Manage Your Time to Break the Cycle of Busy

Manage Your Time to Break the Cycle of Busy

We all know what it’s like to be busy in today’s fast-paced world but unfortunately, that often means feeling out of control.  To exacerbate the issue, people use being busy as a badge of honor.  We all know those people, right?  In fact, we have probably all been that person.  You know the scenario: You ask someone, “How are you?”  The response: “I’m sooo busy.” When did the word busy become an adjective to describe how you’re doing in life?

But words hold power and when we constantly insert ‘busy’ into our language, it essentially puts us into a spin cycle. And we inevitably put the other person in a spin cycle too. Top that off with making yourself a martyr and it creates a toxic environment – both internally and externally.

How are you presenting yourself out there?  How does that make those around you feel?  And most importantly, how does it make you feel? At one time my chaotic life of busy-ness defined who I was and how I lived and I had to ask why.

Why did I create this busy-ness in my life? I won’t bore you with my personal psychoanalysis but I recognized avoidance. My husband travelled extensively on business and with a couple close friends moving away from Whistler, there was a lonely void and frankly, work filled it up.

Why did I bring it into my conversations with others? Frankly, it created a boundary. If the perception was that I was incredibly busy, people wouldn’t overstep and I had an excuse if they did. I could avoid difficult conversations or having to say no.

But ultimately, it started to feel frantic so a few years back, I dropped the word ‘busy’ from my vocabulary and consequently, adjusted my mindset to being busy by choice. I’m wired to take on a lot and choose to live my life that way. I realized that everything I put on my plate was a choice because I said yes to it. That shift changed everything: my mindset, my relationships, my peace of mind, my energy.

It’s been a lifetime of learning and I’m sharing my tips and tools to help you break the busy-ness cycle.

Change your Language

Although challenging at first, you too must drop ‘busy’ from your vocabulary. You’ll stumble but learn to recover quickly and that eventually becomes habit. If busy slips out when asked how you’re doing, follow it up with a positive spin. Try this: “I’m busy….  but good!  Loving this sunshine.” Or “I’m busy….. but excited for the new ski season.” See the difference?

Just Say No

This is hard for so many people but again, practice makes it easier. There are tons of suggestions on how to deliver ‘no’ — you’ve heard them. If the answer isn’t a big hell ya, then say no. Or saying no opens your world up to say yes to what really matters. But the bottom line is it gets easier once you just start saying no. It feels uncomfortable at first but try saying no to two things this week. If you want to gather some strategies, take a look at my newspaper column “Your Ultimate Guide to Saying No”.

Manage Your Calendar

My mantra is ‘manage your time by managing your calendar’.This technique keeps my life on track (most of the time) with these two pieces: time blocking and task lists.  They go hand in hand to organize how I spend my time and energy.

Task Lists:

Find a task management tool that works for you.  My two favorites are Wunderlist and Asana.  I use Wunderlist for simple lists – my personal tasks, lists and projects.  And I use Asana for bigger projects and to share with clients so we know who is doing what, when they are doing it and when it is done.  But there are many out there: Todist, Evernote, Reminders, Trello – to name a few. Ideally, choose an app that syncs across your devices allowing you freedom to manage your lists on the fly. I create different lists for personal and work and track everything I have to do, along with due dates & prioritization. You can keep lists for other areas: grocery list, social media scheduling, big project.

Do you have a clutter of tasks on loose pieces of paper or post its? Plug them into your task manager to further clean up your world.

And be realistic about your tasks.  Goal setting expert E.J. Masicampo, an associate professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina says that a long list “can become a graveyard of things you’ll never actually do”. In fact, data recently collected by the software company ‘I Done This’ revealed 41 percent of to-do items are never completed.

In other words, cut yourself some slack and delete the stuff that you really don’t need to get done.  I keep those tasks in a separate list and pop into there once in awhile.  Sometimes the items float onto my lists to get completed but more often than not, I clean it up by hitting delete.


Your calendar is the sweet spot to manage your time and to amp up your productivity. I use an electronic calendar so it syncs across all my devices but if you use a paper calendar, my strategies will work with some tweaks and highlighters.

First, as an entrepreneur, my personal and work worlds blend together. I prefer work/life blend rather than the unachievable work/life balance so my calendar and task lists cover all areas. 

That’s why using color is key!  Assign a color to each category. For example, my work is blue, exercise/activity is yellow, personal is red, vacation is purple, brown is family and so on. Tip: you can create shared calendars so notifications land in their calendars too.  No more: “when is that dinner party?”

Every week, set aside 30 minutes to organize your calendar and task list.  Review your top priorities, events, meetings, kid activities and block time in your calendar to accommodate it all.  And here’s the secret sauce – block chunks of time. By that, I mean block Tuesday morning from 9:00 am to 11:00 am for focused work time. I block it in blue since that’s my work color.  You can even list the top tasks in the time slot that you have to get done (i.e. write a blog, empty email inbox, etc). Turn off your devices to really kickstart your productivity. Do the same for your personal time in the assigned color – block Thursday from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon to ski.

As much as it may seem stringent, it actually gives you flexibility. You may decide not to ski on Thursday morning (perhaps the weather stinks) and voila…. you have 3 hours to do something else for yourself: go to the gym, walk the dog, get a pedicure. Use your allotted personal time for you.

Further, it gives a powerful glimpse into imbalances.  For me, too much blue in my week is too much work.  Not enough yellow in my calendar means that I’m letting exercise slip. It happens but taking a peek at that inspires you to adapt it moving forward.

Below is a visual of what that may look like.

Busy TimeBlock WORK calendar template for blog

One last power tip here – set a timer.  Let’s say that you block 1 hour to write a blog.  Set a timer for 45 minutes.  Once that timer goes off, you know you have 15 minutes left to finish it up or re-assign a new time block to do so.  Reset that timer for the final 15 minutes and once that rings – you are done.  Move on to the next tasks in the next time block.

You Can Do This!

If you think you’re not wired to be this organized, think again. The tools are at your fingertips and of course, you’ll stumble and have to reload. Life is messy. But implementing these strategies for at least one month will enable you to feel more in control. And the positive side of making this process a habit is that after a short time, you’ll update your task list and calendar as you go.

Will you take this challenge?  I’d love to hear your key takeaways and circle back to share your successes.

Cathy Goddard is the Founder of Lighthouse Visionary Strategies and Lighthouse Mentor Network.

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