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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
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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.

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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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