Feel Hurried Because You Have No Time, or Because You’re Wasting Your Life?

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.”

–Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition

Agree, disagree? This quotation reminds me of one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastation. I have to remind myself of this often.

  • Carolyn

    I think this is absolutely true. But what happens when you can’t figure out what you “ought to be doing”? What if you have so lost touch with yourself that you just aren’t sure? Or you are so swamped by obligations that you can’t see the point of trying to figure out something else for yourself, att least not at the present time.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      Try this: once in a 12 step meeting I received the great gift of this ‘slogan’ (these sayings are famous for making us irritated beyond belief when we first hear them, and enlightened beyond measure when we just ‘give them a try’).”DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING”. Ask yourself that question. You may be surprised by how intensely obvious the answer is. Avoid it if you want to, but I just BET you will immediately know what the answer is.

      • Carolyn

        I had a lovely neighbour who used to say “just do the next thing” when she felt overwhelmed by the work in front of her. I will mull this over because no immediate answer is coming to mind. Part of my problem is differentiating between the immediate and the big picture. What I need is a more balanced life and to put my foot down more often. Unfortunately, every time I do that people get mad, and being an obliger, its easier for me to keep doing all the stuff I’ve been doing to keep everyone happy than to rock the boat.

  • Whoa, this is a hugely scary realization. Feeling hurried is such a bad feeling, but I never connected it to time wasting, or even worse, life wasting. This is a big pill to swallow, but thank you for the enlightenment.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    This makes great sense of those sayings about how, when we are too busy for meditation or prayer, that is a sign that we need to double our time doing meditation or prayer. Hurry, in my experience, is very often ‘wheel spinning.’ In my career I noticed that people who worked an extraordinary number of hours often (though not always) were people who exhibited a great deal more ‘churn’ than they did accomplishment. My best days are spent methodically (gosh, I would have been embarrassed to use that word about myself in my youth!) going from one task to another, but never rushing, and not trying to do two things at once. FOCUS is the word I would use about my best days now. I am able to FOCUS on one thing at a time and really DO it while I am doing it. Not always, but much more than in the past. It’s a good feeling.

    • Carolyn

      You are absolutely right about this. I don’t exactly meditate but i spend some time in bed after I’m awake laying out my day in my head while I stroke my dog, giving her some much-needed attention. A focused, methodical day is definitely my goal but I find myself firefighting far too often. This, again, is likely an obliger problem that I need to deal with about myself. Thanks for the great reply!

    • HEHink

      I agree on the importance of focus. A few years back, as a result of two major relocations (due to my husband’s career) within two years, and with two small children, I developed the mindset that everything could fall apart at any moment. This led to an underlying feeling that I pretty much always had to do everything all at once to try to keep everything from falling apart. This, in turn, led to some crazy multitasking. For instance, I would put meat on the stove to brown, then run down the hall to gather up a load of laundry to pretreat and put in the washer. Halfway through that task, I would scurry back to the kitchen to check on the meat, then back to the laundry. Needless to say, this resulted in both tasks taking much longer than necessary, not to mention a few batches of dry, overdone taco meat. One day I looked around and saw I had three or four unfinished tasks going on at once, and decided I needed to slow down, focus, and finish one thing at a time. Shortly after that I broke my femur, which definitely helped me stop the scurrying. It also taught me to tell myself, “Just do what you can.” I couldn’t clean the whole bathroom, but I could take five extra minutes of being up off the couch to wipe down the sink and counter. I couldn’t load the washer for a while, but I could fold clean clothes. I learned to do what made sense where I was. So now, while waiting for meat to brown, I take care of small kitchen tasks like loading the dishwasher, or putting away clean dishes, or (duh) prepping other parts of the meal. Learning to focus on one main task at a time has given me a better sense of accomplishment with each task, and has helped me to work more quickly without feeling rushed.

      • Penelope Schmitt

        You describe the process so WELL. I know that I now have the luxury of being retired and single and once again living by myself. I greatly enjoy taking the first hour after I’ve finished my coffee and emails just moving slowly through my house picking up whatever I find along the way and depositing it in its right place as I go, (Things actually do have ‘right places’ in my house these days!) throwing away the paper that has somehow materialized overnight, straightening the pillows on the couch, making my bed and so forth. It is a very peaceful activity.
        Visits with my son and daughter in law and my delightfully rambunctious two year old remind me of the days when a hurried pass by the vacuum and mop was immediately followed by a plate of food falling on the floor and a tiny tornado scattering toys in his wake.
        I know I’ve been writing a lot about this subject — I am pretty sure that it is because struggling with chaos has been my lifelong battle, and I have had to learn a LOT of tricks and techniques to cope.

        • HEHink

          Yes, I’ve found that I actually enjoy cleaning, in the greater sense of taking care of my home, when I don’t have to rush to get it done. I just had a three-day weekend, and was able to use most of one day to catch up with cleaning. As you say, it was very peaceful. With a husband and two tweens, there were still some interruptions, but I didn’t feel rushed. And, when I did get a little behind schedule (we were having a houseguest later in the evening), my kids were able to help out with the tasks left to do.

      • gretchenrubin

        Such an interesting example —

  • Mimi Gregor

    I find that most of the time, when I’m feeling rushed, it is not because I have too much to do in too little time, but that what I am doing is not what I want to be doing at that moment. I am rushing to just get through with it so that I can go on to something that I do want to do.

    • HEHink

      Mmm hmm. If I’m really honest with myself, a lot of my rushing is the result of having procrastinated about doing things I needed to do, but didn’t want to, and then being up against a deadline. I almost always ask myself at these times, “Why didn’t I do this sooner, when I had more time? It’s really not that hard…” Guess that’s why I now feel it’s important to develop habits for those things that need to happen regularly, to keep them from piling up, and filling up blocks of time I could spend on thing I want to do.

  • I LOVE this quote, and totally, totally agree. I feel like, most of the time, I make myself busy with things I think I should be doing, so I don’t have to think about what it is I really want to be doing. Working can absolutely be a form of procrastination. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Jess xo

  • Sherri Williams

    Ouch, this hit hard! (But in a positive, need-to-reevaluate-priorities way.) Yes, I think one of my biggest time wasters is procrastination. And I procrastinate most often by doing other work that isn’t as important as the task I know I “ought to do” but either don’t quite know how to do or feel overwhelmed by. I need to set time aside to do the tasks that have no deadlines but are important (and therefore tend to put off), and also to prioritize and figure out what’s absolutely essential.

    A friend and I actually just arranged a time to meet together next week and work (each of us independently on our own laptops but in the same room) on these kinds of tasks! We’re going to try to meet every 3 weeks and keep each other updated on how we’re progressing on our goals. Obligers unite! 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a brilliant strategy for two Obligers to give each other accountability.
      Let me know how it goes!

  • Vicky

    Wow, this one hit home

  • Holly

    Love that you’ve gone back to the old layout Gretchen. Its so much more inviting!

    Think about this: If we spend 20 min a day of our adult life reading worthless emails, we’ll use up the equivalent of 1 year (waking hours) of our lives.

  • Sue

    Sorry, but this single mother has to disagree with everyone here. I most often feel hurried when trying to get things done that absolutely HAVE to get done (getting a lumber to come fix my sink, doing my taxes, buying groceries, shoveling my driveway so I can get the car out), but which are not my highest priorities (spending relaxed quality time with my children, spending time with family and friends, doing meaningful projects at work). I am “hurrying” through the “have-tos” to get to my real life’s purpose.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      Been there, and I sympathize. Yet I do think that I did a lot of wheel spinning in those years, distracted by my worries and anxieties rather than just being THERE in the present moment. I think that it is possible to find more peace in this situation.

      I like the Stephen Covey ‘four quadrants’ paradigm. I just take a sheet of paper and put my -to do- list for the day in the four blocks. If I find myself in Quadrant four or three when there are still things in one or two, I am screwing up.

      In summary: Quadrant one: URGENT AND IMPORTANT; Quadrant two: Not Urgent but IMPORTANT (kids and family time?); Urgent and UNIMPORTANT (other people’s expectations?); Not urgent and Not important (a total waste of your scarce and valuable time). This helps me to prioritize.

  • dlynn

    I think this quote is so accurate! Only when we narrow down our priorities and focus on those first and foremost, will we feel satisfied in any given day.

  • This blog is a game-changer for me – thank you Gretchen!!! I always feel hurried. But I work like a horse. I’ve been wondering why I’m always harried – it’s a restlessness (literally, rest-less-ness.)

    Now I know why. I feel that I wasted my youth, and I think I have to both mourn and forgive myself for it to feel at peace…

    Eye-opening – mystery solved, now I know which side to err on.. Xoxoxoxo

  • Sam Jost

    I agree!
    Feeling hurried is not because of lacking time or time management but usually because the priorities are wrong and I’m doing too many things I don’t really want to do.

  • Jeanne

    I so agree. We tend to be busy as a form of procrastination because we either don’t know what we really want to do, or are too afraid to attempt it (fear of failure, fear of success). I hear the woman who says her busy is all “have tos.” I see lots of people who create busy by taking on really big, serious commitments (like parenthood, or a really big career commitment, like finance or medicine) and then say that there’s no way out of the busy trap. “I have to be so busy, look at all I’m responsible for, people depend on me, I have big bills to pay.” Is there a way out for them? Probably, but it might be a little more complicated to find and work out than people with smaller busywork. Although it probably can be as hard for one person to change playing Angry Birds or watching TV as it is for another who is busy with Soccer Mom or Big Important Professional.

  • I believe this ties well into 50 cent and Steve Jobs. Both of them lived their lives with a sense of urgency that compelled them to do the things they feared. Besides what your personal opinion on the two men are they both built empries because of their sense of urgency!

  • Elise

    I think it was just as interesting to read the comments as it was to read the quote. About 1.5 years ago I went back to work after staying home for 21 years raising my children. I knew I would have to cut back on a lot of my “extra” Mom jobs like volunteering in the school. I figured it was okay because it was now my turn and I could focus on a career again. I started out working two days per week, then three and now it is four days, practically full time. It is not really what I wanted it to be. I was very busy as a Mom and of course I complained about it. Now I am very busy because of my job and I complain about this too. The difference is, my overall feeling of unhappiness with my new busyness. After about a year of working I asked myself, how did this happen?!?! How did my life turn into this? How am I so unhappily busy now?? When I was home being just a mother I would sometimes say that my kids drove me crazy but I still loved them. My job drives me crazy but I don’t even like it. Chances are, if I compared my busyness when staying home or my busyness now that I work, it would come out to be close to equal. It’s just that now I feel overly busy because I am not really doing what I want to be doing. And I ought to be doing something I want to be doing. I don’t have to save the world and I will probably not stop complaining about problems of everyday life but NOW I see the difference between feeling like my busyness is meaningful or I am just going from one task to another without any meaning. I am looking for different work but unfortunately I am working because I need the money so I don’t have the luxury of quitting before I find another job. I am working on my attitude but it seems I can’t make this job have meaning that is not there. I guess this is one of those phases of life where I have to look at the big picture and see this is just part of the journey.

  • Betty

    One of the most thought-provoking quote I’ve read in a long time. Probably so because it hits home with me so much!

  • Martha

    Thank you for posting that quotation. It reminds me of something that Thomas Merton said: “One of the chief obstacles to this perfection of selfless charity, is the selfish anxiety to get the most out of everything, to be a brilliant success in our own eyes and in the eyes of other men. We can only get rid of this anxiety by being content to miss something in almost everything we do. We cannot master everything, taste everything, understand everything, drain every experience to its last dregs. But if we have the courage to let almost everything else go, we will probably be able to retain the one thing necessary for us -whatever it may be. If we are too eager to have everything, we will almost certainly miss even the one thing we need. Happiness consists in finding out precisely what the ‘one thing necessary’ may be, in our lives, and in gladly relinquishing all the rest. For then, by a divine paradox, we find that everything else is given us together with the one thing we needed. “ – from No Man is an Island

  • Wow……the timing of this for me is amazing. I, like everyone else, used to race through my day, feeling like I was trying to reach some sort of finish line. Of course, the finish line doesn’t exist so the race never ends. But recently I made a big change that made the finish line magically disappear. I started setting my alarm at the ass-crack of dawn to work on this young adult novel I’m writing that I know may be nothing more than a creative exercise. I’m NOT a morning person. This is HARD. And I don’t do anything but write – no getting a jumpstart on the day or checking a few emails. Just writing. My to- do list hasnt gone anywhere, nor has it shrunken. But my sense of urgency and overwhelm are gone. Could there be a more perfect example of this quote in action? I’m so happy for me. :).

  • Maggie Rose

    To any one reading this blog who has any leanings towards christianity, that is to say at the very least you think Jesus was a good man, good teacher or good example. Read “The Tyranny of the Urgent” by Charles E. Hummel. It is only about 36 pages, so you have nothing (well not much) to lose by using some time to read it! The stronger your christian beliefs the more you will get out of the book, but anyone could benefit from a reading.

  • Rebeckah Gillins Watkins

    One thing I have noticed is the world often values “busy” over “productive.” A work experience my husband had illustrates this very well. He was in line for a promotion at one of the big banks in NYC. Because he is also a dedicated family man, my husband worked hard to get everything done and get home as soon as possible. He didn’t work as late as many others, and he did not go to bars or do some of the social “after hours” activities common with Wall Street traders. His boss called him in to tell him that he was being passed over for the promotion. He explained that the firm questioned his commitment because of the behavior I described. “We may reconsider,” he was told, “if you can commit to put in the hours others do.” Stunned, my very productive and high producing trader husband responded, “Tell me what I am not getting done.” He got the promotion and still managed to have dinner with his family.

  • AJL

    I can’t do this as I feel like all work tasks are major priority and personal needs get planned as a nice to do one day, but that feels like I have no time to simply relax and do my own thing at my own pace – so I never get any plans accomplished