This time last year I was the queen of multi-tasking and the world reigning champion of getting everything done fast. I was juggling a thousand different things at once - setting up my coaching business, taking care of my two young children, fitting in errands, housework and a multitude of social obligations.
I was constantly running half an hour late for my life, and feeling that every day I was spreading myself a little bit thinner and just didn’t have enough energy or attention to go round. Eventually, my work, my mood and my relationships began to suffer. Things came to a head when my mind suddenly went blank whilst I was running a business planning workshop. I was standing in front of a group of woman giving a presentation and I couldn’t speak. Exhuastion and overwhelm had finally caught up with me, and my brain had completely shut down.
After everyone went home that evening I finally realised something had to change. So I booked myself into a meditation retreat, went on holiday in the sun, and took a whole month off work to evaluate what I was doing with my life and where I was heading.
What happened to me is sadly increasingly familiar. Too many of us are stuck in what I call the ‘busy trap’. We pack our calendars full. We commit to more than we can handle, assuming that we’ll squeeze everything in somehow. We get so busy rushing around trying to meet everyone’s needs that we forget our own half the time, and we lose sight of what’s truly important. All those significant, meaningful things we intend to do are never done.
Like spending time with people we care about. Or writing a book. Or becoming a yoga teacher. Or finding financial freedom. You never have the time to do those things because everything else seems so much more urgent. And often, just like I did, we ignore the consequences of our busyness until we become so mentally and physically exhausted we can’t keep up anymore, sometimes to the detriment of our health and relationships.
Why are we addicted to being busy?
It seems we’ve created a “cult of busy:” There’s a cultural expectation that, if you’re not stressed or busy, you’re slacking. We’re busy because we feel we have to be. We’re busy because everyone else is busy.
Then, there’s the biological drive to busyness. When we’re busy, we feel a rush from our bodies flooding with adrenaline. Adrenaline can be addictive, and it is “the drug of choice” for many men and women who seem to enjoy the rush it provides.
Whatever the reason for our constant busyness, in an effort to fit more and more tasks into our already cramped lives, it’s easy to create a “can’t see the forest for the trees” situation where we lose sight of our own big-picture priorities, and what’s most important to us - the things and people that really make us happy.
How to escape the busy trap for a more fulfilling, healthier and happier youSo, how can you stop being busy for busy’s sake and start to live more fully? Here are 9 ways you can simplify life, to get out of the cycle of being busy, overwhelmed, and stressed and into a more fulfilling, healthier and happier you.
1) Slow down and get still
The only way we can begin to see ourselves and our lives more clearly - where we currently are, where we want to be, and what we really want and need from life right now - is to give ourselves space.
Carve out time in your day to sit in stillness. Start with 5 minutes. Then, build up to 10, 15, 30 minutes, or more, whatever works for you. These precious moments will help you connect to a more grounded, focused, and intentional you.
2) Decide what matters most
If you want to simplify your life, you must know your priorities. What’s most important to you? Who or what matters most? What makes you happy? It could be your family, friends, your work, your hobbies, relationships, fun or a whole host of other things.
First, list all the things that are important to you, the things that make you happy. Then, narrow your list to your top five. List them on a sheet of paper, in a journal, or on your smartphone.
3) Prune by priorities
Now, are you spending your time according to what matters most to you? For instance, if you really value time with your friends, do you spend the most time with your friends? If not, then you need to ask yourself the question, why not?
Write down how you’ve spent your time over the past week. Be honest, and as detailed as possible Now, compare this list to your list of what matters most. Do the two lists compare? If not, then start pruning. Start to look for the things that don’t measure up to your priorities and decide to let them go.
4) Plan ahead, and schedule your time
We schedule work, appointments, and activities with other people, but what about your top priorities? Are they on your “to do” list? Are they in your schedule? If you value exercise, sleep, and good health, are these things on your daily schedule? If you know you need stillness in your life, is it a part of your daily routine and plan? The truth is that if we don’t plan and schedule the most important things, they won’t happen.
Plan ahead to make sure you are focusing on the most important things in your life. Schedule time for you. Schedule time for relationships. Schedule time for exercise, sleep, and healthy eating. Schedule time for play.
And make sure you keep your appointments with yourself just as you would with someone else!
5) Eat that frog
Canadian entrepreneur Brian Tracy coined the brilliant phrase ‘Eat that frog’. This is so important when it comes to simplifying life. When you do the most important things first, then the rest of your days will simply fall into place and you don’t have to be worried about or distracted by that thing you know you should have done but haven’t.
At the beginning of each day, look at what you need to do and pick the most important thing on your to-do list. It’s usually the thing that scares you most or the thing you know you’ve been putting off. Maybe it’s a tricky phone call or organising your finances. Whatever it is, make sure you do that thing first so you can get on with the rest of your day in peace.
6) Ditch the distractions
How much time are you spending on social media or the internet? How much TV are you watching? It’s so easy to hop on Facebook in the morning or to check your emails, but how often does that suck you into a time warp and before you know it, it’s been an hour, or longer?
These things can be “fun” but they can also be time and energy drains, distracting you away from the most important things. And did you know, every time you are distracted from a task by something or someone, it takes an average of 11 minutes (yes, 11 minutes!) to get your focus back.
Identify the key things that take your time and energy away from your top priorities, and work out a plan for how to deal with them. We can’t all switch off our email for a week, but whether we switch off in the evening or create a system of checking our emails a limited number of times a day, breaking free from a pattern of constant self-interruption means that we are less stressed and more productive and that must make it worth a try!
7) Mono-task don’t multitask
According to David Strayer, a professor at the University of Utah who studies the workings of the brain, only 2% of the population are good multitaskers, while 98% of people can’t multitask - they don’t do either as task as well.
If you’re lucky enough to be one of that 2% (whom Strayer found to have brains structured differently from the 98% majority), then you’ll know that you can perform many tasks at the same time with no drop in performance. For everyone else, it’s time to stop trying to do everything at once and focus on doing one thing at a time to ensure less stress and higher levels of productivity.
Start using The Pomodoro Technique. Buy a kitchen timer (the Pomodoro version is shaped like a tomato), or go online and use tomato-timer.com, and before you start work set it to 25 minutes. For that 25 minutes, do nothing except focus on the task in hand. After a 5 minute break, repeat the process.
8) Learn to say “no”
“No” is my favorite word, and I’d like it to become your favourite word too! It took me a while to learn to say it as much as I do now. I like people and I like to see them happy and I’m interested in lots of things. But if I say yes to every cool idea or conversation or project or event that comes my way, I’m a stressed-out wreck. I just end up stretching myself too thinly and feeling guilty that I’m not doing anything well. Setting boundaries and saying no is harder in the moment, but it pays off in the end.
First understand what motivates you to agree to something that you don’t want to do. Why do you say “yes” in those situations? There are many reasons why people end up saying yes, when they really want to say no. Some people are afraid of the reaction they will get if they say no. They might fear either rejection or being seen as a failure and less than perfect. And some people have simply got into the habit of saying yes all the time. It’s an easy habit to acquire when you are working up the career ladder - how can you say no to your boss and still look good?
Then practice saying “yes” to only the things that are 1) important to you 2) relevant (for example, is it relevant to the core of your job/ your development or is it just someone trying to offload the task on to you) and 3) energising... and a polite “no” to everything else, without feeling fear or guilt. Remember, if it’s not a big, enthusiastic yes, make it a no!
9) Be clear on your “I don’t give a cr#p list”
We’ve talked about the importance of being clear about what matters most in your life and how to prioritise and focus on these things, but what about the things you shouldn’t or don’t want to give a cr#p about? Things like aiming for perfection or what other people think about us.
Worrying about what other people think about us is a biggie for many of us. What will the other mums think if I donate shop bought cakes rather than homemade? What will Great Aunt Maud think if she reads this article and sees the word ‘cr#p’?
But here’s the thing. While we all think we are terribly important and that the world should revolve around us, people don’t really care about us and what we’re doing or not doing. They are far too busy caring about themselves. Other people really couldn’t give a cr#p. And neither should you.
Write an “I don’t give a cr#ap” list. Remind yourself of what’s on your list every day and don’t give a cr#ap about them anymore. It really is as simple as that!
So there you have it, my tips for escaping the busy trap, and learning to lead a simpler life for a healthier and happier you. I’m not out of the woods yet, there are still days when I still run around like a headless chicken, but following these tips has really helped me to lead a calmer, more balanced and meaningful life and I hope they will help you to do the same. You’ll be amazed at how a few simple changes in your life can make a big difference.
By Melanie Fieseler, member of the 2015 Berlin Geekettes Mentorship Program organising team, and a business and career coach/ trainer passionate about helping women find and build careers they love. Connect with Melanie on LinkedIn - she’d love to hear from you.
With special thanks to all those who have made this year’s Berlin Geekettes Mentorship Program possible, including Scout24, our main partner for the program, the organising team - Denise Philipp, Bianca Walterspiel, Karolin Rühlmann, Juliane Möllmann, Kate Castellano, and Irina Botea - Markus Kretzschmar Photography, and of course our fabulous mentors and mentees.
The Berlin Geekettes Mentorship Program is a five-month program focused on the professional and personal development of female professionals. This year’s program runs up until February 2016, and brings together a total of 70 mentors and mentees matched based on areas of interest, background, goals and expertise. To meet our mentors and mentees, and find out more about the program, visit our homepage.