Busy Essay

“Why are you always so busy and stressed?,” I was asked on the phone a few days ago while fast-walking to my next class. “It’s college, you’re just supposed to be having fun.”

Yes. That’s what everyone assumes. And it is true, I have a blast at school. But you only have four years of college and you want to make the most of it. So what do you do? Get involved...in everything.

We go to school for more than just the educational purpose. We go to make memories, have fun, be independent, etc. But finding that balance is hard. Especially when you are on a huge campus with so many opportunities. We want to do everything we can.

I have what my generation calls “FOMO.” Fear of missing out. I hear people in my house laughing and talking? I want to join. You’re going to that club's meeting? I’ll go too. You’re going out with friends? I’m coming! This is the time to meet new people, new friends, new connections. So yes, the social aspect is important.

This semester is rough. Classes are tiring and I have more homework and tests than I ever have before. The classes are beginning to become more and more important as they are aimed toward my major and I want to succeed. But I also want to have fun and be involved in extra activities. So I find myself constantly on the move with a million tasks and errands and meetings running through my mind. I don’t think I have yet had a day of just relaxation.

Most of us like to stay busy, but I personally tend to try to fit too much in one day. My planner is full of the squiggles that are my life. I’m not sure I would survive or make any deadlines without it.

Parents don't realize how much we do. I attend at least three classes a day, I have homework, studying, sorority responsibilities, personal responsibilities, extracurricular responsibilities, meetings, etc. It seems also that everything we do always has meetings. You want to study abroad? You have to attend a ton of meetings, meet with people, etc. You want to be on a committee? Same responsibility. Then you add in your personal fun...like game days. Game days are ALL DAY. You may be thinking...are they necessary? I think it would not only disappoint myself, but also my family if I were to not attend the football games. They are the best days of college. It’s almost as if it’s another task on my long “To-Do List” (which is something I make every morning for myself).

So yes, if you’re wondering, college is hard and busy. It’s a full-time job. Sometimes I get stressed, or miss deadlines, but I learn my lesson. I am figuring out how to balance everything, choose what’s important, and find time for myself. It’s getting me prepared to step out into the big, real, scary world that awaits me after college. I love college because I get to decide what I do, but sometimes I want to do way too much. I overbook myself easily, but at least I am getting the full experience. I’ll admit I complain a lot about being busy, but I would rather be involved and make the most of my four years. I have already made a ton of friends, connections, memories, etc. My studying has paid off.

Although in the moment I may not be happiest about having such a long day full of activities, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

When I was younger I thought busy people were more important than everyone else. Otherwise why would they be so busy? I had busy bosses, busy parents, and always I just thought they must have really important things to do. It seemed an easy way to see who mattered and who didn’t. The busy must matter more, and the lazy mattered less.

This is the cult of busy. That simply by always seeming to have something to do, we all assume you must be important or successful.

It explains the behavior of many people at work. By appearing busy, people bother them less, and  simultaneously believe they’re doing well at their job. It’s quite a trick.

I now believe the opposite to be true. Or the near opposite. Here’s why:

  • Time is the singular measure of life. It’s one of the few things you can not get more of. Knowing how to spend it well is possibly the most important skill you can have.
  • The person who gets a job done in one hour will seem less busy than the guy who can only do it in five.  How busy a person seems is not necessarily indicative of the quality of their results. Someone who is better at something might very well seem less busy, because they are more effective. Results matter more than the time spent to achieve them.
  • Being in demand can have good and bad causes.  Someone with a line of people waiting to talk to them outside their office door at work seems busy, and therefore seems important. But somehow the clerk running the slowest supermarket checkout line in the universe isn’t praised in the same way; it means they’re ineffective. People who are at the center of everything aren’t necessarily good at what they do (although they might be). The bar of being busy falls far well below the bar of being good.
  • The compulsion to save time may lead nowhere. If you’re always cutting corners to save time, when exactly are you using the time you’ve saved? There is this illusion some day in the future you get back all the time you’ve squirreled away in one big chunk. I don’t think time works this way. For most Americans it seems most of our time savings goes straight into watching television. That’s where all the time savings we think we get actually goes.
  • The phrase “I don’t have time for…” should never be said. We all get the same amount of time every day. If you can’t do something it’s not about the quantity of time. It’s really about how important the task is to you. I’m sure if you were having a heart attack, you’d magically find time to go to the hospital. That time would come from something else you’d planned to do, but now seems less important. This is how time works all the time. What people really mean when they say “I don’t have time” is this thing is not important enough to earn my time. It’s a polite way to tell people that they, or their request, is not important to you.

This means people who are always busy are time poor. They have a time shortage. They have time debt. They are either trying to do too much, or they aren’t doing what they’re doing very well. They are failing to either a) be effective with their time b) don’t know what they’re trying to effect, so they scramble away at trying to optimize for  everything, which leads to optimizing nothing.

On the other hand, people who truly have control over time have some in their pocket to give to someone in need. They have a sense of priorities that drives their use of time and can shift away from the specific ordinary work that’s easy to justify, in favor of the more ethereal, deeper things that are harder to justify. They protect their time from trivia and idiocy. These people are time rich. They provide themselves with a surplus of time. They might seem to idle, or to relax, more often then the rest, but that may be a sign of their mastery not their incompetence.

I deliberately try not to fill my calendar. I choose not to say Yes to everything. For to do so would make me too busy, and I think, less effective at what my goals are.  I always want to have some margin of my time in reserve, time I’m free to spend in any way I choose, including doing almost nothing at all. I’m free to take detours. I’m open to serendipity. Some of the best thinkers throughout history had some of their best thoughts while  going for walks, playing cards with friends, little things that generally would not be considered the hallmarks of busy people. It’s the ability to pause, to reflect, and relax, to let the mind wander, that’s perhaps the true sign of time mastery, for when the mind returns it’s often sharper and more efficient, but most important perhaps, happier than it was before.

This post was inspired by Marrissa Bracke‘s essay Why I stopped working with busy people.

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