Casey Hynes — Up Close & Personal Finance
This year, instead of my typical “hit the gym every morning” and “find time to meditate” resolutions, I’m going to challenge myself to something new—something tougher. This year, my New Year’s resolution is to drop the phrase “I’m too busy” from my vocabulary. Instead of bailing on plans with friends and family and always letting work win, I’m going to prioritize myself.
I’m not proud to admit it, but for years, “I’m too busy” has been my knee-jerk response to just about everything anyone asked of me. A friend invited me for coffee? “I would love to see you, but I’m too busy.” My then-boyfriend (now fiancé) wanted to make dinner and watch a movie together? “That sounds so nice, but I’m too busy.” I wasn’t a total shut-in, but often, I was “too busy” for anything besides work.
As a freelancer, there’s always pressure to make sure more work is in the pipeline. If the assignments dry up, so does your income, and that weighs on you all the time. So, since I started freelancing eight years ago, I’ve said no to very few assignments. You never know when a dry spell will hit, so why not take the work when it comes, right?
That’s a fine mentality when you’re first starting out, but several years in I had steady clients and earned a decent living, and still I couldn’t say no. I took almost every assignment offered to me, no matter how strapped for time I already was, then wondered why I experienced breakdowns, anxiety, and depression.
And on top of all that, I also said yes to volunteer opportunities that overloaded me, yes to social events I didn’t really want to attend, yes to everything people asked of me. “I can handle this,” I would say. Handling it, of course, meant running on six hours of sleep and bailing on plans with friends because I was too tired and overworked to make them a priority.
Emotionally it is what Tim Kreider of The New York Times described as “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” I’d overfill my schedule time and time again, assuming it was natural, necessary, or even important to be booked to the last half-hour of the day, but being busy isn’t impressive, nor is it an indicator of success. It’s exhausting and isolating and, quite frankly, boring. In many cases, it’s also untrue.
Even the busiest people among us find a few hours for a Netflix binge. We manage to squeeze in 50 or so scrolls through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook every day. Sometimes we even manage to go shopping for ourselves, to pop out for lunch, maybe even to plan a little vacation. We’re “too busy” for a lot of things—but not for everything.
The truth is that oftentimes when we tell someone we’re too busy what we’re really saying is hanging out with them (or attending their big event or working with them on a project) isn’t a priority. And that is totally OK. We all have a finite amount of time on this planet, and we can’t get to everything. Saying no is essential if we are going to do what we want to do.
But as Carla Birnberg writes, we should be honest about the fact that something isn’t a priority. Instead of saying, “I’m too busy,” we should acknowledge the truth, which is that we are not going to prioritize the thing someone else wants to do because something else is more important.
Acknowledging that your choices are a matter of preference rather than a matter of time is empowering. When you tell yourself that you’re too busy, you foist the responsibility onto someone else. Your clients expect so much from you, your book club needs you to organize the next meeting, the party at your local co-working space won’t possibly happen without you. That’s why you can’t spend more time with your family or friends. That’s why your novel is languishing in Google Docs. That’s why you haven’t run that marathon.
In reflecting on busyness versus prioritization, I realized that owning my priorities is liberating. There’s something almost joyful in admitting that something just isn’t important to you. Instead of leaping to take on every assignment, I can admit to myself that fear is driving that decision, that I have the work I need, and that what I want to do right now is spend more time with my friends and family and more doing things for me. I can just say, “That’s not a priority for me right now,” and walk away. Then I can focus on whatever it is that brings me joy right now, not live bogged down by guilt over letting people down and not being able to “do it all.”
I know from experience a weight lifts when you’re honest with yourself and other people. So, this year, no more making excuses, no more trotting out the same tired line about how you just don’t have time. You do have time, you just choose to spend it doing something else. And if you don’t have time, you need to figure out where you’re going wrong so that you can reclaim control of your life.
One thing I’ve realized in the past several years, as I have gone through bout after bout of anxiety and depression, debilitating tension headaches, and constant low-grade misery due to “busyness” is that life is too short to spend it doing things that drain you or lying about what’s important to you. So, in 2019, let’s all escape the trap and live more honest, less busy lives.