Feel Too Busy And Overworked? 3 Life-Changing Tips

There was a time, not so long ago, when I was busy, busy, busy. At least I thought I was.

I told people I worked 60 hours a week. I claimed to sleep six hours a night. As I lamented to anyone stuck next to me at parties, I was basically too busy to breathe. Me time? Ha! Now I work 45 hours a week and sleep close to eight hours a night. But I'm not getting any less done.

My secret? I started keeping track of how I spent my time, logging how many hours and minutes I devoted to different activities such as work, sleep and chores. I soon realized I'd been lying to myself about where the time was going. What I thought was a 60-hour workweek wasn't even close. I would have guessed I spent hours doing dishes when in fact I spent minutes. I spent long stretches of time lost on the Internet or puttering around the house, unsure exactly what I was doing.

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I'm not alone in this time fog. If you believe results from the American Time Use Survey, done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and other studies, plenty of Americans have faulty impressions of how they spend time in our "too-rushed-to-breathe" world.

We all have the same 168 hours per week - a number few people contemplate even as they talk about "24-7″ with abandon - but since time passes whether we acknowledge it or not, we seldom think through exactly how we're spending our hours.

We also live in a competitive society, and so by lamenting our overwork and sleep deprivation - even if that requires workweek inflation and claiming our worst nights are typical - we show that we are dedicated to our jobs and our families. Being "busy" and "starved for time" is a way to show we matter. Put another way, it makes us feel important.

But if you think about it, complaining about a lengthy to-do list is not only boring, it's a sad hook for one's self-esteem. Owning up to how we spend our hours gives us more control of our time, and ultimately, of our lives.

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Here's how to do it:

1. Keep a time log.
If you've ever tried to lose weight, you may have tried keeping a food journal. Sure, you're eating grilled chicken for dinner, but the eight M&Ms you grab from the receptionist's candy jar add up, too.

Like tracking meals, tracking time keeps us from spending it mindlessly or lying to ourselves about what we do with it. Write down what you're doing as often as you remember for at least a week. Add up the totals. Checking Facebook five times a day at six minutes a pop adds up to two-and-a-half hours in a workweek - curiously, the exact amount of time the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends we exercise.

2. Be honest.
While Americans claim to sleep six to seven hours per night, time logs show we sleep more than eight. One study tracking people's estimated and actual workweeks found that those claiming to work 70, 80, or more hours were logging less than 60. Ask yourself what you'd like to do with your time. Claiming to be busy relieves us of the burden of choice. But if you're working 50 hours a week, and sleeping eight hours a night (56 per week) that leaves 62 hours for other things. That's plenty of hours for a family life and a personal life - exercising, volunteering, sitting on the porch with the paper, plus watching TV if you like. Set goals - maybe three hours of exercise and swapping out two hours of TV for reading - and see where in your 168 hours you could make that happen.

3. 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.

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Heather, I don't think it's a 24/7 work culture as much as it is a 24/7 " I have to be doing something or i'll miss out on something" society. Parents do it to their kids by packing every day with things they "have to do" Problem is the kid never gets a chance to be a kid and the parents,by running their kid all over town, never get the important things done. Since when do we have to pack 48 hours into each and every day ? It's insane and impossible. And what happens is that instead of doing 5 things correctly, you end up doing 15 things poorly.

July 18 2012 at 1:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks a lot. My wife read this earlier. I just asked her if she wanted to go play around and she says "It's not a priority!"

July 17 2012 at 11:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Heather Huhman

The 24/7 working culture that we live in today has turned “I’m too busy” into one of the most common excuses. Tracking your work week and logging your hours are great ways to investigate your true workload. I always think of H. Jackson Brown, Jr.’s quote, “Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” Spending a little less time surfing the internet and glued to our smart phones may be the key to freeing up our schedules!

July 16 2012 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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