You Are Too Busy: Stop!
When I regularly worked 16-hour days, I was too busy. The same goes for when I was caring for a newborn. But come to think of it, I have always felt "too" busy. Chances are you do too. Jamming more than 24 hours in a single day has become the norm. But that doesn't mean we should allow ourselves to live this way. So, how do you stop? (See also: Move from "Busy" to "Getting Things Done")
Understand Why You Are Truly Too Busy
Most of us feel like we have no choice but to live with an overbooked schedule in order to survive. We complain and feel constantly overwhelmed, but figure there is no other way. From a work perspective, many say they have to work this hard in order to bring home that necessary paycheck or to advance their career. From a family and friends viewpoint, we have to commit to certain activities and obligations or our kids or friendships will suffer. Throw in personal issues and other situations out of our control, and there is just no way to slow down. Or is there?
Oftentimes, we keep our lives too full due to habits and fear. We allow these overbooked, over-stressed lifestyles because we see no alternatives to change. Some think slowing down is a luxury for only a select few. Or change seems too hard to achieve since it would make us busier to figure out how to do it. Worse yet, change seems too risky or scary. But, if no attempts are made to address an overly busy lifestyle, things like burnout, unhappiness, and even sickness can result…ironically all the things we think will be avoided if we keep up our constantly busy state. (See also: Benefits of Changing Your Routine)
An Overly Busy Life Is Counterproductive
All those benefits you think you are getting from working long hours or attending every event can work against you. Your work product often suffers at some point, mistakes happen, and you don't live a quality lifestyle when you feel continually overwhelmed. Even something as vital as caring for someone around the clock requires breaks for the safety of those receiving care and the caregiver.
Having the ability to work smarter, not harder, means breaking old habits in your currently busy life. It means trying something new when you would usually do the same old thing. Such changes don't require major life decisions, but rather can be more subtle. (See also: Healthy Changes You Can Make Today)
1. Prioritize With a Time Budget
Like a budget or a diet, you only have so much to spend, whether money, calories, or time. You need to figure out what deserves the most attention in your life. If an area is deprived, figure out what is taking its place and if it's worth it. Putting aside your current schedule, make a list of areas you wish could take precedence and areas you wish you could cut down. This can help identify how beneficial your current choices are and where you can make changes to move your current lifestyle closer to your ideal one. (See also: The Secret to Work-Life Balance)
2. Learn to Cut Down
Learning to push back or say no can be hard. If done right, however, it helps protect our valuable time and can make us a whole lot happier. Consider each and every commitment you make. Are you doing it because there really is value, or do you just feel obligated or afraid to say no? At work, are there tasks that can be eliminated, combined, or done faster? Check out the Harvard Business Review's tool for identifying low-value work tasks, which can help better manage your time. (See also: How to Say "No" at Work)
3. Set Limits
Whether it's going through your emails, finishing something at work, or just spending quality time with the kids, if you assign a deadline or allot only a set amount of time for such items, you can make productivity rise, waste less time, and actually make the experience more meaningful. This especially applies to social media and our connectedness to everything. Set limits for your smartphone and computer use to avoid the massive time sink that results with no discipline. (See also: Sticking to Personal Deadlines)
Delegating tasks at work and home can relieve the burden of overextending yourself. But outsourcing doesn't mean just spending extraneous cash or dumping tasks unfairly on people. Be wise, fair, and strategic in enlisting help. From a financial standpoint, paying for help may be worth it at times. For example, if having a housekeeper gives you time to earn more on the job (opportunity cost) or creates precious time with friends and family, then it's worth it. (See also: How to Delegate at Work and at Home)
5. Shortcuts and Letting Things Go
Applying the right kinds of shortcuts to how you normally do certain things can help save time. Whether it's work projects, presentations, or exams, many people over-prepare out of fear. Give yourself the confidence to know that you don't need to go nuts on everything in order to do a good job. This also goes for making sure everything is perfect at all times. Learn to let go of less critical items. For example, maybe certain house chores can slide during the week or you can still do a good job on something at work without going overboard.
Are Life Changes in Order?
Besides working smarter, sometimes real life changes need to happen. If work is all consuming, ask yourself if this is the only job you could do. Does the money you make go more towards keeping up with Joneses or living beyond your means? Socially, does overcommitting to events satisfy others more than yourself? These are deep questions to ponder, but you will never improve your situation unless you really understand your choices and act accordingly.
Overall, we are ultimately the ones in charge, and there are always small things you can do to try to elicit change. It's worth taking the time from your busy schedule to try to slow down a little today.
Are you too busy? How do you plan to stop?