For readers who get my personal newsletter, this is a rerun of a piece I wrote last month that generated so much feedback privately that I knew I had to post it on STACKED. I’ve written about “busy” as a status here before, but after diving into Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It, I couldn’t stop thinking about the concept and how we can change our mentalities to fit everything we want into our lives with a little shuffling. I think that we can all relate to it, no matter what our careers, and I think for readers who want to be doing more reading, more talking about books, spending more time in the book world, this is all applicable.
I am and have been endlessly fascinated with the concept of “busy.” It is, in my mind, about giving a false sense of importance when shared. I’m so busy lately. Of course life gets busy and your day to day can be hectic and then you have other shit coming at you requiring your attention.
But here’s the thing: in general, in the day-to-day scheme of things, busy is a status and it’s one that’s taken on the same role as bragging.
Laura Vanderkam’s recent(ish) book, I Know How She Does It, explores the idea of mosaic time management. Her argument is that we all have time to do the things that we want and we are, in fact, doing most of the things we want to with our time. But because we do not track our time well or see how we can shift around the tiles in our lives, we instead choose “busy” and “tired” as markers of how we’re doing. Even when we are technically neither. These are ways for polite conversation. It’s more acceptable to say you’re so busy, rather than to say you’ve been slaying it and are feeling fierce about it.
The book goes on to look at how women who are successful — and Vanderkam is clear in defining successful as women who make $100,000 a year on their own, a narrow and yet culturally-relevant measure of success — and how they manage their lives. Are they really working 50 or 60 hours a week? (No). Are they only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night? (No). Are they spending any time with their families? (Yes, a lot). The thing is, we as individuals do not code or label the things we’re doing into useful categories, nor do we quite understand the measure of time on a bigger level. Vanderkam suggests rather than looking at the 24 hours we have in a day, we instead consider the 168 hours we have in a week.
When you do that, suddenly things shift in your perspective.
Maybe you only got 5 hours of sleep on Monday night, but on Saturday, you got 10 solid hours. That averages to 7.5 hours each night, right there. So yes, maybe you WERE tired on Tuesday, but how did you feel on Saturday and Sunday? Bet the answer might not be the same.
If you look at the whole of a week, you’re spending a lot of time pursuing the things you love to do. Maybe it’s not in one heap of time like you’d prefer. Maybe it’s not as much as you’d prefer; we all have those projects we want to get to but just find that, after all of our other tasks, we don’t have it in us to get to. But, by looking at time in 168 hour chunks, it might be easier to see where pieces of the time mosaic can be moved around to accommodate those passion projects. You feel fantastic when you wake up on Saturday morning after 10 hours of sleep? Maybe you spend that first hour laying in bed reading or writing or tackling a puzzle or playing a board game or writing a letter to a friend. That sounds and feels more manageable than throwing it on a to-do list for, say, Wednesday and realizing after putting in work and a stop at the grocery store and laundry and cooking dinner and feeling worn out by the time you get to it.
I wrote last year about how Bullet Journaling has changed my relationship to productivity, and I still remain dedicated and passionate about it. There is something about looking at a week over a two page spread, then choosing what gets carried over and what gets ditched. And when you consider the 168 hour week, suddenly, there is time to write that blog post. There is time to color your hair or get a pedicure. There is time to watch that TED Talk and get in a workout everyday. You probably do get in some good sex and some good time with family and friends. What you have to do is make a microshift in your mindset, though, to see it: driving with your partner to do an errand is family time if you make it a conversation or a game. You can watch that TED Talk while you’re on the elliptical or treadmill. Get a pedicure and listen to that podcast you’ve been eager to tune into. During nap hours on the weekend, maybe you spend the first part of that nap getting close with a partner. Shift how you think about your time and suddenly, the time is right there.
The idea of microchanges has been on my mind a lot, as it’s a big component of the yoga practice I’m doing. The instructor talks a lot about adjustments you can make in a pose to make it more or less challenging. But the fascinating piece for me is the microchange, the slight shift in movements and muscles that are working in a pose, whatever the adjustment you’ve decided may be. It’s crossing your legs opposite of the way you normally cross them. It’s placing the thumb you never place on top on top and noticing how it feels. It’s flexing your foot instead of pointing it. Simple, tiny things, but the results are quite phenomenal. Different muscles work. New things unlock. Something internally and/or externally clicks.
I think we get stymied into believing that important things come through adjustments. Adjustments mean change, which means time, and we’re all just so busy and we’re all so tired. And it’s true: an adjustment requires the whole of your body and your mind.
But microchanges are easy, tiny, tweaks in your routines, in the way you think about things, in noticing how you feel when you shift your weight from the front of your foot to the back. It’s in recognizing that maybe you can’t do something in 24 hours a day, but you can put it into one of your 168 hours a week.