Are You Too Busy?

Do you feel like a chicken with its head cut off? My sister sent me this fascinating article, which says that, even if we feel swamped, most of us are actually less busy than we think…

The last paragraph really struck me: Change your language. Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

What little things do you want to purposefully make more time for? I’d like to take baths some evenings, learn how to play guitar and call my mom for random chats. Also, eat this olive oil cake.

P.S. Remember what happened on Seinfeld when Kramer got too busy?

(Photo by The Sartorialist)

  1. I too am a headless chicken and really am so fed up of it! I like your idea of using positive affirmation – def going to try that! Thanks :-)

  2. Oh Jo, you always know just what we need! I’ve been feeling like this headless chicken for a while, but especially the last couple of weeks and this is just the reminder I need to say ‘no’ more often and make time for things I really love.

    Thank you!

    Briony xx

  3. I’m sorry… though this is a great post, all I can’t stop thinking about is — this woman irons her sheets??! Who irons their sheets????

  4. Genius! I love this concept, thank you so much for sharing!

  5. What a brilliant way to analyze whether something SHOULD be a priority or not! I need to use this. I’m betting stuff will start getting done.

  6. A wonderful and timely read.
    I’m in the process of re-assessing my online & creative life due to needing to devote my time elsewhere. It’s been a difficult decision to come to, but a necessary one. Re-phrasing and changing the way I speak about my tasks may just well make all the difference to keeping momentum with this decision.
    Thank you.

  7. This is such an interesting point, what a helpful way to think about things. Thanks for sharing! Amy X

  8. I love, love this principle . . . and find that it also works fantastically with money; it’s not that I don’t have money to go out to dinner – it’s just that it’s not a priority for me!

  9. Yes, it’s been way too busy these days, but I have been taking some time to sleep in because I really need it!

  10. What a brilliant way to look at it, I think I’ll be prioritising differently by looking at things like this!!

  11. I soooooo relate to this. Sometimes it feels like are not enough hours in the day! I wish I had more time to re-do my kitchen and paint a few accent walls in the bedroom and dining room, get a few things framed…. The list keeps going and going!

  12. Annie says...

    Very true. Also, I have realised that what makes me feel like a geyser ready to blow is when I feel I can’t do the things I like because I have things I HAVE to do when work is over. And I tend to put those things first so I will tell myself cleaning the toilet is more important than reading a magazine with a cup of coffee. Why?- the Toilet Police are going to inspect me? Bringing the Dust Squad as back-up? What the what!!?? Enjoy the weekend, all…

  13. Joanna, thanks for posting this article. It could change our north american culture if people really implement the words of wisdom here.
    I’m a big fan of your blog. Thanks for all you do.

  14. love this article… it really makes you think!

  15. @Lauren CT – I completely understand your position. It’s definitely tough! We used to both commute an hour each way or more, plus all the other stuff that comes from being a commuter. We were just exhausted by the end of our work days. We made a decision that money wasn’t going to be our top priority, that our quality of life was. and we’ve been extremely lucky to be able to completely change our lives in the last year – moved to a smaller town with more access to the outdoorsy things we like to do. i transitioned to working from home full time (which i realize is simply not an option for many people) and my husband doesn’t have to drive far anymore either. it was hard to get to this point (took us about 7 years) but we are SO much happier and now have the time to focus on our real priorities – spending time together, being active & healthy, etc.
    so maybe now isn’t your time – but if you really want to do it, you can get there. good luck!

  16. Anonymous says...

    Very interesting. I think there are some people who truly ARE too busy… another poster made a comment which rang true. When I lived in cities, I never gave much thought to those people with long car commutes to full-time jobs, and how much of their days that eats up. But after grad school I moved away from a major city, got married, and then moved again to a very rural location. I worked full-time in a professional exempt position, and had a 2-hour driving commute (and I hate books on tape, so basically no, I couldn’t get anything done but driving.) That ate up so much of my time, and because of where I live, driving is necessary for every little thing, not just commuting to work. I’m not just talking lack of “safe” bike lanes, I’m talking distances which are just too long to bike on a regular basis. And, there are no good jobs right near me, so I had to commute.

    Even this, though, is something which can be changed, although it would be a huge project. Sell the house… find new jobs in a new location, and find a place to live. And this is something my husband and I are working on now, because we don’t feel we have a good quality of life with this lifestyle, and we are trying to prioritize convenience and culture over a big house and lots of land. But, even if it is something which can be changed, that doesn’t eliminate the fact that it DOES keep us busy.

    On the other hand, a lot of people – busy and non-busy alike – do tend to “waste” their free time… and maybe it’s not a waste if what they truly want to do is veg out in front of the TV, or surf the internet, or constantly have phone in hand texting and checking e-mail. But I think in this day and age that IS how a lot of people are spending their free time, and the constant connectedness, especially, (so the internet stuff) can be very exhausting. People feel like they’re “busy” when they could give up a lot of that if they prioritize other things over those activities. Even one free hour in the day is enough to get in a decent workout, or whatever else it is you think you don’t have time for. If, by the end of the day, you’re so exhausted that you just can’t face working out, do it in the morning. I know that for many that means getting up REALLY early while it’s still dark out. I used to reason that I could never work out in the morning because of that. But then I realize that there are a lot of disciplined people who are out the door at 4:30 am for a run, so they can work out, shower, eat, and make a 7 am train. If they can do that, I can get up at 5:30 am for a workout.

  17. Very good way of looking at it! I am constantly feeling like a headless chicken but I’ll never feel any different if I don’t do something about it!

  18. Love this perspective! Great thoughts to contemplate. Have a wonderful weekend.

  19. This may have “some” truth to it, but in reality there are a LOT of hours that we can’t just choose to spend differently! I am at work 10 or more hours a day, Commute 2.5 hours per day. So if you fit sleep and a shower, 21.5 of 24 hours ARE spoken for. That leaves 3.5 hours to clean, do laundry, cook, eat, and do “other stuff” like work my garden, feed the chickens and horses, play with the dog, watch TV, read etc.. not so much of a choice

  20. I really like this post, Joanna. I feel like a lot of people start feeling like they should feel stressed, or at least think they should say they are, which leads to them thinking theat they really are, otherwise they feel guilty when they are feeling well-balanced in contrast to their peers. I am fairly level headed and have a pragmatic approach to the things I have/want to do, and I rarely feel stressed (though in comparison to women juggling families and work, I don’t really have anything to be stressed about!) and sometimes feel like when my colleagues (doing the same job as me) are complaining that their work day is slammed, that I should be mirroring their attitudes.

  21. ohhhhh! you’ve made me think about how i speak! I’m always busy,I’m always running! it’s difficult for me to stop and stare!

    I’m going to read the full article and hope I’m able to change!

    kisses from Spain!

  22. Love that! Totally gonna try using this technique.

  23. I needed this post – totally stressed out right now! :-)

  24. Such a good post and something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I have a new boss at work and she spends so much time telling people how busy she is that she has no time to do anything else! She works herself up into a frenzy, stresses everyone else out loses productive time! Everyone deals with stress and business differently (even if it’s just perceived!) but I’ve definitely learned how I don’t want to act if I’m feeling particularly rushed.

  25. What a great idea! I’ve already implemented this today, actually, and it’s working!

    Thanks for the advice!

    Gourmet Style Girl

  26. Tatiana says...

    I’m not so sure how I feel about this article. Yes, I know that I don’t actually work as much as I think I do, and I sleep more than I imagine, but I also don’t always want to be productive.

    Realistically, I work 45-50 hours per week and sometimes I just want spend time roaming the Internet, not thinking about anything or doing anything “worthwhile.”

    I also think that second to last paragraph about the 62 hours we have for our “family life and personal life” just doesn’t make sense. That comes out to less than 9 hours of day for things unrelated to working and sleeping – things that include commuting to work (2 hrs/day for me), eating, getting ready, doing household chores,etc…none of which I would call having fun. That probably leaves 2 hours a day for relaxing, which isn’t much at all.

  27. I am absolutely going to read this article. Just by what you shared here it is so intriguing. The idea of changing the way you phrase something and how it can affect how you see it is so fascinating. Because really, if you’re honest with yourself you shouldn’t need to “trick” yourself into seeing something in a different way. I feel like I do this all the time but never really thought about it this way!

  28. True blue! I know that I have time for things like a run or more yoga but I just don’t make them a priority. Hmm, maybe ‘I will’ is more like it?!
    One thing I do each morning is have a cup of coffee and read whatever it is that has my attention, like a book I can’t put down except to sleep & work, or my fave blogs!

    Here’s to making good-for-you things a priority!

  29. My husband heard this on NPR and called to talk to me about it, he was so excited. I’m in grad school, take care of two kids, and it seems like I never have time for the things that came so easily 2 years ago. Now I’m so much more conscious of what I’m doing and how. Huzzah for efficiency and efficacy.

  30. Ruth says...

    A few years ago I decided to stop describing myself as busy. I’m really not. Not like people with lots of kids, or working multiple jobs, or caring for elderly parents. Once you’re conscious of it it’s interesting how many people say “Oh, I’m so busy”, particuarly when they are spending time on social media to say it! Thanks Johanna for yet another thoughtful post.

  31. I wish I would take more time to just relax and read a book…paired with a cup of coffee would be perfect.

  32. mo says...

    Love this advice and the way it was worded. It’s also very appropriate for how I feel this week… I need to purposefully make more time for exercising!!!

  33. I love that advice already and haven’t even used it yet… but it seriously seems to take the guilt out of my to do list that is far longer than there are hours in the day.

  34. Wow! Very interesting :)

  35. Not to be morose, but I lost my mom (my bf) unexpectedly, so I must insist that you make it a priority to call yours. Or give me her number, and I’ll call her as I’m sure she’s lovely! ; )

  36. Totally agree Jo! It’s about taking a step back and being honest about your priorities. You’re not too busy, you’d just rather be doing something else, and that’s ok.

  37. Great thoughts. I once had someone tell me that they cut the words “I’m too busy” out of his life (if anyone should be aloud to say he was busy, by the way, it was this guy). He always made time for what was important to him, and everything else was just not that important. I love that.

  38. ugh it’s so easy to say, but so hard to do! i’m going to make an honest effort to take some of this advise. god knows i need to stop the rapid pace of my gray hairs growing in!

  39. Oh I definitely need to change my language, I’m always saying I don’t have time for things when actually, I just don’t want to do it

    I’ll give this a try :)

  40. I had just come to this conclusion yesterday. Brava!

  41. Its true that changing our language often changes the way we perceive things. This is something I have to remind myself often! That said, I wish I could have a more time to read a good book.

  42. Lauren C.T. says...

    @Jen, I appreciate your comment and I understand what you mean. In some respects, yes, I have decided on my priorities (i.e. working out regularly). But some decisions, such as living and working in New York, have sort of been made for me – i.e. my husband works here and doesn’t have a green card yet, so he couldn’t even look for work elsewhere if he wanted to. I guess what I was trying to get across was that sometimes making time isn’t an option – like, I’d love to lose the commute, but I can’t afford to move to Manhattan.

    We already prioritize things, whether we’re conscious of it or not. My mother, for example, always says she doesn’t have time to go to the gym b/c she has to clean her house; I don’t have time to clean my house (at least, not the way she does) b/c I have to go to the gym. Whether we change our language or not, our priorities have already been established – we just might not be aware of it yet.

  43. I absolutely love how this is put! There is so much truth in such a little change of words… It’s sort of brutal but sort of brilliant!

  44. Nice ! I always have the feeling that I miss time (I dream of a lazy and slow life). Instead of saying “I have no time”, I now say “I don’t take the time” (approximatively translated from french) and it makes a difference !

  45. This is interesting! I know I am just as busy as I think I am, but I also know that I need to think of things as choices. Maybe it was ingrained in childhood but I always think of things like cleaning the house etc. as “must-dos” and other things like exercise (and showering) as “should-dos”. I am starting to convince myself it should really be the other way around!

  46. Excellent post. I must say also incredibly well timed as my husband and I have been discussing this very thing.

  47. I think im extremely lazy and constantly looking for excuses to put things off…great article x

  48. I’d like to make more time for exercising but it’s more of a lazy thing rather than being too busy.

  49. Kate says...

    When I was in the whirlwind era of elementary school kids, I called December the marathon of celebrations because of all the holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and performances crowding the month. I decided to say “now I get to bake a cake.” instead of “Have to bake a cake,” and appreciate as good fortune that I was involved and needed and able to participate.

  50. what a good way to look at it. i bet a lot of things would be re-shuffled if you started using this phrase. thanks for sharing jo! and LOVE that seinfeld. my word, love that one.

  51. I make it a priority to get 8 hours of sleep. I make it a priority to work out an hour each day. I make it a priority to also walk my dogs 45 minutes each night. So when family members or friends complain about my healthy figure as saying “i’m just busier than you. i don’t have time for exercise/sleep, etc” i think i’ll just point them to this article. it’s not that you don’t have the time, it’s that it’s not a priority.
    as to the commenter above that said she really was too busy for other things, my response is that she has evidently decided on her priorities – work/living in NYC and all that entails. if your priority is to have more free time and more time with your husband, then make those changes to show those are really your priorities. Everything else is just an excuse (and I mean that in the nicest way). Every choice we make in life shows us what our real priorities are.

  52. I’ve tried to train myself to say that I don’t *make* time for X, rather than not having it. It really does help, but it’s had the downside of making me less than tolerant of hearing other people say they don’t have time…

  53. Anonymous says...

    We should remind ourselves that overdoing chores/ cleaning/ doing one more hour of work even after work is NOT a priority, but spending quality time with our family and friends is! Great reminder.

  54. AQ says...

    WHAT AN AMAZING REMINDER!! I need to remember this every day! Thank you for always putting such a wonderful perspective on things!!

  55. This article really got to me. Thanks for sharing it!

  56. It really is about prioritizing. We’re getting rid of our tv this week and I am so glad to have one less thing readily available as an excuse to not do what it is that I need, or want, to get done. I may go through Criminal Minds withdrawal, but that can only be a good thing.

  57. Vee says...

    This is a really good question. Often times I feel like I don’t get enough time to relax, but it’s purely my own doing (not the case for everyone). I often make time to watch television shows online, but not read. Go out for dinner but not do a big grocery shop and cook. I have many hours in the day but simply put, I prioritize things that aren’t really that important to me. I’ve started to shift my thinking and free up some hours in the day to take a bubble bath, go to the pool, hang out with old friends, etc.

  58. Vee says...

    This is a really good question. Often times I feel like I don’t get enough time to relax, but it’s purely my own doing (not the case for everyone). I often make time to watch television shows online, but not read. Go out for dinner but not do a big grocery shop and cook. I have many hours in the day but simply put, I prioritize things that aren’t really that important to me. I’ve started to shift my thinking and free up some hours in the day to take a bubble bath, go to the pool, hang out with old friends, etc.

  59. I really need to relax, I know. But it isn’t easy. I would love to visit more museums, bake more and write more.

  60. Anonymous says...

    I really like this concept, I’m going to try it out :)

  61. I do this all the time because I’ll put things that I want to do before my priorities.

  62. Lauren C.T. says...

    I have to say, I don’t find this article all that helpful or enlightening. Sadly, I am very aware of how I spend my time. I get paid by the hour (and work in a profession where you have to very carefully track how you spend all of your working hours so as to bill them accurately), so there is never a question for me as to how much time I actually spend working – between 40 and 50 hours per week. I also am very aware of how much time I work out – between 45 minutes to an hour and a half per day, 5 or 6 days per week. I am very aware of how much (or how little) I sleep because I am a chronic insomniac and I typically have to plan for an 8 hour night just to get 6. I am painfully aware of my hour in each direction commute too. Once, to convince my husband that he should consider staying home more, I even made the bad decision of calculating how much time we actually spend together on a weekly basis (not counting sleeping). It’s depressing to be this aware of your time. Sure, it might help me stay organized and on schedule, but it makes me really sad to figure out that I only have like 8 hours per week to spend with my husband other than during dinner (just a guesstimate). When I compare that to my hours spent working or working out or commuting, it seems really unfair and pathetic. But that’s life. Especially in New York. Tracking your time might make you more aware of how you spend it, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can change anything. When I say I can’t do something because I am too busy, I mean it.

  63. Great read. I was just thinking the same thing this morning … as I made the decision to put a couple things on hold until next week. I would rather take a bubble bath tonight! Thank You!

  64. This is a really interesting take of “business,” and I am definitely going to try to adapt this new language. Great read!

  65. Ohmygosh. I love this! It’s so true. You always have time. Time for the gym. Time to make your work lunch. Time to call people. I hate the excuse “I don’t have time” because in reality all those things never take as long as you think they do in your head. Saying those things aren’t your priority is so much more accurate. Love this!

  66. Well put! This simple change in language truly makes a difference (at least my husband and I have found it to)! Great article :)

  67. Oh Joanna, How I do LOVE you and your lovely blog!!!

    I may have to link this to my little blog as it is such a great message.

    I love to spend a few minutes each day with A Cup of Joe, because it’s a 5 minute gift to myself and that is a wonderful priority. :)


  68. I’d agree if I didn’t need to be busy in order to get anything done. It’s a bit of a paradox, I know, but if I have a busy day I’ll manage to get all kinds of extras done when I find a spare moment here and there. Give me a day off and I will sit in front of the tv the whole time, because I lose all sense of urgency. ;-)

  69. That’s a great way to put it and re-frame the problem so what’s really important shows up. Thanks for sharing . I’ll start using that strategy right now.

  70. This is SO true. My Dad (one of the smartest men alive) told me after complaining to him how annoying it was when people asked me “When are you having kids already??” to say “Why do you want to know?” The power of language. Just using the words we already have, is so powerful. Like “it’s not a priority” would make me rethink SO much, as I feel SO busy too! Thanks :)

  71. This is so true!! All too often I get caught up in trying to get caught up on everything. Sometimes I just want to sit down and smell the roses, and let that be a priority…great article!

  72. such an insightful piece.

    also, last week i had one of these moments where i said, we are having tuna fish for dinner because i don’t feel like cooking, but i am making olive oil cake for dessert because i love to bake and we all deserve a treat. (isn’t olive oil cake dreamy?)

  73. Fern says...

    But I don’t have TIME to read an article!!!


  74. wow thanks for sharing

  75. Thank you, thank you for posting that article. I’ve actually told multiple people this week that exact phrase, “I feel like a chicken with my head cut off”. But I know that I’m the one who creates my schedule, sometimes its just harder to change it when you can complain about it instead.

  76. that’s so smart. Now if I would put it like “yoga isn’t a priority to me” the rest would have to go “because my own health isn’t a priority” which is insane!! Yoga it is :)

    Also, I can feel like I have too much to do, but when I actually really get down to business and work hard, I get so much done so fast, so I think with the right priority and some planning, maybe I’d feel like I have oceans of time? well worth a try.

  77. Happy to see you link to Laura Vanderkam’s article! Her book on this topic (168 Hours) is the best time management book I’ve ever read, hands down.

  78. This is a wonderful point! I’m in college and feel like all I do some days is complain endlessly about my lack of time! Maybe I just start taking time, not wasting time! Thanks!

  79. boy did i need to read this right now!! i just got off the phone complaining to my hubby about how there’s not enough time in the day to do everything i need/want to. “priority” is going to be in my new way of phrasing things- thanks as always for such touching posts…

  80. What a great change of thought. I often find that when I feel busy and overwhelmed, I have to take a minute or two to write out what I have to do. Visualizing it usually helps me calm down, prioritize and ultimately realize that I can handle it without the world ending. :)

  81. Yes this is how I feel, on the other end. Since I live a distance from my close family and friends, I made it a priority to visit them. BUT the same wasn’t true for “them” to visit me. One friend has been too busy for 3 years. I figured out that she cant be THAT busy, its just not a priority for her. Maybe Prioritize will become the new Busy! On a smaller level, I should make time for a relaxing bath … I used to love spending time doing that.

  82. Em says...

    I pride myself on being able to say no in my personal life. Still working on getting better at doing the same in my professional life…

  83. What a great article. I agree with Corrie Anne–it does make total sense. A positive attitude does wonders!

    I’d like to take more time to go to parks more, read before bed, and swim in the mornings!

  84. That’s a great tip! I always say I’m too busy to exercise – puts in painful perspective when I change that to ‘exercise is not a priority;, yikes!

    Thanks for this great post. Tomorrow, I go for a run.


  85. Jenna says...

    This is a great mindset to have. I don’t think I’m alone sometimes in thinking that “I’ll have more time when… (I’m out of school, i get a better job, the kids are in school, the kids are gone, etc.)” and then before you know it, you have spent your whole life always waiting for the next stage! Learning to prioritize now helps get things done, and helps us enjoy it more :)

  86. This is brilliant and exactly what I needed today, thank you.
    Now, please call your Mom for a random chat. I am missing my mine so badly today. It will make her day!

  87. Thank you Joanna so much for the link to the article. It is brilliant and everything in there makes sense.

  88. Joanne, this is great. I was just telling my fiance Dave that we should start saying stuff like, “We could buy that, we just don’t want to,” joking about how we can’t afford the things we dig… I thought it would be like Positive Visualization. Its become sort of a joke for us now… As we wake up on a Monday, “We could take off for Paris and skip the work week, we just don’t want to…”

    Anyway, Its Brilliant to change your patterns and perspectives. By Changing your patterns you change your outcome and this is a very honest perspective to allow yourself.

    I also think throwing your iphone in the river could help too… although I might go diving after it and who knows what creepy crawlies could be lurking. I like your solution better :)

  89. this philosophy has always worked for me, i like the way you explained it.

  90. You mean, there are people who actually iron their sheets? Wow. I’m going to try and read more and do yoga regularly.

  91. oh, i so need this!
    i never feel like i can get ahead and my list is always growing, yikes!!! looking forward to reading the article, and will def try to change my language to feel more on top of things ;)

  92. this is a great article.
    def going to save this and refer to it when i think my head is under a pile of papers!
    xx jes

  93. That is really spot on, isn’t it? This sentence:”changing our language reminds us that time is a choice” make SO much sense. Thanks for that, Joanna. Off to read the whole article now. xo

  94. I heard someone once suggest never using the term “should”. I “should” call my dad back tonight, I “should” write more letters, “should” clean the bathroom once a week, etc… The way we change our language makes such a difference! Instead of should- why not, I will, I don’t want to, or, I am going to… There’s so much power and agency in the way we choose to speak about our lives and priorities.

  95. That last paragraph has some great insight! I’m definitely going to remind myself that it’s all about my priorities, not my hectic schedule. Thanks!

  96. What an interesting way to put it. I think I’m mostly lazy and then I say I’m busy…hmm…I’m going to try this out! I really need to prioritize better!!

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