If there’s an excuse or explanation that I hear all too often from my kids, it’s that they were “too busy” to do something. Whether that something was giving their homework proper attention, putting away their clean laundry, taking time to finish their lunch or brushing their teeth, ‘too busy’ is offered as the justification.
It’s not just the kids though. Several times each week I go into the bathroom and there’s a cardboard tube on the toilet roll holder and the new roll is balanced precariously on the side of the bathtub.
Nobody’s too busy to replace the toilet roll.
I hear the same explanation repeatedly in work and social settings too. Many believe they’re too busy to get everything done in their working day and so feel put-upon by their boss and pressured to work extra-hours for free, even making themselves sick in the process. Some will claim they’re too busy to prepare a healthy meal, sit down with their family for 10 minutes and eat together investing time in nurturing the family bond. Others bemoan being too busy to find time to head to the gym and exercise, invest time in their relationship, to see their friends or to explore or implement ways to improve their life.
They’d rather think themselves too busy for all these things and believe that they are somehow excused.
It’s an excuse I’ve heard myself use often in the past. I used it frequently when deep down I knew it to be an excuse and really, I simply didn’t want to do something.
Too busy is used by adults and kids alike as an explanation or more accurately, an excuse for something that they see as unimportant, or irrelevant.
In the words of one of my heroes, Jocko Willink;
“all of your excuses, are just lies”.
Too busy is a myth.
Too busy is code for “can’t be bothered”.
Too busy is symbolic of low standards.
Too busy is an indicator of selfishness and a lack of self-awareness. It indicates an insular and inward focus.
Too busy is code for not wanting to take control or accountability.
In her interview in the excellent book Tribe of Mentors, Debbie Millman asserts that “busy is a decision”. It’s a choice that people make. Busy is used as a metaphor for somebody not actually wanting to do something strongly enough.
Most important to note; it is a choice.
Nobody is making the beleaguered employee work hours on end of unpaid overtime; that person is choosing to do so, or they’re not focusing their efforts during their normal working day. They may feel it’s the best way to secure a promotion, to win favour or to avoid getting into trouble with their boss, but fundamentally it’s a choice.
When they get home from work they may tell themselves that they’re too tired or they have too much else competing for their time to go to the gym, give affection to their partner or pay attention to their kids. In reality it’s a choice they make. When it’s a decision between preparing a proper meal or throwing a ready-meal in the microwave because that’s the quickest option, a choice is made.
We all have precisely the same number of hours in a day and we each have a degree of freedom to choose how to spend those. To claim that our choices are limited because we are too busy, is a choice in itself; it’s a choice to make an excuse to ourselves that we then reinforce and believe for ourselves, and we then expect others to believe it too.
If you’re inclined to believe this rationale in your own life, then it may require that you confront some painful home-truths if you have ever used the ‘too busy’ excuse.
At a fundamental level, most would question why a kid would want to put away their clothes, or tidy their room. Why should they care about hanging a new toilet roll on the holder when they use the last one up.
The answer in my view, lays in a need to develop and maintain standards for how we act in life.
“How you do anything, is how you do everything”
I’ve encountered this quote many times and it’s unclear to me who I attribute it to, but most recently it was from Jim Kwik so I’ll give him the credit.
Think of five of your closest friends and choose one word to describe them. I’ll bet that in many cases you’re easily able to come up with a single word definition, and it’s because most of us have an overriding trait that comes through in most of the things we do and say. Whether that word is energetic, relaxed, hard-working, slack, funny, stressed, intense, serious or any other adjective, it demonstrates the point. Most of us have an overall ethos that is embedded in our approach to life. That we’re each different is part of the rich tapestry of life. Underpinning each person’s ethos, is the standards to which they hold themselves and which they expect of others.
When it comes to how we function in life, we’ll each go about it differently, but like it or not there’s a need to maintain standards for ourselves, and for our lives if we’re to function in society. It’s not always easy, but it is most certainly that simple.
It used to be that a measure of growing older was the increasing number of keys on your key-ring. First may have come a key for your bike lock, then to a locker as you progressed to high school, at some point a key to your family home, then perhaps for a car, your own home, the workplace and so it continued. Perhaps a better measure nowadays is the accumulation of logins and passwords as we grow into an adult and conduct more of our lives online in some way or another. Either way, the common thread running through these scales of growth and ageing is responsibility. Accountability. Ownership.
Our standards for everything are the implicit measure by which we live our lives. My standards of cleanliness may not be the same as yours. My work-ethic and patterns of productivity most certainly don’t match those of many of my peers, my employees or my boss. My manners, my behaviour in social situations, my expectations of treatment from others are all undoubtedly different than most other people, and yet like you I’ve implicitly signed up for a membership of the society in which we live.
We all have a choice over whether we do the basics well, or whether we hide behind an excuse like ‘too busy’ and let ourselves off from doing the basic things. This isn’t just about hanging a new toilet roll up in the bathroom.
It’s about speaking honourably and doing what we say we will.
It’s saying please and thank you, holding the door and respecting others.
It’s about being considerate of others, not just fixating on ourself.
It’s putting our litter in the bin, not just throwing in in the street.
It’s about doing what we have to do, ahead of what we want to do.
It’s about driving courteously and letting someone merge in ahead of us.
It’s about taking responsibility, blame, accountability and credit when those are ours to take.
Nobody is too busy to do any of these things. To not do them is a choice, and the choice is taken on the basis of lies; that we’re either too busy or too important to do them, or that somehow these standards don’t apply to us.
“Discipline equals freedom”
We all have a choice about how to live our lives, and to prioritise what we feel is most important. All it requires a little discipline from each of us.
There will always come a time when we are legitimately busy in life, stressed, overwhelmed and with too much to do and too little time, but the choice is still ours as to how we navigate that period.
Maybe we have to let standards slip in certain areas of life to accommodate increasing demands upon us. Alternatively, perhaps we need more discipline. Maybe we have to get a bit less sleep or give up a bit of our leisure time in order to prioritise what matters.
It’s still our choice though.
That said, NOBODY is excused from not changing the toilet roll.
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