One of the most common problems among people I work with is the feeling of always being busy.
It becomes a rationalisation and people think ‘I can’t do this’ because I’m too busy. I can’t be with my family or friends because I’m too busy. I can’t work out, meditate, shut down at night to get to sleep, or make time for planning and even disconnection because I’m too busy.
Most of us, including myself recently have used this “too busy” rationalisation, because it feels very true. It feels absolutely true that we’re too busy. If we want to be less busy, we have to get all our work done first (and be more busy in the meantime).
But is it true? Or can we develop a habit of not being busy, even with the same workload?
Let’s get at the heart of this always-busy habit, and then reverse it.
When you are selling products or providing a service we tendency to say yes, take on too much, and overcommit. I’m 100% guilty of this, as are most of us because of the fear of not being able to pay the bills.
I’ve been working to change this mindset because it actually damages and impacts my mission and the people around me. Sometimes we over commit ourselves because we’re overly optimistic about how much we can actually do. Sometimes it’s because we just have a hard time saying no — we’re worried what will happen if we don’t say yes.
Here’s a thought; Commit to less, but be more committed.
Even if we have a manageable amount of things to do, and haven’t overcommitted like a mad person, the likelihood is we are moving all day, always keeping yourself busy. This is just a mental habit, it’s rushing to get done and move on to the next thing, wanting the current thing to be over.
Do you ever feel there’s a lack of connection between the task and anything meaningful? Most of the time, we’re doing tasks just to get them done because there’s a deadline, others are waiting on it, or simply because it’s on our task list.
I love lists and I would love to get through everything but sometimes things in that list don’t feel very meaningful. If something is on my list for a while and never gets done I actually delete it or scribble it out. The aim is to connect each task with something meaningful, and give it the attention that it deserves. This is a completely different way of working than our usual rush to tick things off.
When you are afraid you won’t pay the bills, keep your job or make others happy if you don’t get everything done it’s the fear that drives you. These are understandable things to worry about but do you find it hurts your ability to focus?
I certainly do, it drives me to do too much. Wouldn’t it be better if we focused on things that have a higher impact, so we could still get things done but without being so busy?
There’s also tendency to put off the scary or boring tasks. We keep ourselves busy so that we don’t have to focus on these high-impact tasks. They are hard but it would be better if we just focused on the scary or boring tasks if they’re really that important.
We all want to work with a sense of purpose and meaning, feeling focused and present and actually get the important things done.
How can we do this?
Prioritise high-impact tasks instead of doing small tasks, being reactive and doing busywork. Focus on the tasks that actually matter, sometimes they are the scarier tasks so we avoid them or put them off because you are too busy and don’t have enough time. They also tend to have a bigger impact on our careers and business and purpose.
Of course we still have to make room for administrative work and messages/emails, but as much as possible, we should be letting go of or saying no to the tasks we don’t really need to do, delegating those that others can do, and deferring or even deleting tasks that don’t need to be done today.
Make time and focus on the high-impact tasks.
Connect to them and remember why it matters. This is a great motivator as well, how long you can stay connected to this as you do the task, and keep coming back to your ‘why’, put your heart in to it.
Focus on one small task at a time because we actually can’t multitask, we can only do one task at a time. Although our minds are always thinking about lots of other things but by giving something you full attention, just for 40 minutes without distractions means that you let go of everything else for the moment.
One “small task” at a time, baby steps so that if a task feels daunting, scary, overwhelming, it is needs to be broken down into smaller tasks.
What narrative are you playing in your head that’s making you afraid? “I can’t get this done in time to meet the deadline I set for myself” or “They’re all going to think it’s terrible” or “If I don’t do everything on my task list, they’ll lose respect for me.” These are not necessarily false narratives, but they’re hurting you no matter how true they are. These narratives keep us from being present, pulling us instead to thinking about other things. These narratives add fear and worry to our experience, which makes it harder to focus.
Can you be fully present with the task if you let go of the narrative? Can you feel the meaning? This takes a lot of practice, but it’s worth it.
When you get that rushing and panicked feeling give yourself a nudge, as often as you. Write it down in the form of a daily plan or to do list, set up calendar reminders or even photos or objects can serve as reminders.
Keep reminding yourself and practicing it again and again when you get that busy feeling, practice until it becomes you default. Until it changes the way you work and live.