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How To Avoid Being Busy All The Time Without Making Significant Progress

How To Avoid Being Busy All The Time Without Making Significant Progress

America began to acknowledge its cultural obsession with “busyness” a few years ago when Tim Kreider wrote the highly stimulating piece, “The Busy Trap,” for the New York Times. Years later, while many of us admit modern societies are addicted to busyness, and there are sporadic mainstream conversations about it, we’ve grown accustomed to our “busy” ways and not much has changed. We are still so inclined to work, work, work that we almost feel guilty when we stop.

Many people still tell you how busy they are when you ask them how they are doing. It’s the default response: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” This standard response is, obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And yet, upon close inspection, you realize that though busy these people don’t seem to make any significant progress. You ask them why they don’t do the things they say they want to do and they always answer, “I’ve been busy.”

Busy doing what?

When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings? Being busy does not equal to making progress. Human beings need time for human-to-human interactions. We need time for sitting with the people we love and have slow conversations about the state of our hearts and souls. We need time for more meaningful conversations that are pregnant with pauses and silences that we are in no hurry to fill.

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If you find yourself overwhelmed with how “busy” you are, and you don’t seem to make any headway, you need to slow down a bit. Our insistence on staying busy has damaging effects on our well-being: exhaustion, burnout, more stress and an inability to focus. Just stop being too damn busy.

Here are some ways you can use to avoid being so busy all the time.

1. Quit using the word “busy”

Words are powerful tools. What we repeatedly say and think gets etched in our minds and manifests in our actions. If you keep using the word “busy,” it becomes what you focus on, whether consciously or unconsciously. Cut the word “busy” out of your vocabulary today. Instead, find more positive and constructive ways to express a need for time.

For example, when people ask you how you are doing, you could say: “I’m making leaps and bounds over some obstacles, but making progress. How about you?” or simply, “I’m working on some exciting projects at the moment. How about you?”

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2. Delegate, outsource or postpone extra work

It is one thing to say you are busy when you aren’t and another when you truly are busy. Sometimes we are indeed busy networking and meeting people, as well as running several projects and side hustles. You can have a lot going on, but it doesn’t mean you are going anywhere.

Examine your life and determine what you can cut out to increase your focus and time margins. You want to be great at a few things, rather than mediocre at many. Choose upto three things to focus on each day. Delegate, outsource or postpone the rest. This will help to de-clutter your life.

3. Say NO to a lot of things you want to do

The advice, “Learn to say no,” is such a cliché these days, and easy to assume it only means saying no to tedious, distracting, unfulfilling tasks and people. But, “the biggest, trickiest lesson,” author Elizabeth Gilbert says, “is learning how to say no to things you do want to do.”

There are many things you would want to do, but you need to learn to say no to so that you can focus on a handful of things that really matter. For example, you need to say “No” to work e-mails when you’re having quality time with your family in the evening after work.

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In the modern rat race, radically limiting what we are ready and willing to get overwhelmed by may be our best bet of beating busyness.

4. Surround yourself with successful, like-minded people

Jim Ron correctly observed that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. The people we spend the most time with influence our thinking, self-esteem and decisions. They even influence our productivity and “busyness.”

If you surround yourself with people who view busyness as a status symbol—a sign that you in high demand and thus important—as most people do, it’s easy to default to a “busy” lifestyle in order to fit in.

Get rid of all the “busy” people in your life where possible and surrounded yourself with more successful people who share your views and values. People who are better than you will make you better. People who have contrary views and poor habits will drug you down with them.

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5. Schedule time for rest and relaxation

Rest and relaxation are essential in our lives. When Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, sat on the bench – he rested.  It did not matter if his team was down by 50 points and the team needed him, he rested.

He says he focused 100 percent on resting and relaxing during time out. He did not think about the shot he missed or the shots he would need to make when he got back out. Jordan valued his rest-time and made the most of it. He knew that making the most of his rest-time was the only way he would be at his optimal state when he got back into the game.

Jordan’s practice of mindfulness during resting can be applied to our lives. Set aside at least one day per week for rest and relaxation. Schedule it on your calendar, and guard it well. Similarly, find opportunities to relax throughout your day. For example, if there are activities that require you to step outside the office like getting colleagues a mid-day snack, volunteer to do it. It will allow you to take a break and get some fresh air. If you don’t get enough rest and relaxation, you will burnout and fail.

6. Unplug from technology

For many of us, the “privileged” ones, the boundaries between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time. Laptops and smartphones mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids go to bed, we are back online, punching the keyboard late into the night. And the avalanche of e-mails never stops.

Shut off the computer already. Disconnect from the internet. Unplug from all the other gadgets and step away from work for a period of time every day. Take as many walking breaks as you can. Be alone with yourself and your thoughts. Examine your own heart; explore your soul.

You don’t have to be bogged down by the uncontrollable. The hundreds and hundreds of e-mails in your inbox can wait. Busy does not have to define you. Remember time is ripe to take back control of your life.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

So, what to do in free time?

Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

1. Reading Files

Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

2. Clear out Inbox

Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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3. Phone Calls

Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

4. Make Money

This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

5. File

No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

6. Network

Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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7. Clear out Feeds

If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

8. Goal Time

Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

9. Update Finances

Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

10. Brainstorm Ideas

Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

11. Clear off Desk

Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

12. Exercise

Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

13. Take a Walk

This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

14. Follow up

Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

15. Meditate

You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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16. Research

This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

17. Outline

Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

18. Get Prepped

Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

19. Be Early

Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

20. Log

If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

More Inspirations on What To Do During Free Time

Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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