“I’m Busy”

As we enter the Christmas/holiday season, I’m asking lots of friends how they are doing and how their year has been. Almost everyone says “it’s busy”. This takes many forms, from “crazy busy” to “absolutely busy” or “scary busy”. Since words often lose their meaning, I’ve thought about a scale we could use to better convey the level of busyness in our lives. I think the best way to delineate levels is by the loss of freedom that occurs at each inflection point.

“On Vacation”

Can turn on the TV, read a non-fiction book, take a nap, go for a walk, drive the scenic way home; write this blog post

“Not Busy”

Can buy groceries, play with kids or have coffee/breakfast with a friend; Can send a non work-related email

“Normal” – state 0

The modern baseline. Ability to get some quick exercise in, play with kids, read the headlines and perhaps a news article. No time for shopping, TV, or recreational reading. Can prepare quick food.

“Not bored” – state 1

No discretionary time for entertainment or non-essential work. This means no TV, news, personal finance, or working out. No time to prepare food.

“Busy” – state 2

No ability to pause and decide what to do next. No time for sitting down to eat or even to go grab lunch. Sleep is at minimal 5-6 hours. 14-16 hour work days.

“Too busy” – state 3

Out of control. Multiple things you are responsible are happening at the same time. You must choose between multiple unfavorable outcomes.

“can’t talk now” – state 3

Emergency mode. No time for eating, sleeping or dealing with anything other than the emergency. Can’t take calls.

<Can’t tell you I can’t talk> – state 4 Crisis mode.

Sprint, don’t stop.

My Personal Experience

On reflection, I spend about half my time in state 0, about a quarter in state 1, about 15% in state 2 and the remaining 10% is divided equally between the others. Many of the folks I work with are more busy than me and spend most their time in states 1 and 2. I’m not sure how standard this is, but I do think we all think we can’t be any busier and it helped me to create some kind of scale to put it all in perspective. This list is convicting and shows a mismatch between my priorities and how I spend my time.

4 thoughts on ““I’m Busy”

  1. I’m Lazy. I just stay in bed. I’m lazy. I just stay in bed. I don’t want know money. I don’t want no bread. Modified, Deep Purple, Machine Head. 1975.

    Hmmm…obviously on any given week I walk through the various categories. My mom would say I’m constantly in State 3, Can’t talk now. But my wife would say I’m constantly in State Lazy. I don’t take naps and don’t go for walks (although I do try to work out a couple of times a week). I always take the scenic route home (45 min) compared to the 12 min drive in Florida I lose a least an hour a day. I do read books when I can but I write blogs constantly. I tend to put down my books but I don’t stop writing, as in, when I’m writing I don’t take calls. I watch TV when I can, but it’s almost always prerecorded…so it’s available when I’m available.

    OK…since we are all really different you have to have a more flexible grading scale and a context for what it is that we do that doesn’t allow us to answer the phone or smell the flowers once in awhile.

    What is it that we do that constitutes “productive activity”. Is it billable hours? Is it working for others pro-bono? Is it labors of love?

    Billable Time – Work that earns direct income, work that has potential to earn income at some future time
    Overhead – Work that keeps us at the top of our game (training, reading job related material), Work that keeps us healthy, going to the gym, going to the doctor, seeing a therapist or priest
    Charitable Work – Volunteer work we do for others, working at Church, taking care of family members (not calculated in US GDP but a significant percent)
    Hobby Work – Labors of love, includes the arts, sports, reading, writing, studying scripture
    Mindless Activity – Watching TV, reading comic strips, surfing porn

    A better way to approach this might be to have everyone put the percent time they spend in each category and then figure out a busy algorithm. With the right application and a FitBit properly programmed that could sense when we are engaged in each activity, it could automatically filter our contact with the outside world!! That APP would make some money. So I’m putting the time I spent writing this response in Category 1 Billable Time, because there is future potential income if we get busy writing the APP and then go sell it.

  2. A worthy bit of reflection and exploration. The descriptions will likely vary from person to person based on personal values…what we make time for at each level of busyness varies based on what we value. I’m glad to see you placing your self-score mostly in the 0-1 zone…from afar, you look much busier than that. I probably spend most of my time at 0 surging well beyond that at times, but I also spend a lot of time on time-filler (“waste”) activities…not because I have the time to, but because I am buffering myself from the things I “have to” do. I read a book this summer that mentioned “directed attention fatigue”…the topic is fascinating because it suggests there is great productive worth in spending time on “non-productive” activities…that being unfocused increases our ability to focus when we need to. It enables the redefinition of what is “productive” in light of our overall goals/mission. It gives greater purpose to spending time not being busy. Perhaps it gives more license to spend time “thinking” or imagining freely…to allow the right brain to run the deep calculations and considerations that the left brain is incapable of.

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