I don't know about you, but (along with social media), I'm kind of sick of being 'busy'. Of my own busy. Of the relentless busy of others. Of the collective busy. It's really doing my head in, and I've long felt us busy peeps are careening headlong into a collision with a return to Slow Living.
We are bombarded, from every angle, with attention-seeking issues, people, events, obligations and things to measure ourselves against. There are cobwebs in our room corners and crisped hydrangeas in our garden beds. The fridge looks like someone spilled something sticky in there (well, maybe that's just mine) and our contact lenses are so outdated, we can't really see.
We never have time to do anything much it seems, and at the end of any given day, we collapse into bed and wonder, yet again, how the day got away from us.
Where has time disappeared to?
Emma Grey and Audrey Thomas know. Thank God. And even more thank God ... the amazing Emma is here right now to talk to me (and you) about too much busy and too much disappearing time. February sees the release of Emma and Audrey's book I Don't Have Time, which basically, in 15-minute ways, makes it clear that you DO have time.
I read this book in one sitting on Saturday. Seriously. It's ravenously good.
Thanks so much for visiting, Em. Can I start by asking ... what the heck is going on? Why is everyone so busy? Or are they ...
We exist in a ‘cult’ of busy. Exhaustion has become a status symbol. If you’re not flat out or frantic, people look at you a little strangely. Sometimes, even when we’re not completely snowed under, we tell people we're ‘busy’ when someone asks how we are—almost as a default response.
I think it’s what James Gleick calls ‘hurry sickness’. It’s this concept that the bulk of our stress comes from areas under our own control—high-pressure jobs we choose to apply for, extra activities we enrol our children in voluntarily, commitments and social events we say ‘yes’ to, social media rabbit holes we enter into, standards we select on the home front, our own behaviours …
Recognising the extent to which we have power over our use of time isn’t meant to be an exercise in self-blame, but in finding freedom. If we got ourselves into much of this frazzled, over-commited mess, it stands to reason we can also dig ourselves out of a lot of it … and that’s an enormous relief.
How do we manage to lose so much time? Can we make time? Is it malleable and just a matter of perspective?
Some astro-scientists have proposed that all time (past, present and future) exists now, and it’s only our perspective on time that changes. The idea of that baffles me completely, but what I do know is that, as Brian Andreas says, ‘There is exactly enough time for everything that matters most’.
If that’s true, it also means there’s simply not enough time to do everything. When we accept that—that our ’To Do’ lists will never be finished, and that we won’t ever accomplish ‘all the things’, then it becomes about choices. It means ditching some things and cutting other corners in order to pour time into the most central things (whether that’s health, relationships, career, hobbies or whatever is really vital in each of our lives).
We tend to get in our own way quite a lot. In what specific ways do we do this? Does perfectionism and self-esteem play a part?
Definitely. When we’re worried about our performance we hold back for fear of failure or being ‘found out’. We go over and over our work unnecessarily instead of releasing something and moving on. We people-please. We grapple for control by hoarding tasks that could be delegated or outsourced, thinking it saves time because, ’nobody does this as well as I do’. We’re ‘badge of honour’ busy—staying busier than others and taking on extra things we really don’t want to do, because being busy gives us a boost to our self-esteem.
Were you once too busy? When did you realise enough was enough?
Yes, about a decade ago I was living a life of self-inflicted chaos—staying busy to run away from other challenges. I was working full-time, studying a Masters degree, writing my first book, volunteering at school and in other organisations, going to the gym every day, playing netball and all of this with two children under five. It was ludicrous.
The low-point was when I’d just received a publishing contract for Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum. I was bed-ridden with glandular fever, contract in one hand, divorce papers in the other … thinking ‘life doesn’t have to be this hard. I’m making it this hard.’.
Are humans excuse-makers by nature? Why do we do this???
I think we all love a good excuse. (I know I do!) It feels good to let ourselves off the hook. After Audrey and I wrote a book with one of our personal go-to excuses, ‘I don’t have time’ in the title, we realised we wouldn’t be able to use that one any more and remain authentic. We’ve caught ourselves saying it often, only to self-correct with the truth: ‘I haven’t made time for that’.
It’s so much easier if we can blame something or someone else for our lack of time. Our boss, our partner, the kids, our parents, ‘modern life’ … It’s uncomfortable when we realise it’s not really those things that get in the way most of the time.
Perhaps we didn’t go for that promotion not because there ‘wasn’t enough time’ to submit the application but because we were scared we’d fail. Maybe we do the bulk of the housework because early on it felt nice to be needed and now we’ve taught our co-inhabitants how to treat us. Perhaps we haven’t reached for that secret dream because, if we don’t give it a go, theoretically it’s still the perfect plan …
Are women busier than men?
They don’t have to be.
What kind of effect does busyness have on creativity?
A brutal one. We need time to ‘play’. Our brains solve problems, finds solutions, imagine and dream when we switch off.
How important is it to be liked?
More important than it needs to be, for lots of us (including me). There’s a huge difference between being liked, genuinely, and being taken for granted, walked all over and stifled. Author Jacqui Marson calls it ‘the curse of lovely’. I think it’s more important to be admired than liked—I have admiration for people who have the knack for being kind while being assertive about their personal needs and space.
How important is it to say no?
Saying ‘no’ gives meaning to your ‘yes’. When you’re clear on what is centrally important to you, it becomes easier to weigh up a request and decide whether it’s going to give or take from what matters most in your life. It makes the difference between a year filled with resentment (because you’re at everyone’s beck and call and have an endless list of things you think you ‘have’ to do) and one in which you grow, personally and professionally, because you’re existing within clearer boundaries.
It’s also important to say ‘yes’ to things that may feel uncomfortable, like goals that stretch you, or offers to help you. We live in an eco-system perfectly designed for give and take and mutual help-giving. Our lives are so much easier when we learn that accepting help doesn’t make us any ‘less'.
Em, do we simply have too much choice nowadays? Does that weigh into time management?
I think we’re bombarded with choices and opportunities, and there’s a real skill in being able to let an opportunity pass you by. We fear that we’ll never have another chance, so we try to cram all the action in our lives into one chapter, instead of spreading it out over the course of a whole book.
Six months ago, you experienced the unbearable—losing your husband Jeff. How much of your darling man is inside this book?
Jeff read one of the final chapters, in which Audrey and I discussed our families and our most intimate relationships and what they mean to us. He wasn’t into Public Displays of Affection, but he strongly approved of those words.
When he died, Audrey and I realised we stood by every word that we’d written. These messages were now even more important to us than ever. Because life is short. It really is. It’s far too short to waste time letting mindset gremlins win. So what if we’re afraid? Do it anyway. There’s nothing to lose.
I’m choosing to let Jeff’s memory turn the light up in my life, not down. Being here at all is an enormous privilege. I’m acutely aware of that, now. I just wish more than anything that he could hold a copy of this book in his hands and read it, after supporting me all the way to write it and develop my career as an author.
What would Jeff say to you on publication of I Don't Have Time?
He was the author and editor of over twenty books. He’d smile and say, ‘Very good. What’s next?'
On that note! You're working on some incredible projects this year. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Audrey and I are writing our second book together, The 15 Minutes that Changed Your Life. We’re talking to people who’ve made bold decisions, taken remarkable action or risen from adversity. I’m also working on a sequel to my first teen novel, Unrequited: Girl meets boy band, and that novel has been turned into a musical in a collaboration with my school friend, ARIA-winning composer Sally Whitwell.
On the personal front, I’m focused on healing from the shock and grief from losing Jeff last year. I’m caring for my children and we’re all having the counselling we need to recover from this. I think I’ll probably write a book about grief in the next 18 months or so. I don’t think we talk about death enough in Australia and, because we run away from it, we don’t know how to handle it when it happens. It’s terrifying, and I’d like to contribute something to making it less so.
When Jeff died, I was surrounded by support from family, friends and strangers. I’m establishing a charity called Canberra’s Heart so that our amazing community can rally behind other families who find themselves hit by sudden, unexpected loss.
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About the Book
I Don't Have Time, Exisle Publishing, February 2017, $29.99, 9781925335323
We live in a time of ‘hurry sickness’. ‘Busy’ has become a competitive sport — and it’s a sport with no winners. But somewhere, underneath all of this hard slog, there are the things we really want to do. The things that bring us joy and give our lives meaning. More often than not, the only thing standing between us and getting on with those things is ourselves.
Our lives don’t have to be as complicated as we make them. Through stories, theories and practical exercises, I Don’t Have Time explores 50 excuses we make that keep us from getting on with the things that really matter to us. These are the excuses that hold us back in our health and wellbeing, our careers, relationships, finances, home environments, personal development and recreation.
Using humour, anecdotes, research into productivity and Emma and Audrey’s proven ‘My 15 Minutes’ approach, this is a practical guide to ditching overwhelm and making progress in all the areas that matter most. It flips the notion that we need great swathes of time to get ahead with things, instead encouraging us to use the nooks and crannies in our day to achieve big things over time.
Emma Grey is a life-balance specialist who uses a suite of innovative concepts and tools to provide organisations and individuals with practical solutions to the modern challenge of ‘having it all’. Emma runs seminars, workshops and executive coaching, writes regularly for national media, and together with Audrey, is co-founder of the highly successful ‘My 15 Minutes’ program (http://www.my15minutes.com.au).
Audrey Thomas is an experienced coach and facilitator with a background in project change and management, human resources and operations management. After a corporate career spanning the UK, Europe and North America, she now specialises in working with clients in both the public and private sectors to discover and develop their untapped potential.