You Aren’t As Busy As You Think You Are

Everyone is busy. How do I know? Well just ask people and they’ll tell you.

“How are you doing?” “I’m busy.”

“Want to serve in church this summer?” “I wish I could but it’s going to be a busy summer for our family.”

“Why do you seem so stressed?” “I’m too busy and don’t have any time for myself.”

If you hear yourself in the above interactions, you might be interested in Laura Vanderkam’s article, The Busy Person’s Lies, in this past Sunday’s New York Times. Vanderkam recently had another child giving her and her husband 4 kids under 8 years old. That same year she wrote a book and complicating life even more, she and her husband both have jobs that require travel. So during what might be the busiest year of her life she tracked her days in half hour blocks. (365 days x 48 half hour blocks in each day = 17,520 half hour blocks in a year).

What she found was that she could spin her life according to the story she wanted to tell. Yes, there were days where she was running from one thing to the next with a compelling story to enter in what she calls the “Misery Olympics”. You are familiar with those days in which you are trying to finish a major work project, drive kids all over town to their various activities, doing laundry because one kid brought home a sickness and is passing it around the family, and then finding out that your in-laws decided to come visit for the weekend. There are plenty of late nights, working on weekends, and the times that you even find yourself working on vacations just so you don’t fall further behind.

But the time logs also told a different story. There was time to take the kids to school, read bed time stories, go out to dinner with friends, exercise, read magazines, and watch favorite tv shows.

At the end of the year, Vanderkam’s time log showed that each week she had averaged 40 hours of work, slept 7.5 hours a night, spent 9 hours doing housework and errands, and just under 8 hours driving kids around. Given that there are 168 hours in a week that still left her approximately 60 hours per week.

What Can We Learn That Will Help Us In Our Life?

1. We tend to remember the negative experiences more than the positive. The super busy day sticks in our memory more than the day that we lounged around the house for a few hours.

2. We like to think of ourselves as hard working so we overestimate the number of hours we work. Interestingly, Vanderkam cites a study in the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review that found that people estimating 75+ work weeks were off by about 25 hours. She says she used to tell people that she worked between 45 and 50 hours a week but the time logs said it was more like 37.5. Once she accounted for vacations, it rounded up to an average of 40 hours a week.

3. We tend to tell ourselves false stories. One pastor said that he told himself an unexpected funeral meant that he couldn’t get much done that week. But then thinking through the time commitment realized it would only take about 5 hours out of the week. Or another example: Some parents feel guilty because they aren’t spending enough time with their kids. A time log might show that’s simply not true and that the guilt is misplaced.

4. Tracking the way you spend time can help you put your time in perspective and help you feel like you are more in control instead of being the victim of other’s demands and expectations.

5. Tracking your time also helps you be more wise about how you spend your time. You might not realize how much time is spent watching television or web surfing or checking social media. None of those things are bad. It’s just that you might decide that given the limited time you have, you don’t want to spend it that way.

Along the same lines, you might decide that you have time to say yes to things that you think are important in your life or faith. I’m thinking of things like serving in the church or community or being involved in a small group of some sort. If you’re going to be busy, you might as well be busy doing things that matter and are significant.

One Comment

  1. jspholland said:

    How much time do people spend cooking, eating, cleaning up, getting dressed, parenting, taking care of personal hygiene, and so on? That’s got to be 20 or more hours a week.

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