Everyone is so busy these days.
We live in a world where busyness is worn like a badge of honour, and the busier we are the more successful we must be—at least that’s what we tell ourselves.
Yet we’re all rushing through life with anxiety and stress trailing behind us, lacking sleep, and in a state of constant worry without having time to rest, breathe, or to spend doing the things we love with the ones we love.
I found myself climbing the corporate ladder, busy being busy, working all hours, traveling, making sure I got up early enough to do yoga, ensuring I went to the gym after work to offset all that sitting down, trying to maintain social engagements despite being exhausted, organising our next weekend break, and making sure I didn’t forget anyone’s birthday.
Not only did this busyness help my sense of self-worth, status, and importance, it also earned me lots of money and took my mind off the problems I had in my life and my relationship at the time.
I was too busy to notice if I was happy or not and I didn’t really want to stop long enough to have to think about what that meant. I was also on the verge of a breakdown, had no time to spend the money I was earning, and had zero energy or appetite for life—I’d lost touch of what that was. I was living a fast life, not a good life.
Eventually, something had to give, and it was my health.
I burned out.
This gave me the time and space to realise something had to change. I’d been so busy making a living, I needed to regroup and try to make a life.
The pace of life has evolved at an amazing rate and we put ourselves under so much pressure these days in order to succeed—at work, as a parent, as a partner, and at life. Being busy makes us feel valued and needed, and it also helps distract us from our problems or being alone with our thoughts. We have over-committed schedules that we’re busy trying to add more to, and as a result, we’re no closer to thriving at life. In fact, the opposite could be true. Is this really how life should feel? Is this what life is all about?
I decided it wasn’t and began to search for balance after burning out for all of the reasons above. Through this experience and the journey that followed, I rediscovered what matters and reprioritised my schedule to match.
I learned how to slow down in order to speed up, the importance of pressing reset and taking time out, and the role this plays in thriving at life.
Here are my top tips on how you can find balance and beat the busyness to live a happier, healthier life—because I know from experience the alternative is not how life is supposed to feel.
1. Prioritise self-care.
Self-care is so often viewed as a nice to have, something to do when we get a spare few minutes or when the to-do list is done. It’s something we leave until we’ve got time and don’t prioritise when we’re busy. The irony is that this is the time we probably need it most.
Self-care means taking time out for us—to rest, recharge, and press reset. It’s tapping into how we’re feeling and what’s going on for us. It’s taking time out to do what we enjoy. It’s resting our brains and looking after our bodies. So often, we feel guilty or selfish for making time in our schedule to do this. We consider it a luxury and feel there’s so much else we “should” be doing.
I’ve learned that it’s critical to my success. Imagine what a better partner, parent, worker, and person we’d be if we were not stressed out and tired all the time. Imagine how much more we could give when we’re on our game. This is why I prioritise self-care. It makes me more effective and it means I can get more done. The bottom line is if we don’t make time for self-care, we will need to make time for illness.
My self-care is my morning practice of yoga and meditation. I make sure I eat the right things and take walks at lunch time. And I take time on weekends to have enjoy the sauna, a massage, or to just sit with a book in the sun.
It doesn’t have to be big things, and it doesn’t have to take long. I’m a big believer in the 80:20 rule (sticking to the habit 80% of the time is enough), so sometimes I miss a day, but I generally make this a high priority. Not because it’s nice to have but because it’s critical to my effectiveness, coping with what the week throws at me, and thriving at life.
2. Take 10 quiet minutes daily.
Our brains are on the go all of the time. With the evolution of our smart phones, we are connected 24/7 to a constant feed of information, opinions, and social connection. As a result, we’ve lost the small pauses in our day for our minds to rest. Even the few moments it takes to wait for the lift or flick the kettle on to boil can now be filled with news headlines, social media photos, and the latest shopping deals.
Our minds are important—everything begins here, and our thoughts become our world. What we think becomes how we feel and that in turn becomes how we act. We do so much to keep our physical self well—gym memberships, diets, clothing, beauty products—but what do we do for our minds? The statistics on anxiety, stress, and depression would say not nearly enough.
Meditation is one tool I swear by. It’s key in helping me find balance and building my mental resilience. It’s just 10 minutes a day but it makes all the difference in how I feel, how I cope with challenges, and how sharp my brain is. It also reconnects me, keeps me calm and centered, and provides clarity for my thoughts and feelings, which so often get lost in the busyness of our day.
In our busy lives, we are often on autopilot. We get lost in the doing at the expense of being. Like when you arrive at work and don’t remember the commute. When we are focusing on other things and our mind has wandered, we are not paying attention and this is how life passes us by.
In a world where multitasking is seen as a necessary skill, being mindful is the opposite. It is slowing down to focus on one thing at a time, one moment at a time. Full concentration, unwavering attention on the now.
This can be as simple as breathing mindfully and being aware of the breath, whether we are sitting in meditation, in the car driving to work, or queuing at the supermarket. Mindful walking is one of my favourites—there is no destination in mind, it is slow and deliberate, and I’m not rushing from point A to point B, or lost in thought about what went on at work that day.
I’m mindfully absorbed in the joy of walking, feeling the ground beneath my feet, listening to the birds in the trees, feeling the breeze in my face, watching the sun in the sky, and taking the time to quite literally smell the roses!
Through mindfulness, we can reconnect with our self and become healthier in mind, body, and soul.
4. Slow down to speed up.
In a world where we’re all trying to do more things in less time, the concept of slowing down often seems counter-intuitive, especially when we’re busy.
This is a combination of all of the above really. Not everyone is into mindfulness and meditation, I know. Not everyone has time for self-care, I know this too.
So meet in the middle.
Take some time out, whether it’s sitting with a cup of tea first thing in the morning before anyone else is up, or going to bed early to read. Whatever it is for you, find space in your life to take time out.
If we slow down by taking small pauses in our day to recharge and press reset, we find that we’re more effective when we return to our day. If we are clear-headed and well-rested, we function better; we get things done right the first time, they don’t take as long, we make decisions more quickly, and problems become easier to solve. All of this together means that by slowing down, we are in fact speeding up by becoming more effective, sharper, and on the ball.
5. Reprioritise what matters.
We live like our purpose is to get everything done—the to-do list is wiped clean, and the inbox is empty. Unfortunately, even when you die, there’ll still be uncompleted things on your list. We know the world won’t end, and someone else will do them.
Yet we live like life is one big emergency. We tell ourselves we’ll relax and take a break “when it’s done”—but it never is. As fast as we tick thins off, more things to do emerge. We stay up late, neglect our loved ones, postpone our happiness, and go without fun because we feel the need to “get things done.”
Nothing is more important than your happiness and your loved ones, regardless of what is on your to-do list.
It is also too easy to get stuck in a trap of the things we “should be doing” at the cost of what we’d really like to be doing. Does how you spend your time align with what matters most to you? So often, we’re trying to find additional room in our schedules to cram in more. But how much of what we do is really that important? How can we make room for the things that we love, the people that we love, and reprioritise what matters?
During my time working in human resources, I witnessed many people sacrifice time with their family to work late, opting to finish that report rather than attend a ceremony for their child.
Time is so precious it makes sense to spend it wisely. Think of the things you’d miss most from life if they disappeared tomorrow, or the things you’ve always wanted to do but never got around to doing. So, how can we make space in life for the things that matter? What is it that we’ll wish we did more or less of when we look back on our lives? How do we make that happen now rather than have it become something we regret in the future?
6. It’s okay to say no.
Rather than trying to add more to the schedule, let’s think about what we can let go of. If we lose the things that don’t serve us, we make room for the things that will. This involves letting go, deciding to opt out. and saying no to what is no longer important so we can allow room for what is.
We don’t have to do everything on the to-do list, just the important stuff, Decide what that is, and don’t be afraid to say no to what isn’t important. This is the only way we avoid over-scheduling ourselves.
The purpose of life isn’t to get everything done, it’s to enjoy life along the way.
How much of what we treat as an emergency really is? How much really needs our immediate attention or is so important that we put it before our children, partner, and happiness? We think that by slowing down, we won’t be able to achieve as much or we won’t be seen as successful, but in fact those who take time to find balance tend to perform better and achieve more. They are fresher, and have more energy, creativity, focus, and clarity thanks to the time they’ve allowed for balance.
Author: Jess Stuart
Image: Lucy Maude Ellis/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Social Editor: Emily Bartran