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Are you busy or productive? | I tracked every minute to find I was just busy

The glorification of busyness

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s not uncommon for me to get to the end of a terribly busy day and feel like I’ve accomplished nothing of significance. What’s not embarrassing is telling anyone who asks how terribly busy I am.

Busyness, in many respects, has become a form of virtue signaling. For some reason, we equate busyness with productivity, success, and importance. We say things like, “I work 80 hours a week,” with pride. (Insert hand raise emoji.)

time managementI certainly fall prey to this mentality. Especially in college, busyness was worn like a badge of honor. I was a bit prideful of the fact that I usually ran around like a chicken with its head cut off. I always had more than a dozen tasks on my to-do list and whenever I crossed something off, another task would invariably take its place. It wasn’t uncommon to have more items on my list at the end of the day than at the beginning.

I wasn’t completely oblivious to the insanity of my schedule, and I often complained to my roommate about the glorification of busyness. “Why aren’t people bragging about how much free time they have?!” I’d moan.

But even though I hated the system, I bought into it, mistaking my busyness for productivity and my exhausting days as somehow adding value and worth to my life.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure

My last semester of college, I learned a valuable and unbelievably simple lesson from my Small Business Management professor, Dr. Fukofuka. The lesson: you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This is true for life, business, finances, and pretty much anything you can imagine. The first week of class, I realized I couldn’t manage my time because I had never measured how I spent my time. I couldn’t decide if my time reflected my priorities if I didn’t know where my time was going.

So, I committed to tracking every waking minute of every day for 30 days. The results reflected what was fairly obvious: I was busy. But in analyzing my time, I came to a very sobering realization—I was definitely acting busier than I actually was. 

The first eight days, my time broke down as follows:

A more detailed chart:

There are a few pie slices in the second chart that take up less than 1% of time and therefore don’t have labels. These include reading and writing (for pleasure, not school or work), and meditation. I shudder to admit this, but I was specifically planning on taking more time to do those three things and yet, after eight days, they each took up less than 1% of my time.

122.87 waking hours

These charts represent 122.87 waking hours. I spent about 22 of those hours working and close to 38 of those hours doing school related tasks. I spent 12.4 of those hours doing chores (cleaning, laundry, and errands); close to 23 hours on wellness (eating, showering, getting ready for the day, and going to the gym—7 of those hours were spent working out); just under 14 hours playing (YouTube, TV, and social media); and just over 12 hours on relationships (talking to my boyfriend, hanging out with my family and friends); and just over an hour on spiritual things.

It’s also worth noting that I didn’t track my Saturdays, a day I devote to rest.

The shocking reality

I was actually surprised by these numbers. I felt like I was always doing work or schoolwork, but in reality, I wasn’t. School and work combined only took up 60 hours over eight days. Maybe I wasn’t as busy as I thought I was. So why did it feel like I was constantly doing stuff?

Because I was constantly doing stuff—I was a bouncer. I jumped from task to task. I would work on a school paper for 20 minutes, then answer a couple of work emails, then fold my laundry, then go back to the paper. Just reading that sentence makes me cringe.

Constantly jumping from task to task meant I was always doing stuff. Just not efficiently or productively. I was forever going but never getting anywhere. Trying to multitask left me perpetually flustered.

And what’s more, I hardly devoted any time to projects or tasks that inspired me or brought me joy. My plans to spend more time on spiritual development, writing, reading, and meditating ended up lost on my pile of good intentions. 

Busyness isn’t good business

In the Forbes article, Why Busyness Isn’t Good Business,  Tim Maurer interviews a number of successful people and asks them how they know when they’re too busy and what they do to unbusy themselves. My favorite response is from Carl Richard, an author and podcaster. To determine if he’s too busy, he gives himself two tests:

First test: Go hang out with a two- or three-year-old. If you find yourself rushed, you fail.

Second test: Are you responding to ‘How are you?’ using either ‘So busy!’ or ‘Busy man…but it’s better than the alternative’? Another fail.

Solutions: First, acknowledge you failed the test—you’re either too busy, or acting too busy. Second, start paying attention, and finally, follow your breath.”

time managementI would’ve consistently failed both of those tests for most of my college career. 

Thankfully, I recognized I didn’t want to live that way. So I made a change (which I’ll outline in my next post).

For now, take some time to think about where your time goes. You probably don’t need to do something as extreme as tracking every minute of every day, but make a general outline of your typical day. Where does your time go? Is your time reflecting your priorities? Are you confusing busyness for productivity?

If you’re anything like me, it may be time to revamp your schedule. More on this later 🙂

For now, have an amazing day and follow TWBA on Instagram and Facebook.

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