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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 September 24, 2020

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

In the movie The Matrix, everyone was intrigued with the ability that Neo and his friends possessed to learn new skills in a matter of seconds. With the incredible rise in technology today, the rapid learning in the movie is becoming much more of a reality than you realize.

The current generation has access to more knowledge and information than any before it. Through the internet, we are able to access all sorts of knowledge to answer almost every conceivable question. To become smarter, it’s more about the ability to learn faster, rather than being a natural born genius.

Here are 17 ways to kickstart your Matrix-style learning experience in a short amount of time.

1. Deconstruct and Reverse Engineer

Break down the skill that you want to learn into little pieces and learn techniques to master an isolated portion. The small pieces will come together to make up the whole skill.

For example, when you’re learning to play the guitar, learn how to press down a chord pattern with your fingers first without even trying to strum the chord. Once you are able to change between a couple of chord patterns, then add the strumming.

2. Use the Pareto Principle

Use the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80 20 rule. Identify the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results. Find out more about the 80 20 rule here: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

Take learning a new language for example. It does not take long to realize that some words pop up over and over again as you’re learning. You can do a quick search for “most commonly used French words,” for example, and begin to learn them first before adding on the rest.

3. Make Stakes

Establish some sort of punishment for not learning the skill that you are seeking. There are sites available that allow you to make a donation toward a charity you absolutely hate if you do not meet your goals. Or you can place a bet with a friend to light that fire under you.

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However, keep in mind that several studies have shown that rewards tend to be more motivating than punishment[1].

4. Record Yourself

Seeing yourself on video is a great way to learn from your mistakes and identify areas that you need to improve. This is very effective for any musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers.

5. Join a Group

There are huge benefits to learning in a group. Not only are you able to learn from others but you’ll be encouraged to make progress together. Whether it’s a chess club, a mastermind group, or an online meet-up group, get connected with other like-minded individuals.

6. Time Travel

Visit the library. Although everything is moving more and more online, there are still such things called libraries.

Whether it’s a municipal library or your university library, you will be amazed at some of the books available there that are not accessible online. Specifically, look for the hidden treasures and wisdom contained in the really old books.

7. Be a Chameleon

When you want to learn new skills, imitate your biggest idol. Watch a video and learn from seeing someone else do it. Participate in mimicry and copy what you see.

Studies have shown that, apart from learning,[2]

“Mimicry is an effective tool not only to create ties and social relationships, but also for maintaining them.”

Visual learning is a great way to speed up the learning process. YouTube has thousands of videos on almost every topic available.

8. Focus

Follow one course until success! It’s easy to get distracted, to throw in the towel, or to become interested in the next great thing and ditch what you initially set out to do.

Ditch the whole idea of multitasking, as it has been shown to be detrimental and unproductive Simply focus on the one new skill at hand until you get it done.

9. Visualize

The mind has great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. That is why athletes practice mentally seeing their success before attempting the real thing[3].

Visualize yourself achieving your new skill and each step that you need to make to see results. This is an important skill to help when you’re learning the basics or breaking a bad habit.

Take a look at this article to learn how to do so: How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results

10. Find a Mentor

Success leaves clues. The best short cut to become an expert is to find an expert and not have to make the mistakes that they have made.

Finding out what NOT to do from the expert will fast-track your learning when you want to learn new skills. It is a huge win to have them personally walk you through what needs to be done. Reach out and send an email to them.

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If you need help learning how to find a mentor, check out this article.

11. Sleep on It

Practice your new skill within four hours of going to sleep.

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, is a noted rapid learning expert. He says that any practice done within this time frame causes your brain to embed the learning more rapidly into its neural pathways. Your memory and motor-mechanics are ingrained at a quicker level.

12. Use the 20-Hour Rule

Along with that tip, Kaufman also suggests 20 as the magic number of hours to dedicate to learning the new skill.

His reasoning is that everyone will hit a wall early on in the rapid learning stage and that “pre-committing” to 20 hours is a sure-fire way to push through that wall and acquire your new skill.[4]

Check out his video to find out more:

13. Learn by Doing

It’s easy to get caught up in reading and gathering information on how to learn new skills and never actually get around to doing those skills. The best way to learn is to do.

Regardless of how unprepared you feel, make sure you are physically engaged continuously. Keep alternating between research and practice.

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14. Complete Short Sprints

Rather than to force yourself into enduring hours upon hours of dedication, work in short sprints of about 20-30 minutes, then get up and stretch or take a short walk. Your brain’s attention span works best with short breaks, so be sure to give it the little rest it needs.

One study found that, between two groups of students, the students who took two short breaks when studying actually performed better than those who didn’t take breaks[5].

15. Ditch the Distractions

Make sure the environment you are in is perfect for your rapid-learning progress. That means ditching any social media, and the temptation to check any email. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Before you sit down to learn new skills, make sure that potential distractions are far from sight.

16. Use Nootropics

Otherwise known as brain enhancers, these cognitive boosters are available in natural herbal forms and in supplements.

Many students will swear by the increased focus that nootropics will provide[6], particularly as they get set for some serious cramming. Natural herbal nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions to improve the mind and learning.

Find out more about brain supplements in this article.

17. Celebrate

For every single small win that you experience during the learning process, be sure to celebrate. Your brain will release endorphins and serotonin as you raise your hands in victory and pump your fits. Have a piece of chocolate and give yourself a pat on the back. This positive reinforcement will help you keep pushing forward as you learn new skills.

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The Bottom Line

Learning a new skill should be exciting and fun. Whether you use online courses, real world experience, YouTube videos, or free online resources, take time to learn in the long term. Keep picturing the joy of reaching the end goal and being a better version of yourself as continual motivation.

More Tips on How to Learn New Skills

Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

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