The Busy Effect

Nine times out of ten, what is the answer you get from people when you ask them “How have you been?”, “How are things?”.

Busy. I’ve been busy. We’ve been sooooo busy. Some variation thereof to describe the absolute business of their lives.

Somehow we’ve turned being busy into a measuring stick for how good we’re doing at life. If you’re not busy enough, you’re not doing it right. The busier we get to tell people we are, the better we feel about ourselves?

Except that we don’t. We’ve pushed this busy thing so far that we seem to have forgotten it’s a choice, that each and everyone of us are choosing the insanely busy lifestyle we are living. Instead we act like we are victim’s, as though we are being subjected to it and completely powerless to slow things down.

How is it that we aren’t realizing that we are the creators of are own situations. We are choosing to work extended hours to pursue that next promotion, or elevate our career. We are choosing to put our kids into 18 activities a week so they won’t possibly miss out on a developmental opportunity. We are choosing to pack every minute of our lives with an obligation that we have to attend so that when we finally collapse into bed at the end of the day we breathe a sigh of relief mixed with satisfaction that we somehow managed to fit everything in.

How many times have you said this lately…… “I don’t have time”. Often followed up by “I wish I had time, but I just don’t”.

When people ask us questions about what we did to achieve FF and how they can replicate it, the vast majority of people shake their heads ruefully as we explain the process and at the end say “Oh man, I wish I had the time to do that stuff.”

It’s as though they’ve forgotten that they are the person that signed their 3 kids up for activities that all fall on the same day, or as though our days were magically 36 hours long while theirs are only a meagre 24, and therefore we had all this extra time on our hands to think about finances. It’s not that they don’t have the time, they’ve CHOSEN to spend their time elsewhere. They’ve chosen to prioritize something other than their financial situation.

What we do with our time is a choice. It’s our choice. It is not some random schedule imposed upon us that we simply must follow. If you want to achieve FF, but find yourself saying that don’t have time, you are prioritizing the wrong things.

There is no trophy for being the busiest person or the busiest family. But falling into the busy trap comes with a heavy price tag, and it’s not just a financial one.

Being that busy means you probably aren’t going to pay attention to things like, how much are we paying for banking fee’s, how much did we spend on meals out last month? How much did we spend for our “family time” event last weekend because we felt guilty that we didn’t have a single sit down meal as a family during that entire week? How much money have we spent on “treats” for ourselves because we feel like we’ve earned them since we are just so BUSY.

How about those extra expenses that creep in because you just don’t have time. Like hiring the housecleaner to come every week, or paying someone to mow your lawn or clean your gutters. What about taking the car through the car wash or to the detailer rather than getting out a bucket and sponge at home?

On their own, these things are all small, and oh so easy to justify. But when you start adding up all the small things that we spend money on just because we are BUSY, it often adds up to thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars annually. That’s a big deal!

These are all expenses that add up and inflate our lifestyle costs, and before you know it you are trapped in a downward spiral of having to work more and make more money to pay for that lifestyle. So you’re even busier and have even less time.

And how does being so busy impact our relationships? Something that is directly correlated to our happiness. What happens when we are too busy to maintain important friendships, see our extended family, or sit down for a meal with our kids. Do we really think our kid(s) will be better off because they played 4 sports and learned 2 instruments instead of spending quality time with their family and having home cooked meals to sit down too?

What about how when we do have down time, we don’t want to do ANYTHING. When we’re exhausted and just want to sit down and do something mindless, like watch TV. The average American watches just shy of 5 HOURS of TV a day. 5 HOURS. Think how many things you can do in 5 hours! But when you are exhausted and tired of the rat race and your brain feels like mush from the over scheduling, guess what the easiest thing to do at night is?

Possibly the most significant cost is that is you’re spending all your time running from one thing to the next you give up your time think. There’s a famous quote by George Bernard Shaw, “Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.” Some of our best ideas come from simply having the time to think, which makes you ask yourself, what is the opportunity cost we pay by robbing ourselves of the time to think.

Which poses the question; what are we doing to our kids by over-scheduling them to the point where they don’t have time to be bored, and therefore don’t ever get lost in thought? If they always have something to do, an activity or video game at their fingertips, how much time are kids going to devote to just thinking. That raises the question of what is the opportunity cost to society by raising a generation of kids who are never bored enough to just get lost in thought?

Removing the excess from our lives is not just about clearing clutter or material things, it’s also about simplifying our lives. So how exactly do you go about doing that?

Well here’s a few ways that worked for us.

Start with your work. Are there ways you can minimize how much your work intrudes on your off time? Many people spend a lot of their off hours thinking about work or responding to e-mails or phone calls. This is exhausting mentally because it means you are never really away from work. It can also have a range of negative effects on your family. It can be quite irritating to have a parent or spouse who is physically present but buries their nose in their phone whenever they are at home.

So start putting your phone in a drawer when you get home and turn your messaging notifications to silent. Not seeing that blinking light or hearing yet another email come in will reduce your stress levels and improve the quality of interaction you get with people who are actually present. And don’t worry, if it’s an emergency people will call you, they really will. Everything else can wait.

People think this is an impossible thing to do, but it’s really not. Allowing ourselves to be accessible to work 24/7 is one of the worst things we have done for our mental well-being, happiness, and the quality of our home life.

Remember, NO ONE ELSE IS GOING TO SET THE BOUNDARIES FOR YOU. Set your boundaries and choose how accessible you are to others.

If you have kids, take a look at their schedules. As much as you don’t enjoy your life being over scheduled, kids don’t like it either. Take a hard look at what the really enjoy participating in and pare things down to a reasonable level. What’s wrong with teaching our children that they have to mindfully choose what they do with their time and they can’t simply do everything just because they want to? Since when is having to evaluate what you get the most out of and make a hard choice a bad thing? Set the boundaries for your kids, and then get them to choose what they want to do within your parameters. Both your pocket book and your kids will thank you for it.

Meal Plan! I mention this a lot, but so many people don’t want to do this! It doesn’t have to be a painful chore. Maybe you sit down on Saturday morning with a coffee and plan out the next week. Doesn’t that sound pleasant?  But pick a time/day each week and schedule it in. Make it a habit. Plan your meals, write your grocery list based on your meal plan, and go buy everything you need for that week.

You will not only save huge amounts of money on your grocery bill by doing this, but you will avoid being stuck on a Wednesday night not knowing what to do for dinner and just grabbing take-out instead. You will also see your food waste go way down, because each item you buy at the store has a planned use that week, AND you will have more home cooked meals.

Just try those three things. Commit to trying them for a month, and see how you feel. See if you feel calmer, happier, and like you have more control over your time. See if your relationships improve, and if you feel like tackling things you were “too busy” for. See how much money you save just because you’re not so BUSY.

Simplifying our life was a process. It took a lot of work, and a lot of uncomfortable “no’s” to things we felt we “should” be doing. But after awhile, the benefit of slowing things down was undeniable, and it got a lot easier to say no.

Less is more in so many ways. Excuse yourself from the rat race, the sidelines are a much more pleasant and cost effective place to live.

You are not the powerless victim of busy, the choice is yours to make, so take ownership of that choice.

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