I'm sure you've noticed that in the last few years the standard response to "how are you?" has become "good, busy." Maybe you say it yourself. Busy seems to have a positive connotation associated with being important and/or doing well. If we're not busy, it seems perhaps that we're not productive. We keep busy at work and at home, we keep our kids busy and even our vacations are busy. Perhaps we're "accomplishing" a lot, but at what cost?
Over time, living a fast, busy life can cost us dearly. The biological costs include cardiovascular and other diseases and even accelerated ageing. The psychological costs are equally serious and include anxiety, depression and addictions. But perhaps the biggest cost is the opportunity cost. When we are too busy to live a mindful life and notice what's going on around us, we miss out on paths we could have taken, relationships that may have enriched us, and growth openings that may have changed the course of our lives.
We've all seen friends or colleagues who seem stressed and run down all the time. On the flip side there are those who naturally operate at high frequency and seem to have energy to spare. But no one can maintain constant fever pitch without balancing it with rest and reflection.
Is being busy all bad?
I don't think so, after all, this is real life and we all have responsibilities and ambitions. We just need to remember that we can accomplish more by achieving the right balance in our lives. There will naturally be seasons that are busier than others. I'm in one right now, as an entrepreneur getting a small business up and running. But it's part of an intentional life plan to work to serve others, and build a business that provides me the freedom to fully experience family, friends, community, nature and everything that God offers me. I balance the long (and happy) work hours with coffee dates with my closest friends, Saturdays at the farmers market, Sundays outside with my family doing garden and yard work, and quiet time spent reading, meditating and practicing yoga. This busy period energizes me instead of stresses me, as long as I remember to take care of myself and balance my days.
So the solution, of course, to taming chronic busyness is simply to slow down and connect with our lives. It's to choose NOT to be busy. And that means connecting with who we are, what we value, and what we want to accomplish in life. It means determining what is essential for living the life we want, and realizing that other things, though perhaps urgent, are not essential. Easier said than done, especially if you are in a busy season right now. But simply building good habits and taking care of yourself will give you the focus and balance you need to thrive. Here are strategies I've found to help.
1. Determine your personal (and family) values and write them down. Then write down what success looks like for you. Next write down your personal goals for the year and month. Set aside time at the beginning of each week (I like to do this on Sundays - see details here) to remind yourself of your values and goals, and decide what essentials need to be accomplished this week to make progress on them. Use a weekly planner (get a free printable one below) or write out in a notebook or journal (the Best Self Journal is great for this) what your high-level schedule needs to look like to have time for these essentials. Then get out your online calendar and schedule them in.
2. Evaluate your life and your commitments. Examine why you're so busy and make sure that the things that fill your schedule are intentional and align with your values and goals. Kids activities, networking, volunteering, weekend road trips...those are all really good things. However, if your packed schedule is leaving you feeling run down or if you're sacrificing the essential things, then busy is not so good. Use that weekly time you've set aside to adjust your calendar to make sure it fits with your values. Find ways to say "no" to the things that are not serving you or others well. Realize that every time you say "yes" to one thing, you are saying "no" to something else. Who would you rather say "no" to?
3. Listen to how you feel day to day. That will require some habitual quiet time to just breathe and listen to your body and your intuition. Take 5 minutes each day, preferably at the same time each day so it becomes a habit, just to enjoy quiet time with yourself. Pray if that's your thing and ask God for guidance, then listen for the answer. Meditate, move to your breath, and listen to what comes. Stop thinking about what you "should" be doing and daydream about what you would like to do. Then start skewing your calendar more and more toward that.
5. Be mindful throughout the day. Mindfully listen when talking to others, instead of thinking about if you agree or disagree or what you want to say next. Fully experience your meals and notice the scent and taste without distraction. Notice the sky and ground and sounds outside around you as you come and go. Pay attention to people around you as you commute to work or stand in line. Never multi-task; instead be fully present and focus on each task at hand, one at a time. Even the busy ones.
5. Learn to work smarter by streamlining. Figure out your most productive time of the day and block it in your calendar for essential work. Use technology to your advantage to gain back time spent on project management, social media, and financial tasks. Things like social media scheduling, setting up automatic bill payments, and auto invoicing and response emails can be very efficient and allow you to conserve your time and brainpower.
6. Eat well. I've found that when I make the effort to stick to a plant-based, whole foods, low sugar diet my energy levels are more or less where they should be and I'm less prone to stress, and more prone to productivity.
7. Sleep well. Get your eight hours or more and keep a consistent schedule. Try setting an alarm on your phone at night a half hour before you need to be asleep so that you'll be able to to get ready and hit the pillow on time.
8. Mindfully walk each day. Take a break at work, walk to and from work, or go for a nightly stroll and focus on nothing but your breath, your feet on the ground, and what your eyes are taking in around you.
9. Make time to read. I know this is hard when you're busy or distracted, but I really find reading to be so essential in lifting us from our own self-involvement to get perspective and space. Start by just going to bed 10 minutes earlier to read before lights out. Begin with one of my all-time favourites books: Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.
10. Take a digital detox vacation at home. Vacations are important, but not always the ones where you're spending time and money travelling and rushing from place to place to cram in as much as possible, or driving hours to a destination to give the kids an "experience" only to have them in the back seat on their phones the whole time. Simply unplug at home. Schedule a long weekend or even a full week with no phones or computers allowed. Just play, you remember, like we did when we were kids. Get outside. Sit in the sun. Read books. Have a picnic. Go for a hike. Clean the yard as a family. Go to the local beach or park. Have a movie and popcorn night. I promise that down time at home, but away from work and email and daily responsibilities, will make you even more productive throughout the year.