How often does your busyness get in the way of doing the things that matter? Does it keep you from doing the work that is most meaningful to you? Do you miss out on spending time with friends or colleagues? Are you busy reacting with no time to think, plan, or create?
Busyness is a funny thing. When you say you’re busy there’s a sense of pride that comes with it. You must be doing something right, or you wouldn’t get asked to do more. Being busy means people depend on you. You’re the one holding it all together. You’re reliable and you get things done. This is how you end up so busy. But even with the sense of pride, you still wish you had more time to do the things that matter to you.
The Busyness Epidemic
We have an epidemic of busyness. And it’s keeping you from having the life you want and enjoying the life you have. When busyness becomes your way of life, you forget about the dreams you want to chase. You stop trying to reach the next level of performance in your job. And you stop thinking about doing the things on your bucket list. You push it all out of your head because with all the busyness in your life it seems impossible to do anything else.
Even though you know you’re missing out on something, it just doesn’t feel right not to be busy all the time. It feels wrong to have time to do the things you want to do, to be the person you want to be. Having time for these things makes you feel irresponsible, unsuccessful, lazy, or selfish.
And it’s way too easy to get caught up in the busyness epidemic and not even know it. Because most people around you are caught in it too, it makes it seem normal. This is why I call it the successfully busy trap. You are successful at being busy, and start to lose sight of what success really means to you. And when you get stuck in this endless loop of conquering busyness every day there’s no room for you to do what matters to you.
How to Know When You’re Trapped
The first step in your escape is knowing you’re caught in the trap. The following questions can help you gauge if you’re trapped and to what extent.
– Do you answer “how was your day” with some reference to your busyness more than 80% of the time?
– Do you know you’re too busy, but the solution you’re counting on is out of your control? (Examples could be waiting for an open position to be filled, for a project to end, or for a seasonal transition.)
– Do you spend most of your day reacting instead of doing work you thoughtfully planned out?
– Do you have so many meetings on your calendar that you don’t have time to prepare for them, or to do the real work of the day?
If you answered “yes” to any of those, you’re in the trap. And the more “yes” answers you have, the tighter the trap is.
Say No to the Trap
There are many tools and methods for working your way out of the trap. But one solution rises above them all. It’s the ability to just say no. It’s easier said than done but is a powerful tool that can help you both escape and avoid the successfully busy trap.
Here are two ways you can start building up your “just say no” muscle.
1. Deal with Meeting Overload
How many meetings do you go to that add value to your work and your personal development? How many meetings afford you the opportunity to add value to the work of others? Do you suffer from meeting FOMO? Saying no to meetings that aren’t valuable can have significant returns!
Take Action – Reduce Meeting Time
– Find one meeting in the next 2-3 weeks that is lacking in value. This means it’s either not adding value to you, or you’re not adding value to it or the participants.
– Make a plan to either reduce the time spent at the meeting or, ideally, stop attending.
– Ideas to try: send a delegate, use meeting minutes to stay informed, attend every other meeting, get updates from another meeting participant, change the frequency (if you own it), acknowledge that the topic is no longer needed for you to perform your job well and stop attending.
2. Take Control of Email
Do you get notifications and can’t help but check your messages right away? Do you read emails in the bathroom? (I know, euuuww, but there’s more than one study that shows about 40% of us do!) When you read email do you often scroll from one to the next and don’t do anything with them? Saying no to the constant distraction of email will free you up to either focus more on the task at hand, or just rest your brain (which we don’t do nearly enough of in our world of busyness).
Take Action – Get Control Over Email
– Approach email like a meeting, schedule time for it and work on it only during that time.
– Turn off your notifications so you aren’t tempted to check every minute of the day.
– Unsubscribe or change the delivery frequency of emails you don’t read.
Conquer the Busyness
Saying no to ourselves is much easier than saying it to others. That’s part of the reason we get caught in this trap. So if you’re worried about what other people will think when you say no, think
And it turns out other people aren’t thinking about you and your choices nearly as much as you think! They have their own busyness filling up their day and their thoughts. They don’t have time to worry about which meetings you go to or when you check email.
So, don’t let your busyness stop you from having a better day than yesterday. You have fabulous ideas to share, valuable contributions to make, and exciting things to go do. You just need to free yourself from the successfully busy trap!