We’ve all said it: I’m just too busy. There aren’t enough hours in the day. We’d love to help, but we can’t carve out the time.
In our society, we practically praise people for being busy. Somehow it makes you important to be busy.
It’s time most of us admit something to ourselves: We’re not that busy. We just have different priorities.
Most people aren’t working overlapping double-shifts that leave just a few hours left over for sleeping and eating. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey tells us the average American had 5 hours, 16 minutes of leisure time each day in 2018, up from 4 hours and 59 minutes in 2015. That number climbs to 6 1/2 hours on weekend days.
People find ways to do what they feel like doing.
I started thinking about this recently while sitting at a volleyball game, watching one of my daughters play. In the back of my head, I thought about a few pending work tasks I had to leave behind to get to the game on time. For an instant, I thought about complaining about how little free time I had.
To complain about that would be a total lie, though. I have time. I also have priorities, and those priorities drive what I’m doing at any moment of the day.
I often joke with coworkers about the number of emails I send between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., since those are the hours right before my kids wake up and right after I go to bed. That’s because, during their waking hours when I’m not physically at the office or working from home, they’re my priority. They’re what really matters to me.
At different moments in my life, I allowed work to carve out a bigger chunk of my time than my kids did. I saw the error of my ways with that, and I make a conscientious decision to make it to as many of my children’s events as possible, even trying to volunteer to coach when I’m needed. I always try to carve out time when I’m asked to help at church. I make time to watch my Chicago Bears each week and check in on a few collegiate and professional sports teams.
If you want to know what’s important to someone, just look to see how he spends his time. It’s all spelled out there.
There are dangers in being too self-focused on work or family. It’s important to devote some time to others too. I have a few causes near and dear to me, where I spend my most valuable commodity, time. I also have learned to say no to some things because I couldn’t devote myself adequately to helping those organizations.
Down time is equally important to busy time. If you like to scroll through Facebook when you’re taking a load off your feet, don’t let me stop you. If you like to watch silly sit-coms on TV, I totally get it. If books or podcasts or writing are your thing, go ahead and do it. Enjoy that leisure time.
Just be honest with yourself the next time you’re tempted to say you’re too busy to do something else. What you really mean is your current priorities push you in a different direction, and you’re declining their opportunity to help. If you don’t like that answer, then it’s time to truly reevaluate your own priorities.
But just say that priorities thing to yourself. I’m not sure the world’s ready for the brutal honesty that you need those couple of hours a week to do what you want to do. Until they’re ready, I guess we’ll just keep using the shorthand that we’re too busy.