Navigating the Thin Lines Between Wasting Time, Being Too Busy, & Achieving True Productivity

Navigating the Thin Lines Between Wasting Time, Being Too Busy, & Achieving True Productivity

Shifrah Combiths
Apr 7, 2015

I don't like to be "busy." But at any given time, I have not only a long to-do list, but several hats to wear, which means a lot of juggling and switching gears. My daily experience has run the gamut from frantically chasing around with nerves utterly frayed, to spending the day doing a whole lot of nothing with "no time" to do anything I need or want to do and going to bed frustrated. In a world that bombards us with so many things that need to be done or could be done or should be done, how do we find the pace that keeps us happy, that enables us to do each thing well, and that has us going to bed with the satisfaction of knowing our day was well spent?

Structure your time...

If my day is too open, when I apparently have more time, I often end up being much less productive. If I only have only a vague notion of the things I need to do, it's a so-called freedom that often gets squandered with too much time browsing online, for instance. We all know how that goes: one thing leads to another and pretty soon it's forty-five minutes later and we missed the window to accomplish an actual task. It's the same if you're a stay-at-home-parent, working person, student, or what-have-you; technology and our digital connection to everything and everyone can be a giant waste of time.

Structured time, on the other hand, directs us, or, if you prefer, directs our time. I like to think of scheduling much the same way I think of budgeting. Instead of telling my money what to do, I'm telling my time where to go. The analogy works well: where we put our time is what we're investing in, and frankly, as much fun as it is, I (want to) choose not to invest myself in scrolling through Instagram!

...Mostly around what's important to you.

Telling our time where to go requires that we take a step back and consider where we want our time to go, where we want to invest our moments and, therefore, our days. Of course, there are things we all must do: work, pay bills, eat, sleep, taxi our children from here to there.

But in our consideration of where we want our remaining time to go is where we get to "make time for what's important." To do that, we have to confront the very question of what's important — to us. (Hello, learning how to say no.) What are we unwilling to give up the time to do or what do we want to make time for? These things can be little (cooking most meals from scratch) or huge (quitting your job to go back to school, to stay at home with the children, or to take a shot at your dream occupation).

Often, making time for what's important to us involves dropping activities that are taking our time but that are relatively less important. When examined from this bird's eye perspective, it might not be as hard to give up the elite soccer club in exchange for family dinners around the table and getting some weekends back — or vice versa, depending on what's right for your family. Or, it might make sense to decide to take on as much overtime as possible for the next year in order to knock out the last of that student debt.

But not too much.

When we're deliberate with our time, it's easy to cross the line into becoming either over-scheduled or inflexible. Structure is good, but letting our schedule be our task-master can be exhausting. For me, it's especially helpful to consider what things take my energy and planning accordingly. Sometimes this means taking care of something ahead of time (making lunches the night before) or spreading out commitments (saying no to the third birthday party of the month that falls on the weekend you planned to finish your taxes). Know yourself. If you're an introvert hosting guests, try not to schedule too much the week after they leave. Giving yourself breathing room helps keep you at your optimal pressure level (not too much, not too little) and ensures that the things you're doing are done well.

Plus, as we all know, nothing goes according to plan. Some space in the schedule means that when something comes up or takes longer than expected, you won't snap-crackle-pop, as this mother at least has been wont to do. I need room to maneuver and not structuring my time too tightly allows me to do just that, gracefully.

It's all a balancing act, and structuring your time with forethought about what you're spending your time on along with building in just enough elasticity creates the possibility for being present wherever you are. And as much as I want to choose what to do with my time, that's how I want to be in my time and that, to me, is truly productive.

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