When someone asked me how I was doing or what’s new, my standard response would usually be “I’m good yuh know…just been busy,” and honestly I started sounding like a broken record. This led me to start doing a little introspection and I realized I was suffering from ‘Busyness Syndrome’ and upon further investigation, it seemed like a lot of people have fallen prey to what seems to now be an epidemic of busyness.
What was even more interesting, as I started paying more attention, was that it seemed like the “I’m busy” response seemed to be something people were strangely proud of. It seemed to be an achievement, a badge of honor even; one that was worn proudly as a member of the ‘busy army’. An even closer look revealed that the major culprit in this time drought was work, which seemed to have evaporated almost every inch of time people had.
Our Western world ideology has conditioned us to believe that one measure for or route to success is the amount of hours we spend either at work or focusing on work. More and more I’ve started to feel that ‘busy’ is a trap that I’ve fallen into. According to author Mandy Hale,
“A person being ‘too busy’ is a myth. People make time for the things that are really important to them.”
This makes perfect sense. If a lot of your focus is on one area, another area is inevitably neglected. On a personal level, this resonates deeply with me as I’ve realized that there are several key areas in my life I’m neglecting because of this dedication to work. One of these areas is my relationships with my loved ones; both friends and family. This has suffered over the years. I know for a fact that the ‘Busy Trap’ has kept me from putting enough time into this facet of my life which I consider to be very important. Yes, there are many areas I need to work on, but this is one at the top of the list. I’ve been meaning to go hang out with my father for over two months now. I’ve been meaning to reach out to one of my best friends in London. I’ve been meaning to return my uncle’s call over two weeks now. “I’ve been meaning”…seems to be a pattern, one that I intend to break.
As an avid advocate of life design, I’ve been on a journey over the past couple of years to craft the type of life I want and busting out of ‘The Busy Trap’ is just another one of the many adjustments needed. So now that I’ve identified that my ‘Busy Trap’ is work-related, the next step is to find solutions to create opportunities to integrate the other activities that should be higher on my list of priorities.
Historian Cyril Parkinson’s insightful Parkinson’s Law provides insight into a primary barrier to efficient time management, and states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” What does this really mean? For example, if you have a proposal due next week, the proposal will only be finished next week. But if you’re given one months’ time for the same proposal, then it will take one month to complete. When there are rigid time limits on completing a task it forces you to complete tasks in the allotted time. If there are fewer time constraints placed on finishing it will take longer to complete. So my interpretation of this is that if you allocate yourself extra time to do a job, the more time that job will take.
‘If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.’ -CYRIL Parkinson
My goal is to eliminate ‘busy’ and ‘too busy for’ from my day to day life. It really comes down to using a new yardstick to help measure in terms of priority the areas of life you want to focus on and then designing something that will work for you and still be realistic. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, nobody is too busy for anything; it’s just a matter of priorities.
Five Ways to Bust Out of the Busyness Trap
So if you’re like me and you think work is taking up too much of the time you should be spending on other areas of your life that have been neglected, here are some simple time management tips that you can try with me.
Get a good night’s rest
You’re probably asking yourself how sleeping more gives you more time. An average adult needs between 7.5 and 8 or 9 hours of sleep per night. Research has shown that while it may seem like losing sleep isn’t such a big deal, sleep deprivation has a wide range of negative effects that go way beyond daytime drowsiness. Lack of sleep affects your judgment, coordination, and reaction times. In fact, sleep deprivation can affect you just as much as being drunk. Sleep deprivation causes a direct implication on your overall performance which will ultimately lead to less productivity and in spending more time to complete tasks, contributing to ‘the busy trap’.
Start your day early
A good night’s rest will ultimately lead you to earlier days. If you were to get up just one hour earlier each morning you would gain 15 days a year. Research shows that our brains are sharpest two and a half to four hours after waking. This extra time can be used to complete work-related tasks that may be harder to do later in the day as you will be more focused. The end result will be gaining more time in the afternoon as you will not have to stay back at work to complete tasks or carry work home, as you would have spent the morning completing your tasks.
Transform priorities into habits
In 2010, University College London conducted a study aimed at getting to the bottom of the question of how long it really takes us to develop a new habit. The researchers found that it took, on average, 66 days until the behavior reached peak levels of automaticity. So that’s not too much to ask for in return for a lifetime of benefit. As I mentioned, the priority area I want to focus on is nurturing my connectivity with friends and family. The new habits I want to develop are setting aside one Sunday a month to spend time with a different loved one, one Sunday a month to make phone calls to them and every Monday morning reaching out via social media to those who I hardly see or who are overseas. These may seem like simple tasks but as we know, life gets in the way. However, if they become habits, it won’t matter how busy you get, they will be built into your day to day life.
Just say no
This is probably the most challenging for me and I know I’ve written about this one before. Doing less doesn’t make you any less of a person. If you say yes to something it in actuality means that you’re saying no to something else that may be just as or even more important. Being selective about the activities you say yes to is essential. It should really come down to priorities and make sure that every additional thing we take on is in fact aligned to what we really want. Remember; never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.