My “to do” list is always long. In fact, I noticed not long ago that I rarely get everything on my list completed in a day. Upon reflection, I realized I was finding comfort in having a long list of things to do. I took a hard look and had to admit that I was intentionally making my list longer than was realistic because, “What if I ran out of things to do?!” A moment of panic set in. Why was that? Would I not be of value if I wasn’t busy?
Our culture values being busy. So much so that we’re afraid not to be busy. The March-April 2023 cover article* of Harvard Business Review titled “The Busyness Trap” calls to our attention how we too often associate busyness with value regardless of output and achievement. The author states, “…busyness has become a status symbol. Research led by Columbia marketing professor Silvia Bellezza shows that people perceive others who are busy…to be important and impressive.”
Sometimes we stay busy even if on menial tasks because, heaven forbid…what if we had some downtime to think, create, reflect? Yet these periods of idleness are when our minds recover, new ideas develop, and we can focus on the present. Busyness dilutes our enjoyment of the present and at it’s worst, negatively impacts our mental and physical health.
I recently took a self-imposed retreat in the country to intentionally reflect, spend some strategic thinking time and do some creative work. I’d start each morning sitting on the deck in quiet time and meditation (with the view you see in the picture here), but also in reflecting on and journalling about some big questions that needed to be addressed. I took long walks and let my mind wander. At the end of the weekend, not only did I feel rejuvenated and energized, I had come up with a strategic plan and some creative ideas that I was excited about putting in place. Setting aside that intentional downtime with a light agenda allowed me the creative freedom and productivity that I needed to advance the ball on some critical activities that I’d been putting off for months because I’d just been “too busy.”
So how do we get to a place where we’re accomplishing our goals, yet not busy? I warn you, this will take some courage and honest self-assessment, but I’ve found these tips to be helpful and ultimately rewarding.
- Do your own busyness audit. Where are you spending time on menial tasks? How much of your time is spent in deep thinking or in blocks of uninterrupted time on your primary projects/ goals? What can you adjust to get more of the latter?
- Block off regular unscheduled time on your calendar. No meetings. No email. Devote that time to projects that get you closer to your big goals, work or personal.
- When you find yourself waiting – in a doctor’s office, for a meeting, etc. – just wait. Keep your phone away so you can resist the urge to check just one social media page, send one email, etc. Simply sit and wait.
- Make your daily “to do” list…then cross off one third of the items on it. You’ll feel more accomplished at the end of the day having completed the most important work. If you do have extra time after the list is complete, think intentionally about how you’d like to spend that time.
- Doodle. Even if it’s 5 or 10 minutes, give yourself permission to sit and let your mind wander.
- Set boundaries for when you plan to leave the office or stop your workday. Then do it.
When you’re not always “busy” you’ll be less stressed. You can be just as, and probably more, productive. You’ll learn to appreciate the present moment. You’ll be able to more clearly see what you are achieving. It can feel empowering as you claim your time.
I realize that in our work world our time is not always our own. But we always have choices and room to create a sense of our own power and fulfillment. If you’d like to further explore how to have a less busy life, let’s talk in a Coaching Discovery Call about whether coaching could help you get to that place of calm and freedom.
*Harvard Business Article, “Beware a Culture of Busyness” by Adam Waytz