Wisdom//

Why You Feel Busy All The Time (And How to Reclaim Your Time, Attention, And Mental Clarity

And how you can change that, for the sake of your mental well-being.

artursfoto/ Getty Images
artursfoto/ Getty Images

In an era of extreme busyness, the only conceivable way to live a meaningful and a purpose-driven life is to stop doing busy work.

Trying to keep up with the overwhelming pace of today’s world keeps us in a constant state of busyness.

Busy’ has become the new ‘Fine’.

Many people feel like they are “pressed for time.”

They feel like there is “not enough time in the day.”

Others feel like they are “running out of time.”

It’s time-consuming and can be stressful.

You simply can’t do it all and respond to everything and everyone.

It pays to prioritize.

Choose your daily actions carefully.

Prioritization empowers you to focus on the most important tasks while shelving unimportant work for later.

Everything you do with no real purpose is a waste of your precious time.

Busy work makes you feel like you are moving quickly and being productive in the process. But in effect, you are not.

If you took time to measure your work, you will be surprised at how little valuable work you are doing.

Oliver Burkeman of BBC writes, “When you’re busy, you’re more likely to make poor time-management choices — taking on commitments you can’t handle, or prioritizing trifling tasks over crucial ones. A vicious spiral kicks in, your feelings of busyness leave you even busier than before.”

Real work advances your goals while busy work is what you do to avoid real work.

Many of us confuse being “busy” with being effective, or efficient.

If you start your day by answering emails.

You could get sucked into answering questions, replying to every email, and advancing the cause of other people’s actions.

Be proactive about your emails.

Don’t get caught up in a reactive mode.

“Most of us have no problem with being busy, but we’re often busy on the wrong things,” says Angie Morgan, co-author of Spark: How to Lead Yourself and Others to Greater Success. “You could spend nine to five just emailing, but that’s not driving results or moving you toward longer, bigger goals. When people say, ‘I’m so busy,’ it really means, ‘I’m a poor planner,’ or, ‘I don’t know how to prioritize or delegate.”

Adopt the “one thing” approach. Make the hard choices and work on your most important priorities.

Develop task and time mastery.

You can stop busy work and do your best work every day.

But it comes at a cost because you have to change your approach to work entirely: Develop a greater focus.

Committing to only doing really important work takes an incredible amount of discipline.

Your time is limited. Doing everything is not an option.

Doing one thing means not doing something else. And there is a big difference between the things that should be done and the things that must be done.

Resist the temptation to multitask.

If you have several items to focus on within the same day, try breaking your work time into short, focused bursts.

The Pomodoro method is a popular strategy where you spend 25 minutes working and 5 in between tasks to rest.

This way, you’re still focusing on your most important high-value work, but also giving yourself the freedom to jump between different tasks.

We live in an “infinite world”, says Tony Crabbe, author of the bookBusy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much. There are always more incoming emails, more meetings, more things to read, more ideas, projects and work to follow up.

The result, inevitably, is feeling overwhelmed: we’re each finite human beings, with finite energy and abilities, attempting to get through an infinite amount.

We feel a social pressure to “do it all”, at work and at home, but that’s not just really difficult; it’s a mathematical impossibility.

To finish what you start, and get real work done, Cal Newport recommends the Daily Check-In method. He writes:

Each morning, look at your project page and ask: “What’s the most progress I can make toward completing this list today?” Your biggest goal should be to complete projects. If you see a way to do it (even if it requires a big push, perhaps working late) go for it. If you can’t finish one, think of the single thing you could do that would get you closest to this goal over the next few days.Harbor an obsession for killing this list!

Aim to make as much progress on your work, as possible despite the other reactive tasks that demand your attention.

Being busy is an excuse to ourselves and others for not doing the important things, the scary things, the difficult things, the hard work that makes the real impact on results.

Being effective means being deliberate. You have to choose to pursue high-value work.

Low-value work is inevitable. Schedule time for low-value tasks to measure how much time you spend on them.

This seems counterintuitive, but it isn’t in practice.

When you limit how much time you give yourself to work on urgent but not important tasks, you force yourself to expend more energy over less time so you can get the tasks done faster to make time for high-value work.

You have more than enough time, you’re just not spending it right

“I don’t have enough time.” We’ve all said it before.

Time poverty is a distribution issue.

Many people hate being idle. They value productivity, so they glorify being busy. They seek out busyness for the sake of being busy.

They sense a feeling that they are time-constrained, yet they are more time-affluent than they think.


For many of us, the key reason we “don’t have enough time” is that we never adequately clarify how much time we should be devoting to the different things we most value.

One of the biggest frustrations many of us feel is having too much to do, and not feeling like we have enough time to do it. We are overwhelmed.

If you keep running out of time, it’s typically because you are spreading yourself too thin.

Sometimes part of the conflict is not having a clear idea of what you should be doing first thing in the morning, or what could be postponed until midday.

This can make you feel like you’re being pulled in a different direction.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen To Done: The Ultimate Simple Productivity System, explains, “By picking your tasks carefully, you’re taking care with the container of your time. You can pick important tasks or joyful ones, but you’re being conscious about the choices. You’re treating it like the precious gift that it is: limited, valuable, to be filled with the best things, and not overstuffed.”

If you systematically set priorities for your week, or day, there will be enough time for your high-value work.

Prioritization and organizing can lead to a more efficient allocation of time.

Step back and figure out what is important to you. Get rid of the unimportant, de-commit, brainstorm long or short-term changes.

You have all the time you need to create value, work on your best work and make an impact.

Time is an asset. It’s a huge aspect of work you probably take for granted.

Are you wasting, spending, or investing your time?

Stewart Stafford once said, “The quickest way to run out of time is to think you have enough of it.”

You waste time when you focus on low-value work.

You invest time when you choose to use it for activities that contribute to your long-term growth.

“Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you,” says Carl Sandburg.

When people see their time in terms of money, they often grow stingy with the former to maximise the latter.

Start distributing your time right

Start by reviewing your daily routine.

Track your daily activities for some time to clearly see where your time is being spent. Meetings, phone calls, emails, notifications, small chats, and many other distractions are constantly splitting your attention.

Record ALL your appointments, deadlines, and everything in-between. Analyse the actual time you spend on each activity with what you think is the best amount for each.

Schedule the heck out of your days. Schedule everything in advance.

Make a plan and know what’s going on each day.

This helps you figure out how you’re spending your time

Notice where time leaks, then declutter your routine.

Revisit your schedule regularly. Check in with yourself weekly to see if your schedule reflects what you want it to.

The key takeaway is this:

Lean to avoid the busy work that adds no real value to your work, vision or long-term goal.

The more deliberate you are about how you spend your time and energy, the less likely you will get bogged down in trivial tasks that make you feel like you are pressed for time all the time.

It’s okay to be happy with a calm life.

Originally published on Medium.

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Photo by Kalinina Sandoval
Community//

What Busyness Is Doing To Your Body and Mind

by Jennifer Magley
Community//

Be the Queen of Your Own Life

by Felicia Baucom
Community//

Is busy the new stupid?

by Nunzio Presta

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.