Have you ever wanted to do less but can’t seem to make it happen?
Do you feel stuck in a cycle of never-ending commitments and obligations?
Are you wishing that someone would show you how to prioritise it all and what to stop, so you can put an end to the madness?
If you’ve answered yes to any of those questions, then I’m so glad you’re reading this, because I’ve been running personal experiments in being insanely busy for most of my life.
My mum always tells me that I’m doing too much. Friends are often surprised at how much I juggle. In past jobs, my employers have told me that I have a “very high capacity”. My husband tells me I create a busy lifestyle (in his words, “it’s who you are”).
To be honest, I like it. There’s comfort and excitement in being busy. I love variety, trying new things, being social and helping others. I really dislike doing nothing and I rarely sit still. A full life is appealing.
Sounds positive, doesn’t it?
I’ve discovered that the problem isn’t wanting and living a full and fulfilling life. The problem is knowing where the line is between full and fulfilling, and overwhelming and unsustainable.
Of course, the line is pretty easy to recognise once you’ve already crossed it. But I’ve often failed to spot it on approach.
We’re wearing a lot of hats in life; mum, wife, sister, friend, employer, employee, aunty, volunteer, and so on. There are going to be times when we’re busy.
But we don’t need to live in a constant cycle of busyness that has us gasping for breath and feeling resentful or overwhelmed.
How do we get trapped in this cycle of busyness?
Here’s what I’ve realised: we choose to be this way.
Consciously or subconsciously.
Rather than sharing another prioritisation or organisation technique to help rescue you from overwhelm, I want to tackle the root cause of busyness. If you can identify why you keep choosing to be busy, then you can avoid getting yourself trapped in the first place.
If you’re already in the busyness trap, keep reading, because these ideas can still be used to identify the things you potentially could stop doing, or that aren’t that important.
Remember, everyone has a different concept of what is manageable and what constitutes “busy”. There’s no point comparing how much you’re getting done to how much any other mum is getting done. There’s no objective standard of productivity you need to meet.
You do you.
With that said, here are 8 reasons you could be stuck in the busyness trap.
1. Busyness is part of your identity
Just pause for a moment and ask yourself this question:
Is being busy part of your identity?
If it is, you’ll always subconsciously and consciously seek ways to be busy. You’ll struggle to do less. In fact, by focusing on it and reinforcing this identity to the world around you, you’re inviting more busyness into your life.
Do you think about yourself, or describe yourself to others, as a busy person?
If you do, and you’re feeling trapped by everything you need to get done, then there’s something important you need to know.
You can choose who you want to be: the busy person or someone who takes things a little slower, has more time and space to breathe, and who feels calmer and happier without the pressure of constantly rushing.
It’s up to you.
2. You’re not clear on your priorities
It’s really hard to know what to focus your time and attention on, if you don’t know what’s important to you.
When your priorities are unclear, you’ll find yourself:
- Taking on things that really don’t matter, or that matter to others but not you
- Bouncing between tasks, not knowing which one to focus on or finish first
- Unable to decide which tasks to say no to
- Feeling more susceptible to pressure from others, when they need you to do something.
Your time is finite and your attention is even more limited, so identify what’s important and focus on those things.
It’s also helpful to look at all the things you’re doing each day and ask yourself:
Does this really matter? Is this the best use of my time and attention?
3. You measure your worth by how much you’re doing
Busyness is often equated with success in today’s society. Many people feel better about themselves and feel they have greater worth if they’re busy.
I had to really question myself on this one, because as I mentioned, I like being busy. I realised that in my younger years, this definitely was a factor in my decisions.
We think that:
Busy = important
Busy = successful
Busy = productive
Actually, none of these are true. Your worth is not measured by your productivity.
You are valuable as you are, not because you do.
4. You say yes without thinking through what’s required
Do you tend to agree to do things, and then later regret it or even resent it?
Sometimes we rush into committing before we check what exactly is required in terms of results, time and effort. You may need to ask a few questions to get clarity.
For example, if you are asked to organise a morning tea for your child’s playgroup or school, you might want to clarify:
- When does the morning tea need to happen by? Is the date already set or are you able to choose a date that would work for you?
- How elaborate will the morning tea be? What exactly needs to be organised? – food, decorations, invitations, photos, setting up and cleaning up, etc
- Can someone else help you or are you expected to do it all yourself?
- What other support will you have?
When someone asks you to do something, explain that you need a little time to think about whether it is manageable. Will you need to decline or stop something else to take this on? Can you negotiate the timeframe, outcome or amount of responsibility to make it more manageable?
It’s often unnecessary to give an immediate response. Once you get into the habit of thinking through what’s required, you can return to answering in the moment where possible.
5. You don’t want to miss out
You see on Instagram that one of your friends has taken their kids on a weekend road trip adventure. Another has been in the kitchen all afternoon cooking some amazing snacks. You overhear a mum talking about the incredible sports program their children have been attending. Another mum tells you all about her family’s monthly volunteering efforts.
You ask yourself: Why aren’t I doing that? Should I be doing that? Are my kids missing out? Am I missing out?
Sometimes we take things on because we’re scared of missing out.
However, if those things aren’t important to us, then there really is no reason to do them! The trick is to identify the real reason you’re considering taking them on and only do so if they align to your priorities.
In addition, I sometimes find myself wanting to do things (when I really can’t manage them) because I’m worried that the opportunity won’t present itself again. In reality, most opportunities will come up again later down the track. Perhaps they won’t be exactly the same, but it could be an even better fit. If you find yourself in this situation, ask yourself if it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, or one that you can afford to wait for.
6. You can’t say no or don’t want to let people down
Saying no can be really hard. Sometimes you might even be thinking “no, no, no” and then “yes” pops out of your mouth!
If you have trouble saying no, ask yourself why.
Is it because you:
- Worry that people will reject you?
- Want people to like you?
- Don’t like conflict?
- Don’t want to hurt or disappoint anyone?
- Feel the needs of others are more important than your own?
- See yourself as the person who is always there for everyone, meeting all their needs?
It’s impossible to get through life without disappointing anyone. Not everyone will like you (I mean, do you like everyone?) or feel happy with you all the time.
This is because your priorities and values aren’t the same. That’s normal.
Learning to say no is one of the most powerful ways to overcome and avoid overwhelm. It will enable you to focus on your priorities and achieve more in those areas than ever before.
Long explanations aren’t necessary most of the time. A simple “no” is often enough but if you want, you could add something like “thank you for thinking of me” or “I’d like to help but just can’t manage it right now”.
7. You’re avoiding something
Interestingly, busyness can be a great distraction from things we don’t want to deal with.
What could you be avoiding?
- Tough decisions?
- Difficult conversations?
- Being still and silent with your thoughts and emotions?
- Something that’s worrying you?
- Being present in a relationship that isn’t going so well?
- Feeling inadequate or not enough?
- Being alone?
I noticed that when I drive home from work on Wednesdays, I find it uncomfortable to be doing nothing except driving. I always feel like I need to fill that 20 minutes with something, like a phone call or podcast. Listening to the radio doesn’t make me feel settled. I realised that when I did nothing but drive (important I know) I felt I was wasting time and not doing enough. Not something that sits well for a “high capacity” person.
If you’re busying yourself to avoid something, then changing this pattern can help you get back some time and also address and free yourself from the underlying issue.
8. You lack boundaries
Boundaries are limits or guidelines on what you will and won’t do. They keep you from straying from your priorities and values and are a form of self care and valuing yourself. Without boundaries, you’re more likely to put your own needs last and be at the mercy of others, taking on more than you can manage. By not setting and choosing to honour your boundaries, you are choosing to put everyone else before yourself.
Some examples of boundaries that could be helpful in terms of avoiding the busyness trap are:
- When you say yes to something, you will say no to, or stop doing, something else
- You will always leave X amount of time for yourself (self care)
- You will not take work phone calls after 6pm
- Every weekend, one day will be a family day
- One night each week will be dedicated to connecting with your partner, without distractions
- You will exercise a minimum of 3 times a week for 40 mins
- You won’t give your time to relationships with people who make you feel bad about yourself.
Do you need to put some boundaries in place?
Which of those 8 reasons resonated with you?
Lovely mum, there are always going to be countless things you could be doing. That doesn’t mean you should be doing them all and you certainly can’t keep doing them all without a break.
- What’s keeping you stuck in the busyness trap?
- What’s 1 thing you will do to help you avoid overwhelm and the busyness trap in future?
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