Busyness Busting: Say yes to say no

busy busting priorities Mar 08, 2022

In this 2012 research, “40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers say they always

feel rushed”.

Being “Time Poor” is one way we describe this phenomenon of being constantly rushed and hurried. Unfortunately, those who are time poor have a cluster of less than ideal outcomes: they are less happy, more stressed out, and tend to have worse eating and exercise habits. 

With so much competition for our time and a seemingly endless pool of things we could be doing, being constantly and rushed can feel inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Sanity check your time sucks

Ted published an article titled “Which of these 6 time traps is eating up all your time?”, highlighting a handful of ways in which we inadvertently squander our time. Digital distractions are not surprisingly high on the list. They chop up our attention. Picking up our phone or peaking at messages can set back our mental flow and productivity, costing us hours. 

You know what else is high on the list? Undervaluing our time. There are a few excellent examples, like spending hours of your previous vacation to snag a cheaper flight, or spending extra time each time you fill up your gas tank to get a cheaper price. When you look at the cumulative impact of all these micro decisions, they cost you quite a bit of your most precious resource: time. Being frugal is a great quality, and for many it’s essential to survival. We’re not suggesting throwing out this instinct outright, but rather to be more conscious about the choices being made that put the value of our time at the bottom of the list. 


Know your time budget

No matter how you slice it, there are only 24 hours in a day, that’s 168 hours in a week. Some of those will need to be allocated to sleep, work, hygiene, eating and logistics. So what is realistically left?

Laura Vanderkam is the author of multiple books focused on time management. She’s an advocate of tracking your time to see where exactly it goes. She recommends tracking your time in either 15 minute or 30 minute increments (you can check out her log here, and her FAQ on this here

Logging is a super useful tool whenever you feel like an aspect of your life is a bit out of control. Keeping a food journal, as an example, is associated with improved eating habits and weight loss, even when the person keeping it isn’t intending to make any changes. The simple awareness that comes with writing it down tends to lead to some changes. 

So if you’re gripped with busyness and overwhelm, try writing down where your time goes for a full week. You might be surprised.


Decide what matters and then pay yourself first

It is especially important when you are slammed to be clear on your priorities and what’s important to you. Otherwise, it’s possible that they’ll get crowded out by all the other stuff, and you won’t get around to them. So what matters to you?  

If meditation, exercise, quality time with your kids, family fun, or whatever else matters to you only happens when everything else is “done”, it won’t happen most of the time. 

So figure out what that is, and put it at the top of the list. Do it first. Do it before anything else. This is the concept of “pay yourself first”, which originated as a personal finance tenet. The principle is that you must first take money out of your earnings to fund your savings. If you save what’s left at the end of the month, there will generally be nothing left. 

In both the personal finance and the prioritization principle, the goals have to be realistic within the reality of your current obligations. The math has to work: You have to leave enough money for your ongoing expenses when you’re saving; you have to leave enough time to meet your core obligations with your priorities. 

What’s an example of priorities in practice? What does paying yourself first look like in real life? Here are a few examples (from personal experience):

  • Meditate 5 minutes - This happens first thing in the morning, before anything else. 
  • Dinner with the family - Meetings that conflict with this get declined. Evening activities that conflict with this are not accepted or get postponed. If time gets pinched, we use take out or pre-made food.
  • Reading for personal development - For 20 minutes in bed. 

So what’s at the top of your list? 


How should you show up for your priorities?

It turns out that satisfaction isn’t just about what you do, but whether you’re able to be fully engaged when you do it. Fully focusing one’s attention on the present is one of the core principles of Mindfulness. And the research says it can help make us happier: “In addition to what people spend their time doing, the extent to which people are mentally engaged in those activities can influence resulting happiness”.

The invitation here is to ensure that you are fully focused and fully present for your priorities. That you avoid getting distracted in your mind (thinking about something else, swirling thoughts, worrying about the future, planning ahead, ruminating) or your actions (looking at your device, multitasking). 

In the example above:

  • Dinner with the family is digital distraction free, unhurried. Conversation cards can help uncover deeper discussion. 
  • Meditation is uninterrupted. Noise canceling headphones in a quiet room (a locked bathroom, or a closet even) helps shut the world out.  
  • Reading is for enjoyment, after the kids are in bed, with alarms and notifications turned off. 

If you are going to spend the time doing something, doesn’t it also make sense to give it your full attention so you can get the full benefit out of it? 

There’s good research that suggests that quality prevails over quantity in most things, including time with kids. Less, but better quality time, feels like a “win” for the overworked parents, and all of us.

Mindfulness in how we spend our time

The overwhelming invitation is to become more conscious and aware of how and where we are spending our time, and to show up fully for the things that matter to us. 

It is so easy in a world that is designed to distract us, to capture our attention, and to take up our time, to become reactive to the ever growing list of things that need to be done.

Being aware then, is a revolutionary act. 


Taking a few days out of the fray is a really powerful way to reset and take stock. You’re invited to join us on the upcoming Mindfulness Incubator Retreat. A short 4 day, 3 night experience that is designed to help you unplug, recharge, and live with more intention. Find out more about the retreat here.

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