Being busy is like a #humblebrag badge of honor to some folks.
“Ugh, there are like 30-thousand emails in my inbox and my boss wants to have a catch-up meeting, but I’m swamped!”
“My dry-cleaning’s been done for three weeks but I’m so busy I can’t pick it up!”
“Bae, I can’t clean the cat litter box right now. I’m busy with my novel!” ← (My favorite)
Look. I’m not going to tease this one out. Here’s the key lesson: You are not as busy as you think you are. Your chaos comes from something other than how much you have ‘to do’.
And now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get your busyness sorted out so you can go back to being the stress-free, lively, fun, happy person you almost remember being in your pre-teen years.
Why you aren’t really “busy”
Don’t get me wrong: there are absolutely times when every one of us is busy.
- When you’re at Trader Joe’s picking up some groceries: busy.
- When you’re mowing the lawn: busy.
- When you’re entertaining friends for dinner: busy.
But what about those other parts of your day when you feel busy? Are you busy then?
When you’re checking email, browsing the fridge, looking up recipes for Thanksgiving dinner, reading the news, or catching up on your YouTube feed?
That’s where it gets a little murky.
None of those things are, in essence, wastes of time. But they are often abused until they become wastes of time. And it’s there that the busy/not-busy divide starts to crumble, which, in turn, leads to chaos.
…Which, in turn, leads to you feeling “busy” all the time.
How does busyness create chaos?
First, let’s define a couple things.
What’s busyness? Dictionary.com has “busyness” as: (1) the quality or condition of being busy, and more tellingly: (2) lively but meaningless activity.
Wow. It’s right there: Lively but meaningless activity.
Now, what’s chaos? Again, Dictionary.com is our source, and they say thus: (1) a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order.
And when you see these two defitiontions together, it starts to make more sense. It’s easy to see how lively but meaningless activity can cause a state of utter confusion or disorder, isn’t it?
Because when you’re so focused on staying active, it’s very easy to lose sight of the main goal—you work on a little bit of a client project here, answer an email there, respond to a Facebook comment, and then take a break to reheat your coffee in the microwave. It’s been 10 minutes in the real world, but you have no idea where those minutes went, and now, you’ve got 17 tabs open in your browser, you can’t find the one you wanted so you start online shopping instead, and you forgot to get your coffee back out of the microwave.
Chaos. Just a f*cking mess.
What’s worse, you never do get much done on that client’s project today because you have so much other stimuli glaring at you that you can’t.
It’s not that you’re lazy. It’s not even that you’re a terrible procrastinator (no more so than all humans are). It’s just that you’ve got decision fatigue. Another quick definition:
Decision Fatigue: the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.
When you’ve got all this stuff in front of you, your brain gets overwhelmed. That leads to the edges of different things bleeding together like melted Neapolitan ice cream. It becomes one big mess. You feel overwhelmed because you don’t see the forward movement and the task completion.
So many things are happening all at once that you get only 5% of 20 tasks done in one day — instead of 100% of one.
Let’s go back to the Neapolitan ice cream: It’s a hot day and you’ve got to get through a whole tub with just one little spoon. You take a bite of chocolate, then one of vanilla. Another bite of chocolate and then some strawberry. But that sun is beating down hard and before you know it, you’ve got a greige soup instead of tricolor ice cream.
Now what if, instead, you focused just on the strawberry ice cream and ignored the chocolate and vanilla? It’s all still going to melt before you can eat it all, but you’ll have taken down all the pink ice cream, and the mess at the bottom is just a nice, creamy light chocolate color.
(Ugh, I should’ve gone with a different analogy; I’m low-carbing.)
You ate the same amount of ice cream, but in the first scenario, you didn’t have any concrete “result” to show for it (besides a stomach ache). In the second scenario, you can honestly say you knocked out 1/3 of your tasks.
It may seem silly, but your brain appreciates this.
When you tell it you accomplished 1 task, it feels better than when you tell it you accomplished 1/3 of 3 tasks.
Decisions are hard on your brain. And you’re making them with every extra open tab. With every ketchup packet in your junk drawer. With every unanswered email in your inbox. With every unmatched sock.
Because, yes, when you see those things, you do have to make a decision. It is not always a conscious one, but your brain does have to make the choice to look at this tab or that tab. Or to look for the other sock or throw that one out. To push past the ketchup packet to see if there are a pair of scissors underneath. To determine if it wants to reply to that email or not.
The more options you give yourself, the more busy you’ll feel. The more chaotic you’ll feel.
— Holly O. 🎃 (@GirlAlchemy) November 2, 2016
I want to take back the word busy.
The word has lost its meaning. We’ve internalized “busy” so much that we don’t even know how not to be busy.
Busy isn’t a constant state. It’s a small moment. Busy shouldn’t last days or weeks. It should last moments or hours.
I choose not to be a “busy” person. I choose not to live with “chaos”. That’s how I’m taking “busy” back and how you can, too.
Stop living in busyness. Your problem isn’t how many things you need to get done; it’s how you see those things, how you structure your time around them, and how you approach every day. Choose to not see the things you do as busywork. Choose your activities wells. Choose to not have a busy day. Stop complaining about being busy, and stop letting people complain to you.
And that all sounds great, you’re probably saying, but you’ve still got a question. A valid one:
I still have shit to do. How do NOT be busy when I AM busy?
And here’s the answer. You can’t get every single thing done. It’s just a fact.
Because time and activities are infinite and you are not. No matter how much you do you will never reach 0. You are on an infinite asymptotic line, inch-worming towards an impossible goal.
What can you do?
If you can’t do everything, then what can you do? And more importantly: what should you do? The things you prioritize should be value-adding. That doesn’t have to mean $$$ value. It can mean heart value, soul value, health value. Here’s a little comparison:
- Catching up with an old friend or favorite family member
- Taking a walk to clear your head
- Showering daily
- Going to the grocery store to get fresh fruit vs bingeing on a box of stale Cheez-its
- Taking the time to say a real hello to a warm lead
- Creating really good, useful content for your audience
- Spending an hour on the phone arguing with your mother-in-law about the election
- Scrolling through Facebook when you’re bored
- Opening an email, reading it, and then not acting on it
- Setting up Crowdfire Auto-DMs (I’m really annoyed by these, okay? We ALL know they’re fake when we get them, so spend time on real hello’s to your followers instead)
Once you’ve prioritized your tasks, just scratch the rest out. Burn them. Seriously.
You’ll never get to them, so why add chaos to your life by leaving them on your to-do list? If you’re feeling attached to them, dedicate a special journal or Asana project to “Maybe One Days” and take a look at them once a month or so. You might be re-inspired by them and get a fire lit under you to do them, or you may realize you have no attachment to them anymore, in which case: scratch ’em out!
And use your most productive time (when your brain is working best) to work on those high-priority, high-value tasks. Don’t overwork yourself and don’t try to fill time with time-wasters just because you feel like you should be doing something.
When you’re out of things to do, clock out.
How to end the chaos (and the busyness!)
What is enough for you?
Your idea of enough is a good place to start. You decide what your priorities are, how much is good enough for you, and where you’re going to start. Then make the commitment.
But whatever you do, take back the word “busy”. Save it for real busyness. Not busywork. Your brain will adapt to your thoughts and you’ll automagically start feeling less busy.
Think you might want a little help tackling the chaos in your life?
Try my free email course: the 7 Day Refresh. Just click the banner below to get started.
I’d love to know: What “busy” tasks have you been doing lately that are keeping you from getting real things done?