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Steve's Scribbles...

Simplify, Simplify

I complain about being busy, but what am I going to do about it?

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

Pardon me, but are you busy?

Ha! What a ridiculous question. Of course you're busy.

Everybody I know is busy. Everybody is overly busy.

It sometimes seems like a point of pride among my friends or co-workers to be able to brag (subtly or not) about just how busy one is: "I've pulled two all-nighters this week." "Sorry I couldn't get to that, but I've been overloaded lately." "I have two ten-page papers due tomorrow but haven't gotten to them because I had a final project due yesterday and two rehearsals last night." And so forth. I don't say this to point out flaws in my friends: I'm more guilty of 'bragging' about busy-ness than anyone I know.

But it's true: I'm too busy too

I overload myself with commitments, and I'm aware of that. Even if I weren't, friends take me aside and express concern for me getting enough rest and food; my parents get worried about me based just from the little they do find out about my schedule. Personal relationships suffer and fail. My boss is often in the bizarre position of asking me to go home because I'm working too late!

Leaving aside the time and energy requirements of my job (which will be the topic of a few Scribbles some other time), my problem (I think) is that I have a lot of trouble saying 'no' when someone asks me to do something, especially if it's something I normally enjoy doing. Like, say, singing. Or acting. Or playing piano. So I often say yes (especially when the commitment is months down the road and doesn't seem real yet) and just pay the price in lost sleep when the time comes.

I'm not completely out of touch with reality, though - given a sufficient overload over a long enough period of time, it will [eventually] occur to me to [maybe] think about [possibly] simplifying my life by [reluctantly] withdrawing from one or more of my commitments or by [unhappily] saying "No" when asked to do things.

I recently hit that point again.

Time to go!...(knock knock knock)...Time to go!...

For well over a year I had been a member of MACH 1, a semi-professional a cappella quintet based in St. Louis. We started as a bunch of ex-college singers getting together to have a good time, sing some tunes, arrange some new songs, and perform for crowds again. (We like applause. Applause is good.)

Well, one by one my closest friends in the group had to go because of career or personal commitments, and more of the running of the group (directing rehearsals, planning, copying, administration, etc.) began to fall in my lap.

To make an epic story shorter, I'll just say it became more draining and less fun for me over time and I finally announced my resignation in December. The Christmas gigs were a lot of fun and the group was sounding good, but the prospect of dealing with yet another round of auditions (to fill in for other members who were about to depart) and the effort required to integrate even more new blood into the group would have taken more energy than I was willing to give.

I had my last gig with the group on December 18th, and I could tell even a week later that I was a happier fella without the group jockeying for space in my head. Chalk one up for simplification. (MACH 1 has survived in a modified form -- a mixed quartet rather than a male quintet, with one of the original members still there.)


Three months later, life is still far from idyllic -- a number of things have spilled into the hole left by MACH 1 and overflowed it. The biggest time-sink lately has been the Threepenny Opera, which is opening this coming weekend.

Now, any one of you with a tendency to think logically might well ask, "Steve! If you were feeling overloaded by a group that rehearsed once a week, why on God's green earth did you audition for a show?!" This is a fair question.

My answer is somewhat vague and a combination of things. "I still like applause" is one answer. "I miss acting" is another. Also, as stated above, it is easy for me to say "yes" to something when it's many months away because (as my brain sees things) surely I will have gotten my act together by then and I'll be able to make time for whatever it is with no trouble. Other rationalizations include "it's only for a few months and then it's over, so I can handle it" and "maybe I can make some more friends."

Of course, none of those answers addresses the more significant question of "Why now? Why not later when you've made the time for it? You'll never be able to make time for yourself if you keep adding things on and never taking them away."

And my only answer is: If I were able to make more time for myself, this is one thing I would do with that time; therefore, if I can fit activity X in without severe sleep loss or damage to my health, I'm better off than otherwise because life will be that much closer to how it would be in the best of all possible worlds.

This is not a great answer, because it still doesn't give me a rule for when to say no, but it does let me go to bed happy. When I do get to bed.

I know I'm not the only one

I'm not saying I'm the busiest person in the world, and I'm not saying I'm busier than you; I'm learning not to make a contest out of these things. I'm only talking about me. Everybody's got their own row to hoe (an expression I much favor to '...their own race to run', because that implies to me that A) speed is what really matters and B) a frantic pace is normal, neither of which I believe) and I'm not trying to say my troubles are worse than anyone's.

But given that I have the troubles I do and that plenty of people (just from casual contact with me) tell me I work too hard and don't spend enough time on keeping myself happy and healthy, this is clearly something that I need to address. Organizing my thoughts and writing about it is one way for me to do that.

Less is Less, and Less can be better than More

If I want to improve things, I need to figure out some more things to change or stop doing altogether so I can make more time for the better things like rest and relaxation and friendships. Another way to frame the concept is, who do I want to stop being to make room for a better version of me?

"Who to Be" will be the next in this series of self-examinations...

Ironic Postscript

I started this piece in December. It's March. Predictably enough, I had trouble getting around to finishing this up.


As always, for more news, pointers & commentary, see Steve Bogart's home page.

Handy Official Disclaimer: Steve's Scribbles are my own personal work and not meant to be taken as official Olin School of Business pronouncements. They are, however, © Steve Bogart (original publication date is at the top of each Scribble).
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