The Real Truth About “Too Busy”

by Amy on November 8, 2012

Guest post by Jill Farmer

You might classify my prim neighbor slipping on cat vomit in my dining room, our laptop’s violent explosion caused by a build up of unread e-mails, and dropping my daughter off at camp two weeks before counselors arrived, as a series of unrelated (albeit unfortunate) events.

But they were all related—related to my lack of time.

Who has the luxury of enough time to clean up the cat puke, read all the e-mails, and remember mundane details like camp start dates?

I lived my life trying to prove I had less time than any other human being on the planet. If people would just concede I was “the busiest,” then they would approve of me and of my shortcomings. I just needed to get and stay busy for others to see how important, relevant and worthwhile I really was.

Except… that didn’t work.

Countless hours of wailing and gnashing my teeth and a couple of near-breakdowns showed me, as is often the case, I pretty much had it totally wrong. And, I’m not alone.

I hear it all the time, “Jill, I’d LOVE to spend more time praying, meditating, reading, spending time with friends, exercising (fill in the blank, here…) But, I’m just too busy.”

Here’s the thing. Being busy is a choice.


I believe you’re screaming “You’re so flipping WRONG, Jill,” in your head at me. That’s okay, I can hack it. Take a deep breath and play along for just a minute. Even though very few of us write “Have To Do” on the top of our to-do list, it’s often what we’re thinking.

“I have to cook dinner.”
“I have to pick up my kids.”
“I have to clean the house.”
“I have to go to work.”

But, that’s not really true. I don’t have to do anything but breathe today. Everything else I’m doing is a choice.

“But, but, but,” you may be saying. “The first three things on your example, I’ll give you. Those may be choices. But, I have to go to work, or I’ll lose my job, and then I won’t have enough money to pay my mortgage, and then I’ll lose my house.” That does not feel like a choice.

In reality, you choose to go to work because you don’t like the potential consequences of losing your job. It is still a choice. It’s a perfectly good choice. But, it is still a choice.

And, quite often, the things we tell ourselves we have to do are really choices we make to try to get everyone else’s approval.

So, it’s not surprising that most of us forget, or at least our fear-brains conveniently forget, our level of busyness is also a choice.

New York Time writer, author and cartoonist Tim Kreider writes, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Unwinding the Busy

Week after week, Trey, a client of mine with a fast-paced career in the entertainment industry, pelted me with a list of reasons he was far to busy to do anything for himself. I asked Trey to rate his busyness on a scale of one to ten.
“Eleven,”  he said.

He indignantly reminded me, if he didn’t take care of his customers, then his company would fold. I asked Trey to list what had him so busy. Here’s what he wrote:
1) Client phone calls
2) Client e-mails
3) Accounting and paperwork
4) House stuff
5) Kid/family stuff
6) Making sure everyone is happy.

You don’t have to be a life coach to see #6 on his list is where Trey may have been tripping himself up. His fear of others’ disapproval (his family, his clients, even his competitors) rendered him unable to risk being still.

I asked Trey to try an experiment. For just a week, I encouraged him to focus on the things that made him happy. His list:
1) Creating fabulous scripts
2) Project development
3) Being outside
4) Laughing with his kids
5) Clearing off his desk
6) Working out

Reluctantly, he agreed to give it a shot. He was quite sure if he focused on the list of things that made him happy, he would fall woefully behind at work, and his business would crumble.

But, a week later, Trey was amazed at how energized he felt. I asked him to rate how busy he’d been the previous week. “About a 4,” he said. And, even though he reported being so much less busy, Trey’s productivity was off the charts. He finished an entire script. Ideas flowed so fast, he couldn’t write them all down. He had more fun with his wife and kids than he remembered in a long time.

Why the enormous shift? Trey didn’t stop doing everything. He just started doing things that made his soul sing. Everything felt in better alignment and flowed better in that space. When he stopped trying to make every one else happy, he was able to get calm, clear and connected? Terrific proof that’s the best place to get stuff done.

List Three Things you can do that make you happy that are currently being squeezed out by your busyness:

Now, conduct an experiment. For a week, do each of the things you listed. Then, notice what happens to your contentment and to your productivity.

Next, try the ultimate test, dare to be the least busy person you know. Your competitors in the “who can be the busiest” contest may not approve of your blatant calm clarity and contentment.

But, I have a hunch you’ll still feel like a winner.

So… What are 3 things you do that make you happy that are currently being squeezed out by busy? Post a comment to the blog. Because I LOVE that!

Jill Farmer is the author of “There’s Not Enough Time: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves,” from which this is excerpted. It’s scheduled to be published late in the fall of 2012. She’s a speaker, life coach, enlivener, mom, retired TV reporter and lover of tea and great boots. You can stay connected with Jill by signing up for her newsletter here.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Christa Gallopoulos November 8, 2012 at 7:43 pm

1- time in my studio
2- moving my body
3- clearing out my office and closets

This is exactly what I love about your book, Jill. Beautiful, thank you!


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