In our ever constant effort to feel validated and seem important in the eyes of others, we stretch ourselves to the breaking point with unmanageable schedules and then act as if time is some supernatural force we have no control over. We yearn to be “busy,” and then ensure that everyone around us knows it.
“Busy” is actually defined as being completely engaged or occupied. It is meant to represent an extreme in that one who is busy is much more engaged or occupied than the average person is at any given time. So we can’t really all be busy, because that would make our current definition of ‘busy’ the norm. Only the people who are reeeeeeally busy would actually be ‘busy,’ as they would represent the extreme.
Colloquially, though, being busy can mean that one has plans or a prior engagement. A friend asks you to go to the movies this weekend and then, after you knock the chip off your shoulder, you say, “Can’t. I’m busy.”
This, of course, is silly. We use the term so often that it has become void of any real meaning.
But that is not to say you have never been fully engaged or occupied, that you’ve never actually been “busy.”
You know. When you wake up at 6 am to hit the gym before work, make the morning commute to the office, put in your 8 hours, while skipping your lunch break to meet up with an old friend who might have some freelance work for you, and then finishing your long day by stopping at the grocery store to pick up ingredients for that evening’s dinner. Home by 6. Dinner by 7. Kids bathed by 8 and in bed by 9.
Which leaves you with a whole hour to yourself before you need to go to bed and start all over again! Oh boy!
Do you unwind and watch some TV with the significant other? Or start writing another chapter on that novel you’ve been meaning to get back to? Or maybe check in on your mother? You know, the woman who gave birth to you that you haven’t spoken to in like a month?
Of course, this above description is a fairly extreme example of “being busy.” I assume most of us have a little more flexibility with our schedules. And of course, there are always weekends.
But it seems like no matter how much “free time” we actually have, we still seem to feel busy. Why is this?
Let’s take a look at some everyday phrases regarding “being busy” and the contradictions that occur with their usages.
1. “I’m busy.”
This phrase is used wayyyyyy too often.
First and foremost, we’re all busy. We make ourselves busy. The fact that each of our 24 hour days are made up of some kind of activities at all times points to the fact that we are busy. Unless you just spend your days staring at a wall doing nothing, then you are probably busy.
But then again, if you value your time spent staring at the wall so much that you schedule wall-staring time, then that, too, would make you “busy.”
Parkinson’s Law states that an activity will take as much time as there is time allotted for it. It is generally used to refer to the bloated bureaucratic processes of governments, but it certainly applies to the individual coordinating his or her daily schedule.
Regardless of whether you have one thing planned for the day or a million and one, you can still argue that you are busy because you are busy so long as you have time to spend.
You can be “busy” as you work 12 hour days 7 days a week, or you can be “busy” as you raise a family, or you can be “busy” as you attempt to watch all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad in one weekend when you get the flu. (As long as you start Friday night and don’t sleep much, you’ll be fine.)
So being “busy” has nothing to do with anything. Busy-ness is arbitrary.
What is far more relevant are the priorities you set and the way in which you schedule them on a day to day basis.
We make time for the things we value in our lives. For instance, I like bathing on a daily basis, so I make sure that I have time to take a shower every day.
Some days I have to go to work earlier than usual. On those days, do I wake up at the same time I normally would because there’s “no time” to get a shower?
No. That’s silly. I get up a little earlier and take the time to get a shower.
I value not smelling like shit. I prioritize the time it takes for me to get a shower more than the extra fifteen minutes of sleep I might get if I were to sleep in.
Does that make me busy?
Of course not. My time is being spent whether I like it or not. What matters is where and how I spend my time.
2. “I’m too busy.”
Another knee slapper.
When I ask people a question regarding them having had the time to do something for me, and they tell me they were “too busy,” what they are actually saying is, “No, I value the time I had to spend at work / with my girlfriend / masturbating for five hours more than whatever you asked of me.”
Most times, this is acceptable.
I get it. We’re all just doing what we need to do to get by. Work hours can be tough. Significant others can be demanding. Masturbating is … time consuming?
But when you tell me that you didn’t have time to email me back yesterday about whatever important response I was expecting, and then you proceed to ask me if I’ve watched whatever new show that dropped on Netflix around the same time, I’m going to be a little pissed that you prioritized a Netflix show that will be there forever over an email response I need now.
I love binge watching shows on Netflix as much as the next single broke guy. Some days, after working for days or weeks on end, watching Netflix is number 1 on my priority list.
But most days, I have to go to work or buy groceries or look at my parent’s computer because “it won’t turn on after you downloaded whatever that Mozzarella thing is.”
I generally value the time I spend at work, shopping for groceries, and teaching my parents that Mozzarella is a cheese and not an internet browser more than I value my time spent watching shows on Netflix.
Again, I love watching Netflix, but my priorities are set up so that Netflix gets the sloppy seconds or thirds or fourths of whatever other matters I had to deem more pressing. Sorry Netflix.
So when you ask me, “Mark! Did you get a chance to binge-watch House of Cards/Master of None/Stranger Things that just dropped yesterday?!?” I’m not going to say “Oh, yeah dude, it was great! I just dropped EVERYTHING else that I had going on because Netflix GETS ME.”
Of course, this is an extreme example. Most of us realize that there are things in life that need to be prioritized more than Netflix. The fact that we all aren’t watching Netflix 24/7 proves this.
Now, to make a few things clear:
- There is nothing intrinsically wrong with watching Netflix.
- There is nothing intrinsically wrong with not emailing me back.
- For the most part, you can spend your time however you see fit.
It’s your time. Not mine. Not anyone else’s. Until this Earth steals your last dying breath, your time is yours to spend.
However, as citizens of the Earth, we choose our friends, business associates, and significant others based partly on how they prioritize their lives.
So when you choose to spend a week of life playing whatever new Pokemon game is out instead of reading/watching/sending me whatever I asked you to, you are essentially saying that you value your time spent playing Pokemon more than you value my time or the time we spend on our relationship.
For those of you who are often late to things, this is why the people around you often get pissed at you.
By showing up late or having an inability to prioritize your responsibilities or duties, you are indirectly implying that you value other things and/or people more than you value the people you are shortchanging.
Let’s say I set a meeting with Bob at 1 PM. Bob shows up at 1:15.
Sure, Bob could have been stuck in unexpected traffic. Or maybe Bob had some car troubles, and this was the only time he was late in our entire relationship. That would be acceptable.
But if Bob is consistently 15 minutes late to meetings with me, that says that he both does not value my time and that he does not value his own time because he is not in control of the time he spends.
This is a very unattractive quality to me. It is very hard to make any type of progress in this world when you are at the whim of time. And I do not like to maintain relationships with people that are not in control of their own lives.
Time stops for no one. It’s been ticking away, like, forever.
You either have to tame that beast and get your shit together, or let it ravage you as you get pushed to and fro in this world that cares very little for your well-being.
Time management is the skill that allows you to be able to hone and develop all of your other skills. How else are you going to become the first hockey-playing ballerina in space if you can’t find the time to simultaneously learn how to shoot pucks, dance, and be an astronaut?
3. “I’ve been super busy. Like crazy busy.”
This one is hilariously depressing.
Our society and culture are set up to value hard work at the expense of time so that we can achieve money, power, and prestige.
As described above, some people really are crazy busy. I will admit that certain people love to live lifestyles in which being busy is the cornerstone of their definition of success. Meetings and appointments and errands, oh my.
To an extent, this is completely necessary for our society. America wasn’t created by a bunch of lackadaisical Europeans afraid of breaking a sweat.
But the problem is that most of us aren’t crazy or super busy. We’re probably not even “busy.” We just exist. We do this thing and then we do that thing. No fuss, no muss.
It only ever comes up how so extremely, superbly busy we are when we’re speaking to other people, most of whom we don’t know very well.
In order to both quell the incessant thoughts of doubt and inferiority in our minds, we present an exaggerated, overemphasized version of ourselves to the world.
We want to seem desirable at all times, so we tell people how busy we are. We have to do this here and then go do that there and then meet this person here and make that thing there.
We feel that if we can prove to people how much other people want and need us, that it will in turn make us seem desirable to the people we are speaking to, because being busy is often nothing more than having obligations to other people.
If I run into an old friend acting friend of mine, and he tells me he has been “crazy busy,” he is saying that he has been acting a lot. The subtext of this statement is that “other people think I am a good actor and they want to work with me.”
In all reality, this person may be very busy. Good for them if they are busy and they are living the life they want to live.
The problem arises in the fact that people often don’t care if others know how busy they are when they make this declaration. They instead care about the validation they receive from seeming important and impressive.
So the problem is not the nature of time or the lack of it in our lives. It is instead our collective insecurity about our relationships with other people.
We must first dispel the notion that hard work and time equates success.
Success is defined by the successor. It is achieved in the completion of a series of goals. If your goals are to eat pizza and watch TV, and you do those two things, then you are successful. Congratulations.
There is no template for success. There is no universal model to which all people can be compared. Success is relative to the individual seeking it.
Personally, I hate being “crazy busy.”
Sure, I see the need for work in society. You gotta pay the bills somehow. But there is so much more to life than work. And there are so many other ways to be successful in life than by “working.”
I can understand that being busy is a way of life for some, but I would much rather be “busy” because of obligations I have to family, friends, or most importantly, to myself.
So don’t tell me how “super, insanely, crazy, like-you-can’t-even-imagine busy” you are. I would much rather hear about your own personal thoughts, feelings, and insights on the world. Allow me to be privy to the emotions you are experiencing that caused you to boast about your busy-ness in the past. Tell me about your dreams and how you hope to achieve them. There is nothing you need to prove to me or to anyone else in this world.
4. “I wish I could XYZ, but I just don’t have the time.”
This one is the biggest crock of shit of them all.
I talk to people all the time about how much I read. I usually get a response to the tune of, “Oh, I love to read! I just wish I had more time!”
What? That’s horse shit. If you really love something, you will find the time to incorporate it into your life.
Other times I talk to people about how I also find the time to exercise, cook my own food, write, interact with friends, keep in touch with family, and ponder the mysteries of the universe in my daily to weekly life, on top of the necessities of sleeping and doing laundry and all that fun stuff.
I value each and every one of those things, so I do my damnedest to make sure that I am able to incorporate them into my daily or weekly routine.
It’s a constant struggle. I am always assessing the pros and cons of spending my time doing this thing or that thing.
Sometimes I have to spend a little more time writing to get something just right. Other times, I have to spend a little more time with friends that I may have been neglecting.
The bottom line is that I value my both my time and my wants & needs as a person.
And you should too.
If you are honestly happy with your current schedule, then great. Good for you. I don’t know how you do it, but good for you. Maybe clue me in on whatever I’m missing some time.
But, if you’re like most people, you’re probably questioning several aspects of your life and routine on a daily basis. And this is okay. We live in a constant state of perpetual change.
What is not okay, is when we accept time as a constant that cannot be moved. This is a blatantly false assumption.
So stop saying you “love to do yoga but you don’t have time.”
If you truly love something, then why aren’t you doing it? If you really want to read or exercise or write, then just do it. Make time for it.
Do you ever hear someone say, “Well I love my Mom, but I just don’t have time to maintain a relationship with her.”
No! Of course not! You make time to have a relationship with your mother. So why can’t you make time for other things in your life?
A lot of people seem to use time as an excuse to not take action. By telling yourself that you are too busy to do something, you are rationalizing your inability to commit to any sort of effectual lifestyle change.
Maybe you are afraid to start jogging or meditating. Any sort of lifestyle change that includes the creation of a daily ritual can surely be scary from the outset.
But don’t use time as a scapegoat for your own personal apprehension regarding the introduction of an unknown to your life. Father Time’s been doing his thing long before you came into existence.
Don’t say you “don’t have time,” when what you actually mean by that is you “value the way you currently spend your time more than you would value any changes you could make to it.”
Unless that isn’t true.
Perhaps if you aren’t currently doing that thing that you profess to love, then you don’t actually love it after all.
You need to first decide if these declarations you make about your interests are actually true, or if they are whims of a life you wish you could live but are simply unable to.
If you merely tell yourself that you like to read because you think it makes you feel smart, then stop that. If you’re not a reader, you’re not a reader. You’re not busy, you’re just a liar.
But if you actually are a reader, and you tell yourself you don’t have time for it, then stop that. Make time for it. Don’t check Facebook so often. Text friends back a little less often. Sleep 8 hours a night instead of 14.
Make the time you need to do the things you love.
5. “I have to go to work and then I have to go to the gym. Then I have to cut the grass and take the dog for a walk. I also have to buy my dad a birthday present this week, go to the dentist, and finish doing my taxes. On top of all of that, I have to get my car inspected and make travel arrangements for my friend’s wedding in Mexico.”
Ummmmmmm, no you don’t.
I realize that the phrase “I have to” is simply a part of everyday human speech, but people use it like it’s some goddam law of physics.
You don’t “have” to do anything. There is nothing that you “have” to do. You are a free, independent being.
You could go to work or not go to work. You could go to the gym or not go to the gym. You could make travel arrangements for your friend’s wedding or you could not (cause fuck him, why did he have to get married in Mexico?).
We often confuse things that we should do with things we think we have to do. Again, it all comes back to the things you value and the way you prioritize them in your life.
If you value making money and contributing to society, then you should probably go to work. You do not have to.
If you value being in shape and maintaining physical stamina, then you should probably go to the gym. You do not have to.
If you value your friendship with your friend getting married in Mexico, then you should probably just make the goddam travel arrangements and go. You do not have to. (And maybe you won’t anyway. He isn’t even covering hotel fare. Who does he think he is?)
In all honesty, you don’t have to do anything. Think about it.
You don’t have to eat; you’ll just die if you don’t. You don’t have to bathe; you’ll just smell like shit if you don’t. You don’t have to watch Boyhood; it’s just one of the best movies of all time and your life will never be complete without seeing it.
Words are important. By telling yourself that there are things that you have to do, you box yourself into the confines of a restrictive life. You are essentially reinforcing the subconscious idea that you have no control over your surroundings. That the world is made up of forces outside of the extent of our personal will.
Which is complete bullshit. You are a source of power. You are a force to be reckoned with. You are whatever change you effect upon the world.
Sure, there are elements of the world that we cannot control. But that’s no excuse for accepting circumstances of your life that you have control over as givens.
If you feel as if the supposed obligations you “have” are too great, then start dropping some.
Cutting the grass is getting annoying? Move into an apartment building. Walking the dog is a chore? See ya, Fido. Car inspections are tedious? Take the fucking bus.
You are the master of your own destiny. Don’t tell me about all the things you have to do. Tell me about the things you like to do, you want to do, you love to do.
Time is our most valuable resource; it is the only one that is truly unrenewable. Do not squander it. Do not fear it. Do not allow it to control you.
You make your own schedule. You decide how busy you are. If you find that you do not value the time you spend on a day to day basis, then make a change. You are not tethered to your job. You are not tethered to your friends. You are not tethered to your possessions.
You have 24 hours to spend every day. You have to be spending that time already somehow. Decide if you are spending that time as well as you could be and then make changes, not excuses.