How to Stop Being Busy All the Time
Do fewer things, better.
Posted Oct 19, 2018
If you are reading this, it's likely because you are feeling overwhelmed. Like most of us.
We keep pushing our limits wanting to do more and more. But, in the end, we feel guilty for not accomplishing everything we wanted. No matter how hard we try, we are just stretching ourselves too thin.
Busyness is a tricky state of mind — it's like getting caught in quicksand. The more you try to escape, the more you get sucked down.
So, how can you rescue yourself?
Being Busy Is Living On Inertia
Being busy is the root cause of mindless behaviors — it both justifies and reinforces living on autopilot.
Busyness is a socially acceptable excuse. Just say “I’m busy,” and people will forgive you for not doing something. Feeling distracted or irritated? Blame it on being ‘very busy.’ Moreover, when you can’t find time for yourself, use the same excuse: “I am crazy busy.” That’s how we end up lying to everyone (ourselves included).
You probably think you need for a formula to do more. Or wishing you could multiply yourself and accomplish everything you want.
What if I tell you to focus on doing fewer things instead?
The secret of being productive lies in choosing what to do — and doing it right — instead of doing more and more.
When you are busy, you don’t have time to think, reflect, or enjoy. You are running from one task to another without being present. Your mind needs space. Silence helps us reflect. Serendipity attracts new ideas. Distance brings perspective.
Declutter your life. When you say yes to everything, you are saying no to what really matters. That’s the biggest issue with being busy: we end doing the wrong things.
Doing fewer things right, not being busy, should be a badge of honor.
The New Mindset: Fewer, But Better
Everyone I know is busy — they are always playing catch up. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t juggling many balls at the same time.
The ‘do more and do everything’ approach to productivity is not working — it’s a stressful trap. Focus on doing fewer things but better, is the opposite — it’s a liberating experience. You will remove more than tasks — you’ll get rid of the guilt and stress too.
Let me explain the three principles first, and then I will share an exercise to help you do fewer things, better.
1. Focus on what’s essential
We are an action-driven society — we admire busy people even if they don’t achieve anything. That you can do more doesn’t mean that you have to do everything. Being mindful about what you do (and don’t) is critical to eliminate unnecessary tasks.
When you remove what’s not essential, you are making time for what really matters.
2. Prioritize quality over quantity
We are in such a hurry to check things off our lists that end doing stuff without thinking. We need to recover the value of quality. As the old saying goes, “There’s no time to do things right, but there’s always time to do them twice.”
Focusing on quality means making sure that you don’t waste your limited time doing the same thing over and over.
3. Emphasize achieving, not doing
Emphasizing tasks not only is a distraction — having an endless to-do list fuels our stress too. Shift your attention from doing to impact — moving the needle matters more than how busy you are.
When you can connect your work with the outcome, you’ll feel more motivated. It’s not the same having to go grocery shopping (a task) than preparing a meal for your friends (a rewarding experience).
Try This Productivity Exercise
Productivity is not about doing more, but about achieving more. Time is a limited resource — you can’t have more hours on a day, you must make time. Here’s how to get you started.
1. Make a list of all the key things/projects you want or have to accomplish. Capture each on a Post-it or small piece of paper.
2. Rank them using a 1–5 scale — 1 being “Irrelevant” and 5 “Most Critical.”
3. Review the initial categorization. Play around a couple of times until you feel satisfied. Remember you are aiming for fewer. Many people fail to focus because they believe everything is a priority. Challenge yourself.
4. Define a clear strategy for each category. Keep it simple. Use this as a guide:
- Eliminate unnecessary projects (Categories 1–2)
- Delegate projects that are not critical (Categories 3)
- Simplify critical projects (Categories 4)
- Allocate most of your energy and time to critical projects (Categories 5)
5. Review your priorities frequently. Identify what’s working and what’s not. Adjust accordingly. Find the sweet spot between being flexible and changing them constantly.
6. Additional tips to help you focus:
- Learn to say ‘no’ more often. Saying no is not being unpolite — your choices define who you are and how you live.
- Think twice before you say ‘yes.’ Most people accept requests or meeting invitations without checking their calendars first.
- Avoid overloading your calendar. Leave empty spaces for meaningful tasks.
- Block space for what matters. Reserve time to do research, learn something, write, think, etc. The only way to find time for it is blocking your calendar in advance.
- Create pauses in between tasks. I always protect time in-between meetings. I need to reflect after one, prepare for the next, or maybe I just need to take a (bio/coffee/reflection) break.
Saying yes to what matters requires to eliminate the unessential. Achieving what you really want is more than just being focused. It’s gratifying to do what you care about.
Shift your productivity approach from doing everything to doing fewer things, better. Being busy is not a badge of honor. Enjoy your journey.
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