Are you one of those folks who feels so busy all the time, yet can’t seem to get accomplished the things that you want to? Well, join the club…and that club is big. I have a handful of pointers here you may find helpful. Full disclosure, I suck at this. It’s an area I strive to be better at all the time. I think it’s actually a chronic problem in America, so my guess is this blog may strike your interest. You’ll only waste a few minutes of your time.
Being “Busy” is Not a Commodity!
I can’t take credit for this concept and would love to give credit to the person that I heard it from, but I don’t remember his name. It was another therapist I met while working in Community Mental Health. Here is what it means though. A commodity is something that is a raw material that can be bought and sold. Items you get at the grocery store would be considered food commodities. “So why are you calling being “busy” a commodity Doc? It’s something we do, not something we buy or sell?” Well my friends here is what has happened in our society. Being “busy” has a new cultural value, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. We talk about it like it is a thing we own, such as “You think you have a busy schedule? I have more to do than time to do it in?” Then we start talking to each other like we have more or less of it, like it’s a competition. For instance, “I have three kids. Busy is just a way of life. The more kids and the more activities the more busyness we have.”
Remember how I have talked about words being powerful, well this is a prime example of how the way we talk about things shapes how we think about them. Stop it. Being “busy” is not a thing we have (or want to have). It is not something we should compete with one another about having more or less of. Busyness is really a reflection of where we are putting our priorities, which leads me to the next tip.
Get Back on Track with What Your Priorities are.
So, what are your priorities? If you are like a basic American, you may think that it looks like this:
I would strongly encourage you to take a good look at this and think about it for a while. Be more curious about how these priorities got to be in the order they are in. Be a Colombo in your own life (and for those of you too young to know who that is…look it up, there are great clips online). He was the master at staying curious and asking questions about things in a way that you could finally get to the kernel of truth underneath the surface. So, for example, when I think my life is getting out of whack like this, I start asking myself things like:
Me the therapist: “So Natalie why is work first right now?”
Me the workaholic: “Well, it’s because I want to be the best provider for my family.”
Me the therapist: “So what you are telling me is that you value your family more than work, and are using work as one way to do right by them”
Me the workaholic: “Ok. I see what you’re saying. So maybe my priorities are more like: 1) Family/Loved ones, 2) Work, and 3) Me”
Me the therapist: “Alright. Help me understand why family and loved ones are so important.”
Me the workaholic: “Well I am responsible for them and need to be sure I am doing everything I can for them.”
Me the therapist: “I see. So, you really value making sure you’re at your best so you can best be able to help those you love and feel responsibility for.”
Me as a workaholic: “Huh. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I guess that is true.”
Me the therapist: “So if I am hearing you correctly what you are really saying is you put yourself first in order to be the best you can for your family and one of the ways you are doing that is by providing for your family? Am I hearing that right?”
Me the “former” workaholic: “I kind of lost sight of that order. I guess I better think about how to pull that back in line again.”
So, after you’re finished scoffing at the fact that I talk to myself, think about how I did this. It’s pretty easy. It’s just exploring with curiosity (and not self-judgment) how things got out of order for myself. I encourage you to try this and see if part of feeling “busy” all the time is you are putting the wrong things first, second, and third, which means you aren’t getting to the things that are really important to you.
Take an Audit of Your Time
I can’t take credit for this one either. I recently was reminded of it by my pastor. He was helping some of the leadership in our church think about where we are putting the bulk of our time. A great way to start this is to get data. If you’re an analytical person this will seem like a great idea. If you are more of a person that goes by the “feel” of things, this will seem like a form of torture. Do it anyway. Just log each hour of the waking day for a week and count up your sleep time too. What you will be left with is a good snapshot of the discretionary time you have, and I am warning you, it isn’t as much as you think. Another point my pastor was making when he mentioned taking an audit of your time, is that the average American consumes about 50 hours of media for pleasure on average. “What the what?!?!?” How is it humanly possible to have this time? I’ll give you a hint, you are robbing from somewhere else. Could be less sleep you are getting, no time with your spouse, no fun time with your kids just discipline and necessary caretaking, etc. So, try taking this audit. Remember, there are only 168 hours in a week. If you are sleeping your 8 hours a day, that leaves 112. If you are working a 40 hour a week job, that leaves 72 hours (3 days of time). If you are an average American consuming 50 hours of media outside of this time that is ONLY 22 hours left (less than one full day’s time). So, what are you doing with that 22 hours? And are you being too hard on yourself for not getting to 60 hours’ worth of things in this 22 hours. Remember, I didn’t even count in travel time to/from work, daily/weekly household tasks, daily grooming, etc. I told you it wasn’t a lot of time. Give yourself a break and go back to #2 and realign yourself with what is really important to you in life.
Take Care of You! Schedule it in to Your EVERY DAY! I Mean It!
All joking aside, self-care is pivotal to all this working. You may not arrive at the same values I did in the example in #2, but I want you to really think about better prioritizing yourself. You are a finite resource, just like your measly 22 hours of discretionary time each week (approximately). If you are not taking care of this resource it gets depleted. If it gets depleted there is less of it to use. Math is not my best subject, but even I know if you are only subtracting eventually you go bust. So, remember to put into yourself. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but I would encourage at least 30 minutes of your day dedicated to doing something that just lifts your soul. Now this might be media related, like watching your favorite Netflix show, yet I’d encourage you to think outside the box on this one. Get creative. Sometimes its 15 extra minutes to take a bath instead of a shower in the morning, or 10 extra minutes to smell the hair of your little one after they have finished their bath as you read them a book before bed, or a phone call to your bestie to laugh your behind off at the latest antics your everyday life brings you. Whatever it is…do as Nike has trained us to…Just Do It.
Last, but never least…
You’ve now done a great job of taking assessment of what your priorities are and where your time is going. You’ve started to change your language about being “busy” and shift your mindset to how to best use your precious time. You are remembering to honor that your biggest resource can be your biggest vulnerability if you are not attending to it, and you are taking time each day to lift yourself back up and replenish this finite resource. Now that you’ve got all this going for you, re-arrange your time. It’s that simple...”Uh Doc. I’m sorry but nothing about this is simple.” Ok, I agree. You have to be intentional on this, but new habits can form in about three weeks. Take that discretionary time and rearrange it to better fit getting your needs met in the order you value having them met. Sure, that means some sacrificing, yet it is well worth it. When we are working in alignment with what our purpose and values are in life, we feel better about our time. “Busy” becomes just another four-letter word.