“Sorry, I’ve Been So Busy”
Otherwise Know As A Polite Way Of Saying, “I Just Don’t Consider You Important Enough”
Saying we’re too busy for something is the perfect get-out-of-jail free card.
It’s often delivered with a pained groan and slump of the shoulders, our body language perfectly telegraphing the message: “I would have really loved to do that thing I promised you I’d do, but some unjust force held me hostage and stole all my time.”
Whoever is on the receiving end of this barrage of busy bluster will usually tilt their head to one side and stick out their bottom lip like Simon Cowell watching an act with a particularly attention-grabbing sob-story on Britain’s Got Talent, and reply with an equally insincere response along the lines of: “Oh, that’s OK, dear, I know how awfully busy you are right now.”
The busy person is relieved of their guilt and the individual who they never had time for is happy because they now have an excuse to bitch about said person behind their back until the next occasion they get dumped for something more enticing.
But why is this even important, and why should we even care?
Well, as the literally tens of people who regularly read this blog may have noticed…this offering is my first post in a couple of weeks.
Sorry about that. I’ve just been so busy recently.
Behind The Curtain
At least, that’s what I was telling myself. But then I realised I was lying.
And, dear reader, lying to myself is one thing. But lying to you is something I will not tolerate. So allow me to show you behind the curtain and let you into a few little secrets.
You see, I was always committed to writing a regular blog post. But setting myself an unrealistic goal of writing a weekly post without fail was a concept I was never totally wedded to…in the same way Elton John was never totally wedded to Renate Blauel.
So as life got extremely busy a couple of weeks ago, I dealt myself a golden ticket of being too busy and gave myself the perfect excuse to not write a post for a week.
Then the following week came round, and hey presto, it felt like I was just slightly too busy to write a blog post yet again.
“Don’t give yourself a hard time”, I reassured myself. “You’ve been really, really busy. That’s life”
A quick stock-take of my life over the past 15 days did show a busy-scale that was above average. However, it also turns out that whilst I had been too busy to write a blog post. I hadn’t been too busy to:
- Run a total of 40 miles
- Half-watch 10 hours of TV, whilst mindlessly scrolling through my phone
- Get up to level 85 of the iPad game, Ground Defence (you build plants that shoot lasers to kill hordes of advancing insects. To be honest the whole thing feels a bit too anti-immigration for my liking)
- Don a mask and walk around a town centre before having a mild panic attack and hiding in the toilets in Costa like some kind of middle-class hostage suffering from Covid Stockholm-Syndrome
- Give myself a lie-in until 8:45am on two occasions (how times change)
Then the realisation hit me, I hadn’t been too busy to write a blog post:
I just hadn’t wanted to do it badly enough that I was willing to devote some proper time to it.
And as it turns out, there are a lot of other people who tell themselves the same kind of lie every single day.
The Busy Fable
Don’t worry, we’ve all done it.
That friend who you sort-of wanted to see but who you also realise you’ve nothing in common with any more.
The lawn that is so overgrown it looks like 10 Z-list celebrities could be dropped in there to spend two weeks eating Camel toes.
The tax return; the pile of junk in the spare room; the kid’s old clothes; the kitchen drawers that now contain the contents of a bric-a-brac shop; the pile of ironing you’ve been ignoring since lockdown started.
You really want to tackle them, and you really promise yourself you’ll try very soon. When you’re less busy.
But the fact is, we have more free time now than at any point in history.
200 years ago, a 14-hour workday in a harsh, physically-demanding job six days a week was considered the norm. And that was just for the kids.
Today however, a nice and sensible 40-hour work week is considered fairly standard (I know, I know..many people do more, and many do less), and despite a level of exertion that would make our ancestors cry with laughter, we complain we are too busy to do the things we want to do, and therefore far too busy to even contemplate undertaking the tasks we really don’t want to do.
Yet we see no problem with collapsing on the sofa with a huff and a puff to watch three hours of Netflix whilst complaining that we’re just too damn busy to go to the gym / start that business / get that book published / write that blog post.
Back in the days when we used to actually go to work, being busy was a badge of honour. We revved ourselves up into a mindset of being busy, even if the truth was that we had been surfing the internet all morning and had spent 45 minutes in the toilets playing candy crush.
When was the last time someone had the courage to turn around to their boss and say: “I’m not busy at all, in fact I’m positively bored and you’re paying me money to stare out the window”?
Once the Covid lockdown kicked in and the ugly truth dawned that we were consigned to an existence of aimlessly wandering around the house in our underwear with nothing to do, like a cross between a confused toddler and a Premiership footballer.
And then the real busy bombshell dropped from the skies:
No matter what is happening in our lives, we are always going to be busy.
Busy Lives Matter
It always seems to be slightly over the horizon, tantalisingly out of reach. It’s like a lecherous drunk in a strip club who can hazily see the object of his desires, but knows he’s never going to be allowed to touch it.
It’s the magical place we all dream of: The land where we are no longer busy.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, in the case of the mythical stripper mentioned above): it’s never going to happen.
Because here’s the harsh truth about being busy: It’s like a Terminator. It will never, ever stop.
We tell ourselves a day will come when we won’t be so busy. After the next project, or once the house is finished, or when the kids grow up, or if by some miracle, a miniscule fraction of the pension actually survives the economic devastation and we can retire at the age of 83.
Then maybe, just maybe, we won’t be so busy.
But we will.
Parents will always be busy. Single people will always be busy. Millionaires will always be busy. Reasonably well-off people who are kind of doing ok but secretly wish they could just jack it all in and open a bar on a beach in Bali will always be too busy.
And the increase of our always-on society, where distractions and time-draining devices are clamoring for our attention like a litter of puppies after having their snouts in the Haribo stash, means we are going to get busier and busier.
Unless we take action.
Time To Take Control
We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and we can spend it however we choose.
If you want to see the friend / read the book / start the business / embark on the adventure / go for the run, you must proactively and consciously make the time to do it.
If we decide to spend our time differently, that’s fine. But if it starts to cause issues in our lives, we don’t have a busy problem. We have a priority problem.
In The Guardian, nestled between the articles extolling the dangers of owning a third home in the Cotswolds and recipes for Quinoa-based dishes, Oliver Burkeman writes:
The upside is that you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do it all, since doing it all is structurally impossible. The only viable solution is to make a shift: from a life spent trying not to neglect anything, to one spent proactively and consciously choosing what to neglect, in favour of what matters most.
My advice is not waste time reading any of the 570,000,000 articles on Google related to ‘how to be less busy’, and spend that time doing more of what you want to do.
If you catch yourself always making excuses about being so busy, then stop and ask why you are not changing your priorities. Perhaps you’re finding reasons to be busy because, in truth, you don’t really want to do that other thing.
And if this is the case, then be honest: With yourself, and with the other person, if needed.
It’s much more liberating – and truthful – to say: “I’m sorry, I’ve got too many conflicting priorities right now, and I’m not able to do this.”
Instead of rolling out the same old excuse of, “I’m soooo sorry, things have just been so busy”. An excuse flimsier than a facemask after a sneezing fit.
So instead of avoiding being busy, embrace it. Accept it. But try to ensure you’re busy living the life you want, rather than wasting your time trying to make someone else’s dream come true.
I’ll see you again soon. If I’m not too busy.