You're probably not as busy as you say you are

Flickr CC image by Lisa Brewster

"Sorry, I've just been so busy."

"I've been too swamped to get around to it."

"I don't even have a minute to breathe."

"There's just not enough time in the day."

We hear -- and most of us use -- exasperated claims like this every day. But in general, it's a fiction. Most of us are not "too busy"; few of us have the "full plate" we think or say we have. These are excuses we make either because we genuinely have ourselves convinced that we don't have time or we simply don't want to do something.

Most people make the time for what they want to do, even at the expense of time needed for what they have to do, and there's plenty of data to support that assertion. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' exhaustive American Time Use Survey is the authoritative repository of such data, and other sources, including Pew Research and the Mendelsohn Affluent Survey, further corroborate.

Our time use has been studied and broken down in every conceivable way. But a salient conclusion is that -- irrespective of education or income -- as a population we aren't as consumed with work as we might have ourselves and others believe. We have plenty of discretionary time: We spend a quarter to a third of our waking hours on non-work related activities, and that doesn't include time spent doing personal stuff while at work. (Come on, you know you do.) Just a few interesting tidbits from the latest stats:

-- Working parents, who are usually (and understandably) at the top of the list of people who claim to "have no time," spend only one hour less on leisure activities per day than do those without the same child-care concerns.

-- People making $100,000 or more spend far more time web surfing and consuming other media than do those making less.

-- Everyone (statistically speaking) watches at least 2-3 hours of TV per day. That's 10% of our 24 hour daily gift of time, and a much higher percentage if you measure it only against the time we're awake. There are countless books, articles and blog posts saying that "successful people don't watch TV." But statistically, they do. And that's OK... there's nothing wrong with shutting your brain off for a while.

-- People who earn $1,200 or more per week do not work more, on average, than those who earn $540 per week.

-- Self-employed people (which, of course, includes most of us who own businesses) do not work more hours, on average, than wage or salary workers.*

*I do take exception to that last one, as most owners are always thinking (or obsessing) about their businesses, and to me -- and most small business people I know -- at least some of that time legitimately counts as work. In fact, sometimes it's the hardest and most stressful work.

I'm like any number of other small business owners out there. My day starts at 5:30 or 6 a.m. with news and e-mails. (I do squeeze exercise in there.) I don't leave the office for lunch. From dinner until 11 pm or later, there's more on-and-off catch-up work, overseas calls and e-mails. By my count I'm owed at least 30 weeks of unused vacation since starting my business. Lots of stress, four-hour sleep nights, yada yada. Woe is me.

So, if you were to ask me about my schedule, I'd say the things we all say: I am buried ... I can't catch up ... I don't know when I could possibly get around to it. I am way too busy.

But the fact is, also like other owners, one of the main reasons I work for myself is to have control of my time, and though I have certainly made sacrifices (I definitely wouldn't want to calculate my actual hourly wage), I find a way to do most of the things I want to do. Whether it's my leisure passions -- sailboat racing, skiing and yoga, if anyone's asking -- going to my kids' various events, or even watching guilty-pleasure TV (Shark Tank rules!), I somehow squeeze it into my unsqueezable schedule. So do you, and you, and you.

I'm by no means suggesting that people shouldn't relax, read, vegetate, travel or do whatever else they want with their time -- life is for living. But next time you blow out that overwhelmed sigh or tell someone (or yourself) that you can't do something because you're "too busy," think about whether that's a fact or just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like moving into a bigger house, we tend to fill the space we have.

By definition, we are indeed using every second of every hour of our lives. We are working, sleeping, eating, playing, relaxing or doing nothing. So being "too busy" comes down to defining how we spend our time, not the certitude that it's all spent.

At the end of the day (or the beginning, or the middle), most of us have the time to do things we say we can't.


  • Michael Hess On Facebook»

    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.

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