Are you constantly on the go, juggling career, partner, kids, friends, and volunteering? Are there never enough hours in the day?
Many women are constantly busy. From the moment the alarm clock rings, they’re on the move. Skipping breakfast or wolfing down a granola bar on the way to work, hurrying to put makeup on while waiting in traffic, facing a brimming inbox at eight a.m., frantically looking for those important documents before a meeting... and on it goes.
Back in the 1950s, people thought we’d be living a life of leisure by now, with much of the former drudgery done by robots. Unfortunately, in the throes of the information revolution, we’ve ended up working longer hours than ever, and busyness is a thoroughly modern disease. Women are under particular pressure from the media, which promotes the myth of “super-woman.” We think we should be able to do everything, without admitting how stressed, rushed or upset we feel.
So, can busyness be cured? I believe that busyness is, at heart, just another bad habit that we fall into. It can seem like there’s no escape, but there is. Here are five ways to get out of the busyness trap:
1. Quit Some Commitments
While this may seem obvious, how many of us do it? One of the best ways to free up time is to cut down the number of things that you are involved in. Most of us are overcommitted. Just because you took something on in the past doesn’t mean you need to continue doing it for the rest of your life.
We find it hard to back down from commitments for a number of reasons, but a big one is that we feel bad about letting people down. The truth is, while your team, group or committee might be sorry to lose you, they’ll manage without you. People resign, quit, drop out, move away and otherwise leave commitments all the time. It’s only a big deal in your mind.
It’s also hard to quit something that you enjoy, or believe is truly valuable. Perhaps you’d hate to miss out. However, trying to do everything is as foolish as ordering all the entrees on a menu at a restaurant. However lovely they are, you can’t eat them all (and you’d make yourself ill if you tried). In order to get maximum enjoyment from the commitments you have, keep them to a minimum.
2. Make a Plan
When we get to work, the first thing we do is switch on our computers (or, in some cases, mainline coffee). Try taking just two minutes to sit down at your desk and make a quick plan for what you want to get done during the day. You can use a diary, a sheet ruled with the days of the week, or even a post-it note.
- What is my main priority for today?
- If I could achieve just one thing, what would make the day feel worthwhile?
- Are there any tasks nagging at my mind?
Pick one to three key tasks that you want to get done. When you switch your computer on, spend at least half an hour working on one of them – before you check your email.
3. Get Out of Your Inbox
Email is one of the biggest causes of busyness and poor time management. We often resort to checking our email when we’re unsure what to do next, or when we’re procrastinating over a difficult or unpalatable task. If you don’t believe me, spend a day tabulating how often you open up your email inbox – it’s almost certainly more than you think. Pay particular attention to times when you are stuck on another piece of work, and use emails as a distraction.
Many time-management experts recommend dealing with emails in batches, due to the mental energy that is lost when switching between tasks. Think of your brain as a computer. When you open and close different software programs, your computer requires time to load up each one. Guess what? Your brain reacts similarly to different tasks. If you’re working on a big report or presentation, and you keep stopping to read and answer emails, you are going to lose valuable time.
- If your email seems to be eating up a lot of time, try the following:
- Keep your inbox closed so that new mail notifications don’t pop up and distract you.
- Check email only at certain times (once an hour, then once every two hours). After all, emails go unanswered when you are in a meeting!
- Flag non-urgent messages to deal with the next day. Then answer them all at once.
- Create template emails for common messages, or with basic information about your company’s product.
- Set up filters to automatically store newsletters, notifications and other regular incoming emails in a separate mailbox.
4. Ask for Help
Sometimes, we have commitments that we cannot simply ditch, and no amount of planning and prioritizing is going to give us enough time to get all the important things done. Whatever the source of your overwhelm – work, finances, family responsibilities, health issues – remember that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.
Some women – particularly businesswomen – fear that they will be seen as weak if they ask for help. They’re afraid that people will think they can’t cope. But being able to ask for help is a strength. It shows that you know how important it is to work with others in order to reach your goals, and to help others reach theirs.
At work, you might need to explain to your boss that you simply cannot complete your current workload to a high standard. You might need someone to take over a particular project, or you might need to delegate some of the tasks that could be handled by a junior member of the office.
At home, asking for help means ensuring that everyone in the household is doing a fair share. Is your partner pulling his/her weight? How about your kids? Although you might well enjoy the nurturing aspect of your role, you need to give your children the chance to grow up, and that means letting them take on responsibilities around the home. Plus, if you’re a little less busy and a little more relaxed, your family will probably be happier too.
Friends and relatives are often delighted to have the chance to do you a favor. Don’t be afraid to ask. Sometimes, you can work out a solution that helps both of you – perhaps you’ll sit for your friend’s kids while she goes to yoga on a Saturday morning, and she’ll watch your kids while you go to your art class on a Sunday evening.
5. Learn to Say No
Do you automatically say yes when you are asked to take on a new project at work, or to do a favor for a friend? For many of us, “yes” is almost an automatic response, whether out of politeness, or because we want to please. If you often find yourself thinking I wish I hadn’t agreed to that, then you need to learn how to say no.
Sometimes that means becoming more self-confident and assertive. An easy trick is to make “no” your default response. Say no to all requests, and don’t make excuses. If you are pressed to state a reason, simply say, “I’m very busy right now, and I can’t take on anything new.” Don’t make it an emotional battle or a contest of wills. Just say a clear no and stick to it.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to mean it when you say no. If you refuse a request but give in to repeated badgering, your boss, clients, friends, kids, partner or whoever is asking will simply think that they need to be pushier next time. That’s not a habit you want them to get into!
Give yourself the same respect that you give to others. Honor your need for personal time to relax, to have fun, and to live in the present moment without rushing on to the next.
About the Author
Ali Hale is a blogger and freelance writer living in London. She’s a paid staff writer for a number of large blogs on personal development topics, including Pick the Brain, Dumb Little Man and Diet Blog. She writes about “getting more from life” on her site Aliventures, and is the author of the Staff Blogging Course, a self-study guide to finding paid work as a blogger. As well as blogging, Ali is earning an M.A. in creative writing and working on a novel.