The Problem with How You Spend Your Time

There’s a dangerous trend afoot.  And it has to do with this thing:

Yes, that’s my planning calendar (and yes, I have a paper planning calendar. Keep those comments to yourself, please.)

You might notice the calendar is pretty filled up…lots of meetings and commitments and things to do.

But this dangerous trend isn’t about how busy I am.  It’s about my need to tell you how busy I am. And about the value placed on how busy I am. And what that does to me as a result.

For many, many of us, being busy is so much more than a reflection on what we do.  It’s a reflection of who we are.

Specifically, it’s a reflection of how valuable we are.  How important. How relevant.

Time, in this fare country of ours, has become a powerful status symbol. Somewhere along the way, this…

…has become similar in status to this.

Simply put, the way we pack that calendar in (or not) has become a direct reflection of the value we bring to this world. And so…

  • …we feel compelled to fill our days (and nights and weekends) with meetings and lunches and conversations and projects. Because if we’re not busy we are not as valuable. (Not true, by the way)
  • …we find ourselves with some free time and we get a bit panicked, and so we seek out whatever could possibly fill that hole. Because if we’re not busy we are not as valuable. (Not true, by the way)
  • …when someone asks us what we’ve got going on, we list off the things we’ve been doing like they’re proof that we’re important. And when we aren’t super busy we feel embarrassed and apologetic. Because if we’re not busy we’re not as valuable. (Not true, by the way)

Think about it. One of the first things we ask people the first time we meet them is “what do you do?”.  And when others ask us something like “how are you doing?” our first response is often “busy”.

None of this is in judgement, by the way. I’m actually right there with you. (And found myself mentioning how busy I was twice yesterday…while in the midst of writing this post.)

To be clear, the problem isn’t that we’re busy. Many of us love the stimulating feeling of working on new things and meeting with people on a regular basis.

The problem is the priority and value we as a society have placed on “busy-ness” (our own and others). “Busy-ness” is an expectation that has evolved – perhaps unintentionally – into a big problem.

Because, when we equate “busy-ness” with value:

  • We fill our calendars with anything…even stuff we don’t like
  • We overcommit and exhaust ourselves, making us less productive and less fun to be around
  • We don’t slow down long enough for things that take some solo quiet time…like forming new ideas or reflecting on what matters most

I can feel the arguments creeping up on this. I can feel the people muttering to themselves…But Deirdre, I’d LOVE to be less busy. I’ve got so much going on, I don’t have a moment to breathe!

To which I say, you’ve actually proven my point. Just how did you get so busy? And why did you make choices (yes, choices) that have left you so out of breath? And how would you really feel if you had more than a short amount of time with nothing official to do?

Yes, there are a few folks out there who simply don’t place a value on busy-ness, who freely and unapologetically talk about regular intervals of just being (and not doing).

To those in this (small) category, I say good on you.

For the rest of us, let’s work on this together, yes? A few steps:

  1. Recognize your own biases about busy-ness and how it (perhaps unintentionally) equates to the way you value yourself and others.
  2. Notice if “busy” tends to be your first answer when someone asks how you’re doing, and think about why this is the case.
  3. Don’t allow yourself to make a decision about how you spend your time simply because it will keep you busy. That’s not a good enough reason.
  4. Relax. Seriously. And unapologetically tell others about it when you do.

After a while, you might find you start to look at planners like this…

…in a whole new way.

7 thoughts on “The Problem with How You Spend Your Time

  1. Karlene Belyea says:

    You nailed it and I love this! (And I needed to hear it, too!) I always try to remind people that “no” is a complete sentence. It doesn’t need justification. If something doesn’t benefit you directly or bring you joy, say no! You’ll then have more holes in your calendar!

  2. Raylene Wall says:

    *raises hand* Guilty as charged. And yet…I like to be busy, especially doing something creative…and I also yearn to be less busy (after work), so I can continue to work on my writing dream. Thanks for the insights…I’m so glad I am getting the chance to get to know you better.

  3. Ginny Ollis says:

    Yes!!! Busy is not an achievement but frequently a cost.
    This is such a valuable lesson for people to hear. I love what your friend Karlene said about “no” being a complete sentence too! Excellent, thank you!

  4. Doug Hegebarth says:

    Great post Deirdre … I think. Didn’t have time to finish because of the two back-2-back conference calls and my crammed meeting schedule today. But thanks … for the tips and insight!

  5. Patty says:

    Thank you Deirdre for a very important concept. and we can remember we are human beings not human doings!

  6. Robyn says:

    Thanks Deirdre. Loved, loved, loved this insight.

  7. Samantha Goldstein says:

    Lol! Generally I am amazed how similar your topic sounds to my life. But when people ask me what I do I generally say “Oh, just watch TV and masturbate.” I love all your columns anyway, though! ❤️

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