Back To Career News

3 Ways to Make It Feel Like You’re Not Busy (Even When You Are)

Let’s face it: we’re really busy. Between work, family, networking events, and finding time to eat, it seems like there’s never enough time to actually get anything done. We get stuck thinking about how much there is to do, panicking about deadlines and upcoming dentist appointments to the point that today’s projects just keep getting pushed back until tomorrow. But what if there was a way to actually trick yourself into thinking you weren’t actually that busy?

Let’s face it: we’re really busy. Between work, family, networking events, and finding time to eat, it seems like there’s never enough time to actually get anything done. We get stuck thinking about how much there is to do, panicking about deadlines and upcoming dentist appointments to the point that today’s projects just keep getting pushed back until tomorrow. But what if there was a way to actually trick yourself into thinking you weren’t actually that busy?

(Photo Credit: Courtney Dirks/Flickr)

First, it’s important to ask yourself if you actually are that busy.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

“If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are,” writes Tim Kreider in TIME. “It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.'”

In other words, being busy has become a badge of honor, the mark of a serious and important person. It’s also, as Kreider points out, largely self-imposed: no one is making parents sign their kids up for activities every night of the week, and although the pressure on employees to check in via email after hours is intense, workers often fall into the trap of doing so even when they don’t have to.

For these people, extreme dedication to business is a choice — they aren’t doctors or parents pulling double shifts to make ends meet. (As he writes, those people are “Exhausted. Dead on their feet.”) For most of us, being busy could possibly mean that we’ve just piled too much on our plates — and taking one less gym class or declining an invite to an after-hours event could make all the difference.

However, if you still find yourself still busy, there may be a few ways to trick yourself into thinking you’re not busy, so that you can actually focus on getting work done.

1. Know Your Peak Hours

In an article for Fast Company, Samantha Cole suggests knowing your best hours is key way make your mind think you have more time. She explains that all of us have “peak hours” — some of us our morning people, waking up way before the sun rises and cranking out our best work before our colleagues have even had their first cup of coffee. Others might not be at their best until after lunch, using morning hours to organize and delegate work out. As we shift between jobs, careers, seasons and even ages, these peak hours will change, so take note of when you’re at your best and utilize these hours to get your work done. Missing this window could mean missing a day of work, making you feel like you have that much more to do.

2. Make a Better To-Do List

Another way feel like you are less busy is by making a to-do list; but not just any to-do list. Over at Lifehack, Dolly Garland suggests making a list of things that must get done today.

“MUST is the key word,” she explains. “This is where a lot of people go wrong. They sit down to make a list, and they keep adding and adding, all the things they should’ve done, all the things they want to do, and all the things they wish they could do. They end up with a mile long list, and find it so daunting that any motivation for tackling it disappears.”

By keeping the list short and simple (three to eight items), you’ll trick your psyche into thinking that accomplishing today’s tasks will actually be easy, so you can more easily power through each item — and feel like you have the time to do so, without being overwhelmed and feeling “busy.” 

3. Beware of the Social Media Time-Suck

In an era where many workers have to use social media in order to get their work done, it’s easy to lose hours per week navigating Twitter mentions or checking your Tumblr dash. The solution can be as easy as keeping a log of time spent on social. Once you see, in black and white, how much time you’re spending on your various personal and professional social networks, it will easier to determine if that time is a good investment … or a waste of effort.

Tell Us What You Think

What tips do you have for feeling less busy? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


What Am I Worth?

What your skills are worth in the job market is constantly changing.