Too busy to brush your teeth?

Have you ever heard some mention that they are too busy to brush their teeth? Have you ever thought this to yourself at one time or another? Why are you brushing our teeth at all in the first place? For some, this is an unconscious habit developed from childhood to spend 5 minutes (or less) performing this routine once or twice daily. For others, it is a conscious part of preventive maintenance to avoid future more costly, painful, or otherwise undesirable outcomes for dental health (i.e. gingivitis, gum recession, loss of teeth, etc.). Some may simply view it as a social “must-do” to have clean-smelling breath when interacting with others.

Whatever the reason, those who brush their teeth daily do so consciously or unconsciously and typically do not offer this activity as an excuse for why they could not complete some other task (i.e. “I could not complete my homework because I had to brush my teeth last night”). Are there any other disciplines which, like brushing your teeth, may be keeping you from accomplishing anything else of great meaning in your life?

As David Allen says, “…it really isn’t about managing time.” The key issue is really about managing oneself, which is ultimately a matter of personal responsibility: “the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.” I am, indeed, a fan of Mr. Allen’s Getting Things Done, which offers a practical set of guidelines to implement a system for managing workflow and information as it flies into our lives, with the aim of better allowing us to make decisions and act in ways which are best aligned with our goals, life purpose, areas of responsibility, and personal/professional relationships.

One of the easiest ways for us to jettison personal responsibility is to throw out the excuse “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have the time” to do certain things, whether it be to exercise, to learn a new hobby, to manage our finances, to earn a degree, etc. In many cases, this mindset is akin to a victim mentality where one is powerless to respond in a desired fashion to circumstances which are out of one’s control. The first step toward moving out of this mentality is to recognize that there is always a choice in how to react to circumstances which are not in one’s control, where the response to these circumstances is what ultimately determines the outcome which we experience.

For the sake of gaining perspective on the availability of time, here’s a brief itemization of how an average working adult may spend their hours in a given week:

Activity Hours per day Hours per week
Sleep 8 56
Full time job 8 40
Commuting 2 10
Eating 2 14
Family & Entertainment 2 14
Miscellaneous 2 14
Weekly total   148

Many people do not spend 2 hours per day eating and another 2 hours per day commuting, so this example may be a bit overly pessimistic on average. As a baseline, however, this breakdown shows that even with a dedicated 4 hours per day allocated to family/entertainment and “miscellaneous” time, there are still another 20 hours remaining in a week! What are we doing with all of this time? We all spend the same amount of time in a week somehow. The interesting question is to determine whether this time is allocated consciously (toward a desired outcome) or rather subconsciously (often in reaction to external or otherwise undesirable demands).

In actuality, this scarcity or resource management issue relating to time applies similarly to money, where some may offer the excuse “I don’t have the money to…” (fill in the blank with any number of activities: join a gym, take a class, go on vacation, save for retirement, put a child through college, pay for gas, buy a new car, buy health insurance, go to a seminar, etc.). Sound familiar? A good first step toward shifting away from this time and money scarcity consciousness is to take ownership of the fact that we are all making choices with how spend these resources. Begin with a simple self-talk exercise, and start monitoring how many times you find yourself saying any of the following phrases:

  • “I don’t have enough time to…”
  • “I’m too busy to…”
  • “I cannot afford to…”
  • “I don’t have the money to…”

Make a note of the desired item which is currently not being engaged in (due to time) or purchased (due to money) and for each instance replace any of the above phrases with “I choose to prioritize [item of chosen priority] over… [item of lack].” For example, “I choose to prioritize paying my mortgage over taking a cruise this month.” This statement implies that paying my mortgage is of higher priority than buying a cruise ticket, even though it’s possible that there are other expenses which I could forego or delay if the cruise were really a great priority to me. This clarifies that the issue is really not about having the money, per se, as it is my use of the money which I have being applied toward items which are of greater value to me. Another example for the time scenario might be “I choose to prioritize spending an hour at the gym exercising over watching an hour of television today.” This does not mean that I cannot watch any television today, but it requires that I watch one hour less of television than I may have otherwise in order to take care of my body through exercise, assuming that I make no other adjustments to time spent on such activities as those listed above.

This simple change of phrasing will help to highlight areas where time or money is being spent which may or may not be at all in alignment with our pre-stated goals. This also tends to prompt more conscious decision-making so that resources (time, energy, and/or money) are prioritized to feed those goals or outcomes which we have previously intended to have or to achieve.

As a practical example, I have a friend who recently has taken up learning to play golf. While I do not play the game myself, I can certainly understand why one would enjoy playing the game (being in the company of friends, enjoying the beautiful weather outside, getting a modest amount of physical activity, relishing a sense of accomplishment in improving one’s game or being in friendly competition with others). Taking up this hobby does come with its costs in terms of money (equipment, apparel, green fees or club memberships) and time. I understand that a typical game of playing 18 holes will consume roughly 7-8 hours within a day, and many who enjoy the game look to play at least one day per week.

Ironically, this friend recently mentioned having no time to take on any new activities in her life, being a single mother with a full-time job who is looking to change careers and build a private practice in massage therapy. Further, she mentioned being financially challenged by the prospect of potentially being forced into early retirement by her employer in a couple of years and she is afraid that her new practice may not provide an adequate income for her at that time. Do I berate my friend for choosing to pick up golf as a hobby? Of course not. However, it does appear that her stated goals/concerns are not clearly prioritized by how she’s spending this additional time on a new hobby. If money were really a primary concern, why is she choosing to spend it on golf clubs and green fees? If her time were fully booked as a full-time mother, employee, and builder of a new career, how could she magically carve out 7-8 hours per week for a new hobby?

In mentoring individuals how to build a part-time business from home, I give people a daily recommended regime (basically a business “workout schedule”) which advises them to spend, on average, 7 focused hours per week in order to build a profitable business which, over 3-4 years, may provide a residual income stream in excess of the national household median income. Those who spend this time productively and consistently generate real income for their efforts. Those who do not prioritize the time for these activities, of course, do not experience the financial benefits and remain stuck in the cycle of reaping what they have already been sowing (and probably have a laundry list of excuses as to why they are not able to achieve their goals).

The practice of incorporating a discipline to spend relatively small but consistent amounts of time and effort to achieve large results over time is anything but innovative. Spending only 20 minutes per day engaging in aerobic exercise will produce significant cardiovascular and endorphin benefits over time, far more than spending 4 hours one Saturday per month trying to catch up with a high-intensity workout. Brushing one’s teeth for 5 minutes twice daily will yield far more pleasant dentist visits than a marathon session of teeth brushing undertaken only once just before a checkup. As Jim Rohn says, “Discipline is the glue that binds inspiration to achievement.” What disciplines might you consider incorporating to help you experience that which truly inspires you?

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3 thoughts on “Too busy to brush your teeth?

  1. Skip Kanester

    Wonderful insights Clark. If people would discipline themselves to daily activity toward what they say that they want, they would actually get there! The problem is, “life” gets in the way and they spend all their time getting ready to get ready.

    I love the old sales adage, “I will do today what others are unwilling to do, so that tomorrow I can do what others are unable to do”.

  2. Angel Taylor

    I really enjoyed this post, and it got me to thinking…what do I do with all those extra hours!? I never seem to have enough time to do anything lol


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