Busy, Busy, Busy!

Our attitude toward time management greatly affects our productivity, and that attitude starts developing very early. This week, I overheard an interesting conversation between two 11-year-olds. It went something like this:

Kid 1: “Oh my goodness, I am so tired, I don’t even know if I can do anything today. I got no sleep last night.”
Kid 2: “Oh I KNOW! I was up until 1:00am and I had to get up at 5:00am for school.”
Kid 1: “Well, I’ve actually been up until 2:00am all week”
Kid 2: “Well, I kind of have it worse because I have a teacher who gives way more homework than you do…”

I listened to this conversation in amusement as I pondered two things:

1) Imagine how brilliant these children would be if I actually thought they were using all of this time to study efficiently and

2) How perfectly they will fit into the adult world where this kind of dialogue happens on a routine basis.

The Busy Battle

I like to call these kinds of conversations “busy battles” and the one-upmanship that occurs during them is extremely detrimental to our time management. We all have lots to do. Some of us, admittedly, have more to do than others, but when we make it a point to focus on how little time we have and how busy we are to the point that it becomes a competition, we are only creating an environment that breeds negativity and seeks pity. These of course are not the conditions that lead to motivated and efficient work.

In this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Laura Vanderkam makes some interesting points on the subject. At times, she seems to insinuate that everyone is exaggerating their busy level, which I do not entirely agree with, but I do agree with her suggestion that we change our language. She writes, “Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time’ try saying ‘It’s not a priority’ and see how that feels.”

Saying that something is ‘not a priority’ shifts the control of our time back to us, not our schedules. In the competitive society we live in, it’s only natural that we’ll get sucked into a busy battle from time to time. Wouldn’t it be cool, however, if that battle were about things we’ve actually accomplished with our time and not simply how many hours we fill with things on a daily basis.

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Avoiding the Busy Battle

I found myself in a “busy battle” with someone the other day. It started innocently enough. We were both venting to each other about how crazy the last few weeks had been. I was talking about how much I had to do for grad school and she was talking about how difficult it is being a new mom. Then we went into how stressful both of our jobs had been this year and how sometimes it’s difficult to stay constantly motivated. Then, what started as venting turned into a “busy battle.” A “busy battle” is when two people go back and forth trying to “one up” the other with how much he or she has to do. “Oh yeah? You think your job is stressful? Well you should hear about mine.” “You haven’t slept in 2 days? Well I haven’t slept in 3 days.” “You have a 40 pages or reading to do? Well I have 60.”

The problem with a busy battle is that nobody wins. The battle will continue until one person just gives up or the topic of conversation changes. Then both people are left feeling more stressed out than they were before, and often feeling inadequate because they just heard a whole litany of things that their friend is involved with that they aren’t. Busy battles only perpetuate the myth that being busier somehow makes you more important and that you should keep as busy as possible to maintain your martyr status. Venting to your friends is fine, but when it becomes a constant battle for your friends’ sympathy, it just isn’t worth it. You should do things in life because they are important to you, not because it makes you look busier or better than the person next to you.

The next time you catch yourself in a busy battle, stop and think: What am I trying to do here? Am I honestly commiserating with a friend? Or am I just trying to “out-do” the person I’m chatting with? You don’t need the extra stress in your life of trying to keep up with other people. Just relax and take care of your own to-do list without worrying if it is longer or shorter than everyone else’s.

We Are All Busy

So, for the first time this school year, I overheard someone say, “Sorry, I’ve been too busy.” I will spare any more details than that to protect the innocent (or the guilty I suppose?) The “I’m too busy” line drives me crazy. It literally makes my skin crawl. We are all busy. We all have lives and we all have things we’d rather be doing than work. Sometimes, however, work needs to be done and it might mean that you have to give up watching American Idol one night to get it done.

This is coming out rather harshly. I don’t mean to suggest that we should never say “no” to anything and that having time to relax isn’t important. In fact, a big part of the Time Diet philosophy is scheduling in relaxing things, the equivalent of “desserts” in a regular diet. However, another important tenant of the Time Diet is that every single thing we do during the day is a choice. Rather than saying you’re “too busy” say that you’ve chosen to use your time doing other things. That may seem like just a difference of semantics, but it’s really a whole attitude shift.

Saying, “I’ve been too busy” is a line that simultaneously gives an excuse for not having something done and attempts to makes the speaker seem more important than the listener. After all, the busier you are, the more important you are, right? (blatant sarcasm) Saying, “I’ve chosen to use my time with other things” on the other hand shows that you recognize that only you are in control of your time. It’s also a lot easier to truthfully use that line when the “other things” you’re talking about are work or family related and not vegging out on the sofa.