Are We Really Too Busy?


“How are you?” asks Unsuspecting Friend.

“Good. Busy,” I reply, rubbing my eyes and making a loud sigh.  

It is a terrible response that I find myself saying more and more.  But can you blame me?  Here was my to-do list for the weekend:

  • Grade vignettes
  • Plan poetry unit
  • Grade identity essays
  • Make rubric for blogs
  • Write examples for blogs
  • College recommendation letters (15 students)
  • Input all lingering grades
  • Email parents of C, D, F students
  • IB unit planner notes
  • Oil change for car
  • Put out recycling
  • Plan Sunday school lesson
  • Buy baby shower gifts
  • Clean the house
  • Laundry
  • Write True North self-reflection
  • Write leadership blog

Not surprisingly, I did not complete every item on my list (the oil change got bumped for the third week in a row, and a stack of vignette grading is being saved for a planning period).  I wouldn’t be surprised if many of your to-do lists looked similar–a hearty mix of school work, grad school work, and personal tasks.  It’s a lot.  We are busy.

However, EVERYONE is busy.  But when we look closely,  with what are we actually filling up our time–crossing off a list of transactional tasks or working towards transformational goals?

Laura Vanderkam, author, speaker, wife, and mother of four children, asked that same question in a New York Time’s opinion piece, “The Busy Person’s Lies.”  With such a busy life, she sought to discover how she spent her hours and how she could find some long lost free time.  To do so, she recorded all her activities for a year in thirty minute increments; the result was amazing.

To her surprise, she slept an average of seven hours a night, worked an average of 37 hours a week, exercised for over 230 hours in the year, and read for 237 hours in the year.  Similarly, other leaders had the same result when asked to track their time as well–busyness is a perception and not always the reality.  By trading in the stress of being busy, these leaders can focus on how to maximize their time to grow their businesses or schools.  For example, Barb Zant, a participant in the study, said that she “she could spend more time at work mentoring and less on email,” a transformational activity.

The benefits of this exercise are numerous.  If leaders take a close look at their use of time, stress, anxiety, and procrastination can be lessened, transactional tasks can be completed more quickly or at more advantageous times of the day, and a focus on the long range, transformational goals can replace the to-do list.  My own to-do list is filled with transactional tasks–items that need to get done for my classroom and household to run efficiently.  However, it is missing those bigger picture goals, like how to build confidence in my students or how to create a calm, creative living space.  The initial defense is to say that transformational goals take more time and effort throughout the week, and that transactional goals need to be completed.  Vanderkam shows that we can manage both throughout the week.  If I turned the focus away from those detailed tasks–attending to them during the time used for mindless activities like browsing Instagram, my days will become both transactionally and transformationally productive.

Once we step away from the perceived busyness of transactional leadership, the realistic view of time will lead to stronger and more prevalent transformational leadership habits.


Vanderkam, L. (2016). The busy person’s lies.  The New York Times. Retrieved from

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