Too busy? 5 easy ways to step off the treadmill

Start saying NO

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper linked not feeling able to say no with feelings of being too busy. Saying yes to things we don’t really want to do can leave us feeling resentful, angry and depleted. And an inability to say no ends up with us taking on too much both at work and in our personal lives, leading to feelings of being unable to get off life’s treadmill, and eventually burnout.

Writer and entrepreneur James Altucher devised the 5/25 formula for what we should say yes to. He advises writing a list of the top 25 things that you want to do in life, from writing a novel to travelling to India. Then cream off the top 5, and never look at the bottom 20 again. Focus your efforts on these 5 things, and say yes to anything that relates to them, saying no to everything else.

However, whilst this might be useful for keeping you focused on your goals, I personally prefer saying no in accordance with your core values. It might take time to work out exactly what these are, but once you have a sense of what’s really important to you, saying no to things that aren’t a good fit becomes easier. Taking time to reflect on the qualities you value, both in yourself and others, will help you to clarify when you should be saying yes, and also will give you permission to say no. For instance, if you value integrity, then saying yes when you mean no goes against that and will leave you feeling dissatisfied and resentful.

Swap FOMO for JOMO

One of the reasons people say yes to too much is because of a Fear Of Missing Out, which can cause us to say yes to invitations to events we don’t really want to attend, or end up scrolling through social media to see what everyone else is up to.

Instead of worrying about what they’re missing out on, many people are now consciously choosing to stay in and doing activities they really enjoy, perhaps alone or with a special person, rather than saying yes to drinks after work with people they don’t really like.

Be more mindful

Taking a few minutes to just focus on the breath at the start and end of each day can help to ground you, and help you to feel less scattered when there are lots of competing demands. Bring some mindfulness into your everyday life by really being present. Instead of checking Facebook on your phone when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, you could try feeling the ground beneath your feet, the sensations of the cup in your hand, the noise of the kettle as it meets your ears. Being more present, instead of spending the whole time worrying about the future, or the past, can help create more space in your day. Once you start believing that self-care is important, and a priority, you can start allowing more of it into your life.

And maybe experiment with doing nothing – turn off the phone, put your book away and just sit. See what happens, even if you can only manage a minute. You will see that you are never really ‘doing nothing’, there is always something going on – the breath, the thoughts. 

Take a nap

One way to recharge your batteries if you’re feeling stressed is to take a nap. Backed by neuroscience, taking a nap can improve your concentration, memory and creativity. Instead of fighting the 3pm slump with another coffee or the sense that you’re in combat with your body’s needs, try downing tools and setting your alarm for 20 minutes.

If you’re at work, and think that having a nap just isn’t practical, some employers are even installing “nap rooms” into the workplace, recognising the benefits of a few Zs on productivity and creativity.

Swap your to-do list for a done-list

Whilst some people like to list every small thing they need to do each day, others find this crippling. Apparently 41% of items on to-do lists never get done. Perhaps the answer is paring back your to-do list down to the bare essentials, say three things, or even one thing, that you really must get done. Or turn things upside-down and create a Done list, listing your daily accomplishments (which creates a sense of mastery). This can actually increase productivity by fuelling your motivation, rather than by crushing it by seeing all the things you’ve yet to achieve.

Book review: In Praise of Wasting Time

Let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.

Thoreau

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, and in particular the challenge of doing nothing. So when I came across this little book, I had to read it. At only 128 pages, this is a must-read for anyone curious about the benefits of dropping everything and just being.

Professor Lightman outlines our fixation with time, with how long everything takes, with filling every minute of our waking time with activities and projects. He argues that our lives have become “frenzied”, that we get angry if we have to wait to see our GP. We have lost the ability to take the meandering way home, to daydream,

The problem, Professor Lightman argues, is that we are constantly plugged into “The Grid” – the internet, digital communication and social media (although he does also argue that the general pace of life outside of this has taken on a frenzied pace). Consumerism and an obsession with productivity have lead to a “heightened awareness of the commercial and goal-oriented uses of time” at the expense of genuinely free time for reflection and doing less. Even the speed at which we walk has increased in recent years.

He extols the benefits of unstructured time in terms of our creativity and mental “replenishment”. This non-stop stimulation from technology is having a detrimental effect on our mental health, leaving us with an inability to be alone with ourselves.

Lightman also talks about how childrens’ lives are overscheduled and the amount of pressure parents feel to have their children reach certain milestones by particular points in their lives, to keep up with peers. Play, both for children and adults, has many well-documented benefits. The joy of doing something simply for fun or amusement allows the mind to focus on means rather than ends.

The author outlines the well-known benefits of meditation on wellbeing, although he says that this is not strictly necessary, what is needed is simply downtime from The Grid. Downtime enables us to rest and develop our creativity.

Whilst this was an interesting read, I did not come away feeling like I had learned anything new. I think many of us are well aware that our lives and those of our children are increasingly overscheduled, and the disadvantages of technology for our mental wellbeing. What was most interesting to me was in the final chapter, Lightman talks about the difference between chronos – sequential clock time – and kairos – time created by human events, such as a meal or a relationship, a memory.

Surprisingly, despite mentioning meditation, Lightman does not really mention mindfulness, which I think is the key to what he is getting at – when we are aware of what is happening right now, in this moment, then we can truly slow down time (as it were) and begin to create some space in our lives to appreciate the little things, to create gratitude, appreciation and the sense of kairos he mentions.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

My journey towards slow and simple living

I’ve never really been one for keeping up with the Joneses, never really felt the need to have the latest tech device or strictly follow fashion, never been one of those folks who has to have a holiday abroad every year. Having my first child 13yrs ago opened my eyes to the potential of a slower lifestyle – with a new baby (and even in pregnancy) you really have to slow down. I enjoyed this new pace of life, and cut my hours at work to the minimum I could afford to work.

However, with having children comes a great accumulation of STUFF – clothes and toys, and I found myself hanging on to things “just in case” I ever needed them for a future child. Once I ran out of space in my small flat, I began to store things in my parents’ loft (out of sight, out of mind).

It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered meditation, through a tutor on a counselling skills course I was doing. I began to develop the ability to create mental space, life-changing skills in mindfulness and self-awareness. Creating space allowed me to notice the little things, to appreciate more. This was definitely the key for me in slowing down.

We had moved into a “nice” house in the London suburbs, because that’s what you do, right? However, we never really felt like we fitted in there, spending much of our time in much hipper areas further into the city.

After my second child was born, I was determined that I didn’t want to return to work. I had always had home education on my radar, but never felt in a position to do it. But now I was going to be at home, we could give it a go. At first, we went on all of the educational trips I could find, but after a while we settled into our own rhythm, with a much gentler pace.

After a couple of years, my husband began to get ill with what later turned out to be an auto-immune disease. We began to reevaluate our lives, to think about what really mattered. We knew we weren’t happy in our current state, and began to make plans.

After much deliberation, we decided to take the plunge and sell our spacious semi-detached surburban house and downsize to a terraced house in central Brighton. On paper, it was “risky” – we didn’t know Brighton that well, had lots of friends in London. Some people thought we were bonkers moving into a smaller house with 2 children, but to be honest we had rooms in our bigger house that we weren’t even using.

During the moving process, I discovered Marie Kondo‘s book: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I began to declutter, and it felt really cathartic getting rid of all of this stuff I’d been keeping from the past. So many kids’ clothes and papers! We had to get rid of most of our furniture as well, as it just wouldn’t have fitted in the smaller house.

Two years later, we are loving our new life by the sea. My husband took a part-time job, which was lower paid, but which allows him to be more hands-on with the home education, which he really enjoys. So many Dads of home ed families are working long hours to support that lifestyle, but are unable to be very involved. Working part-time has allowed him to reduce his stress levels, which has had a positive impact on his health.

Our most recent addition to our slow and simple journey is reducing waste, particularly plastic. This is very much a work in progress, as is this whole journey. What small step could you make today to slow down and simplify?