As a working mom, becoming unbusy may seem counterintuitive or even impossible. Society tells us this is good, great even, to be busy. We are awarded for being busy. Often it’s perceived that if you aren’t busy, there must something wrong. Wrong in your life or wrong with you. We can find our self-worth wrapped up in how busy we are. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When we look at busy as being good, I think there is a positive intent. That intent is founded on busy equals being productive. However, that just isn’t the case. It’s a false association. This association can leave us feeling frustrated, angry, and disappointed with ourselves. Spending your time and energy on tasks that are not leading you to a life you love is not only wasteful but destructive to creating joy and peace in your life. The following are some ideas on how to unbusy yourself so that you can find more time for what matters most.
Get Clear On What You What
Clarity is the path to joy and peace. When you are clear on what you want, you can take the right actions to create a life you live. One of those actions includes stopping doing things that are not contributing to the development of a life filled with joy and peace. Take a moment to think about what you want in life. Sit down with a pen and paper for at least 30 minutes and answer these questions
What do you want for yourself?
What do you want for your career?
Which feelings do you want to have each day?
How do you want to spend your days?
What do you want for your family?
What do you want for society?
Can you identify what makes you feel good?
Thirty minutes might seem like a lot of time out of your busy schedule, but taking that time now to get clear on what you want in life will help you to remove all of the tasks from your calendar that are not leading to the life you want. I can guarantee that you’re spending more than 30 minutes each week on things that do not add value in a way that makes you happy. Taking the time to define what makes you happy and what you will help you to see those things more clearly and make it a lot easier to stop doing them.
Figure Out What You Are Busy With
To become unbusy, we must first figure out what we’re busy with. What exactly is it that is taking up all of your time? I know that off the top of your head, you could rattle off 15 different things: the commute, work, the kids, making dinner, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and on and on and on. Yes, those are all things that you must do, all obligations in your life, but there are other things probably creeping in here that are taking up 20, 30, 40 minutes throughout your week that add up to a significant portion of your time. You need to figure out what you’re busy with so you can start to strip away the things that are not helping you to create a life you love.
Make a List
Make a list of everything that you do each day. A great way to do this is to get out seven sheets of paper. Label each one with every day of the week Monday through Sunday. Then write down what you are planning to do Monday through Sunday. Start with the time you wake up and list everything until the time you go to bed. Don’t forget to include the seemingly small things like your hygiene routines and the time you might spend on social media. Write it all down. This will give you an idea of where you believe you’re spending your time.
Track Your Time
Now we need to put your list to the test. Take some time to track your days. If you can do a whole week, fantastic, if not plan, then monitor for at least 3-4 days. From the time you get up till the time you go to bed, write down everything that you were doing. You can do this on your phone or with the time tracker app. Once you have tracked your time fully for at least three days, take a moment to compare that new list to the original list that you made. Are you spending your time exactly how you thought you were?
Measure the Effectiveness of Your Busyness
Here is where the productivity measures come in. Now that you know exactly what you’re doing today, you can answer the question of is it useful. Take a look at each one of the tasks that you complete each day and each of the areas that you spend your time and energy on. Rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 for how effective they are at helping you to create a life you love. One being not helping at all and five being 100% driving for the life I love. Don’t think too hard about it; just go with your gut and put a number next to everything that you tracked.
Now, extrapolate this out over a month. Take a look at what you have coming up over the next month. Are there any events or tasks that you can add to the list, but you did not complete, and the time you tracked? Write those down and also give them a rating of 1 to 5.
Eliminate Some Tasks From Your Life
Now it’s time to actively get unbusy. Take a moment to think about what you can eliminate from your life. Are there any ones, twos, or threes on your list that are not true obligations? I would say obligations are the things you must do to keep yourself and your family alive. Alive and healthy. If you have any ones to threes that are not also obligations, think about how you can remove those from your life. For other tasks that are ones, twos, and threes, think about how you might be able to delegate or automate some of that work. Delegation means asking for help, and that’s OK. Assign things that are going on to others. At work, you could assign work to your teams or your colleagues. At home, you can assign work to your family or bring in help.
Help can come in many forms; for example, rather than going to the grocery store, can you get your groceries delivered or, at the very least, use a service like Walmart pick-up so that you don’t have to get out of the car and go into the store? When it comes to cleaning the house, is this something that your family can do collectively, or can you find a way to put together some money to help with a deep clean once a month? That might mean eating cheaper food or having to spend less money on family outings, but the time that you get back from not cleaning could be much more valuable than those actual dollars.
What if, instead of going out to dinner, you use those funds to pay for a cleaning service, and while the service is there cleaning your house, you all go to the park or a museum instead? You’d be saving money and having a great time with your family.
Prioritize Your Other Tasks
Now that you’ve eliminated some tasks from your life it’s time to prioritize. Look at everything else that’s going on in your life and break it down into two categories – shine and manage. Shine are the tasks that are helping you to live a life you love and manage are the tasks that are obligations. Once you have the tasks broken down into those two categories, prioritize within each one. It’s going to be challenging to say that one task is more important than the other, but at the end of the day, it is. Don’t think too hard; just put everything into rank order.
Block Time For What Matters
Now that you have your tasks prioritized, it’s time to make sure that you have space for what matters. If you didn’t mark it down before, take a moment now to go back to write in time for self. Self-care and time to relax are a part of what matters in your life and something that you should be prioritizing. When you put yourself first and take time to care for your mind, body, and spirit, you can pour from a full glass and better serve all those around you.
Open up your calendar and log the hours it takes for you to get to work and do the job. For example, if you work from 9 to 5 and you have an hour commute, then you’re going to want to log 8 to 6. Within that massive time block, you can create smaller sub-blocks for times that you might do other things. If, for example, on your commute, you also learn Spanish through a podcast, then put a sub-block for learning Spanish from 8:15 to 8:45. Another sub-block might include the errands that you run on your lunch break. If you take lunch from 12 PM to 1 PM and use that time to shop for things you need for the home, write down household shopping at the sub-block.
Now that you have work sectioned off take some time to block time for you. When is it that you are going to do the things you need to do for yourself? Is it early in the morning, late at night on Saturdays or Sundays? Take a moment to block off time to do the things you need to do to recharge yourself. That could simply be thinking time. There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to block 30 or 45 minutes each day to just sit and think. Log time for reading, a massage, your hygiene routine, your hobby or side hustle, whatever it is that you do to make yourself whole, block that time now.
Now take time to block to be with your family. If it’s breakfast or dinner, create the blocks. If it’s time for family outings or game night add in those blocks — section off the time that you plan to spend with your family.
Now, look at your calendar. Have you taken the time to block off your downtime? To block off time to ease into the morning or to relax into the evening? Be sure that you have. Once you’ve done that, take a look at everything else that you have left on your priority task list and see where you can fit it in. Start from the essential obligation and work your way down to the least essential obligation. Along the way, ask yourself if these obligations are necessary. Then go to your shine list and start to work in catching anything that hasn’t found its way onto your calendar yet.
This may mean that rather than doing the laundry every other day, you create a larger time block to do laundry only one day a week. This might mean that rather than watching TV in the evening before going to bed, you take some time to work on your side hustle. However you need to move your calendar around; do that so that you can fit in those most important things. Remember taking the time to care for yourself is one of the most important tasks.
Say ‘No’ More Often
Now that you have been able to simplify your life and on paper look less busy, we need to keep it that way. One of the best ways to do this is to start to say no more often. As working moms, part of the way that we end up busy is by saying yes to too many different people. For whatever reason, we feel like if we say yes, that it is making us a better woman. That is not true. And you truly have to remember that every time you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to infinite other things.
Now that you have clarity on what it is that you want in life for yourself, your career, and your family every time you say yes, think about what you might be saying no to on that list. Is it worth it? If the answer is no, then do not say yes.
It Is Challenging to Say No
Saying no can be difficult. So here are different ways to do that. You can say let me check my calendar. If someone throws something at you and you aren’t quite sure how to say no but know that you don’t want to commit to it, simply say “I need to check my calendar and get back to you.”. That buys you some time and space to figure out how to say no. It also sets you up to go back to the person and easily say I’m committed at that time I can’t.
Another way to say no is to start the sentence with “As it turns out…”. You can say, “As it turns out, I can’t.”. As it turns out helps to take the harsh edges off of the word no. A third way to say no is to offer a suggestion in place of you. So if someone asked for your help or support and you’re not able to provide it, you can say, “As it turns out, I can’t, but have you asked Susan she loves that kind of stuff.”. Or you could say, “As it turns out, I can’t, but there’s a great website that has a lot of information on planning a party it’s called XYZ.com check it out.”.
Sharing your knowledge in a moment is a way to support the person who is asking you without having to give up your precious time and energy to something that isn’t going to help you to build a life you love.
Remember, if you spend all of your time and energy fueling the fire of other people’s lives, your flame will eventually burn out. You need to stoke your fire first so that you can help provide the fuel for others.
All right, mama, there you have a plan for how to get unbusy. Here’s the thing though, becoming unbusy doesn’t happen on its own; it takes action. You’re clear that you want to be less busy, and on what you want in life, now you need to follow the steps that are listed above for you in this post. There is no time like the present, so I suggest you get started today. This is one of those things where even if you’re super tired at the end of the day, staying up for extra 30 minutes to write down what you want in life will be worth the missed sleep.
For more time management strategies check out, 4 Types of Time Blocks Working Moms Need.
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