How I stopped being busy... and got a real life

If you are anything like me, you can become quite skilled at putting off living.

“When I get through this crazy month …”

“When this project is behind me …”

“When I am not so busy …”

But once the month is over, the work project is finished, the “just a minute” has passed, and the urgent call has been returned, something else always comes up. Your “one more thing” has no end, causing life’s best experiences to fall to the bottom of the priority list … again.

Busyness has become a badge of honor. But busyness leaves us unfulfilled. It does not illicit feelings of peace or contentment. It is not something we will reminisce about when we take our last breaths.

I know I am not alone. We live in a culture of overwhelm and are living maxed out lives. We respond to messages and emails immediately (or at least feel like we have to). We attend social functions at the expense of family time. We say yes to committees and other commitments because we can’t say no or because we mistakenly believe it will bring us acceptance or prestige.

Busyness has become a badge of honor. But busyness leaves us unfulfilled. It does not elicit feelings of peace or contentment. It is not something we will reminisce about when we take our last breaths.

At least that’s how it was for me.

Five years ago, my calendar had no white space. The pace of my life was a constant mad dash to a finish line that couldn’t be reached. I gripped my phone tighter than the hands of my loved ones. I said yes to all requests from outside the home and no to important invitations from inside the home—invitations that involved playing, laughing, and memory making.

I became too busy to see life slipping through my multi-tasking fingers, and it almost cost me everything I held dear.

Thankfully, it wasn’t beyond repair. When I realized I was letting my circumstances control me, instead of taking control of my circumstances, I knew I needed some strategies to help me get off the hamster wheel of busy, start being intentional with my time, focus, and energy, and invest in what matters most:

One simple but powerful strategy I began using when I was at the height of my distracted, overcommitted, stressed-out life, was to begin asking myself the following three questions on a regular basis:

1. Does the amount of time and attention I currently offer to my family convey that they are a top priority in my life? (Five years ago, the answer was no.)

2. Does my current schedule allow for time spent simply being all there with my loved ones? (Five years ago, the answer was no.)

3. Do I have any extracurricular commitments or time-wasting distractions I could eliminate in order to spend a few minutes of special time each day with my child or spouse? Here, the answer was YES. There was a glimmer of hope!

The answers to these three questions helped me realize something quite powerful: I could not control all the circumstances of my life, but I could control some.

I could not let go of all my extracurricular commitments, but I could let go of some.

I could not say no to every outside request asked of me, but I could say no to some.

I could not rid myself of all modern day distractions, but I could choose to designate pockets of time in which to turn off the world and engage with the people who mattered most to me.

And that’s exactly what I did. I started small, but every time I turned off the worldly pressures, the daily distractions, and the societal expectations and turned toward my family, my heart felt like it was right where it was supposed to be. The more I chose my heart, and not what mattered to the rest of the world, the more I chose what mattered to me.

I have stopped being busy. As a result, I am accomplishing the two things I really want with my life: be a joyful participant in my family’s life, and share my writing gift with the world.

For me, it started with a few simple questions that helped me understand how much I needed to stop being busy, so I could begin living the life I always wanted.