The scene: A coffee shop a couple blocks from my house on a sunny autumn afternoon. Characters: Me, juggling my bike and a coffee; A friend, who I haven’t seen in a couple of weeks.
Friend: “Hi Andrea! How are you?”
Me: “Busy. Insanely busy.”
“I’m busy.” That’s my usual excuse on why I haven’t seen or talked to people in weeks- people like my poor mother, who calls to make sure that I didn’t fall in a well somewhere. I work at the Tribune. I freelance for two local publications and one back in Brooklyn. I’m building an entertainment website. I’m finishing my degree with one class each semester. I volunteer (usually my friend’s classroom) at least once a week. My free time is usually spent with my boyfriend or trying to catch up on some personal reading (I had to find out what happened to Darcy in the new Bridget Jones book). Yeah- I do a lot. I am busy.
I came across this article (posted below), written by Meredith Fineman, a few days ago as I was searching more efficient time management methods. After I read this, I realized telling someone that I’m busy puts me on a hierarchy of importance (this is something I never considered before even I don’t think I’m more important that anyone). More importantly, I’m choosing to spend most of my time being “busy.” In reality, I’m pushing people away, grabbing for my day planner instead of going in for a hug.
In the great 90s hit, “Empire Records,” Liv Tyler’s characters happily explains why she managed to bake delicious cupcakes,study calculus and apply to Harvard- “There are 24 usable hours in a day.” Granted, she was on meth most of the film but her words still do ring true. Eight hours for sleep aside, how does make the most of their day, especially like me who has a lot on their plate? How does one make time for everything?
I hope you, dear reader, find the time to do the things in life that are meaningful to you and see the important people that you love.
We’re all just so “busy” these days. “Slammed,” in fact. “Buried.” Desperately “trying to keep our heads above water.” While these common responses to “How are you?” seem like they’re lifted from the Worst-Case Scenario Handbook, there seems to be a constant exchange, even a one-upping, of just how much we have on our plates when we communicate about our work.
My favorite “busy” humble-brag was that of a potential client who apologized for lack of communication due to a “week-long fire drill.” What does that even mean? Does this mean there were fake fires, but not real ones, all week? Does calling it a “drill” mean that everything is okay? Is your business in flames? Should I call someone?
Then there was the date I had with a fellow who was so busy “crashing on deadlines” that he asked me to “just make a reservation somewhere” for him. I was floored.
So much of this is about out-doing each other. To say that “I’m busier than you are,” means I’m more important, or that my time is more valuable, or that I am “winning” at some never-finished rat race to Inbox Zero. (Inbox Zero is another absurd contest to tackle at another time.) What you’re trying to say with these responses is: I’m busier, more in-demand, more successful.
Here’s the thing: it’s harming how we communicate, connect and interact. Everyone is busy, in different sorts of ways. Maybe you have lots of clients, or are starting a new business, or are taking care of a newborn. The point is this: with limited time and unlimited demands on that time, it’s easy to fill your plate with activities constantly. But this doesn’t mean that you should.
To assume that being “busy” (at this point it has totally lost its meaning) is cool, or brag-worthy, or Tweetable, is ridiculous. By lobbing these brags, endlessly puffing our shoulders about how “up to my neck” we are, we’re missing out on important connections with family and friends, as well as personal time. In addition to having entire conversations about how busy we are, we fail to share feelings with friends and family, ask about important matters, and realize that the “busy” is something that can be put on hold for a little while.
I am not trying to belittle anyone’s work-load in the slightest. But in using it as a one-upping mechanism, we’re failing to connect in a very substantial way. And we’re making the problem worse: When everyone around us is “slammed,” it’s easy to feel guilty if we’re not slaving away on a never-ending treadmill of toil.
By trying to compete about it, we’re only adding to that pool of water everyone seems to be constantly “treading” in. And all this complaining is having serious effects on our mental health.
And yet we continue to use long hours as a sort of macho badge of honor.
We need to work smart, not (just) hard.
For once, I’d like to hear someone brag about their excellent time management skills, rather than complain about how much they can’t get done. Maybe we could learn something from each other.
Yes, we all have some strange need to out-misery each other. Acknowledging that is a first step. But next time you speak to a friend and want to lament about how busy you are, ask yourself why. Try steering the conversation away from a complain-off. With some practice you might find yourself actually feeling less “buried” (or at least feeling less of a need to say it all the time).
And maybe that’s something worth bragging about.