Ever feel like you need to be doing something every second of your day? Does leisure time make you feel lazy? Or do you wish you had more hours in the day for all your tasks?
I rarely go a day — even a weekend — without having those gnawing guilty thoughts that I should be working. (I won’t even get into the frequency with which I check my email.) I regularly scan my mental to-do list to see what activities I can check off.
And I’m not the only one. Today, we’re a society engrossed in efficiency and productivity. We need to pencil in meditation breaks and time with our loved ones. At her seminars, productivity expert Laura Stack, MBA, commonly hears attendees lament: “There’s just not enough time!”
But Stack, author of SuperCompetent: The Six Keys to Perform at Your Productive Best, believes that we have “all the time there is.” As she said, “Time management doesn’t mean packing your day like a moving van, ensuring every single square inch (or minute) of space is full. If you actually had more time, you’d just stuff it with more of the same: more appointments, more projects and more paperwork.”
For many of us, stuffing our days comes from the pressure to be super productive. Even before bed, we review what we’ve done that day and fret about fitting in the leftovers the next morning. But being busy bees doesn’t bring relief. In fact, it likely leads to more stress. Below, experts provide their tips for taking it easy and relinquishing those guilt-ridden thoughts.
1. Plan for big projects.
According to Sara Caputo, MA, productivity coach, consultant and trainer at Radiant Organizing and author of the forthcoming e-book The Productivity Puzzle, one of the causes of our gnawing gotta-be-busy thoughts is not knowing when we’re going to tackle bigger tasks or “under the surface” projects. So we “run around all day trying to get more and more and more done.”
Instead, she suggested stopping and doing “a little forecasting and planning.” For instance, you might create a master list of tasks and break those down into a smaller daily list. This way “we can easily see that we’ll get to it all, but it doesn’t all have to happen today.”
2. Put the brakes on puttering.
Simply doing doesn’t get us anywhere, anyway. “Activity does not equal productivity,” said Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time In Our 24/7 World. Think of your hustling and bustling as “spinning like a top,” she said. “Ever notice how tops go really quickly, but aside from an occasional lurch to the left or right, they pretty much stay in place? Sound familiar?” (Yes, it does!)
3. Forget time management.
As Hohlbaum said, “you cannot control time, only the things you do within the time that you have.” Rather, view time management as task management. It might be a small distinction but it helps you realize that “some tasks can wait,” she said.
4. Remember that rushing hampers quality.
“We fling things off our plates, thinking others expect it immediately. I fall into that trap occasionally, and I can assure you it’s not my best work,” Hohlbaum said. Hohlbaum, who’s also a PR professional, understands the “deadline-driven environment” and the “NOW culture” all too well.
But, as she said, “carefully crafting ideas takes time.” And she’s “learned to select those avenues that appreciate that.”
5. Practice counter-thoughts.
For Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and author of Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload, who described herself as a “non-stop do-er practically since birth,” using counter-thoughts is really helpful.
She uses the following:
- I am a human being, not a human doing.
- The yin and yang of life is being and doing.
- I am a miracle of nature, exactly the way I am.
- I am worthy.
- When I sleep, sit still, or daydream, I’m still a precious and complex mystery of life.
6. Nurture your divine spark.
Palladino believes “in the eternal, and that a divine spark exists inside of [her].” Whenever the must-do thoughts start buzzing, she reiterates this belief. For instance, she might say to herself: “What’s finishing the laundry before I go to bed, compared to my divine spark? It’s OK to relax and just be.”
7. “Recognize the times when speed seems ridiculous,” Stack said.
Speaking of laundry: According to Stack, rushing through the wash is a waste. “When you look at the pile of laundry your family generates each week, you might get the sense it will never be done. That’s the point. You will never get the laundry done.” That’s because it’s “an insurmountable, renewing mountain. Hurrying up on doing the laundry isn’t going to cause you to get your clothing dirty less quickly.”
Just like rushing can affect your quality of work, it also can affect your quality of life. Stack said: “If you rush while driving, does it improve your safety? If you gulp your food, does it taste better or digest more easily?”
Rather, “Decide, on purpose, to not be speedy during certain times, when speed doesn’t alter the outcome or might even make it worse.”
8. Connect with your inner child.
Palladino, who believes that we’re meant to celebrate life, reminds herself that “too much productivity robs me of my creativity.” So she imagines a child at play. She “connect[s] with what it felt when I was a child — those times when I did feel the freedom of play, and fun was #1.”
9. Get inspired.
Seeking inspiration can help you let go of your negative thoughts, too. Palladino pictures the passage from the Bible about the lilies of the field or recalls Albert Einstein’s famous quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” She also reminds herself “that too much work and no play makes me a dull person.”
10. Don’t underestimate the power of relaxation.
“Sometimes sitting still is the most productive thing you can do,” Hohlbaum said. “Lying down for five minutes, taking a walk for ten or chewing 33 times instead of 10 times can really help sustain your energy.”
11. Put life into perspective.
Ultimately it boils down to what you want your life to look like. “Life is about choice. We only have a certain number of units in our personal bank account of time,” Hohlbaum said.
So make time for the activities that truly matter to you, and consider your values. “When your values are clear, time will appear,” Stack said.
12. Seize the moment.
When opportunities arise, don’t be afraid to be spontaneous. “I’ve heard of too many people who have put off something that brings them joy because they haven’t thought about it, don’t have it on their schedule, didn’t know it was coming or were too rigid to depart from their regular structure,” Stack said. Maybe you see yourself in these scenarios.
Instead, consider what seizing the moment means to you and go with that. According to Stack:
“Seizing the moment can mean being open to a spontaneous adventure, dropping into an interesting-looking store just because you’re driving by, or taking the long way back home because you wanted to drive around a beautiful lake. At the end of it all, make sure you don’t keep reciting a litany of ‘I’m going to’ and ‘I plan on” and ‘when things settle down a bit.’”