Not too long ago, having loads of leisure time was a status symbol. It meant more time for family, travel, hunting, oil painting, calligraphy, whatevs.
These days, everyone loooves to brag about how they’re sooo busy.
It usually goes something like this:
“How are you?”
“I’m good, just insanely busy. I haven’t slept in two nights because I’m spearheading a confidential project for my CEO. I’m super important.”
“Totally feel ya, I haven’t slept in THREE nights because I’m even MORE important. The President called and he has a project in Dubai that only I can do.”
“Oh ya, same here, except that I also have kids. I’m so slammed that I haven’t showered in a week! You’re sooo lucky you’re not as big of a deal as I am.”
Guys, this needs to stop. Now.
Casually bragging about not sleeping for three nights is not a good look. Whenever someone says something like this to me, I ask if they’re out of their mind, and then bring them some food and some Advil PM.
Somewhere along the way, being busy became a badge of honor.
Actually, it’s less about BEING busy and more about LOOKING busy. Looking busy makes you look important, productive, valuable, in high demand, successful, winning.
The best businesspeople use this to their advantage. Let’s say you call the dentist and ask for an appointment on Thursday. The receptionist looks at the calendar and it’s open all day. Astutely he will say, “we have a 1pm and a 4:30pm, which would you like?” This makes the dentist appear in high demand. You’ll value your appointment more, and even think the dentist is more talented.
In one-on-one personal interactions, the consequences are more serious for our mental state. We say we’re busy because we want acknowledgement from others. We want them to say that’s tough or impressive. But instead of acknowledgement, the other person typically just goes on about how busy THEY are. This makes us feel inadequate, and even guilty for any leisure time we’re not spending slaving away.
Why are we one-upping each other?
If I’m busier than you, I must be more important than you. MORE in demand. MORE productive. These are the things our society values, so we constantly (though often subconsciously) compete for status. It’s nuts.
We endlessly pat ourselves on the back about how we’re “drowning.”
Meanwhile, we’re missing out on connections with loved ones, and personal time (for working out or meditation). We don’t want to fail at any of these things, so we use our busyness as an excuse for not doing these important things in life.
Time out. I want to take a second to say that I am NOT undermining how hard anyone is working. I believe many people are just as busy as they say they are (I’m just not saying it’s healthy or productive).
Technology makes us feel busier.
We’re addicted to our devices. Our phones are like appendages. Because anyone can reach us at any time, we feel like we’re always on call. Our cortisol levels are high even when we’re not at work, and we’re exhausted.
In fact, our generation spends less time alone with our thoughts than any generation before us.
When’s the last time you had to sit in a waiting room without your phone to keep you busy? I suggest you give it a try.
Our best, most creative ideas come to us during idle time, when our brain is more relaxed.
You know how they say your best ideas always come in the shower? Same goes for taking breaks and vacations. I always have my best a-ha moments when I’m in bed, finally away from my phone and falling asleep.
We have to stop fearing idle time. It doesn’t make us obsolete; it rejuvenates us! When you’re busy all the time, your brain focuses on the short term rather than the long term. You focus on what’s happening an hour from now rather than your long term career, personal development, or happiness.
Let me offer another reason why the “I’m so busy” humble brag is bullshit.
Working a 16 hour day doesn’t mean you’re getting 16 hours of productive work done.
In fact I can pretty much guarantee that you’re wasting time. Groundbreaking stuff, I know.
Chances are you’re going to tap out after two hours and spend the next two hours on Insta. If you’re part of the 1% who has the willpower to stay away from the gram, you’re still going to get stressed and tired, burn out, and become unproductive. Why not work 8-10 fully productive hours?
I’ve always been obsessed with getting more done in less time.
When I was in business school, I found that two of the skills most essential to success were prioritization and time management. You’re assigned far more work than you can get done, and it’s your job to figure out what’s essential and what isn’t. I had plenty of classmates who frantically crammed and skimmed all night every night, but I knew that wouldn’t be beneficial for me.
When someone congratulates themselves about how they’re working dawn till dusk, to me it just says that they haven’t learned to manage their time or prioritize. They haven’t learned to set boundaries. Or they aren’t recognizing what’s important in life.
Like all of you, I have lots of demands on me. There’s an endless stream of personal and professional things I could be doing at any one given time. But I don’t let opportunities overwhelm me.
My time is my most scarce resource, so I manage it meticulously.
I worship my calendar. It gives me control. I calendar EVERYTHING (not just work) – from errands to working out to calling my mom to dinner with friends. I try my best not to over-cram my calendar. When I do, I’m invariably running late and I don’t enjoy the things I wanted to make time for. When this happens, it’s time to make cuts. How many meetings are on your calendar that could be resolved over email?
I also try not to be a slave to technology. This is a hard one (scrolling through my phone is such a reflex), but I do what I can. I don’t have any notifications on for my email. I have to intentionally open the app and CHECK my email, rather than having it interrupt and distract me every two minutes with a notification. The “do not disturb” function is my bff.
It’s also important to set boundaries with coworkers. If you always immediately reply to Saturday night emails, people will come to expect it. Even if you type a response, you can wait till Monday morning to send it (your coworkers will thank you too!).
I focus on my outputs, my accomplishments, and my purpose (rather than time spent working)
If you feel like you have to brag about how busy you are, your work isn’t that interesting. What’s more interesting is the IMPACT you’re making. Why not brag about that?
Don’t be busy. Be PRODUCTIVE.
You can’t just work long hours. You have to work smart. With purpose.
Managing your time and prioritizing your life might feel like it takes MORE work in the beginning, but I promise it will pay dividends.
Whenever you feel exasperated or overwhelmed, take a second to look at the big picture, what you want your impact to be, and what you really value. Look outside the bubble of this little moment and breathe.
I know you’re all so busy (*hair flip*), so how do you manage your time? I need to know.