“Am I making meaningful use of this scarce and precious day?”
That’s a simple question Angel and I challenge our course students to ask themselves anytime they feel busyness overwhelming them.
Because excessive busyness is rarely meaningful.
And make no mistake about it – excessive busyness is a widespread, modern-day illness!
We fill our calendars and our social media feeds with various kinds of busyness, oftentimes just to avoid being bored… to avoid being exactly who we are, exactly where we are. The instant we feel a bit idle, we run off in the direction of the nearest shiny object that catches our attention. And in the process, we not only miss out on the serenity and beauty that exists within ourselves, but we also miss out on experiencing that same serenity and beauty in the environment around us. Our busyness has blinded us with “hurry” and “worry,” and the endless need to be somewhere else, doing something else, as fast as feasibly possible.
Angel and I are not immune to this either. Just like every other human being, sometimes we let busyness get the best of us – we let distractions get in the way of what matters most. And that’s the real tragedy of it: we confuse being busy with being effective. We feel a day late and a buck short across the board, because our priorities are completely misaligned with our daily efforts.
A Widespread Misalignment of Priorities
Truth be told, most of us suffer from a severe misalignment of our priorities.
In a recent survey we conducted with 700 of our course students, we asked them questions to determine how much joy they derived from their most common daily activities. As you might expect, the joy rating for work-related obligations typically fell below voluntary personal activities. But what surprised us is this:
Most of the students surveyed said many of their voluntary personal activities did NOT give them joy. For example, several of them said they derived more pleasure from time dedicated to family, practicing spirituality, or working on a passion project, than from time spent watching TV and browsing social media. And yet these same exact students admitted to spending more time watching TV and browsing social media than engaging in the activities they say give them more joy.
If anything, our student survey shined light on a rather widespread misalignment between what we do and what we deem meaningful and enjoyable. And sadly, this misalignment ultimately leads us into bouts of busyness peppered with regret.
I’m reminded of a past student of ours who was obsessed with playing online video games. These games were draining lots of his time, and he felt so agonized with regret over the time he was wasting that he enrolled in our Getting Back to Happy course and immediately jumped on a coaching call with us in a panic. Over the next several weeks, we eased his anxiety and held him accountable to a sensible schedule that limited his video game time. And gradually, he was able to let go of his regrets and create lots of new and meaningful experiences for himself.
While we may not all share an obsession with online video games, many of us share the feelings of regret associated with wasting our time away. Angel and I speak with students every single day who do. And I’ll bet many of the people who read this article have recently felt something similar, because, perhaps, they spent an hour (or four) browsing social media or watching TV with zero return on their investment.
Some might say our tendency to perpetually waste time reveals our true priorities – that we’d rather engage in mindless entertainment over just about anything else. But that’s not true. What’s really happening is an error in our decision-making process. Our modern-day, busy lives tend to be routines of constant distraction. We think about the past and future far more than the present… we think about other people’s social lives instead of our own… we are physically in one place and mentally in another. Without conscious presence, we mindlessly occupy the present moment with low-value activities that lack meaning and joy.
And that’s why we all need to remember these…
Daily Mantras for Stealing Precious Time Back
The solution to our time-wasting tendencies is a long-term practice. It is to ritualistically raise our awareness of how we presently manage – and waste – our time. And that’s exactly what the seven mantras below (which are excerpts from our book and blog archive) are designed to do – they will compel you to steal your time back from those recurring time-wasting tendencies you’ve grown accustomed to.
Anytime you catch yourself wasting time for the sake of wasting it, remember…
- The quality of your life in the long run directly depends upon how you set and respect your priorities today.
- At times, you have to say “no” to good things to be able to say “yes” to important things. You can’t do it all. Be mindful and choose wisely.
- “I don’t have time,” is really just another, perhaps politer, or perhaps naive, way of saying, “It is not that important to me.”
- Don’t waste your time and energy fighting against where you are. Invest your time and energy into getting to where you want to go. And even if you have a good reason to be upset and resentful, let it go. Channel your energy into thoughts and actions that actually benefit your life right now. (Angel and I show how in the “Happiness” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Be present with what matters most. There are few joys in life that equal a good conversation, a good story, a good laugh, a good hug, or a good friend.
- Overcommitting is the biggest mistake most people make against living a happier, simpler life. It’s tempting to fill in every waking minute of the day with to-do list tasks or distractions. Don’t do this to yourself. Leave space.
- You should sit quietly for fifteen minutes today to gather your thoughts and review your priorities, unless you’re too busy, in which case you should sit for an hour. Remember this. The world is as you are inside. (Angel and I build tiny, life-changing rituals like this with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
As for me, I’m off to walk the talk. I’m five minutes shy of slipping into a “full presence with family” afternoon. I’m spending the rest of the day focused on Angel and our son Mac, because, despite my busyness, that’s what maters most.
I hope you’ll join me, in your own way.
But first, I’d love for you to reflect on the distractions in your life…
What’s one frequent distraction that wastes your time and gets between you and your priorities?
Please leave a comment below with your answer, so the rest of us can see that we’re not alone in this struggle, and so we can work together to eliminate these distractions and the unnecessary stress they create in our lives.
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