"I don't have time!" What if 'Busy' Isn't the Problem?

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I’m So Busy!

I was on the phone with a good friend this morning. He’s recently taken over as CEO of a start-up and he was telling me how full his day was with travel and meetings and sales calls.

There’s so much to do!

he told me.

We went on to chat and he asked me about my back. We’ve shared physical therapy stories before as he had a bad climbing accident a few years ago and overcame a diagnosis of “you’ll never walk again.” We both understand the importance of how the pain is occurring to us, in our mind rather than our body, and what insights we can have about the (un)reality of that pain and what it does and doesn’t mean.

I told him it was funny how I was making time to go to the gym and yet I wasn’t making time to do a few simple plank exercise at home.

I’m the opposite,

he said,

I seem to find the time for my yoga and yet I never go to the gym.

We laughed.

It’s Never About Time

It’s interesting to me when I notice what I make time for and what I don’t. I don’t (usually) judge myself, but there’s more of a ‘huh’ reaction when I see where my day takes itself and what longer-term patterns emerge.

I find it funny to observe where my priorities seem to be, compared to what I think they are, or what I think they should be.

Same for my friend.

Yoga is obviously a priority for you. That’s cool to notice.

I told him.


he agreed.

I say I don’t have time for things at work but really it’s that I’m not making them a priority, or I don’t want to do them.

Noticing Versus Efforting

For me, when my attention isn’t on something, it’s never a sign of being too busy; it’s a sign that my preference has taken me somewhere else, or, sometimes, that the noise of thought has had me avoiding something.

When something comes into my awareness, though, it gives me the opportunity to pause for review and, potentially, action—a bit like suddenly becoming aware of feeling too hot and standing up to open a window. So what does this mean in general? I’ve noticed something—so what? What can I take from it?

There’s no ‘rule’ here, no obvious action to force our focus back on something, nor is it a sign that this thing isn’t for us, or that it is. There are no ‘shoulds’.

Noticing... So What?

Sometimes, I notice something and do nothing at all—like going to the gym to do a 20 minute class that I could easily do at home. ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ I don't feel the need to do anything differently. End of story.

Sometimes I notice and the action is obvious. A while ago, I realised I wasn’t listening to audio books I’d downloaded. ‘Oh, interesting.’ So I immediately cancelled my audible subscription.

And, sometimes, noticing means I have a chance to reflect on something more deeply—as was the case in this conversation with my friend.

A Pause for Review

The whole reason for our call was to discuss something that had come up in a group we lead, to take stock of where we were and what we wanted to do. It was a signal to review and assess. For me anyway, and I think also for my friend.

We’d become a little distracted and our focus had wandered elsewhere. Now, someone had asked for something, no big deal, but it brought our attention back, and we wanted to reflect on what that meant and what we wanted to do next, separately or together.

We both laughed about our lack of attention.

Yes we’ve been distracted. Oh well!

Moments like these don’t mean anything other than attention has drifted elsewhere. There’s no blame, no story needed. Sure we can make one up about busyness and new jobs, new homes, new locations, but there’s really no need. We simply asked,

Is this something we want to do?

How can we do it in integrity with what feels true for each of us?

What do we love about it?

What don’t we love about it?

How do we want to do this thing if we can do anything we want?

And the decision becomes obvious. No drama, no prevaricating.

Just Living

Noticing is the perfect opportunity to reflect on why we’ve let our attention drift, how we can re-engage authentically with something, or let go gracefully, if that’s what we want.

Because, for me, I don’t see this thing called ‘busy’; I only see the fact of what we do, and what we don’t do.

And that helps me get a lot more joy out of how I spend my time.

With love,