15 August 2013
Image by Lel4nd
When I meet up with friends in Hong Kong and ask ‘How are you?’ – about 99% of the time they say, ‘I’m very busy.’ When I ask friends in the US the same question, their answer is invariably, ‘I’m fine, thanks!’
Why the difference?
This can’t just be a cultural thing. When I was studying Chinese, one of the first exchanges I learned was ‘how are you?’ – along with the answer, ‘fine’.
Yes, Hong Kong is a busy place, very fast-paced and stressful. But all large cities around the world (and many small- or medium-sized cities) are also fast-paced and stressful.
But ‘I’m very busy’ isn’t even a logical answer to that question.
In a Wall Street Journal article, ‘Are You As Busy As You Think?’, writer Laura Vanderkam speaks about getting lost in a ‘time fog’, where you believe you’re spending more time or less time on things than you really are. For example, you may think you sleep only 6 hours a night, when in fact you may be sleeping for 8 hours. Likewise, you may think you’re spending 2 hours a day on household chores, when you may only be spending half an hour.
The only way to know for sure how much time you spend on anything is to track it by keeping a log, which in itself, is troublesome and time-consuming. But if you want to ‘find’ or ‘create’ more time to get other stuff done, you need to get real about what you spend your 168 hours per week doing.
For example, you might not think you have time to spend with your family. But let’s say you work 60 hours a week and about 6 hours traveling to and from work. That, along with 56 hours for sleep and 21 hours for meals, still leaves you with 25 hours. I’m sure your family doesn’t expect 25 hours of your time every week – so you’ve still got lots of wiggle room for other activities.
The language of priorities
Vanderkam offers a sobering way to think about how busy you really are – thinking about priorities.
To do so, she suggests that we change our language. Instead of saying ‘I don’t have time’, say ‘It’s not a priority’.
For example, instead of saying ‘I don’t have time to go to the doctor’, say ‘I won’t go to the doctor, because my health is not a priority’. (Last autumn, when I asked my husband to go to the doctor with me to get a flu vaccination, he said, ‘I don’t have time now. Ask me later.’ Unfortunately, ‘later’ never came, and we both came down with a bad case of flu. This year, I’ll get the jab with or without him.)
Or instead of saying to your children, ‘I don’t have time to go to the park today’, say ‘I won’t go to the park with you, because you’re not a priority’.
Whoa! That puts things in a different light, doesn’t it?
Vanderkam says, ‘Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.’
What’s important to you?
Basically, we all need to get honest about what’s important.
When I train language courses, I usually assign additional study to the participants. I used to think that assigning ‘homework’ to adults was a bit insulting. But the fact is, you’ll never become proficient if the only time you spend studying is the hour or two each week in classroom lessons.
Unfortunately, only a small fraction of participants ever take the time to do those assignments. They smile and say, ‘I was too busy to do my homework.’ (That is, becoming proficient in English is not a priority to me.)
So think about it. Do you find yourself thinking ‘I don’t have time to study English today?’ Change that statement to ‘I won’t study English today, because it’s not a priority.’
And if it’s not a priority, that’s fine. Your time is your choice. (And I know that most Hong Kong people do spend an awful lot of time at work.)
But if it is important to you, then schedule a bit of time from the extra hours you have each week to read an English article or book or watch an English video on YouTube or to do some ‘copycat’ writing. Even 15 minutes a day will help you become more proficient and confident.