Picture: Stocksy
Picture: Stocksy
Picture: Stocksy


Stop being “too busy”. And take control of your time instead

Viv Groskop has some advice: say yes to invitations that really interest you; say no to the rest

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By Viv Groskop on

I gave up on competitive busyness a long time ago. I now spend a lot of time (almost all time) being less busy doing exactly what I want to do. But I still feel the siren call. Because it’s bloody everywhere. Life has become one long sodding Doodle poll of everyone competing to show that they have fewer windows than everyone else because they are just so, sooooo busy. Busy, busy, busy! 

I try to go the opposite way. When I have to fill in a Doodle poll (where you click on dates and times to show your socially shaming availability), I relish being able to reply: “I don’t need to fill this in. I am available whenever you need me.” I figure if I really want to do the thing being asked, this should almost always be the answer: “Just let me know when it is. I will be there.” Doodle is all about celebrating the modern ideal: “I’ll come when it’s convenient to me.” But if you really want to be there, you’ll be there.

The economist Tim Harford has a neat trick with dealing with over-busyness. Whenever anyone asks you to do anything, you have to imagine that they are asking you to do it today. If you would cancel whatever else you’re already doing today to do this thing instead, then you should say yes. If you would not drop everything do this thing, then say no now (in a nice way). Because otherwise you will find yourself looking for a reason to weasel out of it when it comes around. And you will have made yourself pointlessly busy.

We love to kid ourselves that everything we’re doing is urgent and important and necessary. We know secretly that it isn’t

Laura Vanderkam recently wrote a confessional in The New York Times in response to a survey last year that showed 61 per cent of working Americans said they “did not have time to do the things they wanted to do”. When you think about it, this is the epitome of craziness. Life should be all about doing the things you want to do. Indeed the very definition of insanity is to keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If you’re not finding the time to do what you want to do, then what is the point of anything?

Vanderkam realised this and began to log her time, splitting her life into 8,784 half-hour blocks over the course of a year. Although she admitted to wanting to compete in the maternal “Misery Olympics” by moaning about getting up in the night to feed babies (she had just had a fourth) and working while on holiday, instead she found “plenty of evidence of a calmer life”. Her data showed massages, more than 230 hours spent exercising, more than 300 hours spent reading and an average of 37 hours work a week. (She had estimated at least 50 hours a week.) In fact, she slept way more than she worked.

I don’t suggest we all start an anti-busyness log just to prove that we’re not as busy as we’d like to pretend that we are. But there’s a lesson here and it’s one about ego. Life is a gaping chasm of emptiness unless we fill it with meaning. (Just a little insight into my sunny world there. But it’s true.) Being busy with things we don’t want to do is not creating meaning. We love to kid ourselves that everything we’re doing is urgent and important and necessary. We know secretly that it isn’t. Down with busy. And down with Doodle. Up with doing less, which means more.


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