The Fallacy of Busyness

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” My mom’s favorite reminder to me as a child to instill a habit of tidiness. But my rearing had a similar, unspoken axiom that I have been much more successful in following: “a time for everything, and everything at its time.”

My parents imposed structure on me, not so much in the form of “thou shalt nots” but more by constructing boundaries of time. A time to sleep, a time to eat, a time to study, a time to practice, a time to play.

By high school, I had grasped what they were getting at. If I finished my homework in the library after classes while waiting for my ride home, I would have all evening for intramural sports, other activities, reading, and even my favorite TV show.

No, I wasn’t perfect, and some days I had assignments to complete or tests to study for late into the evening. But the principle of carefully ordering my time I carried with me into college, which I tried to treat like a job. Set hours for class and studying, other hours for service and fun.

Law school was definitely a challenge to the system, but even there I eventually found how to make time to cook myself healthy foods, follow a regular exercise program, travel, as well as try to wrap my mind around criminal law.

Please don’t take this as me bragging that I have arrived and mastered all things time management. I most definitely have not. It is to say I have a deep knowledge on how to manage (especially my) time, and am pretty decent (usually) at controlling my time. I have learned that life is busy, but that does not mean I don’t have time. It means that I’m using my time, and if I do so wisely, I can get a lot in. But there is always room for improvement.

I remember one such time where I was able to look at my time spent through fresh lenses. In my year between college and law school, while serving at CAMPUS, one of our requirements was to keep a time log. Every day we were to record how we spent the hours of our day, as well as reflections from the day. This went on for eight months. I found the easiest way for me to do this was to keep a post-it note on the cover of my day planner and jot down how I’d spent my time whenever I thought of it, and filled in the gaps at the end of the day when I typed it into my computer.

It didn’t take long for me to see just how much time we really have in a day. True, I wasn’t at a formal job or in school, but even then, it is a human temptation to say “I’m so busy. I don’t have time!” But really, you do. We all do. What’s more egalitarian than the distribution of time? We get 24 hours each.

(I do not wish to oversimplify this. People do live in different circumstances that may require them to stretch their time differently, and those circumstances often are not fairly imposed. That is life though. And being mindful of where our time is going can often help us identify areas to improve efficiency so that no matter life’s demands we can find a moment or two for that thing we say we just don’t have time for that we want, or need, to do.)

My experiences with time in general and with keeping logs in particular came flooding back to me last week as I read two articles in the New York Times focusing on Laura Vanderkam (one by her, one an interview of her). I was excited to see she has released a new book that I am hoping to read–some time. I read her book What Most People Do Before Breakfast a two or three years ago, and loved it. It really motived me to try and make the best use of my mornings (an intention I need to follow up on again these days). In these articles, I was delighted to see that she also advocates keeping  a log of time to be more aware of where exactly we spend our time.

I do have to admit: I’ve never really kept time logs again since that gap year (an intentional year off in the 20+ years of my education), but I do often find myself thinking about it. “Hm, if I hadn’t spent those 45 minutes flipping through every little piece of mail before starting dinner, I would have had a time for a walk before dark and could have gone through the mail now.” So perhaps it is time to start taking log again. Maybe not every day, but at least an audit of how I’m spending my time these days and where I can make adjustments.

And in the end, that’s what time management is. It’s taking ownership of my life and how it is spent. Vanderkam put it this way: “Sometimes we don’t want to own up to how much of time is a choice. But for many of us, there is a reasonable amount of choice in how we spend our days. Using the language of being “busy” lets us avoid responsibility for those choices.”

I’m still a work in progress. There is a pile of folded laundry (thanks hubby!) that has been patiently waiting for five days to be put away. It’s not in its place. I know enough not to say it is because I’m too busy, but because I haven’t made the time.

“So teach us to number our days,That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12, NKJV.



  1. “Time is a choice”—I LOVE that thought! Sometimes I think about all the things that people in the age before computers were able to do and am floored at how much time I manage to waste just on my phone and laptop.

    P.S. I think it’s 90:12 you mean? The only reason it caught my eye is that someone texted me that verse for my birthday just a few days ago!

  2. Thanks for catching the typo. There’s only 17 verses in that Psalm, haha! It is now fixed. And yes, sometimes I wish I could just be rid of my phone, but the fact that I’m not is probably evidence that I am addicted to it.

  3. I appreciate this article. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Glad you liked it!

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