How To Convert Your BUSY Schedule Into The Life You've Always Wanted

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stress when you're too busy

When someone asks what I do, I mention my three jobs: career and life management consultant, author, and guide for a donor-advised fund that promotes innovation and collaboration in our area.  

Almost always, the response is, “You must be very busy.”    

I try to avoid that impression because I agree with Elizabeth Bernstein’s recent Wall Street Journal article, You’re Not Busy, You’re Just Rude.

“'I’m busy' just signals you don’t have room for friends; be specific or cut back on your calendar,” Bernstein explains.  

With a smile, I gently say, “I like to avoid giving the impression I have such a busy professional and personal life because that might imply I don’t have time for you ─ or even myself.”

In addition to being what I hope is a kind comment, it’s an honest, practical one. That’s because I like to show I’m not trapped by my choices; I’m also a little lazy.   

As a result, I look for common purposes in activities that reflect my passions. Often that’s helping people realize their true capacities. You may imagine such a general goal provides natural crossovers and cross-fertilizations.

Examples of the following two-for ones-and-more in my life show how I try to create connections.

For me, they not only use time well, but also add pleasures and joys for many people involved. I hope they will encourage you to find and build bridges in your own activities.  

 Improve on them and add your own ideas, if they don’t relate to your situations.  

  • Learn or practice a sport or technique that’s worthwhile and ideally enjoyable with a colleague, friend, or family member including mutual, positive feedback.

  • Bring together people you respect to explore interesting questions and discover possibilities.

  • Share information and leads, encouraging recipients to pay them forward with specific suggestions about how to use them to benefit others.

  • Find ways to nourish common or similar dreams with individuals you value.

  • Demonstrate the humor and potential in problems and issues.

Despite this two-for-one-or-more approach, you may still think I’m busy.  

Yet I sense my life is less complicated than yours. Besides learning new things, marketing my enterprises, maintaining body, soul, and home, as well as other commitments that take precious time, I do not have to care for any immediate family.  

Yet I attend to my good colleagues, clients, friends, and extended family who are very important to me, including two sisters by choice.  

The many overlaps among these activities and relationships provide opportunities for collaboration and integration. Certainly, creating clear priorities among needs and interests that mount up daily is a challenge, as you too probably know so well.   

That’s one of the reasons why I remind myself of the value of breaks and brakes.

In fact, researchers at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and Harvard Business School have found that short, “mindless” breaks of about 10 minutes brought an average productivity gain of 12.8% right after.  

Bret Begun of Bloomberg BusinessWeek wrote a manifesto about rescuing the weekend from forms of even passive activity that suck energy and time, too. 

Surprisingly similar to patterns today, British philosopher Bertrand Russell made these observations after World War I. “The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio..." (now TV and social media?), and so on.

This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.”    

Begun suggests a critical reading of Katrina Onsted’s, The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork. He speaks of the tyranny of over-scheduling, noting that “two days are not enough to make up for a life unlived the other five.”  

Do you rob yourself of opportunities for creativity and freedom by over-scheduling, or leave an impression of your busyness that could seem self-important? Not just open to misinterpretation, this approach nevertheless highlights a link between business (however you’re employed) and busyness.

What to make of time?

Whatever you take away or adapt from the suggestions and questions above, I want to share (for your spare time!) two worthwhile, relevant new books to at least skim.  

One is by Professor of neurobiology and psychology at UCLA Dean Buonomano’s Your Brain Is a Time Machine. In her short, rich review, Carol Tavris notes the author lists the five most commonly used nouns in English. The results speak volumes about our values and state of busyness.

Surpassing "love", "sex", and "dinner", Buonomano says "time" is the more frequently used one.

The others are "person", "year", "way, and day.  He writes time is more complicated than space because it’s harder for the human brain to understand.  

Why? “Time is a road without any bifurcations, intersections, exits, or turnarounds.”

I would add, it’s also irretrievable, whatever memories of the past and visions for the future try to capture.

Given the slipperiness of time, one motivation for improved focus is its preciousness, especially important given our mortality.  

This message comes through poignantly in reviews of Sheryl Sandberg’s Plan B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Written with psychologist Adam Grant, Sandberg explores how she started to come through the sudden loss of her partner Dave Goldberg, and father of her two children, at age 47.  Though impossible to anticipate such a loss, imagine what she felt about the increased time together she may have spent with him, despite their demanding, successful careers. 

Sometimes imagining loss can be a catalyst for clarifying what’s truly important. Moving into the everyday, though, I have a more conventional book to suggest for you to skim at least: I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Time by Laura Vanderkam. Perhaps that will encourage your wondering what success means to you and the people in your life, professionally and personally.

In sum, while you cannot control time, you can make choices about how much you want to, or even think you must, invest in your work and relationships.  

Maybe once a week, commit to yourself to set priorities to serve your interests, happiness, and joy, as well as contribute to the quality of others’ lives. With whom would you like to do this for mutual benefit?  Of course, your plan can be thwarted at times as well as enriched by good surprises and detours.   

But your continuing, frank conversation with yourself and others can result in making your time count better, and increase your quality of life to a level that brings value and pleasure.


Ruth Schimel, PhD, is a Career and Life Management Consultant in the Washington, DC area. She shows her range of clients throughout the U.S. and abroad how to make wise, agile choices that integrate their strengths and interests to become their best selves in life and work.  Ruth’s Choose Courage series is available on Amazon; the six books also support perennial progress in today’s dynamic world.  Her next book, filled with coloring and other arts, is Happiness ‘n Joy in Work. See additional resources and information about her and her practice on her website or call her at 202.659.1772.

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