We’ve long been told to wear our busyness as a virtue. In pursuit of inbox zero and a checked-off list of to-do’s, we’ve forgone sleep and ignored the very human wants we have for ourselves (connection, hobbies, free time). But as we’ve learned, there’s a demoralizing danger in chasing productivity for productivity’s sake. And unfortunately, many of us reach an age when we discover that we’ve been going after the wrong things all along. In my late twenties, I’ve reached that point. That’s why learning how to not be busy is my greatest rebellion to date.
It’s a much-talked-about reality that still feels hard to grasp: to actually derive meaning from our days, we have to crowd our the clutter of what we’re supposed to do—and lean into the truth of what we really want.
Featured image by Kristen Kilpatrick
Thankfully, competing buzzwords like intentionality, mindfulness, and purpose have entered the common lexicon. They’re here to remind us that life is more of a quality-over-quantity game. But we live in a world where being a multi-hyphenate is glorified and it seems that everyone is the CEO of their social media-driven business. And while I’m certainly not shaming the successes of these inspiring folks, the push to produce and fill every moment with utility pulls us deeper into our doing state and further away from simply being.
So if you’re tired of life feeling like a never-ending hamster wheel, keep reading. These are the seven tips that finally taught me how to not be busy—and to actually enjoy my life all the more because of it.
How to Not Be Busy: 6 Tips To Help You Connect With Your Purpose
Identify Your Values
A few weeks ago, I shared with my therapist that it felt impossible to relax. Every time I picked up my knitting, sat down to read, or went to the kitchen to bake, I’d become overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. Guilty for relaxing and guilty for not using my time more productively. Her response: Is productivity something you personally value? It took another appointment and journaling in between to realize my response: no.
Of course, I value hard work and love sharing my creativity with others. But in my reflections, I realized that the community I was brought up in taught me that productivity meant I was good, I was competent, and I was enough. To disconnect from toxic busyness, we have to explore where our need for it comes from. Is it from us, or does it come from somewhere else entirely?
Take Stock of Your Day
I got this tip from Kate Waitzkin, who led an inspiring workshop on rituals at the Camille Styles retreat a few weeks ago. If you want to change how you spend your time, you first have to understand how you’re currently spending it. Designate a day during your workweek and one on the weekend where you write down what you did, at what time, and for how long. The task may sound laborious (and it is), but trust me: it’s the most effective tip I’ve found to help me truly understand how I’m spending my time.
Once you have it all written down, notice the minutes (or hours) you spend scrolling social media or spacing out in front of a Netflix show you’re not even sure you like. Are there opportunities to work on that book you’ve told yourself you want to write? Is there time that you can dedicate to the ceramics class you want to take? Could you possibly block off a whole night for reading? Chances are, there’s time.
Pick a Lane—and Focus
As someone who considers herself more online than most, it can be overwhelming for me to confront all the noise on social media. When you’re met with visuals of people with multiple income streams and who seem to succeed at all their creative endeavors, it can be hard not to think that something’s wrong with you for not achieving the same.
But to build toward your dreams and passions amidst the clutter of content, you have to trust in the path you’re on. Believe me, I’ve taken up coding, running, and the like because that was what I thought I needed to do to be seen as successful in the eyes of the world. But when I accepted being a writer, a reader, a baker, and a crafter, I suddenly stopped spending my time on what wasn’t wasn’t important—and leaned into the truth of what is.
Separate Your Needs From Your Wants
When everything feels like a priority, it can be overwhelming to try to make a choice about how to spend your time. Instead, learn how to label what needs to get done and what feels like a nice-to-have-completed. If possible, write at the top of your list the three things that have to get done before you can wrap up your day. That way, when they’re checked off, you can leave your desk feeling satisfied with what you accomplished. Plus, there’s always this truth: more work will be waiting for you tomorrow.
Accept That Productivity is an Endless Loop
PSA: You will never get to the end of your to-do list. Sure, there might be a day when you check everything off. But you can—and will—always keep adding to it. What’s more, while it may feel momentarily validating to cross out a to-do, completion isn’t the path to true satisfaction. So instead of feeling that you have to do everything before you can get to the being part of your life (see introduction for a refresher), why not schedule some time to enjoy your life now?
Finally: Learn to Say No
I’m a chronic overcommitter. I’ve written about it before, but learning to (properly, compassionately) say no has been one of the biggest wins of my life. As women, we’ve been socially conditioned to believe that our worth and value is dependent upon our likability. Of course, that’s at the core of our chronic ‘yes’ habit. But it’s 2022, and to preserve our well-being and protect ourselves, we are allowed to decline most anything. An invitation, a requested favor, a quick chat. While sure, there are things we have to do when we don’t have the bandwidth, remember that you have autonomy, power, and choice in the matter.
The upside to this challenge? You get to say yes to the life you really want.
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