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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 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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