How to Make Your Busy Count


By Janine Stichter, Ph.d

13 February 2017


We are all busy.

We are constantly working, engaged in family activities, volunteering; only coming up periodically to get the bills paid and do laundry.  

Everyone has a different combination of busy, hopefully sprinkled with some fun activities, but we would be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say they felt very busy on a regular basis.  

The self-help books, blogs and tweets encourage us to do less, stop trying to please everyone all the time, or stop trying to master it all.

Most of us would agree, this sounds great, but how many of us do it? 
Few to fewer.

There are a number reasons of why this is so hard.

For example:

Children still need to be raised; there is homework, school and sports activities and technology to monitor and learn so we can keep up with them.

People in need continue to need assistance. 

Work doesn’t slow down because we want it to. I mean, since when can we just pick and chose what we want to do in our jobs? 

And then of course there is technology. If we don’t text someone back within a few hours, people are frustrated, concerned or we end up missing out on exciting opportunities. 

We do not get to just “not know”, if our children or parents need help with something. We are expected to figure it out, and there is always google search or youtube video to show us how. 

And finally we are encouraged (and rightly so) to relax, and take care of our health.  In previous decades, this might have been more commonly defined as taking a long weekend, going for a walk or watching how much you ate. Now there are infinite options, some confusing,  for health and wellness resources and travel destinations, all at our fingertips, leaving us with an information overload.

What if we shifted from random busy to being busy with a purpose?.

Most of us live a life in which our “busy” is a result of responding to what the environment gives us. It is reactive, and for the most part, random.

We get the children’s sport schedule and figure out who is going where and how. 

We figure out how to get that extra project at work done, while struggling to get home on time for carpool, or our volunteer work. 

We always have “just a second” to answer a question or tackle a small project because we can look something up on our phone or nearby computer. 

And then at some point when we are famished we look up and search for the “most healthy” option around. 

The examples are endless. 
We are constantly reacting. 

Therefore,  the act of cutting back, or “pruning our busyness” feels like letting someone down or just saying “no” more than we are comfortable.

Being busy with a purpose, looks different. 

What if our actions were guided based on what we wanted and needed from the experience? 

Most of us tend to have three to five sections of our lives-  work, philanthropy, family/friends, managing a household, and recreation.

Purposeful activities occur when we define what we want to achieve for each facet of our life, and then choose or create associated activities to achieve those purposes.

If a request comes up that is not consistent with those purposes, we have a clear path to defer or decline those opportunities and keep our energies toward our goals and passions.

The process for achieving more purpose in the day to day might include the following steps:

  1. Ask yourself what you want to achieve from each facet of your life. For example what purpose do you see in your current work? What is the purpose of taking your next vacation? Why do you want to give back to the community?
  2. Determine what activities are consistent with your purpose. If your current purpose for work is financial, identify how many hours or what types of work activities are important and relevant to achieving that purpose. Simply putting in more hours, or happy hours may not serve that purpose and result in added activities that take up time that could be spent on something more purposeful. If your goal for a trip is to unwind, it may not be accomplished by taking a trip where you share a house with 6 other families whose children are all under 5 years of age. Although we may enjoy these families and their company, a different trip would allow you to achieve your purpose and as such helps  focus on making a decision that does not feel hurtful, but mindful. If our goals around volunteerism are to make sure that 10% of our time is spent on others, then how many hours will achieve that purpose? If the goal is to make an impact, which activities as opposed to how many, will reach that purpose?
  3. Remember that the purpose can and most likely will change.  When children are small, the purpose is often deeply routed in health and safety. What activities promote the health and safety of those we care for, and which ones are just added activities? As children mature, the primary purpose of interactions and activities may shift to become the fostering of cooperation, teamwork and kindness. Having the family split up and travel all weekends to play a single sport’s game, may or may not serve that purpose. Identified purposes can be reassessed regularly.
  4. Be transparent about the purpose. Firstly with yourself and then also with colleagues, friends and family, which can help create an appreciation for your choices. Explaining that you will not join your friends for the rock concert because you want to stay home to watch your favorite show is much easier if it’s clear that your purpose is to unwind. Taking a cooking class to learn how to meal prep more healthy options to meet your health and fitness goals is much different than just taking a cooking class to socialize and learn to make good looking food. Being clear with yourself and others will ensure  that you meet your needs and connect with others on the similar journeys.

Building an awareness of what your purpose is in the different facets of your life will allow you to better recognize if that next opportunity, or suggestion is the right one for you, right now. 

With a little planning and added mindfulness, you can begin to shift from being random busy to busy with a purpose.