Too Busy People

One of my least favorite phrases that people use is “I’m too busy for that”. I don’t really believe that any of us are too busy for anything that’s important to us. We all have the same 24x7x365 to work with, and we all have a large say in how we spend it. What you’re really saying (and what other people hear) when you say “I’m too busy” is “I don’t want to”, or “I’m too important for that”. It sends the wrong message to the people around you.

One thing I’ve come to realize lately is that the vast majority of people who constantly say they’re too busy, really just suck at time management. “I’m too busy to cook” or “I’m too busy to exercise” or “I’m too busy to keep in touch with my friends” and on and on. It’s total BS. None of those things take very much time and effort at all. In particular, I remember seeing this a lot in the corporate world. Guys that would work 6 AM – 6 PM and somehow take pride in not taking a lunch, never going to the gym, and missing their kids Little League games…yet spent half of the work day conversing at the water cooler, managing their fantasy football teams, boning around on YouTube, texting every 30 seconds, and sending chain emails. Then the next day they’d know every single thing about last night’s episode of Lost or Survivor or 24.

It blew my mind. Every day we’re faced with a multitude of choices on how to spend our time. In reality, those guys could have worked 8 AM – 4 PM and taken an hour-long lunch and two 30 minute breaks with the same productive output. They just have to cut out the 2 hour conversations at the water cooler. And the 1 hour spent on ESPN.com. And quit whining and complaining about how “busy” they are.

In reality, they were trading potential time doing things they want with their friends, wife, and kids for time spent complaining, procrastinating, and staring at the TV.

22 comments on Too Busy People

  1. Anthony says:

    Nice. So true, at least for a majority of the population.

    There is a small subset of people in the world who manage time very wisely and still don’t have enough time for the things that are important to them. If you want to eat well, exercise, have a well-paying job, a wife and a couple kids, and not be dumping your chores on a maid or your children in the arms of a stranger most of the time — well, frankly, that’s a pipe dream for most people with ordinary means. And understandably so. Even if you can find time for all of that, you’ll still be utterly exhausted at the end of the day. Which is where television comes in. Most people need to kick back and not be doing something they *have* to be doing. It’s the only way to stay sane. If you go to sleep knowing you only did what was on your list, nothing more nothing less, every day, you begin to feel like a prisoner of sorts – prisoner to your list. And that’s where extreme time management gets dangerous.

    Sometimes, tough decisions need to be made in life. If you don’t want to feel overworked, you need to begin giving up one important thing to truly excel at something something else that’s equally as important. For some people, it’s not always as simple as giving up TV.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Totally true Anthony. This certainly doesn’t apply to everyone I’ve ever met…just a subset of unhappy professionals I’ve encountered. And none of the things mentioned above are things that I don’t do myself (watch YouTube, play Fantasy Football, watch TV, and the like). It’s the combo of doing those things, missing out on things that you really want to do, and then failing to recognize it while complaining that you “have no time” that perplexes me to me.

      • Adam McFarland says:

        Just re-read your comment again Anthony.

        I tend to throw TV under the bus unfairly at times. Everyone needs that escape at the end of the day. I prefer to read quietly, I find that’s my best way to unwind and relax. Some might get that same thing from TV.

        I think my general problem with TV is that it can easily become the only thing you do with your free time…you become a slave to your “shows”, which can be scary because now you’re spending 3-4 hours every night literally “doing” nothing. There’s a difference between unwinding/relaxing and just wasting away.

  2. I think replacing “time management” with “will power” makes more sense for what you’re talking about. You’re a different breed of person and will power, both in absolute terms and consistency, way more than time management (which is still important) separates you from the people you’re talking about.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Michael – thanks for the comment and the kind words. Good point. Will power is maybe a better way to say it. I tend to think of will power as a driving point behind time management.

      I also failed to mention in the post that the specific people I’m thinking of were always horribly disorganized and seemed to always be multi-tasking ten things at once, which led to the “always busy” feeling being enhanced far beyond reality.

  3. Tim says:

    This is kind of a pet peeve of mine as well, I’ve noticed it a LOT since I moved, not only from the natives, but from people back home who are too lazy to keep in touch. I have a number of friends that I would hang out with a few times every month that I have not heard from since I’ve moved in March, I’ve left messages for them to call me, but they are never returned. And when I do get ahold of people who have been MIA, they always tell me “I didn’t know when would be a good time to call.” Come on, give me a break it’s because you are LAZY and don’t want to admit it so you find a way to justify it to yourself, in this case it’s my fault, ironic 🙂 My take is not that people don’t care I think they do, or at least I hope they do, I think we often overlook the genuine laziness of the average person. I would guess the average reader of this blog is a go-getter, someone who is motivated and has drive – we have to remember not only is this not the norm, it’s very unusual.

    Compound this by terrible time management and poor prioritizing of life and you’ll waste away the bulk of your life before you know it. You’ve nailed the big time wasters that irk me, TV being the biggest – the fiction programming that’s on the air currently, as a whole, is an insult, the content is poor and the acting worse. I can see sports programs being popular, educational programs and movies typically can deliver a very different experience then 20 minute programs with 10 minutes of commercials.

    Before I rant and rave any further I will end with one of those truths that I live by, “people make time for what’s important to them.”

  4. Rob says:

    @Tim – here here, I was just about to write the same thing.

    I find that busier people will try and make time to catch up (even if unsuccessful, the will is there). It’s the lazy people who spent their lives in front of the TV and then moan about having no time that I never actually catch up with…

    When you say you don’t have time for something, you’re actually saying it’s not important enough. If that’s something like the washing, then get a maid or a machine…. if it’s your friends then perhaps they won’t be your friends much longer.

  5. Adam McFarland says:

    Well said Rob and Tim. I think my favorite line in your comment Tim was “I think we often overlook the genuine laziness of the average person.” I only tend to come upon this realization on the rare times when I have to work with people on something that aren’t in my inner-circle. Say to plan a bacehelor party or a surprise party. I have a hard time getting things done with people who don’t care or are extreme procrastinators. It sucks the life out of me. I can see how being around that attitude in a work environment day after day could drain you completely.

    Oh, also Tim, as you know I’ve moved a few times from New York to Connecticut and back. You learn who your true friends are fast because some people you thought were good friends and you really want to stay in touch with will just drop off the face of the planet as soon as you move. Having gone away and come back I feel like the important people I’ve always been in touch with no matter what, even if they thought I’d be living in another state for the rest of my life.

  6. Amber says:

    You’re right that if more people spent their time mindfully they would likely be happier and have more time for what’s important to them. However, I think it’s irresponsible for an unmarried guy with no kids to discredit people for not having time to cook (or whatever).

    Sure, when you’re young and kid-less it’s pretty easy to find the fun waste-of-time thing that you’re doing that you can cut out. But for many parents, you’re not doing any fun, waste-of-time thing. We have to schedule a date night 2 months in advance just so we don’t go insane.

    I have a 2 year old and a full time job that I use to support us and a start up on the side and no, I don’t have time to cook or many other things I’d like to do. I’m grateful for the few minutes I might get at night between my son’s bedtime and mine so that I can do things like clean the kitchen or do laundry.

    My schedule is roughly: wake up, get myself and son ready, go to work, work work work, come home, maybe have 30 minutes of playtime with son (depending on time I got home, maybe half the days?), prepare dinner or pickup, eat dinner, bathtime routine, bedtime stories, put baby to bed, MAYBE have an hour in which to clean the house or work on my startup. So, you tell me, where is all this extra time I’m missing?

    I don’t think you’re point is entirely invalid, I just think you should avoid speaking about that which you don’t yet know.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Fair point Amber. I don’t have kids so I cannot comment from the perspective of a parent and I certainly didn’t mean to be critical of you or anyone I don’t know personally. I have all the respect in the world for someone who is able to juggle a job/business, relationship, and kids.

      I wasn’t intending to criticize legitimately busy people per se, more so criticizing people I’ve known who *think* they’re busy but are just really bad at managing their time, and then on top of that seem to be miserable all the time AND tell people that they’re miserable because they’re so busy. I used the example of someone I worked with who happened to have kids, but I think it can be applied to all sorts of people in all sorts of scenarios.

    • Rob says:

      I think you’re a perfect example for this article, Amber.

      You’re clearly driven and have a very packed schedule yet you’re STILL managing to find time to do what’s important to you, like the startup. It’s the people who don’t have all that going on yet claim to be too busy to do things that I think Adam was talking about, certainly that’s the way I understood it.

      There are so many people doing less than you that have the time to do more, but don’t and complain. You should be proud of the amount you’re accomplishing!

      • Amber Shah says:

        Thanks Adam and Rob. I didn’t mean to be overly critical but just point out that “reclaiming” extra time for some people is a big deal. Some of the moms I know have literally done things like shower every other day just to get an extra 20 minutes – it’s just a different world when you have kids. The last thing I want to do is whine about my life. Most of the time I feel incredibly lucky to have all that I have, from my family to my stuff to my opportunities. I don’t tend to dwell on the things that I “can’t” do. I agree with Adam primary point that if it was important enough to me (ie. more important than the things I already do), then I would find a way.

  7. Joshua Holt says:

    I’m really too busy to comment on this article, but I promise I’d like to!

  8. Oke says:

    I couldn’t find the link, but one of my favorite lines of the movie, The Visitor, was the foreign lady asking the professor why he was helping her out and that he should be busy doing his profession. He looked at her and said that he wasn’t busy, he was wasting time doing something else and that he could help her out with whatever she needed.

    I cheered and was thrilled for somebody talking about the truth. I also hate that statement, Adam. It is a cop out and those people rub me the wrong way from the beginning.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Oke. I’ve never seen The Visitor before. Just checked it out on IMDB, looks pretty good…I’ll have to add it to the Netflix list

  9. Rob says:

    In a similar vein, how does everyone here deal with lack of motivation? I’ve recently finished a stint about 8 weeks long of doing mostly 14-20 hour days and am a bit burned out. After a week of doing very little (and being okay with that – I think I deserved a break!) I can’t find the motivation I need to get moving again. Any suggestions?

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Good question Rob. As you can sort of tell from my posts whenever I’m over worked, I don’t necessarily do a good job of handling this either. It’s really really hard to come down from a busy rush. You get used to doing things at a different speed and intensity, but it slowly wears your brain out.

      I think what makes it hard to get going again is that you have to switch gears completely on to different types of work, and there’s usually an immense amount of that work that’s built up during the busy period.

      I like to try to pick a few small things per day to get done. Nothing that’s going to result in a 10+ hour work day or cause a bunch of stress if they go wrong. Just to get that feeling of accomplishment and having a good day back. And also try to schedule some fun stuff to do when you aren’t working because – at least for me – I’m generally more worn out than I lead myself to believe so I can only do work for so long each day before I start to wear down again.

      • Rob says:

        I think you’re right and that’s a good approach to take. As you can tell by the length of time I’ve not been around to comment on your blog I’ve had a little bit of time away to try and work on my motivation..anyyyway…

        Saw this quote the other day and thought it apt:

        “If you need something done, ask a busy person”

        • Adam McFarland says:

          I’ve heard that quote before as well. It always struck me as very illogical but very true nonetheless.

  10. Jay says:

    I don’t entirely agree with Amber and I think she’s falling into the time “trap” with her comments.

    I know in my case, most days begin for me at 4:30 a.m. when I’m up amd headed to the gym. Then, its straight home and in the shower before the 50 mile one way commute to work. Add in teaching an occasional class on the side after work from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., plus being a dad to two kids, ages 4 and 18 months, plus other obligations with family, associates, etc. plus more such as grocery shopping to help my wife, cooking for our family, helping with laundry plus other household needs. Despite all this, I still have plenty of discretionary time most days. It’s not difficult to do…it just takes some planning, structure and determination.

    Women/moms taking a shower every other day to save time!?!?! I don’t buy it. If they are, they seriously need some help prioritizing.

  11. June says:

    I was a single working mother of two children and managed to have heaps of free time to do everything I wanted including cooking for my family. I happen to be very good at time management and actually only live a five minute drive from my work place which really helps. The kids are grown up and gone now so I am doing more study along with full time work. I still have heaps of time and go kayaking, visiting friends and on weekends away to see shows etc in other cities. I am a planner and i know this gives me the reputation as being uptight but i always have heaps of fun and end up being able to do lots of cool things because of my ability to plan in advance, something which some people just cannot or do not want to do. they would rather be spontaneous and random but dont realise that because i am organised i can be just as if not more spontaneous than them because i am organised and so don’t have to turn down invitations because of unfinished business! I have a few friends who don’t work at all and don’t have children but swear they are too busy all the time and when i have depended on them to do something for us both like some kind of errand during business hours because i am at work, they somehow don’t end up doing it and complain they have been to busy! They let me down constantly so that is why I do everything myself and don’t include them because they just cruise along taking advantage of my hard work. Needless to say I don’t have many friends anymore 🙁 but I can’t stand disorganisation!

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