Too many people in the workforce today report that their most comfortable place is feeling busy and overwhelmed. It’s almost as if, when we are NOT busy, we get nervous that we’re not getting anything done.
Have you ever stopped to reflect on the cost of being so busy? Sure, it can cause you to lose sleep, skip your exercise, eat fast food, and can even hurt your relationships. But the biggest cost is much larger than this.
I believe that with this busy-first mentality, we are putting our happiness levels at risk. Do you have a more important goal than being happy? And are you really willing to give that up … to wear the busy badge?
If your calendar is too full, you likely experience stress and overwhelm, which can affect your ability to enjoy sleep, relationships, life outside of work, and more. It’s not easy to cease the habit of having a packed calendar. We’ve all been there—trying to juggle a full-time job, obstacles at home, volunteer commitments, friends and family who depend on you, a partner who wants to spend more time with you, networking or professional events, social hours, sleep… How do you possibly do it all?
You don’t. You can’t. If you do it all, the overwhelm will never stop. That’s the truth, even if you are superhuman.
You can however, be on top of your main life goals and at the same time, live a happy and fulfilled life. Take time to slow down and tune into your priorities. What are your real goals? Is it to do everything in your power to make partner in the next five years and retire by 50? Or is it to build a sustainable business, to enjoy time with family and friends, and to have a career you’re proud of?
If you find yourself drowning in a packed calendar, follow these steps to tune into what matters most.
Step 1: Make a List of Everything You Do in a Week
For the next seven days, act like an investigative journalist doing a story on your own life. Meaning, log everything you do and exactly how much time each task takes. Below is a chart to help you stay organized. It includes a list of activities to include, but don’t just limit yourself to what is here.
Tally up the hours you spend on the things you really want and love to be doing. Then tally up the hours you spend on everything else.
After sleeping, eating, and taking care of the obligatory to-dos that are required of being a human in our society, that leaves you with about 14 hours in the day for work, chores, commuting, family, and everything in between. Now it’s time to consciously decide how you will spend those hours.
Step 2: Choose Wisely
This step is all about reflecting on what matters most to you. Look at your list from Step 1. What surprised you? Did you find out that you are spending seven hours each week cleaning the kitchen? That you spend 27 minutes each day listening to a family member complain, and another 12 minutes recovering from the conversation?
From your list, choose five categories that will dominate your time, and rank them from 1 to 5, 1 being the most important. If you try to do it all, you will continue to struggle through it all. If you find focus and prioritize according to what matters most to you, you will have an easier time making decisions about how to spend your time and it will free up some space to focus on those priorities.
Now, decide how much time you actually want to be spending on each activity, and notate in the final column of the table in Step 1. Choose a color to reflect each of your priorities and color-code your calendar. Each time you add something new to your calendar, make sure it fits into one of your priorities, color coded.
Note: You will need to refine this list of priorities over time. There will be some times in your life where family will be your number one priority and other times where it may not even show up in your top 5. Different stages in your life will focus on different priorities. As long as you’re consciously deciding what they are, you’ll be well-aligned.
Step 3: Trim the Excess Fat From Your Calendar
Take a look at your calendar and identify the meetings, appointments, events, and activities that you don’t have to—or want to—attend. Just because it’s on your calendar, it doesn’t mean your presence is a requirement. Ask yourself these important questions:
- What will NOT move your top five priorities forward?
- What will not bring you happiness?
- What can you delegate?
- What do you really not want to do?
- What will take too much time away from your top first, second and third priorities?
- What does not fit into the categories of want to or absolutely need to?
Cancel, reschedule, or renegotiate the terms of all of the events on your calendar that do not align with your priorities. A few tips:
- Combine when appropriate: If social time isn’t one of your priorities, but exercise is, see if you can meet a friend to catch up over a walk, run, or yoga class
- Make a rule: If you have trouble removing things from your calendar, make a rule to delete at least two things each week.
- Be open to new solutions: If housekeeping isn’t one of your priorities, but you find that you’re spending too much time vacuuming each week, consider getting some help around the house.
Step 4: Set Your Default to “Tentative”
Now that your calendar is looking more manageable, let’s keep it that way moving forward. When a colleague invites you to a meeting or a friend invites you to dinner, respond with a “maybe” followed by a commitment to respond in the next two days. This gives you time to consider if the invitation falls into one of your top priorities.
Make sure to fulfill your promise of responding with a definitive answer promptly. If you end up declining, here are some tips on how to say no with grace and diplomacy.
Step 5: Charge Forward with Your Goals
With a cleaner calendar, you’ll have time to focus on your priorities. Seek out events, meetings, and projects that will move your priorities forward. This article is not meant to motivate you to shy away from adding things to your calendar—it is meant to encourage you to add only the right things to your already-busy life.
Step 6: Schedule Free Time
Make sure to block off a couple of hours each day for yourself. Figure out when your most productive hours are, and block them off on your calendar as meeting-free time to get work done, tackle your priorities, or work on your side project or hobby.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, mark an entire evening to dedicate to social time or much-needed down time. Whatever kind of YOU time you need, make sure to add it to your calendar without guilt to ensure it actually happens.
Try these steps out for a month to find out what life is like with some space to breathe.
Join my monthly newsletter!
If you loved this article, join the monthly newsletter — featuring tips and reflections on leadership development and stress management in the modern world. Join the 5,000+ leaders who have it delivered straight to their inbox each month.