“I’m crazy busy”, “I’m swamped” or “I’m overwhelmed” are normal responses we hear over and over again from individuals in all types of levels and industries. It seems as if people nowadays are using “being busy” as a badge of honor, a status symbol, an “I must be important because I’m busy” type of belief. This is a mindset that places activity over results. This mindset says, “if you’re busy, you’re successful or on your way towards achieving what you want.” Some historians believe that this trend started in the 1980’s when economic strength became uncertain and people started working overtime so they could stand out from the rest. Then in the 1990’s, multitasking became a valuable asset, something employers began requiring of their new hires. That culture never went away, and has brought us to a style of living where being overwhelmed has become the norm. Unfortunately, this “busyness” is something we have chosen; the more tasks we think we can do simultaneously, the more we get behind and the more overwhelmed we become.
The consequences of our intense busyness are detrimental to our personal and professional growth. It is raising our stress levels and draining our energy, compromising our health and overall well-being, stealing precious moments where we should be present, creating constant unbalance in our lives, and keeping us from living our lives fully. Yes, life is full of things and people that demand our time and attention, but being busy to the point of chaos is not only setting the wrong example for those we lead, but it also sabotages our efforts to achieve our goals and desires. So the reality is, that for many of us, our “busyness” has actually become the very cause of our ineffectiveness. As we continue to find hundreds of ways and reasons to fill our time with tasks, do we ever stop to ask ourselves how effective are we actually being?
There’s a big difference between being busy and being effective. Being effective means that you’re actually getting things done, producing the results you desire. Effective people have a purpose – they are on track with their goals, organized, and making a difference. But fear not, if you are a busy bee, there are things you can do to be more effective. I suggest you try out a few of these tips:
– Examine your daily routines – Since most of us do routine things on automatic pilot, keep a log of all that you do in a day for three consecutive days (how you spend your first waking hour, what you do when you get ready for work in the morning, what you do while you drive to your job, how you spend your time at work, what activities you choose to do when you get off from work, etc.). You could even analyze your routine before you go to sleep. Then ask yourself, what’s important, what’s not, and what did you do that was really useless? Get rid of those useless activities.
– Take “re-focusing breaks” – This is something I do periodically throughout my work day. Every two hours my watch alarm reminds me to take a five minute break where I do some deep breathing exercises to clear my mind, examine my actions and consciously reset my focus on my top priorities. Many “busy” people might see these short breaks as a waste of time or an unnecessary distraction but, believe me, it allows me to recognize and jettison any possible behavior that might be making me ineffective. Give it a try!
– Meditate and connect with your inner self – Not only is relaxation important for the brain, but it is also the only way we can be still long enough to be able to listen to our inner selves. There are several different ways to meditate, but for those unable to put their mind at ease, I recommend finding a hobby that gives you the same grounding effect as meditation. For example, I love painting and find myself completely lost in that activity – when I’m doing it, the hours just fly by!
– Have a realistic to-do list and one that is focused on reaching your goals – When you have clear and intentional goals (see last month’s blog for recommendations on how to create them), it is easy to create a plan of action that you can slowly merge with your daily to-do list. Prioritize that list in a way that your must do items, or those that advance your dreams, are at the top. Also, be realistic about the amount of items you transfer to your daily to-do list. You don’t want to have too many items or ones that don’t support your goals. The list should reflect your true priorities in life.
– Be deliberate about saying “No” – Before you add any type of additional commitment to your plate, make sure that what you’re adding is part of your life’s priorities and it will bring you energy. Say no to any activities or people that drain your energy. Be more deliberate in your thinking when it comes to where you spend your time and energy.
– Connect with others effectively – The busier we get, the more we struggle for a true connection, for a sense of community, and for relaxation in our lives. Even as your time becomes more limited, avoid falling into the trap of only using social media to connect with your loved ones because it will only isolate you and lead to more stress. Instead, use your time effectively. Perhaps you could call your loved ones while you sit in traffic or schedule get-togethers with friends during the weekends.
– Purposely bring more leisure into your life – The fact is, our brains are most open to creativity and inspiration when they are idle. In fact, most great works of art and invention throughout history were created during periods of leisure. Take a day off once in a while and make sure you honor your vacation time by truly disconnecting from your regular routines.
– Use technology to your advantage – We keep introducing technology and devices that are supposedly meant to help us stay connected and make our lives easier. However, many people use them to remind themselves just how busy they are. As a result, time-saving technologies are creating more work instead of actually saving time. When we hold our smartphones, we’re tempted to visit social media pages, play games or even shop. Just make sure you regulate the length of time you spend on those activities as well as the time of day when you get caught up in them.
If you’re spending your time on tasks instead of prioritizing results, then it’s time for a change. After all, you want to look back on a day during which you were effective and balanced, not just busy. There are only 24 hours in a day and none of us has complete freedom, so we must make the best out of those precious hours!
To your success!