I've banned myself from using the word "busy". I no longer respond to the question "How are you?" with an automatic "busy". My to-do list is still long, but the sense of busyness is almost gone.
The main change is that I'm getting better at distinguishing between what is important and what's urgent. Important tasks take priority these days. And I try to steer clear of urgent tasks that are really not that important in the scheme of things.
There will always be urgent things to do. We can busy ourselves forever ticking urgent things off our to-do list. Tick a few off and a few more appear.
But the problem is, the important is all too easy to neglect when we’re bombarded with urgent things to do all day.
I don’t want to waste my life bumping from one urgent task to another – without saving enough space for what’s truly important. Because, as author Annie Dillard points out: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives".
Using the Eisenhower Method to manage your time
Productivity enthusiasts may be familiar with the "Eisenhower Method". This time management tool stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: "What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important."
Tasks are assigned to quadrants of a matrix – based on whether they are important or unimportant and urgent or not urgent. The method suggests important and urgent tasks are done immediately. Important but not urgent tasks are scheduled to happen by a certain date. Unimportant and urgent tasks are delegated. And unimportant and not urgent tasks are dropped.
We can apply this idea to our everyday life.
Deal with the important and urgent as soon as practicable. Make time for what is important (but not urgent) each and every day. And simply drop the unimportant.
How to work out what's important
Unfortunately – many of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we've lost sight of what’s important.
When I was drowning in busyness I found it easy to mistake urgent and unimportant tasks as important.
It often takes an illness or accident to remind people of what’s truly important. But life is so precious that we should be setting aside time to contemplate what is important, without being motivated by a tragedy.
I sat on a rug in the sunshine with a notebook and contemplated what I want my legacy to be.
Then I mapped out an ideal day, ideal week, ideal month and an ideal year. I then mapped out what my actual days looked like at that point in time. I realised most of my time was being spent on tasks that weren't truly important to me. I had lost myself in other people’s "important".
Now that I have a clear vision of my goals and how I want to spend my time – I find it easier to drop unimportant tasks. I've found the confidence to say no when needed.
Become a deadline rebel
I've also become a deadline rebel. I purposely miss unnecessary deadlines. Our society has a fondness for imposing deadlines – even when they aren't necessary.
Not everything has to happen now. Even important things can often wait.
Let's save busy for when it's truly justified - not everyday life
Of course life does get busy sometimes. But I like the idea of saving that sense of urgency for when it’s truly justified. Let’s not spend our entire lives being "busy".
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 1st June 2015.