The Busyness Epidemic

18. December 2015
The Busyness Epidemic

There are certain phrases that I have no tolerance for regardless of the context surrounding them:

“I’d like that steak medium-well.”

“I agree with Trump’s stance on…”

“I didn’t have time for [blank].”

Let’s table the first two and focus on the third one for now. The reason for my disgust towards “I didn’t have time” is:

  1. It’s a damn lie
  2. It’s enabling (in the crippling sense)

Allow me to elaborate.

We’re all given the same amount of time per day

No matter how you spin it, we all get 24 hours a day. And we all get 168 hours a week. And we all get 8,760 hours a year. Do with it what you will, this is a fact and it’s not changing. So claiming that you didn’t or don’t have time to complete a task is simply an inaccurate statement to make (a damn lie).

Personally, whenever I’m about to say that I didn’t have enough time to do something, I deliberately say “I didn’t make time for…”. I strongly prefer this alternative as it puts the ownership back on my shoulders and prevents me from falling victim to the self-pitying, excuse ridden paradigm that lots of us spend the better part of our lives in. By mindlessly claiming that you didn’t have time suggests that’s it’s anybody’s fault but your own. It’s your boss’s fault. It’s your kid’s fault. It’s your wife’s fault. It’s Obama’s fault (I guess I can empathize with this 😉 ). This short, lazy phrase enables you to coast through life without ever really claiming true ownership of it. By choosing to say “I didn’t make time” has the exact opposite effect. It forces you to look inward. It helps you to understand that you absolutely had the time – you simply chose to spend the time elsewhere. Because when it comes down to it, you have a choice in where you spend every second of your life.

Don’t say you didn’t have time – say you didn’t make time.

Can we all actually be that busy?

busyness-300x300
Credit: Lou Carlozo, Work Smart

Everybody’s busy according to themselves. When was the last time you ran into somebody you knew and in the conversation they mentioned how their life is calm and relaxed and they’ve got so much free time that they’re going to start learning martial arts or scuba diving? Probably never! And not because you don’t know anybody interested in martial arts or scuba diving, but because everyone you know is so incredibly busy. Yet, TV ratings reach new all-time highs with each passing week. Netflix subscriptions continue to increase month after month. The number of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram users grows daily. More people are playing Fantasy Football than ever before. Video and computer game sales are breaking records. Yet we’re all so damn busy. So what gives?

Being busy is trendy (and may fulfill a basic human need)

Busyness is absolutely a point of pride for us Americans. We wear our busyness as a badge of honor. It’s silly as shit, but it’s true. Co-workers will literally go out of their way to mention that they put in 60+ hours last week. Classmates will find a way to make sure you’re aware they spent a day and half straight in the library. And your in-laws won’t forget to tell you that they’ve been preparing Christmas dinner since August (in-laws always fucking exaggerate).

Speaking of Christmas dinner…

Let’s operate under the pretense that these claims are true. Maybe these individuals really did put in an obnoxious amount of hours to get something done – but why the hell do they care if you know (assuming you’re not in a position to give them a raise, a grade, or a spot on Master Chef)? The answer, according to psychiatrist Markie, is to feel significant. This is that “fulfill a basic human need” nonsense I mentioned in the header. Forget the “food, shelter, water…” list of bullshit you learned back in baby school – the real list of needs (per Anthony Robbins) is as follows:

  1. Certainty/Comfort
  2. Variety
  3. Significance
  4. Connection/Love
  5. Growth
  6. Contribution

So, it’s my opinion that the aforementioned busy bitches bees live such a life in an effort to maximize their feeling of significance. This isn’t meant to come off as insulting or belittling –some of the individuals who demonstrate this kind of ambition are incredibly impressive. On the other hand, some of these individuals are so caught up in being busy that they lose track of the results that their busyness is supposed to deliver.

Now let’s call a spade a spade. The co-worker pulling 60-hour weeks probably isn’t. By that I mean that is he/she is not working for 60-hours a week. The person who’s making a point to tell you how much they work is the person who’s results don’t speak for themselves. And if you’re working 60-hour weeks and don’t have some shiny ass results, you’re taking way too many social media/gossip breaks. Listen, time seems to disappear when you don’t deliberately choose how to spend it. Wouldn’t you rather work a 50-hour week and spend 10 hours with your friends or family? Never mind, that’s stupid. Working 60-hour weeks is totally worth if I can take as many five minute texting/Facebook/cigarette breaks as I want.

I get it – there are people who are insanely busy

I’m totally aware that most readers saw the header of this section and thought “finally, something that actually applies to me”. Be better than that. While I do think this section has some valuable information, I encourage you to not write off the previous sections because you don’t think it’s targeted at you.

But for all of you upper-management, father/mother of three young children, volunteers every weekend type, I understand that you’re not tricking yourself or anybody else with your busyness. Your busyness is as real as my hate for overcooked meat. With that said, even you can improve the quality of your life by re-thinking where you spend your time.

1. The opportunity cost of agreeing to do something

Every time you agree to do something, you’re making a rather large decision. By agreeing to do anything, you’re agreeing to not do everything else. Think about that. The stubborn laws of physicals only allow us to be on one place at one time. So if you agree to be at place X at time Y, you’re simultaneously agreeing to not be at place A, B, C, D. Most people only consider one or two other activities that they’re sacrificing when agreeing to do another activity. But that’s just not the case.

For example, if you agree to attend a meeting from 5-7PM tonight, you’re not just sacrificing a family dinner or a workout at the gym. Your sacrifices include but are not limited to: starting the book you’ve been meaning to read, calling the friend you haven’t been in touch with, drafting the business plan you’ve been toying around with, going for a bike ride, drinking two bottles of wine (one each hour, duh), getting a manicure, writing a poem, going to a show, volunteering at a soup kitchen, and everything else you could possibly want to do. By committing two hours to the meeting, you are de-committing two hours from everything else in the world. That meeting better have been with Kim Jong-un and you better have convinced him to cool his jets.

Capture

The point of all this is to encourage you to deliberately consider what you’re potentially agreeing to, as well as all the alternatives you’re potentially dismissing. Your time is too valuable to just be thrown around all willy-nilly.

2. Identify your motives. Then question them.

For those of you who regularly put in 60+ hours a week – why do you do it? Let’s work through a hypothetical (but realistic) Q&A session with a character named Brock.

Q: Why do you work so damn much, Brock?

A: I want a promotion.

Q: Why do you want a promotion?

A: So I can get dat cheddar.

Q: I don’t understand.

A: Oh, sorry. So I can make more money.

Q: So you have a specific amount of money in mind, and once you achieve that you’ll stop working like a lunatic?

A: No, I don’t really have an amount in mind. I just figure I want to make more than I made last year. Plus, my cars already three years old and we could use a bigger house. I just don’t know that 2,300 square feet is enough space for a family of four.

Q: So if I understand correctly. You currently work 60 hours a week on a regular basis so you can get a promotion that will demand even more of your time. That’s fine with you because you’ll have so much cheddar that you can finance a car that’s slightly newer than the new car you currently own, and so your family can have more space to avoid each other. Is that right?

A: I mean… I wouldn’t have said it exactly like that, but that’s pretty much right.

I don’t have a problem with the answers provided until Brock mentions that he doesn’t have an end game. He’s on the never-ending rinse and repeat cycle that most of the working class is on.

I would encourage him, and everyone who shares the same mindset, to have a monetary goal in mind. I don’t fault Brock for chasing promotions to earn more money; I’m currently doing that exact thing in my career. The difference is I have a very specific dollar amount I’m working towards. If that end goal doesn’t exist, and you’re simply chasing promotions, you’re destined for a life where you’ll never find satisfaction. You’ll constantly be looking for the “next thing” whether it’s a higher-paying job, a flashier condo, or a douchier Yacht.

And for those of you who have scoffed at this entire section because you’re not in your job for the money, I applaud you. But I’d also like to suggest that whatever your motivation is for working, doing so for 60 hours a week, for 40 years is not the correct approach to maximizing the quality of your life.

Send us home, baby

This has been my longest post to date. And the reason for that is I’m really fascinated and frustrated by the idea of being busy. It comes from more than just being annoyed with friends or coworkers who routinely say that they didn’t have time for something or another. It comes from the widespread belief that we don’t have total control of our time – and I find that belief to be sick. We literally have the ability to choose where we spend every second of every day. Simply because a certain lifestyle becomes the norm doesn’t mean we’re forced to adopt it. Nobody is forcing you to work an eight-to-five schedule. Nobody is forcing you to sleep six hours a night. Nobody is forcing you to spend five minutes of every hour on social media. Your time is yours and its absolutely the most valuable thing you’ll ever have possession of.

If you decided to invest your time into reading this post, I truly appreciate it. Catch y’all next time!


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