I had a boss years ago who was one of the busiest people I’ve ever known. I also can’t think of one substantial thing that he got done in the three years I worked for him. For him, being busy meant running from meeting to meeting, only briefly returning to his desk to frantically return emails and phone calls. Nobody could question how many hours he worked—he was the first one in and the last to leave. But there was never a time that any of us could point to something significant that he’d gotten done or contributed. He was too busy being busy.
I see this problem with overscheduled students, too. From the time they wake up, it seems that every second of their day is accounted for with classes, activities, tutors, meetings, community service, test prep and anything else they think will give them an edge in college admissions.
If that sounds like you—and if that life isn’t making you happy—why not commit to being less busy?
Do you need to do that third round of test prep in the hopes of eking out another 50 SAT points?
Do you need to keep attending weekly meetings for a club that you don’t particularly enjoy?
Do you need to do an hour of tutoring every night for the only class in which you’re not getting an “A”?
Do you need to check Facebook and email, or to answer texts and phone calls, while you’re studying?
Do you need to add more to your résumé just because you think you aren’t doing enough?
The most successful students I’ve known worked very hard doing things that mattered to them. But their goal was to be successful and happy, not busy.
I remember one student who was admitted to Stanford who wrote one of his essays about the demands of playing water polo, a year-round commitment which included arriving at 5 a.m. for practice every morning. But his other essays talked about playing guitar along to his favorite Beatles songs and much he loved spending his Saturdays surfing with his friends, including their ritual lunch at their favorite roadside burger stand where he was sure the chili fries had done permanent damage to his internal organs. He worked hard, but not to be busy. He put his time and energy into things that (1) were necessary and/or (2) he loved doing. I never once heard him describe himself as "busy."
If you’re a student who feels constantly busy, ask yourself just how necessary all of that business is. Throw yourself into things that are required, important, rewarding, or flat-out fun. Then consider cutting everything else out.
You’ve got too much to get done to be busy.
Here’s a great post from Cal Newport on how you can be busy or remarkable, but not both.