Hidden dangers of the time crunch myth

It’s an unquestioned truth of modern life that we are all busy, busy, busy. It’s how we converse with each other. When you bump into a friend in the grocery store, and ask how things are, she says “busy” not “great.” We compare workweeks, sleep schedules, children’s activities, and even celebrate (apparently) a “Too Much On Her Plate” Week.

It seems harmless enough — a way to let the world know how incredible the demand for our time is — but there are some real downsides to buying into the myth of the time crunch. First, of course, is that we absolve ourselves of the burden of choice. The reality is that much busyness is self-inflicted. We control what we do with our time. But claiming to be busy, busy, busy and having no time lets us absolve ourselves of this responsibility. We outsource control of our own lives. Better to realize that “I don’t have time” really means “It’s not a priority.”

But on an even more practical level, the myth of the time crunch makes people feel so busy that we have to rush. I have written elsewhere of people turning left out of Sam’s school parking lot despite the no-left-turn sign, apparently believing this sign applies to other people who don’t have places to go and can afford the extra 2 minutes it takes to turn around at the next street. Backing up the carpool line for everyone else while you turn left is just collateral damage. Today I saw an even more egregious example. The little boy getting out of the car at the front of the line was crying and so the drop-off was going slowly. The car behind the front car pulled out and around and cut back in front — a sudden move that was quite risky in a parking lot of children, and that shaved a grand total of 1 minute from this person’s drop-off routine. And that no doubt added stress to the parent at the front of the line whose kid was crying. You’re not moving fast enough!

I hate being late as much as anyone. But it is not worth behaving in an anti-social manner to save a minute or two. I think the myth of the time crunch lets people believe, on the margins, that such decisions are okay. Nope. You are not that busy.

7 thoughts on “Hidden dangers of the time crunch myth

  1. I think people use “I’m so busy” as a way of bragging. What they want to say is “I’m popular, successful, sought-after, and indispensable.” What they don’t realize is that we all know busy does not necessarily mean you are accomplishing anything. The best thing I have learned from you, Laura, is: Every minute is a choice.
    I try to pass these little words of wisdom on whenever I get the opportunity. Thanks!

    1. @Diana- yes, that is exactly what “I’m so busy” means. It’s a nice way of bragging. A socially acceptable way, since saying how popular and successful one is generally doesn’t go over that well.

  2. I think that folks are very stressed out, worried about their often salaried jobs and the big folks above them. Not everyone is entrepreneurial and work for themselves … I do and I’ve made a lot of personal and professional sacrifices to say fu to whatever I want whenever I want at the detriment only of my own bank account not my job security. that said.. if you are late it is usually your own fault and not worth running a child over! Also I find a good drop off is very very important to me as a working mom more important than the rest of the day so I’m willing to sacrifice

    Working moms are very very busy…. and life is totally crazy.. but it is also a series of choices and priorities… and negotiations… and a feeling of life being out of control is usually in my experience a lack of owning that rather than a really unworkable situation.. I am reading the book I Don’t Know How She Does It and I find it to be an accurate, humorous and sympathetic way to say yes I am so busy! But the protag does own her choices! Which I think we all have to do !

    1. @Cara- I haven’t read the book… I read somewhere about a scene of her distressing a store-bought pie so it looked home made. The female heads of hedge funds I’ve talked to often have people cooking for them. In other words, they could have a home made pie without actually having to make it. Very high end women have a different life than the usual craziness.

  3. Some parents do a similar thing at my daughter’s elementary school. The rule is that if you are dropping off your child, you are supposed to wait until your vehicle is one of the first two in line. The two vehicles in the front are to let their children off, then drive away, then the next two vehicles drive up and let their children out, then drive away, and so on and so forth. Half the time, while I’m patiently waiting until my vehicle is one of the first two, the people behind me are letting their children out early. Then, when my vehicle is where I am supposed to actually let my daughter out, those vehicles that were behind me and have already let their children out, drive around my car on the side of my car that my daughter gets out from. This drives me crazy. It takes all of about two minutes tops from when you enter this line until you drive away. Seriously…..two minutes, and they are driving around cars that are letting children out of them so they don’t have to wait.

    1. @Emily- I often wonder what these people are thinking. Like seriously, what do you think is going through their minds? I hope they’re not thinking at all. Otherwise, ugh.

  4. Language is such a powerful tool. I have seen people use it to their DISadvantage by believing their own ‘I am so busy’ mantra. Next thing they know… they feel overwhelmed and busy!

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