“Sorry I never got back to you, I’ve just been so busy…”

We’ve heard and said this far too many times. What does “busy” even mean? If we decline invitations or put off projects because we’re busy, is there actually something in our way, or are we using the word to defer our responsibility to think?

I’m guilty of this. I don’t always want to think, and sometimes I’d rather be comfortable than manage my time effectively.

Being busy is just a cop out caused by mental fog. When you decline an invitation for a legitimate, specific reason, you have no trouble stating that reason.

Falling into the busy trap is far too easy. There isn’t much of an incentive to avoid it. Our culture romanticizes the word “busy”. People who are busy have more things to do, so they must be really popular or working towards something great. Right?

On the surface, it seems to make sense. But it stops making sense when we attempt to define the word “busy”.

Using busy as an excuse to not do something means this:

You really don’t want to do that thing and don’t care enough to define exactly why.

If you did care enough, and you did define why, 9 times out of 10 you’d find that there is still a way to do that thing by using some basic critical thinking and problem solving skills. It might require effort to reschedule or sacrifice on down time, but there is a way.

Convincing ourselves that we are “busy” makes it seem OK to do anything even when we’re not actually being productive. Sometimes busy represents browsing social media and not feeling like getting anything done.

But for some reason, being busy is equated with being productive. Sometimes that’s true, but be honest with yourself for the moment. Think of a time you told yourself you were busy lately. Were you genuinely productive?

We have more hours in the day than we think we do. It’s not that we’re actually too busy to do what we want to do, it’s that we don’t account for our hours effectively.

It’s time to stop making excuses for why you can’t (won’t) do the things you want to get done. Find the time to get these things done. The time is there. Bill Gates and Elon Musk don’t have any more time than you do – they just account for it and use it more effectively.

This tool (below) is called an Hour by Hour. I used it religiously when I ran a house-painting business in college. It helped me manage my time when I found myself having more responsibility than I ever imagined.

Between hiring, managing, paying employees, finding new customers, collecting payments, keeping my personal life stable, and everything in between, I was not ready. This tool saved my life and drove me to produce over $60,000 when I was 19. It’s foolproof (if you actually use it and stick by it).

Here’s an example from that summer:

The Hour by Hour forces you to account for every hour of your time, and it is a harshly visual way to realize how much time you’re actually wasting. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Every night, plan out the following day (you can plan several days in advance too).
  2. Do not leave any cells empty. If you don’t know what you’re doing from 9-10 am on Saturday morning, pick something. If you’re sleeping in that day, write that. If you’re browsing facebook, write that.
  3. Be specific. Do not use anything like “free time”. Pick something to do in your free time.
  4. Do not only use work-related items. Include family time, time for friends, personal time, time for relaxation, and everything in between.
  5. Refer to this spreadsheet throughout the day by keeping it open on your phone.

The example above is a good example. Here’s a bad attempt for the same days:

Notice how vague it is? There’s way too much room in there for leeway. What does “marketing” mean? It could be any number of things, and when I’m tired from waking up early, you better believe I’ll choose the easiest possible thing if I gave myself that option.

If there’s not a specific predetermined action in front of you, you will opt to do something unfocused. Don’t give yourself the freedom to choose what you do during the day. Choose what you do the night before when  you have time to think it through logically.

This is so important to understand. Be specific. Be clear. Set rigid rules for yourself so you don’t have to rely on your willpower when you’re busy hustling through the day. Switching modes from doing to thinking is difficult and throws you off. It’s best to distinctively separate them.

Most days you won’t follow the schedule to a tee. That’s okay. You will know exactly what you didn’t accomplish, and you can move it to the next day or determine that it wasn’t worth doing. That’s much better than having a foggy sense of what you accomplished during the day and not knowing where you stand.

There was a strikingly clear causation between the managers who updated and stuck to this spreadsheet regularly and the size of the business they ran that summer. It was simply a matter of time management. For us, running the business wasn’t difficult. We had mentors guiding us through the whole process. The hard part was keeping track of our time and doing everything we needed to do without going overwhelmed. This spreadsheet was the key to taking consistent action.

It was the lynchpin between 19-year-old me quitting because I was overwhelmed and had too much on my plate and 19-year-old me running a $60,000 business.

Try it out.