Busy is running from one appointment to the next. Too busy is running over someone on your way to the next appointment (physically, vehicularly, whatever). Busy is leaving your cell phone behind at the grocery store. Too busy is leaving your kid behind at the grocery store.
And then there’s the biggest of all ironies—we want to cut back, but frankly, we just don’t have the time to figure out how to do it.
Sound familiar? Well, we’re here to do an intervention—a time intervention.
Today, we’ll help you figure out if your life is starting to burst at the seams when it comes to your time. If it is, you need a wake-up call to reset priorities, because there is no shakier foundation for healthy, balanced living (and healthy, balanced money management) than not having the space and breathing room that time provides in our lives.
If you’ve crossed over the line into too busy, you’ll need to reset your foundation: Maybe it means taking a day off from work to reassess your life priorities. Maybe it means evaluating what your time is worth and outsourcing chores like housekeeping or laundry. Maybe it means taking a break from social engagements for a little while to focus on building the right foundation.
Here are 13 signs that you might need a time overhaul in your life—and easy tips on how to get started, today.
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You Spend a Good Amount of Time Worrying About Your Time
If your time is preoccupied with, well, your time, you might be: endlessly cycling through your to-do list in your head, spending a lot of time arranging and rearranging your schedule, or wishing throughout the day that you had more time.
If you've worried about your schedule or wished you had more time more than three times a day, you need a break from time itself as a stressor in your life.
Try this: Take a mental break. Remove one thing from your schedule for today that is the least important—it might be putting off doing the laundry or postponing a work call. Spend that time instead totally luxuriating in something in the present moment (like eating a macaron or listening to your favorite song) and not thinking about your schedule, or future plans, at all.
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You Can't Remember the Last Time You Were Spontaneous
You used to say yes to impromptu jumping into a fountain or cheap weekend flights to Mexico. Now when someone asks you to join her for a last-minute potluck dinner party, you think of the havoc it would wreak on your schedule.
If your schedule is starting to feel more like your boss than your assistant, it's a warning sign that you're overbooked. While some people prefer planning to surprises, some amount of spontaneity is important to adding spice to our routine, and stimulating our brains with new experiences.
Try this: Like that old principle "a closed hand can't receive," a closed schedule can't be open to receiving all the great experiences the universe might be trying to fling our way. Next week, build a half day of unplanned breathing room into your schedule, and see where that time takes you. Be spontaneous, and don't think of what you want to do until that moment arrives.
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You Eat Most of Your Meals on the Go
If you eat most of your meals in non-optimal settings (in the car, at your desk, while on the phone—or worse, not at all), this is a sign that you're too busy. Savoring a meal at a leisurely pace is one of life's greatest pleasures, and we lose connection with our food and bodies if we eat with lots of distractions. Many cultures build relationships around mealtime. Eating mindfully is also better for your health—experts say that it takes about 15-20 minutes for your stomach to send your brain the message that it's full, so eating more slowly prevents overeating.
Try this: Today, take one meal free of all distractions. Try to eat slowly, enjoying the flavor and texture of each bite. If you typically rush through lunch at your desk, go out and enjoy lunch with a coworker or friend.
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You Haven't Talked to Your Best Friend in Weeks
It's an irony—the first relationships to go are usually the ones we take for granted, which are usually the ones that are actually most important to us. A good sign you're too busy is when you haven't had a recent downtime chat with your best friend or closest family member (even as your calendar is packed with social engagements). If your chats with your closest friend are starting to feel like rushed downloads instead of real conversation, slow down and make more time to reconnect—you'll be happier for it.
Try this: Write down the top ten most important people in your life and how long ago you last connected with each. How often do you wish you could talk to them? Go to your calendar and schedule in regular reminders to catch up with each person. And stay off email—even if you end up just leaving a nice voice message hello, hearing a voice helps us stay better connected.
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You doze off in meetings or at the wheel. You oversleep on weekends to make up for weekday deficits. You're not getting the kind of sleep you want to be getting.
Although skimping on sleep may seem like one of the easiest ways to gain extra time in our day, we're cutting into precious time for our bodies to repair and restore. Getting good sleep improves our memory, boosts our ability to empathize with others, heightens our sex drive, and increases our problem-solving skills two-fold.
Try this: Guard your sleeptime fiercely. The CDC recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you’re not getting at least seven hours per night on a regular basis, make a change today—even if that means making an excuse to leave the office party early, or letting the dishes sit in the sink overnight. A good night’s sleep will pay you back many times over…unlike those cheese canapés or clean glasses.
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You're Grateful for Cancellations
The end of the day is rolling around. A meeting- and drama-packed day at work has left you exhausted. You have dinner plans across town with a friend, but you'd love nothing more than to go home and collapse with a bubble bath and a glass of wine. One of two scenarios will ensue: You will cancel, or you will silently hope for a cancellation (a storm, your friend flaking, perhaps even a non-life-threatening medical emergency). If you've got cancellations in the mix at least a couple of times a week—either canceling or praying for cancellations—this is a sign your time balance is out of whack.
Try this: If you're often grateful for cancellations, whether initiated by you or not, this is a sure sign you are overbooked (you're tired, or your schedule is just too tight). As difficult as it may be to pare back, take your schedule for the next two weeks and cut at least three appointments each week. Be ruthless. See how those weeks feel as you live them out with more breathing room.
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You Don't Have Time for Your Indulgences
A schedule without joy is a joyless schedule.
We each have something that is our "time indulgence"—maybe it's a hobby like painting or camping. It might be as luxurious as an annual weekend getaway, or as simple as a lingering breakfast over the paper, or watching our favorite trashy TV show. Although it’s easy to sideline these activities or call them frivolous when more pressing issues face us, making time for these 'time indulgences' is important because they nourish us, get us to slow down and enjoy life.
Try this: Ask yourself: If you had a whole day of free time to yourself with no responsibilities, what would you do? Make a list of activities, and be specific with as many details as possible, i.e. Stroll to my neighborhood cafe to pick up a croissant and coffee, and eat it outside in the park; get a one-hour hot stone massage at my favorite spa; catch a matinee movie; send a card to my friend. You don't need to wait for an entire free day to do all those things. Schedule one activity each day for the next few weeks. See if your days don't feel more joyful.
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You Can't Recall When You Last Broke a Sweat
Working out is about more than just losing weight—it has proven psychological benefits, like reducing anxiety and depression. If you haven't exercised in a few weeks, you might be in a vicious cycle: Too busy and stressed to work out, which in turn prevents you from getting the stress relief you probably need.
Try this: No matter how busy you are, it's important to work exercise into your weekly schedule. The easiest way is to start with a walk during lunchtime. If you've gotten into a rut and are too tired and busy to work out, try scheduling workouts with a buddy so that you keep each other committed. Stick with your new schedule for a few weeks—usually it takes about 21 days to get back on the habit horse.
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You Chafe at Being Asked a Favor or Commitment
You usually love to help or be involved. But if a friend asks you for a favor and your immediate reaction is a ninja time computation in your head ("feeding her cat will take me 15 minutes with a half hour commute each way, which is an hour and 15 minutes each day for three days!"), or a tinge of resentment because you're pulled in so many different directions, then you're too busy. We definitely believe in mastering the ability to say no, but having some wiggle room in your life to be there for others is enriching for youand your relationships. This also applies to social engagements, volunteering, and other relationship and work commitments.
Try this: Assess the request. Plenty of commitments fall into the time-consuming and non-gratifying category—pass on those. But ask yourself if the service or event is something you wish you had the time to do, or would have gladly said yes to a while back. If you're saying no to too many of these kinds of requests, your schedule may be preventing you from enjoying or being there for others.
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Your Body Is Showing Signs of Rebellion
Another sign that you're too busy: You've put your body (yourself) last. If you're feeling any of these symptoms, take them as warning signs:
your muscles are tenseyour heart is racingyou’re constantly restless and can’t seem to shake your worriesyou feel new pains and achesyour stomach feels unsettled or in knotsyou're experiencing stress headaches
Try this: If you've pushed off doctors' appointments or checkups in order to prioritize other pressing matters, you've gotten your priorities all wrong. Your health comes first—so today, pick up the phone and schedule all the appropriate visits, and make an appointment to see your primary care physician about your stress and its physical symptoms.
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You Don't Deal Well With Unexpected Changes to Your Schedule
Life is unpredictable. No matter how we try to plan or schedule around it, the one thing that is constant is change. Having enough temporal breathing room in your life means that if someone can't make a pickup or a meeting gets moved, you can respond and adjust with some amount of ease. If your response instead is more along the lines of hyperventilating and making a beeline for your Google calendar, then you're probably too tightly scheduled.
Try this: Make sure to build in at least 15 minutes of cushion time between all scheduled appointments to allow you more flexibility to adjust to changes. Your daily schedule should also ideally have a mix of critical and non-critical appointments (i.e. mix a pedicure with a review with your boss), instead of back-to-back appointments of high importance, so that if something unexpected happens, you'll have more flexibility to move things around.
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Your Bills Look Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa
When we're busy, we don't put as much time into building foundations as we do toward putting out fires.
But those foundations not only build our future, they make day-to-day living easier. There is no area where this is truer than your finances. Effective, well-organized systems like a budget, the right accounts, bill payments and estate documents will save you lots of time and money in the long run. Additionally, when we're short on time, we take shortcuts—which usually end up being more expensive.
Try this: Take a few hours each weekend for the next month to tackle your finances. First address the most pressing issues, like getting through that stack of bills or calling your credit card companies to reduce interest rates. Next, create great systems that will help you more easily maintain, like receipt and filing systems (we recommend going paperless), linking up your accounts to track spending, or just using simple Excel spreadsheets or cash envelopes. The key is experimenting and finding what works for you.
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Everyone Tells You You're Too Busy
Finally, people around us often see things before we ourselves do. If you start to hear a lot of off-hand comments or complaints from your loved ones along the lines of: "You're so busy," or "You're wearing yourself thin," or "I never see you anymore," it's one of the surest signs that your time needs an overhaul.
Try this: Don't write these comments off as meaningless nags—your friends and family care about you and are likely seeing something you're not, which may be a progression in an unhealthy direction. Stop, take a day to yourself (even if you have to take a day off work), go somewhere peaceful, and assess your life priorities and your time. See if you can delegate or outsource tasks (if you can afford it, we officially order you to delegate and let go!). Most of all, don't be so hard on yourself. Change doesn't happen overnight. By this time next year, aim to hear comments more like, "It's so nice seeing you again."
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