Are you overwhelmed by your to-do list? Is your schedule crammed with commitments that keep you constantly on the go? When friends, family or colleagues ask how you are, is your default answer ‘busy’?
Eavesdrop on conversations in playgrounds or pubs, staff rooms or supermarkets, and you’re likely to hear people just like you, all competing over how ‘busy’ they are. In all kinds of settings, there’s a familiar buzz of ‘busy bravado; as if it would be shameful to admit to having some spare time. But when, and more importantly why did being busy become a badge of honour? And how can we challenge it without compromising on personal productivity?
Let’s face it, those labour-saving devices haven’t lived up to their promises. Domestic routines have certainly been transformed by dishwashers, dryers and laundry machines but life isn’t getting any simpler. On the contrary, the more gadgets and gizmos, the more attention they demand and the more difficult it seems to become to just press the pause button in life. In today’s consumer society, we’re working longer hours than ever before in all spheres of life and feeling more pressured to live up to impossible standards, as parents and as professionals.
Perhaps it’s due to the speed of technological change: this explains why even the most affluent people can be money rich but still time poor.
Carl Honoré, author and advocate of the Slow Movement describes contemporary society as ‘marinated in the culture of speed.’ He describes people rushing about, cramming more and more into their schedules. But this kind of busy-ness takes a toll on health and wellbeing. This kind of observation isn’t entirely new. Ancient philosophers also grappled with the problem of trying to do too much. Socrates reportedly warned: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life”. In other words, why spend time being busy when you could be leading a more fruitful or meaningful life?
If you’re blaming a busy lifestyle for neglecting people or projects, try decluttering your diary. This means paring down the surplus stuff in your schedule and making time for what matters most. And most importantly, it means abandoning the idea that being busy makes you a better parent or a better person.
Here are my top tips:
When there’s too much on your plate, the best thing to do can be … nothing. Take a few moments to stop, breathe and focus. Notice how being busy is affecting you and those around you. What would be possible if you were less busy? What could you do? Who could you be? It’s only when you acknowledge the impact of your busy pace that you can take steps to change it.
How do you spend your most valuable resource, namely your time? Take a step back and try to examine your schedule impartially, without judgement. Is it full of things that you feel obliged to do? Do you allow space for spontaneity? It’s tempting to regard an empty slot (if you can spot one) as an opportunity to tackle another task but learn to value the gaps rather than rush to fill them.
Plan and prioritise
You may have heard the expression, ‘When everything is important, nothing is’. This is particularly relevant to managing time. Unless you define clear priorities, you’ll never escape the busy trap because you’ll be chasing about trying to do everything rather than focusing on what needs your attention most.
Build in buffers
Are your appointments scheduled back-to-back? Is every moment of every waking hour accounted for in your busy timetable? Try to extend the time that you spend in between activities, even if only by few minutes. Think of it as building buffers that provide a little breathing space. Similarly, when you calculate how long it takes to get from A to B, add a few extra minutes to avoid the stress of being late due to unforeseen traffic or last-minute delays.
Learn to say ‘no’
Discover the positive power of the word ‘no’. If setting boundaries with friends, family or colleagues doesn’t come naturally, you may need to practice using it, preferably without apologising. Every time you decline an invitation or request with a polite but firm ‘no’, you are actually saying ‘yes’ to what you value. This small but effective tool will help you to create space in your schedule and lighten the burden of busy-ness.
Finally, try dropping the busy banner by substituting the word ‘active’. The next time someone asks you if you’re busy, tell them instead that you’re active. It comes across as less harried and reminds you that you’re in control of your time and your lifestyle.
Find out more
Juliet Landau-Pope is a professional organiser and productivity expert, helping adults and teenagers to develop time management and organising skills. She’s written two books: Being More Productive and Clearing Your Clutter (out in March 2018). For more info, see: www.jlpcoach.com
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