Let me ask you three questions:
- Do you often feel like your to-do list is never-ending?
- Do you often sacrifice sleep to get things done?
- Do you frequently complain about how busy you are?
If you answered “yes” to those questions, you’re busy – probably too busy.
But it doesn’t have to be like this.
The strange reason we ignore the most important things in life
In an era where we’re connected 24/7, the line between work and leisure has become blurred. Even on a Sunday afternoon, you could send that email. You could reply to that text. You could do something “productive.”
But should you?
I face this temptation every time I have a day off. The temptation is even greater because I enjoy my job so much!
And it’s not just me. Through my work with parents – many of whom are busy and stressed out – I know this is a widespread problem.
Author Charles Hummel once observed that the most important things in life are also the most well-mannered. They don’t scream for your attention. They don’t throw a tantrum to force you to take notice.
This explains why we often ignore the things that matter most. They’re just too polite.
In contrast, the urgent things are far less polite. That email from your boss, that phone call, that Facebook message – they’re calling out to you right now. You feel like you can’t ignore it, so you don’t.
That’s how we become busy, by allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the urgent.
But there’s a way out.
4 effective ways to stop being so busy
In this article, I’ll discuss four ways to slow down. These tips will enable you to focus on the important instead of the urgent. Ultimately, they’ll help you to build a happier, stronger family.
Here are the four tips:
1. Set clear boundaries.
For instance, you could set a non-negotiable rule that you’ll leave work by 7pm at least three days a week. On these three days, you’ll have dinner together as a family. You might also decide that you absolutely won’t check your work email on Sundays.
Here’s an example from my own life. I do talks and workshops internationally, so my rule is that I’ll never be out of town two weekends in a row.
Take a few minutes and think about some boundaries you could establish for yourself.
At this point, I can almost hear you saying, “Daniel, this sounds nice in theory. But my job requires me to work and travel all the time. I don’t have a choice!”
I sympathize with you, I really do. I used to have a corporate job where I worked long hours, and sometimes weekends too.
But I realize that we always have a choice, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
You could choose to learn more productivity hacks to increase your efficiency. You could choose to talk to your boss about alternative work arrangements. You could choose to look for a new job.
Easier said than done, I know.
But in life, solutions rarely exist. Life is all about tradeoffs.
Ask yourself what tradeoffs you’re currently making. Are you focusing on the urgent things, at the expense of the important things? If you are, it’s time to make adjustments.
2. Create a positive family culture.
This might sound like a tip that’s unrelated to overcoming busyness. So let me explain.
I’ve worked with many people who occupy themselves with all kinds of activities, just so they can avoid being at home.
If your spouse or children choose not to spend much time at home, it could be because your home environment isn’t a pleasant one.
Is your home overflowing with joy, positivity and peace? Or is it full of nagging, criticism and unkind words?
If it’s the latter, take a moment to evaluate your family culture. What’s good and not so good about it? What steps can you take to improve it?
Here are some suggestions:
- Say at least one positive thing a day to each person in your family, even if it’s as simple as “have a good day”
- Create a new family tradition
- Set up an “appreciation board” in your home, where you write down things you’re thankful for
- Have a monthly family board game night
- Have a weekly family meeting
- Develop a family mission statement
Every family member has a part to play in shaping family culture, so create a plan of action today.
As the family culture becomes more loving and supportive, I can close to guarantee that everyone in the family will choose to be less busy outside the home.
3. Stop defining yourself according to your achievements.
For many years, my self-worth was defined by how I performed in school and in my other activities. I was obsessed with doing and achieving more, which caused me to burn out.
As an 18-year-old, I was the vice-captain of the basketball team, and I had basketball practice five days a week. I was also in the Chemistry Olympiad training squad, and I was a member of the Science Research Society. In addition, I was taking three subjects on top of the regular course load, and I was preparing for the SATs.
As you can imagine, I was busy and tired. All the time.
But when I stopped defining myself according to my achievements, I became less busy and tired. And I became happier. I started to care less about my performance, and more about living out my purpose and serving others.
It’s easy to get carried away building our careers or businesses. Of course, we all need to earn a living and provide for our families.
But more than our provisions, our children need our presence.
We need to invest the time to teach and mentor our children, and simply be with them. Our children appreciate this quality time more than the comforts and luxuries we give them.
So if you feel like your identity is based on what you accomplish, take a few minutes to reflect. Ask yourself what your values are, and what matters most to you in the long run. Decide to invest your resources and your life in the things that are of enduring worth.
When you do that, you’ll become less busy.
4. Limit the number of activities your children participate in.
I know far too many families whose weekend routine revolves around chauffeuring their children to and from activities and classes.
Golf lessons. Art class. Music class. Math class. Science class. Tennis lessons. Ballet class. Piano class.
It requires a detailed spreadsheet just to keep track of all these activities!
Not only that, the parents don’t get to rest and recover over the weekend, as they’re constantly running from one place to the next.
Because their children’s lives are overscheduled, these families don’t spend much time together. Things are made even worse if either parent travels extensively for work.
Children benefit from being exposed to a variety of activities and experiences. But they also need time to read, reflect and dream.
How will they be able to do this when their schedules are jam-packed?
Based on my experiences working with students, I’ve found this to be a good guideline:
Children shouldn’t be involved in more than one sports-related activity and one music-/art-related activity. Anything more than this and children will soon become addicted to busyness – or overwhelmed by it.
And children who are addicted to busyness are likely to become adults who are addicted to busyness.
When our children become less busy, we’ll become less busy too.
The bottom line
Busyness is a fact of life.
There will be times when you’ll have a pressing deadline to meet, when you’ll need to work late, or give up sleep to get the job done.
But busyness shouldn’t be a way of life.
If you’re exhausted and stressed, week after week, month after month, year after year… then today’s the day to make a change. If you don’t, there will be long-term consequences for your physical and emotional well-being, and for your relationships too.
So choose one of the four tips and put it into practice. Then work through the other tips over the next few weeks. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. (I’m going to continue implementing the tips myself!)
After all, everyone outside the home is replaceable.
Not to downplay the importance of work, but CEOs, managers, engineers, designers, technicians and writers (including myself!) are replaceable. If you quit your job today, someone will take over your position tomorrow.
But that’s not the way a family functions.
Every member of the family is irreplaceable. So we must pull our own weight and be actively involved in the home.
Let’s remind ourselves of this as we seek to lead fruitful lives, not busy ones.
Let’s slow down and take the time to build meaningful lives and strong families.
With each other’s support, I know we can do it. 🙂
An earlier version of this article first appeared on Yahoo!.
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Image: To-do list