I am looking for a clear way to describe a situation in which someone is genuinely interested in becoming more skilled, but is so overburdened with obligations that they have no time to learn how to resolve them more productively.
It is different than opposition to new things ("old-school", "Luddite"), and different from useless activity ("work for work's sake", "spinning wheels"). The self-defeating nature is more well-intentioned and less ruinous than "hoist with your own petard". EL&U members: any ideas?

  • 5
    Too busy wrestling alligators to have time to drain the swamp. – Hot Licks Jun 12 '15 at 2:29
  • Just a note, as you say in the "pejorative" case, that's "busywork". – Fattie Jun 12 '15 at 3:34
  • @Hot Licks: Nailed it! – Brian Hitchcock Jun 12 '15 at 8:48
  • @Hot Licks- awesome phrase; the kind I was looking for - thanks! – chepyle Jun 14 '15 at 5:07

How about "too many balls in the air to stop and learn to juggle better".

| improve this answer | |

I'm not sure that there is an expression that would connote a genuine desire for self improvement in this context, but if you want to say that one is too busy to take on anything else you might use these idioms:

to have a full plate:

Fig. a full schedule; a lot to do (TFD)

I'd love to take this time-management course, but with this new project on the way I have a full plate already.


too many irons in the fire:

to be engaged in too many activities:

I'd love to read the book on productivity you have recommended, but I have too many irons in the fire at the moment.

| improve this answer | |

Too busy firefighting (or 'putting out fires'). From Cambridge.org:

spending time on problems that need to be dealt with quickly, instead of working in a calm, planned way:

I spend all my time firefighting rather than making any progress.

| improve this answer | |

My schedule is already saturated.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.