How To Stop Being Too Busy

Holy tomatoes, if I hear one more person complain about not having enough time I’m going to lose it. This isn’t going to make me popular, but I don’t care, it has to be said.

Several times per week people say to me, “wow, you’re so busy, how do you manage it all?”. Yes, I own a business with several active clients, I teach at college and in the corporate world, do speaking gigs, and volunteer with great organizations like United Way Ottawa and Cracking-Up the Capital. I sing in a band, and I’ve started working on a book (more on that soon!). I write on this blog and I do a weekly podcast. I have a husband and 4 pets (having 4 pets is sort of like having one perpetual 2 year old). I have parents and a brother and two nephews that fortunately live in the same city as me. I go to the gym a minimum of 3 times per week and get 6-8 hours of sleep a night.

Yes, you could say I have a lot on the go. But balancing it all out isn’t rocket science. I have 24 hours in my day, just like you. Balancing time is all about making choices based on the priorities you’ve established. The things I’ve listed above are my priorities. Everything else comes after, and if I’m going to say “no” to something, it’s usually because it’s not on that list.

Then, I break up my day into chunks based on which of my priorities I need to focus on at that point. Sometimes, this means I need go to bed early and get up a 5am, because I need to finish a presentation or mark papers, or write a blog post or walk the dog before the busy day starts. Other times it means I get home a bit later at night, because I have a planning meeting for a volunteer project, or need to make it to the gym, or go to my band rehearsal. Each day comes with its own set of priorities, and I work based on those.

I can’t make exceptions to my list very often, because that’s when I start to burn out. The minute I stray from my list and begin saying yes to everything that comes my way, is when the balance gets shifted. I stop making it to the gym. I don’t sleep well. I get stressed because of looming work deadlines. So, everything gets compared to the list before I decide whether I’m going to do it or not.

Does all this doing make me tired at the end of the day? You bet your boots it does. In fact, most nights, my eyes are closed before I even hit the pillow. I’m not burnt out, I’m just making the most of my days, doing the things I want to do – creating, sharing, producing and, well, living.

Not creating the things you want to create because you “just can’t find the time” is an excuse. I don’t care if you have 5 screaming kids or 4 dogs or 2 jobs or all of the above. Richard Branson owns over 400 companies and somehow finds the time to blog several times per week (yes it’s actually him), and swim around his island nearly every day. I’ve seen dozens of interviews with him and not once have I heard him complain that he’s “too busy”. And this is a guy who’s building his own space program!

You need to do one thing right now. You need to take the words “too busy” out of your vocabulary. There is time to focus on the things you want to do. Make a list of your priorities. These are the things you do that add value to your life (and yes, that value can be a paycheque or the love of your kids, but also include other things that you do because they enrich you personally, like writing, or music, or yoga). Then, you need to start being ruthless with your time – anything that doesn’t make it on your list gets a “no”. No exceptions.

And, if that means you need to go to bed when your kid goes to bed so you can wake up at 5am to write for 20 minutes a day before he wakes up, then that’s what you do. If it means you need to stop going to the cafeteria with your co-workers at lunch so you can spend that time working on your new business, or creating something that’s important to you, then do that. They’ll forgive you. If it means not watching Dancing With the Stars so you can crank out a new episode of your podcast, then that’s what it takes. Sometimes you’ll be tired. Sometimes you won’t feel like it. But I assure you, if you’re only focusing on those things which add value to your life, you’ll feel less tired and less unmotivated overall.

Your homework? Make a list of all the things you do because they create value in your life. Stop doing anything that falls outside that list, and start spending your days doing on the things on your list. You’ll be amazed at what you can create.

[photo by andres.thor]

About

Susan Murphy is a writer, professional speaker, television producer, web site maker, teacher, digital media specialist, singer, and pet mom. She shows people how to tell better stories. You can also find her @suzemuse on Twitter.

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Geoff Livingston
Geoff Livingston

A very good reminder! I really appreciate the heads up, and a gentle push towards prioritization.

Jim
Jim

I agree with most everything stated here. Good work. However, I think the trick to managing time is actually making that list. Determining what is important. It's harder than it sounds. For example, in choosing between watching Dancing with the Stars and doing a podcast, you really have to consider - is an hour of entertainment (if that show is what you like) more important than an hour of work? Or rather, what is the ROI of that hour if you spend it doing a podcast that four people listen to? I understand the need to 'start somewhere' with things like writing a book, or doing a podcast, or launching a business. These things take a hefty investment (of time). But time is our most valuable resource - and the only resource we utilize that we don't get back. Just because you're capable of slicing up your day into perfectly palatable and highly efficient sections doesn't mean all of those sections are going to produce a return on your investment. Frankly, at my age I've learned a thing or two about time - and I sincerely believe that we don't give ourselves enough rope to explore serendipity. In general, I mean. I don't watch much TV, but spending an hour a day walking in the park often yields far greater returns for me than trying to force words to appear on a page when they don't want to appear. When that happens, I almost always step back to see what other things I could be doing which may actually help with the bigger picture. Efficiency is king. Yes. But without serendipity, we're just automatons.

Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy

I totally hear what you're saying, Jim. I think that priorities are very personal for every person, hence why, while you may not get much value from doing a podcast, I realize tremendous value - not only in my ability to connect with an audience, but in the fact that it forces me to keep up to date on the industry in which I operate. I too see tremendous value in taking a break when it's needed - walking in nature, coffee with friends, and so on. It should never be work work work all the time. The problem starts to exist for me, when I stray too far for too long from my priorities. Balance is key. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

Steve Brogan
Steve Brogan

I have a list but ... have not implemented it. Now is the time. Thanks for sharing, Susan.

Meaghan Edelstein
Meaghan Edelstein

I don't often leave comments but I know I must! This was such a fantastic, refreshing and honest post. While I try not to say "I'm too busy" because I find those words to be arrogant and annoying when I hear them from others, I do thing them! I've tried to make to-do lists but often find myself adding to them until they are so long I would never be able to check even half the items off. Your advice sheds light on how to build a to-do list that's meaningful and will add value to my life. As a terminal cancer survivor I should know better! I should be living the advice you share in this post!! However, life has a way of catching up with you and taking over, blurring what's important with what's not. Thanks again!

Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy

Thanks for your comment Meaghan and congrats on beating cancer! I'm so happy my post resonated with you.

Carol Bryant
Carol Bryant

Love this and such great timing. I am sitting here revamping my life's priorities and I find this post. Talk about kismet. Thank you!

Diane Brogan
Diane Brogan

Bravo Susan, well said! I like that you have shared the secret of how you accomplish so much. We are at our new house. There are a million things to be done. We have employed two helpers who work full days with us. One day I lazed around and surfed the computer most of the day. That night I didn't sleep well. I learned working a full day is a great way to get a good nights sleep. Thanks for all you do Susan.

Jeremy McQuigge
Jeremy McQuigge

Refreshing! Thank you for sharing a hard truth not many are willing to say. The phrase 'too busy' makes me feel the same way as when people say 'don't work too hard today.' Your explanation and rationale are about effort and cognitive decision making. Will be recommending this post to a few folks in my social circle.

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