It has nothing to do with you, my being too busy. Its me. Im too busy for work-life balance
“On an average day, nearly everyone age 15 and over (96%) engaged in some sort of leisure activity, such as watching TV, socializing, or exercising. Men spent 49 minutes per day more in these activities than did women (5.7 hours, compared with 4.9 hours). . . Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8 hours per day).” – the 2019 American Time Use Survey from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics
I’m really much too busy to talk with you right now. I’m so busy I’m almost too busy even to bother telling you I’m too busy. In fact, I’m 22% busier than I was last year. Recently I compiled a to-do list just to keep track of all my to-do lists. Even my out-of-office message says, “While it’s true that I’m in the office right now, I’m still really much too busy to talk with you.”
So now is just a terrible time for us to talk. I’ll have to call you back later, or text you, or DM you. Or maybe you should just ping me again, either tomorrow or next week or a month from Tuesday, to see if you get lucky. Or we could just put our relationship on hold indefinitely.
It has nothing to do with you, my being too busy. It’s me. I’ve become an important person. Previously you were more important. But now I’m more important. And that’s your own fault. You decided to try to restore a semblance of work-life balance. But I’m too busy for work-life balance. So if either of us is going to be too busy to talk with the other right now, it’s going to be me being too busy to talk with you.
It all starts with my job. I have to attend meetings where we discuss memos we’ve drafted, as well as review memos that evaluate meetings we’ve attended. I have to do performance reviews that force me to nitpick at personality traits of individuals under my supervision in the guise of professional development. I have to send so many emails to maintain communications with my colleagues and clients that many have recently issued restraining orders against me.
My personal life is also intense. Phone calls to check on my mother and her pet parakeet Coco. Visits to my therapist to work through why I carry around so much jealousy toward Coco. Dinners out with my book club to see who can drink the most red wine before we finish discussing the first chapter.
And all that’s to say nothing of all the usual everyday stuff I do. I have to shower, clip my nose hairs, floss, alphabetize my silverware, eat meals, ponder my waist size, dye my eyebrows, feed the sharks in my moat, check apps that track my apps usage and scroll Facebook to see what my friends drank Saturday night. It’s demanding.
As I’ve learned, it’s never nearly enough simply to be too busy to talk with people. Other people must know you’re too busy. So you have to tell everyone repeatedly. That’s what you call a message track. Soon enough, word will get around that you’re too busy to talk with anyone and your reputation as a person of importance will go through the roof. As a result, more people will try to get in touch with you.
Years ago, I was less busy than I am now, but it left me with too much time to think about what I was doing with my life. Now I’m too busy to think about what I’m doing with my life. I just go from errand to errand until I collapse in bed every night realizing that being too busy to think about what I’m doing my life gives it true meaning.
Yes, being this overcommitted takes a toll. I often have to leave crossword puzzles unfinished. Last week I had to give away a Deepak Chopra DVD because I was too busy to watch it, much less follow his advice.
My therapist tells me that my pathological busyness is symptomatic of underlying issues I need to address – avoidant behavior, she called it – and I politely asked her to mind her own business, then threatened to fire her. Just the other day, our head of HR staged an intervention warning me I’m now officially too busy doing my job to actually do my job.
So I’m trying to make amends. I took a time management course, counting the minutes until it would be over. But I also experimented with meditation. And guess what? It worked! Now I carve out at least 15 minutes every day to clear my head enough to obsess over all the chores I could be doing in those 15 minutes. Bliss!
Bob Brody, an executive and essayist in New York City, is the author of the memoir Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes Of Age
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