I used to work with a guy who loved to brag about his busy life. I’d invite him out for drinks or dinner, but he’d always turn me down. He said he had too much work to do. When I’d ask about his weekend, he’d tell me it was so busy that he barely had time for himself. Being busy meant he was important.
The grand irony in all this was the fact that he and I worked together. I sat next to him every day at the office. I watched him scroll through his Twitter feed all day long while I completed the day’s tasks. When quitting time rolled around, I was ready to grab a drink, and he was ready to go home and do the work he’d ignored for the last eight hours.
He said he was busy. I said he wasn’t very good at managing his time. We don’t talk much anymore.
They say time is money. Do they mean every hour you waste is money lost? Or do they mean time, like money, is currency? Every hour its own kind of dollar bill, one of the 700,000 you get in this life.
The only difference is that you can put money in the bank. You don’t have to spend it. You can save it. You can grow it. You can always make more.
Every hour, you have to spend an hour. And until they get this whole immortality thing figured out, you only have so many. And when you run out, you can’t file for bankruptcy or move back in with your parents. Instead, they put you six feet under.
Time is money. Hours are dollars. You never have enough. Get a $10,000 raise? You’ll move into a more expensive apartment or upgrade your car. Get a $100,000 raise? Finally time to build that addition to your house or buy a boat. Win the lottery? Time to go broke.
You can always find places to put your money so that at the end of each paycheck you’re left with the same amount you had before – not enough.
If I were a magical wizard (and who’s to say I’m not?) that made it so you never had to sleep, giving you eight extra hours per day, you’d find yourself on your couch in your underwear as the sun came up wishing you had just a little more time. Then you could finally write that novel.
You can always find somewhere to blow extra hours.
This week, a two-hour meeting ended an hour early. Did I spend it getting work done? Or did I catch up on Facebook, eat a snack, and go to the comic book store? I’ll let you guess.
My ex-friend/ex-coworker had eight hours in which he was forced to sit at a desk. Did he do the work? Or did he waste his day and then stay up all night doing what he should have done in the office?
Busy is a choice. Busy is about priorities. Busy is about willpower. Busy is about being mindful of your commitments. Busy is “yes and.”
Improvisers are conditioned to say yes to everything. It’s in our nature. It’s drilled into our heads. It’s part of our wiring now. What that mean is 10 extra hours a day wouldn’t give you 10 extra hours to work on your passion project. It’d give you nine extra hours to say “yes” to other commitments and one extra hour to complain that you never have enough time.
And all of this ignores the simple fact that even if you are careful with your hours and put them to good use, you’re still going to run up against the fact that in the 24 hours of your day, 16 are spent at the office or in bed. There isn’t much you can do to change that.
But here’s what I can do.
I can give you one extra hour, every day. I can magically turn your 24 hours into 25 hours.
Stop Wasting Time.
I love video games. I spend 5-8 hours a week playing them. It’s a time sink, but one that brings me joy. I occasionally watch Facebook videos or go down the social media clickbait rabbit hole. This has never brought me joy. I am pro-taking-short-Internet-junk-food-breaks and pro-spending-time-doing-things-that-bring-you-pleasure-even-if-they’re-not-“productive.” But you can’t have them all. You can’t binge watch movies, play video games, spend hours on social media, go out with friends every night, and then complain you don’t have enough time. You do. You just spent it all.
I try to just play video games. I’ve stopped watching Facebook videos. You only get one.
Stop Doing Things You Don’t Want To Do.
I understand there are things you don’t want to do that you have to do – go to weddings, attend family gatherings, participate in after-hours work mandatory-fun events. These are things you have to do. But what about the things that you “have” to do? Another happy hour with the same people as last week? An improv practice for a team you’re only on because your friend asked you? A birthday party for a guy you used to talk to in college but haven’t thought about in years? Politely decline.
Learn how to say no gracefully. “Yes and” will continue to devour your time until there isn’t any left. In real life, “yes and” has consequences. When you start saying no to things you don’t want to do anyway, you’ll have more time and more energy to do whatever it is you truly want to do.
Learn How To Make More Time.
I live 25-hour days. And no, I’m not a time lord. I’ve just gotten good stealing time back from the ether. For example, I hate cooking. I enjoy the experience of eating that much. And doing dishes? Don’t even. And yet, I used to spend an hour after work every single night making dinner, eating, and cleaning dishes. That is the definition of wasted time. Now, I make two massive meals on Sunday that last me through the week. Every weekday, that’s 40 minutes I don’t have to spend cooking. I can just go home, eat, and clean up all in an episode of 30 Rock.
But maybe cooking brings you pleasure? Maybe it’s your version of video games. So spend time doing it. But there’s probably something else sucking up your precious creative time. Maybe it’s cleaning? Hire a maid. Maybe kids get in the way of doing creative work on the weekends? Wake up an hour before your partner and children and use that time to work. Don’t like to commute? Sell your car and start taking public transportation or an Uber – do your creative work in transit. The possibilities are endless.
Start automating, reducing, or eliminating time you spend on routine tasks. Find spare minutes in the nooks and crannies of your day. Start putting hours back in your piggy bank. You’ll become a time lord.
Being too busy is a choice. Having time to pursue your passions is in your control. And in the case that it’s not, I’d suggest you find a way to take control back…unless of course you like being too busy to do your own work. If you do, I would ask that you not throw your busyness around like a badge of honor. Because I am not impressed. If anything, I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for my friend who spent his evenings at home doing work because he couldn’t prioritize it at the office.
They say time is money. Except it’s not, because time is even more valuable. Time can’t be minted at the treasury. It can’t be loaned out with interest from the bank. You don’t get more for climbing the corporate ladder, you get less. So think critically about it – how you’re using it, where you’re spending it, and why. Find your 25th hour in each and every day, and start doing work that matters.