I Don’t Really Have Time For This

3 min read

"It's not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?" - Henry David Thoreau
“It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau

This morning, I have a meeting out of the office at 8:30. I have an internal meeting as soon as I get back, and a client coming in for a 90-minute input session at 10:30. After lunch–as if I have time for lunch–I have two more meetings ahead of a 3:30 presentation in Castleton–then it’s back downtown for a 5:30 after-work meeting.

Tomorrow looks pretty much the same. The day after looks worse. My calendar for next week is still relatively free, but that will change.

Meanwhile, my email is piling up. I get a couple hundred a day. I can’t delete them fast enough to keep my inbox clean. Everybody wants my attention.

Most of it’s my own fault; it’s my nature to be busy. But the pace of daily living has accelerated dramatically in my lifetime: we’re all busy, busier than we used to be, and everyone wants our attention.

Sometimes at work, I tell Grandpa Stories About the Olde Days of Advertising. About how we’d work for days—weeks!—on ad concepts. The art directors used to draw their layouts with markers. I literally cut and pasted my copy. You couldn’t just adjust your type on a screen: The typesetter had to bring it to you. You didn’t download a stock photo: You cast it and propped it and art directed it and shot it—and developed the film, etc.

And I remember how fast things seemed at the time. How much pressure there was to do great work with the limited time you had.

Today, we’re trying to do the same thing in a fraction of the time, with a fraction of the human resources. We are our own typesetters, our own photographers, our own photo retouchers and color correctors. There are no secretaries: We are our own typists. We set our own appointments. We file our own paperwork.

And everyone wants our attention.

This was supposed to be some kind of New Year’s Resolutions piece. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Too busy.

But here in the middle of January, I have two things I resolve:

#1: I resolve to remember that we are all busy and everyone wants our attention. When you’re in the advertising business, this message should be hitting you in the face every morning. We’d better not waste anybody’s time. We’d better communicate clearly and compellingly. We’d better inform you, entertain you, educate you, inspire you, make you think. Shame on us if we don’t.

#2. I resolve to fight for more time. More time means more time to think. More time to dig below the surface, to consider the strange and wonderful possibilities. More time to have a great idea and challenge yourself to go yourself one better. More time to get every word and every pixel exactly right. Because it has to be great. Because see #1.

I think those are pretty good resolutions for people who aren’t in the advertising business, too. Remember that people are busy, and you need to communicate clearly. And remember that it’s good to make yourself less busy. You should probably be spending at least as much time thinking about what you need to do as you spend doing it.

I also think it’s fair to be impatient with people who waste your time. If you have time to waste, you should be figuring out how to waste it yourself.

Finally, a nod to Thoreau. You’re so busy? Doing what? If you’re going to be busy anyway, you might as well be busy in service of something great.