type of gift for multiple people from just one site and still keep it original. Minimal decision-making, maximum present kudos.
(And if you REALLY value your time, go straight to the “gifts for yourself” section and send it to your wife)
Rule 3 – Good price points, but still thoughtful
I didn’t become Mr. FIREescape by being Mr. SPENDYpants. At the same time, these gifts are well-researched and original. I’m quite proud of myself, actually!
BEST GIFTS FOR BUSY PEOPLE, PROFESSIONALS, AND EXECS
If you’re thinking about what gifts to get other busy people, you should think about what you want for yourself.
But if you aren’t in the right mindset or are lazy. I’ve got you. I’m in that mind space and the thing I REALLY want is to generate more time. That’s the best gift for busy professionals.
1. Wireless Earbuds
A good set of wireless earbuds like the Air Pods or these ones from Bose, can be game-changing for busy professionals.
They’ve opened up so many avenues for me. I can take a call while on a walk, (which helps me clear my head) listen to an audiobook while cooking, and have crystal-clear Zoom calls.
I’m not a huge fan of multi-tasking as a busy professional, but these really do make life easier for me.
2. Air Tags or other Bluetooth trackers
One thing to know about busy people – we’re always losing track of things. I don’t remember how many times I’ve thought “I wish I could just call my keys and my wallet.”
People also use these on luggage and pets. There’s even a story of someone’s stolen car being located with an Air Tag.
3. Audible, Blinkist or getAbstract
If you’ve ever heard high performers, busy professionals, and execs talk about their path to success, you’ll know that they value reading. Hearing others’ perspectives guides to more creative decisions. And while sitting down with a book is awesome, there’s nothing wrong with listening to one while on a walk, a drive, or while doing mundane tasks.
There are also book summary apps that condense the main points of almost any book, so you can get the gist before deciding if you’ll dive in further.
Audible offers a collection of EVERY audiobook ever. I’m listening to James Clear’s Atomic Habits which is taking me from “busy” to effective. Audible always has good trail deals, like getting a free month and reduced prices, so it makes for a good and affordable gift.
I love Blinkist because it has almost every book summarized in about 15 minutes. They also have “Bedtime biographies” which are nice to wind down to, and “Shortcasts” little podcasts on almost every topic.
You can get a 7-day free trial to check it out for yourself. Another nice thing about Blinkist is that they sometimes let you “give” access to another person, which means you can get it for yourself, and gift it for free.
This is another awesome book summary service, but it has more executive titles to peruse through, which makes it one of the best gifts for busy people.
4. Neck Massager
Busy people tend to carry a lot on their shoulders, (who doesn’t?) but don’t necessarily take the time to rejuvenate.
A neck massager is a nice way to remind your busy friend to take care of themselves, and you can be sure they’ll actually use it.
5. An Espresso Maker
Over the years, my tastes have upgraded from day-old coffee Espressos and Cappuccinos.
But I’m not going to stand in front of an espresso machine crafting a tiny cup of coffee. I just don’t have the time.
These Nespresso makers are equally delicious, and infinitely simpler (especially when it comes to cleaning up) making them super thoughtful gifts for busy people and professionals.
If you’re not ready to take the plunge and hire a cleaner, at least get a robot vacuum.
I bought this for my wife on Valentine’s Day (I know, I’m a hopeless romantic) and the return on investment has been at least 500% … in happiness.
Seriously, my wife’s would complain that I drag dust around the house and now I don’t have to hear “why are you dragging dust around the house?” anymore. Robot vacuum = happiness.
Plus it picks up the cheerios my toddlers drop on the floor. So it’s kind of like having a dog – but cheaper!
Update: Yes, I still love my Roomba, but I’m ready to upgrade!
I’m getting a Roomba that self-empties; and maps your house. The one I had before just wandered around and bumped into walls and furniture. No sweat off my back, but it’s kind of loud so you can’t run it overnight. The new one is like a quiet floating angel.
If you want an upgrade, but not that much of an upgrade, I’m also super into the Roborock E4 Vacuum (for about $240.)
The coolest feature is that it mops. Also, if it has to stop midway through the job, it will come back to where it left off. That’s pretty awesome, and it costs as much as the original Roomba. Best gifts for busy people!
The Roomba that self-empties and maps your house (around $750)
The Roborock E4 vacuum that mops! ($240)
If you want to give a good gift for a busy person – everyone loves a good book. Even if they’re too busy to read it today, having a good title on the shelf will pique their curiosity enough to take a pause and read. The books below were my favorites of the year, and have been really worth taking a break for.
The happiness equation book
Can you tell I’m a nerd? For this book, the word “Happiness” didn’t really do it for me, but “equation”… Well, hello there.
This book – obviously about being happy – is easy to read and is relevant to everyone. From the high performer CEO to the lazy teenager. From the stay-at-home parent to the travel-three-days-a-week sales rep, so it’s the perfect gift for busy people in many ways.
The author actually makes fun charts and doodles that’s totally up my alley too. Like this one about confidence.
He even kind of recommends my never retire rule. I think my version is better but this is the next-best-alternative until MY book “practically retire but not quite: the equation” comes out.
As a manager, I love the book Dream Teams which teaches the makeup of great teams (from political to corporate to the WuTang Clan) and how you can strike that dynamic at work.
Or give them some FIRE-inspiring books:
Vagabonding is about slow travel, I know, Covid made travel a bummer, but that’s okay because buggering off for a long time takes lots of planning AND convincing your boss to give you extended time off – which you’ll learn how to do in Escape 101.
(You can also send them a copy of my forthcoming cookbook when it comes out. It will be a time-saver)
8. Standing desk
I have a standing desk at home (and had one at the office) and I swear it makes me more productive. (As opposed to when I work on the couch and somehow end up napping.)
This one’s not as wide as I would like, but it’s versatile and surprisingly cheap for $80!
9. A monthly cleaner
My wife and I go back and forth about the need for a cleaner. On the one hand – we can just clean our own house. On the other – WHY?
Having a cleaner not only frees up your time, it makes you value your time, which makes it one of the best gifts for busy people. No one would EVER scoff at someone cleaning their house.
Plus if you want to give a subtle hint it forces the giftee to maintain a neat-ish place so that you don’t have to go through the manic of “clean before the cleaner gets here.”
It can be expensive but you only need to gift a visit or two.
10. Virtual assistant
I kid you not, get a virtual assistant as a gift for your busy professional.
You have to know the person is into the idea but the “recruiting fee” through some service is a reasonable gift size.
I have a full guide on why you need one and how to hire a virtual assistant. Actually, a virtual assistant is one of the best gifts for busy people period. Set up an account on Virtual Staffing Solutions and hire someone to do something. You’ll be amazed by how powerful it makes you feel. Need to…
- Create a powerpoint?
- Set up a business profile on Facebook?
- Cold-email HR managers offering your consulting?
There’s someone who’d gladly do it.
(Ooh, and maybe next year, you can get your assistant to do all your shopping. Just send them this guide 😉
The best part though, once you start you begin to realize how many tasks you can just delegate.
It’s kinda like hiring a cleaner. You could do it yourself, but… why?
EFFORT-FREE gifts for busy people to buy FOR OTHERS
Now that we’ve covered all the best gifts for busy people, professionals, and execs – let’s flip the script and look at good gift ideas if YOU yourself are too busy to come up with something good.
The gifts below are awesome general gifts for friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, and we’ll break down more specific gifts for kids, spouses, and parents after.
11. Cookbook (by Snoop Dogg)
Cookbooks are something I’d give my parents as a gift without realizing how horribly offensive that was.
Now I’ve discovered Snoop Dogg’s cookbook and I’m a changed man. This book is a good gift.
(And it’s a good-enough gift for busy people until Mr.FIREescape drops his cookbook. 😉 )
How does it stack up?
- Books are cheap
- Amazon = Fast
- Almost everyone thinks Snoop is hilarious.
- You can buy the book for a few different people.
You can click on the link to actually peruse through some of Snoop Dogg’s recipes!
12. Mugs and Cups
Is it cheesy? Yes.
But it’s the sort of thing you can keep at the office and show off your personality. Plus they’re relatively small and actually useful. So go for it. (We love this Lego mug!)
13. Matching pajamas
Okay, so this may not seem like a “Mr. FIREescape” type of gift, but bear with me. It’s one of the best Christmas gifts for busy people to buy.
You go on one site, buy a thing for each person, and that’s it. You’re done.
You can get matching pajamas from Gap, Old Navy, and even Amazon. (And you can even get a set for babies and pets!)
No thinking. No price-comparing. The only awkward part is guessing people’s sizes. But apparently, people love stuff like this. (At least that’s what my wife says.)
14. Paint-by-numbers for adults
Do you have people in your life with too much time on their hands? I know. Annoying.
But paint by numbers is for people like that. It gives them something to do – AND they get a thing to show for it. (These pictures are pretty nice, and there are LOTS of options.)
PLUS I betcha they don’t already have one!
If you give it to your whole family you can even make a day out of it to feel extra loving.
Pretty nice! And under $10 on Amazon
WINNING GIFTS FOR KIDS
If you’re shopping for your own kids you probably already have some idea of what you want to give them, but if you’re shopping for someone else’s kids – follow these three DON’Ts:
- Don’t get something huge. Yes, the kids will love the giant inflatable bouncy castle, but the parents will curse you for essentially turning their living room into a shrine to you.
- Don’t get something noisy. Noisy things are annoying.
- Don’t get something that gives “homework” to the parents. “All it needs is a few screws, a bracket, and an adapter.” Is a recipe for “we’ll never be playing with this.”
- Also be a good friend and provide the batteries if the toy needs them. Otherwise, you’re just giving a gift of disappointment.
15. Board Games
Board games are great because they
- Make kids follow rules and take turns
- Require logic and planning
- Can be either calming or rowdy (depending on who else is playing.)
16. Chess Set
If those kids are ready to upgrade from board games – help them grow up to be calculated little geniuses. Get them a chess set.
17. Playdough Set
My kids are basically eruptions of energy, and nothing gets them to slow down and focus like playdough. It’s just so satisfying.
As a tip, get a set that has a bunch of tools and molds but not too many colors. They’ll all converge to a brown-gray mush anyway.
Playdough should also make it up to the best gifts for busy people section because they’ll actually get some quiet.
18. Custom Name Puzzle
A custom name puzzle is a nice gift and keepsake for babies and toddlers.
It’s unique, cute, thoughtful, and will help the kids learn their letters.
19. Toy Piano
Okay, so this goes in the face of the “don’t get a noisy gift” rule, but I don’t care! Look at how cute this is! And it’s got a little microphone.
Secretly, I want this because I’ve been kicked out of every karaoke night I’ve gone to, and now I get to live vicariously through my family. They wouldn’t dare kick me out while I play and sing “the ring of FIRE.”
(Toy Piano, $35)
20. Science Kit
Every parent wants their kids to love science. This is a kit of tools for 20 science experiments designed to be like a magic show. They’re fun, super-engaging, and will spark a curiosity to learn more.
(National Geographic Science Magic Kit, $30)
Like the idea of “STEM” gifts, but aren’t keen on the science kit? That’s cool. Give the kid an abacus.
These are actually really cool for kids of any age. Babies like to just play with it, and kids start to develop their own sense of “mental math.”
(Melissa and Doug Abacus, $12)
22. Coloring Book
Coloring books are a nice, cheap, easy gift for kids of every age. You can even get them this “coloring book” that works with a brush and water – they can do that while their grandparents paint by numbers. 😉
GREAT GIFTS FOR YOUR SPOUSE
If you two already have a Roomba, I’m out of ideas. Except…
23. Speaking of games…
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever asked your spouse?
Being weird is my jam, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked “What’s one thing you’ve tried that you’d never try again?”
If you’ve never asked that either, you should try a “conversation starter” game like this one for under $20.
24. A custom, hand-drawn portrait… as a superhero.
I just recently came across Tellinga, and this is the coolest gift ever! You send them a photo and they hand-draw a custom art piece to your specs.
And it’s not some cheesy trace-job either. They draw you in any context you choose!
- Want your kids to be superheroes? Check.
- Want to see you and your wife as those blue guys from Avatar? Check.
- Someone is into Anime? Check
You can even order a comic book-style saga and they’ll mail post cards one-by-one, like a slow story.
How does it stack up?
- It can be cheap (prices start at $20!!!)
- Turnaround time is pretty quick.
- Everyone likes some format of cartoon.
- You can buy the same gift for EVERYONE
Imagine getting a postcard of yourself as an astronaut riding a unicorn (at least that’s what I’ll be ordering for my kids.) Best. Gift. Ever.
FOR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS
Do you remember reaching that stage where you no longer wanted some dumb, kitchy gifts cluttering up your house? I’m pretty sure your parents and extended family reached that point a long time ago.
And yet, we still buy them presents to show we care. Which can be doubly annoying if:
- You don’t want to spend a lot of money, knowing they have no use for an artisan cheese board (even if it’s regifted.)
- You don’t want to be the only Mr. Cheapo who gifts a second-hand Sudoku book.
So what else is there?
25. A Book About Grandparents
I really like Paul McCartney’s two children’s books about an adventure-loving Grandude. There’s Hey Grandude! – which actually reminds my kids of their own thrill-seeking grandpa, and there’s also Grandude’s Green Submarine. Which involves Nandude (the grandma.) You can get one for each grandparent if you want.
(And yes, I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a few reads to get Paul McCartney’s Yellow Submarine reference.)
26. Arts and Crafts From Your Kids
Did you know that your kids can actually serve as Christmas elves? Buy some Dollar store wooden ornaments and let your kids paint them. It’s meaningful but not overwhelming.
27. 3D Wood Puzzle
I’d only recommend this for someone who has time on their hands (ahem, retired,) but you have to admit – this 3D wooden puzzle is pretty cool.
It’s actually a DIY mechanical music box, and there are a few variations like flying airplanes or twirling carousels. This “starry night” is my favorite though.
I have no idea why, but everyone’s obsessed with being healthy these days. You can buy the only vitamins I use, or something more exciting, but everyone will eventually consume them, and likely become a better person for it.
29. A twist on photos
Gone are the days of simple photos and picture frames. So long. You’ve had a good run.
The new thing is photos in some sort of usable form. Think puzzles, calendars, pillows… you know… usable stuff.
Actually, what IS usable are photo books. They’re fairly unimposing and nice to flip through year-after-year.
But wait? Aren’t those expensive?
Mostly just the shipping costs but, TADA you can order copies for everyone! Save time and money!
For close friends, neighbors, and everyone else
Give them what you’d want for yourself. No, not the oculus rift (unless you’re getting it for them so you can play with it at their house instead of messing with yours.)
And not the Rumba – that’s too expensive and could probably be interpreted the wrong way.
And not a “usable photo” of yourself – because they’ll give you one of themselves next year.
My favorite thing to receive are things that are consumable.
- You get to actually use it and then get rid of it
- You don’t have to keep up a charade about displaying it when your friends come over
- That’s it
Oh, but don’t give them a “gourmet soup mix” that’s actually a trick. That’s a bad gift. (Unless you’re regifting it, in which case Bravo!)
30. My first pick is cheap-ish wine – usually can’t go wrong. No one needs the fancy stuff unless they are wine connoisseurs. But then don’t buy them wine you’ll never get it right!
31. Next best thing, some sort of spices or sauces.
32. Next, chocolate or cookies. Maybe jams if they’re fancy neighbors.
TL;DR – Gifts for busy people
- Best Expensive Gifts for busy people = Roomba
- Best Gifts for busy people otherwise = Wine
- Best cheap-ish but original gift – a hand-drawn saga from Tellinga
- Worst gift – artisanal soup and socks (unless they’re alpaca… the socks, not the soup.)