These days, most of my emails begin with: “I’m so sorry for the late reply! I’ve been snowed.” At the surface level, the expression sounds quaint - like I’ve been sprinkled with a smattering of powdery sky tears - but it’s more like I’ve been swallowed whole by a great avalanche of doom.
While being busy has worryingly become something of a badge of honour, it’s also sometimes just unavoidable in our fast-paced, more-more-more world. The way I see it, when you live a busy life, you really have three choices: 1) You can opt out and find something less demanding to do, 2) you can drown under the weight of all-the-things-all-at-once, or 3) you can find ways to get smart about “the busy.”
My default is to select option two – if I’m honest, sometimes it gets to a point where no matter how smart I am, I’m clinging onto the runaway train for dear life - but recently I’ve been trying to find ways to make my life less ridiculous. I’m no expert, but making a few basic changes has helped me to at least gain some semblance of control over my existence.
If you’re also in the throes of chaos, here are a few no frills, no filter suggestions that might help.
Make a list, on paper, and order it by priority
Find a piece of paper. Yes, paper. That amazing invention that humanity forgot about circa 2008. I favour a good old-fashioned diary with a page for each day, but any piece of paper will do. Then find a pen. You’re going to write a list. By hand.
I’m never organised enough to prioritise the things I need to get done in my head before I write them down, so I take it one step at a time. First, I brain dump everything that’s rolling around in the bottom of my skull onto the page. Next, I read the list and think about how long each task will take to complete, how important they are and any deadlines I need to meet.
Then I do this very high tech and revolutionary thing that is seriously going to blow your mind: I write a number beside each item (usually enclosed in a little circle, because my brain just likes the look of that). I generally prioritise tasks with fast-approaching deadlines over all others, but I also chuck in a couple of easy to achieve tasks in the top five. It’s nice to be able to knock a couple of the bastards off early on.
Et voilà! There you have it. A roadmap for your day. Attack the list in numerical order, and you’ve just saved the time you would’ve otherwise spent procrastinating and trying to decide what to do first.
Before you all look at me like I’ve lost my mind, here’s my reasoning for going back to the Stone Age: paper doesn’t beep at you. It doesn’t light up every time you touch it. It doesn’t disappear when you click out of it. It doesn’t need you to put your password in every time you want to access it, or manoeuvre your finger in just the right direction to open it.
It just sits quietly on the table beside you, minding its own business. You can see it at all times. It also allows you to cross things out when you’ve achieved them (which has got to be one of life’s greatest simple pleasures).
Put your phone somewhere where you can’t see it
Your phone is quite likely the enemy. If you’re anything like me, your gaze will be drawn to it so regularly that it’s almost as if it’s exerting a magnetic force upon your eyeballs.
So put it somewhere where you can’t see it.
Seriously. Get that thing out of your line of vision. I’ve taken to putting mine behind my laptop screen. I can get to it easily if it rings, but I can’t see it, so I’m not tempted to check it every five minutes. Success!
Close any browser tabs for social media sites
Banishing your phone will do very little, however, if you’ve still got your favourite time-wasting sites open in your browser. Cut them. They’ll still be there later when you’ve actually got time to peruse your newsfeed.
I’ve set mine up as favourites in my browser, so I can open them with one click. Funnily enough, once they’re closed, I find that I’m not tempted to open them again. They’re out of sight, out of mind, and I can focus on whatever it is I’m actually meant to be doing.
Give yourself rewards for completing difficult tasks
There is some stuff in life that just sucks. The first law of adulthood is apparently that you can’t cross your arms, stick out your bottom lip and say, “NO!” when you don’t want to do sucky but essential things. As much as you’d like to. Whoever made that law sucks too.
In the face of such tasks, the only hack I can offer is to give yourself a reward to look forward to. Whether it’s ten minutes to spend on social media, five cat videos, a walk around the block, a coffee, or even an episode of your current Netflix addiction, a light at the end of the tunnel can make it easier to focus when all you want to do is procrastinate.
Move emails from your inbox into folders
Emails are the bane of my life. And yes, I know that’s a First World problem. That doesn’t change the fact that I often feel like I’m chasing my tail. The problem with emails is that when you reply to one you simply generate more emails. They. Never. Go. Away.
I haven’t yet found a way to solve the never-ending email dilemma, but I have found great solace in a stack of folders. The moment I’ve read and acted upon an email, it’s on its way to a folder.
I know an alarming number of people who simply allow thousands of emails to accumulate in their inboxes. The thought gives me palpitations. Don’t do that to yourself. Get a filing system going and get those nasty pieces of e-trash out of your life ASAP.
Learn to say ‘no’
I saved the hardest for last. In order to survive life as a busy person, you have to learn to say no. As women, putting ourselves first is exactly what we’re conditioned not to do, and it can really screw us over. There are so many wonderful people who want us to do so many worthy things, but there are only so many hours in the day. And all work and no play… well, you know how that turns out.
Repeat after me: no.
It might take a bit of practice, but that little word will become a lifesaver. You deserve to have a life. You shouldn’t feel guilty for putting yourself (and your sanity) first.
And if you still can’t bring yourself to say it, try this logic on for size: If you’re frazzled and overstretched, you’ll never be able to do justice to the things you really care about.
Let’s say it together.