A little under a year ago, I got a new job. I suppose you could call it my first “real" job. Man, have I been busy.
This job (which I very much enjoy, in case you were wondering) has me working from 6:30-6:30 every day (including a half hour commute each way), plus occasional weekends, and longer hours while traveling.
As you can imagine, this has cut into my free time a considerable amount. I hope that excuses the fact that I haven’t been writing for you all as often as I’d like, although that’s not why I’m writing this.
It would be easy to complain about being too busy. Hell, I do it all the time. So do many of us. It’s largely just a conversational norm in our culture.
The unfortunate side effect of this norm is that it becomes true not just in conversation, but in our minds as well. Ultimately, it is very easy to begin thinking that you are in fact too busy, making you a victim who can’t choose how you spend your time.
I came to this realization recently, after getting back from work after a particularly long day. I remember thinking to myself that I was so busy, I could no longer appreciate the simple things in life. I didn’t have enough time to stop and actively appreciate them.
Luckily, I was struck by an immediate sense of being an idiot. The sun was setting, and I had a phenomenal view of it outside of my window.
Here I was, about to go to bed, complaining that I don’t have time to enjoy simple pleasures, when there was an incredibly beautiful scene right in front of me.
So many of us create this false reality where life is a rat race, and use this as an excuse to escape into a fantasy world where we don’t “need" to work or to be so busy. But that’s the thing – we don’t need to be so busy!
Of course, there are those who truly need to work three jobs in order to make enough money to feed their families. But these people aren’t “busy" the way we use the term in this context (nor do they complain about it the same way); rather, they are exhausted. This is a completely separate issue, and beyond the scope of this post.
For the rest of us, busyness is a condition that we’ve brought on ourselves. It is a choice. I continue to work long hours at my job because I’ve decided that this is the best option among my available alternatives. No one is forcing me to stay. If I wanted more leisure time, there are many options available to me, provided I’m willing to make some other sacrifice (say, of money).
Busyness Is A Choice
With so much economic progress over the past hundred (and several hundred) years, why should we be so busy? If we’re so much more productive than we used to be, can’t we just work less and spend more time lounging on the beach?
Yes, we can. It’s just that nearly all of us choose not to. There are places in the world where the cost of living is quite low, and if you want, you can move there right now. You don’t do that, not because you can’t, but because you don’t want to make the sacrifices that it would entail.
You could move to a small town in, say, South America or Southeast Asia, and live right on the beach for $1000 per month or less. You’d still have access to most of the amenities of modern life (certainly the most important ones). But then you’d need to make the effort of moving, and you’d have to take cold showers. So you don’t.
It need not be that extreme. You could simply cut some of the luxuries out of your life and then take a job that is less demanding.
Or you can cut out some of the extra things you do that aren’t necessary. I don’t need to be writing this; I could be hanging out with friends instead. I’ve made the choice to be busy, and I need not complain, because I know I’m happier for doing so.
My busyness is self-inflicted. Chances are, so is yours.
Mo Money, Mo Problems
Perhaps you think I’m being too judgmental. Not at all!
The fact is, everyone has different preferences, and whatever lifestyle you want to live is totally okay by me. There is nothing inherently better or worse about choosing to work an 80 hour week, or spending the day at the pool, or even playing video games. If that is what you want to do, more power to you.
But in most of Western society, there are pervasive social pressures to live and behave in certain ways. While you could choose to live a more unorthodox lifestyle, people would consider that, well, unorthodox.
At least in America (and probably in most places), there is a tendency to perceive a “need" to get the next big thing. To keep up with the Joneses.
But this isn’t a true need. Hell, I spent 5 months in a foreign country with no phone, and things worked out fine. Yes, it was a sacrifice. So what? We have to make sacrifices every day, every moment, with every decision we make. And until humanity has conquered economic scarcity (as in, when there are unlimited amounts of everything, and all our wants are satisfied), we need to keep choosing some things over others.
Busyness As A Badge Of Honor
Many people haven’t truly come to terms with this, as evidenced by people constantly talking about how busy they are.
But there is another reason that people mention being busy so often: It’s like a badge of honor. Many people aren’t simply keeping up with the Joneses when it comes to buying stuff; they need to work more than other people do!
It’s as though the number of hours they put in is a measure of their self-worth. It is a part of social status, just like having a fancy car.
We’ll even look down upon those who appear to not be as busy as us. My friend Eric, who just started a new job (congrats, Eric), told me he works 8.5 hour days, and I scoffed at him for saying he was too busy to start reading a book I had lent him. For whatever reason, I got a self-righteous kick out of this.
Tim Kreider put it best in his 2012 piece in the New York Times, “The Busy Trap":
“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."
If we judge the meaning of our lives in this way, by how booked our schedules are, no wonder people are so unhappy and there are so many neuroses.
So, what is a busy man to do in this day and age?
Many suggest developing time management strategies and techniques. I think that this can be both a blessing and a curse.
In the same way that increased productivity (and thus greater rewards) in the past 100 years have incentivized people to work more hours, not less, time management may be used to fill up every part of your day with “important" distractions rather than giving you time to do what you really want.
You need to ask yourself why you are doing the things that you are doing. What is their purpose? What is YOUR purpose? Are these tasks bringing you any closer to your goals, and are they congruent with what you find meaningful?
There is one final point I want to make here. People spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what and how many things they need to do. If I were to be checking my work email while I’m hanging out with my friends, I would feel like I had no time off at all.
For that reason, I implore you to be present in whatever it is that you are doing. If you are busy working, be busy working. And if you are busy being lazy, be lazy for real.