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Busy Living Your To-do List

‘How are you?’


I’ve noticed the ‘B’ word has been one of two automatic responses from my clients over the last eighteen months as my entire coaching work went virtual (if you’re interested to discover the other typical answer check out my earlier post here). The adjective is typically followed with some or all of the following explanations; the tyranny of back to back meetings and living through their calendar day-by-day, the challenge of working around global time differences, the infinite to-do list, insufficient hours in the day, juggling multiple roles and being permanently attached to Microsoft Teams, Zoom or other communications platform. It’s the dark side of working from home…

There’s a truth in these descriptions though it’s a part truth. How we mentally construct and feel within our embodied selves creates our lived experiences and in turn – our reality.

What emotions and physical sensations arise from the ‘B’ word for you?

Personally I find my emotions and physical sensations vary depending on the task, autonomy and energy levels. They can range from initial feelings of euphoria and purpose, often being absorbed in the moment; to overwhelm, anxiety, hopelessness which emerge as deep lethargy, tightness across my upper back and a gapping void in my stomach.

These feelings and sensations which the ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ definitions of busy evoke occupy opposite ends of a spectrum. There isn’t a definitive boundary between them. It can shift day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute and person to person. I’ve also observed and heard from my coaching clients how this slow incremental build of mental and emotional fatigue has built up from working remotely over many months. The completion of a task or outcome has increasingly become the sole focus with less opportunity for social interaction, relationship building, network management, holidays or time to relax. The home to office commute has sadly morphed into more time attached to the computer with presenteeism rife opposed to time dedicated for the self-care, family or hobbies.

My inner geek loves diving into the study of words and how their meaning has changed throughout history. Changes in nuances, misappropriation, misinterpretation and misinformation across time and space is inevitable. Yet words still remain our main vehicle for communication to articulate our inner landscape, externalise our thoughts and feelings and build connection. It’s no wonder confusion, misunderstanding, miscommunication and missed-communication is endemic. The word ‘busy’ used to describe our lived experience can be traced back to the old English word ‘bisig’ meaning ‘careful or anxious’ which only later morphed into ‘continually employed or occupied, in constant or energetic action’. My clients often exhibit behaviours and emotions which exemplify both descriptions.

There are only twenty-four hours in a day. No more. No less. However the challenges around ‘work-life balance’ (which I’d argue is impossible to ‘balance’) or the newer descriptor ‘integration’ has made boundaries around our space, time, professional and personal identity ever more blurry. The need to shape shift between our roles as leader, manager, individual contributor, mother, husband, partner, father, friend, and human being has reached epic proportions whilst perched on a wonky chair in the spare bedroom or kitchen table. When global time zones and different weekends are thrown into the mix the notion eat, sleep, work and repeat offers a scary accolade to our life and work styles.

Yet, we all do have a degree of choice and the ideas below have been experimented with by my coaching clients to counter the encroaching tide of business and seek a degree of autonomy:

~ Banish FOMO and FOSN – The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is widely known though its companion Fear of Saying NO (FOSN) is less well known. Both fears drive certain behaviours so it’s useful to deep dive into the roots which create these internal rhetoric’s. Knowledge and self-awareness is route to change. What are your afraid of missing? What stops you from saying no?

~ Calendar analysis – Living through our calendars has become the norm where colour coded blocks of meetings and tasks block out time. Minimal conscious thought is given to how we spend our time and our perception is often hugely different to reality. Look back through your calendar for the last two weeks to analyse how your time was really spent, create different categories and calculate the different % allocated to each. What do you notice from the %? What can you change?

~ Default meeting lengths – The default functionality of calendar applications to schedule 30 minute or one hour meetings has created the situation where one second we’re wrapping up one conversation before plunging head first into another without respite. You are not a machine.

I’ll let you into a little secret – if a meeting is scheduled for 1 hr. It will last an hour*. If a meeting is scheduled for 50 minutes. It will last 50 minutes*. If a meeting is scheduled for 37 minutes. It will last 37 minutes. If you’re the instigator of the meeting thoroughly consider the purpose, desired outcomes, necessary attendees and the time frame really needed.

~ Block time between meetings – Take a break (and a real or metaphorical Kit Kat if desired) to shift your mental headspace, stretch, pop to the loo, have a breath of fresh air, make a coffee or other choice of beverage.

~ Maximum daily meetings – After you’ve analysed your calendar select a time or percentage for meetings. Stick to it religiously.

~ Energy management – Dial into your daily energetic rhythm and map out how you flow through the day. Identify then you face the peaks and troughs then gently schedule your tasks and commitments around them.

~ Daily cut off time – Set a non-negotiable time; whether it’s 5pm, 6pm, 7pm or later and stick to it. Every day or set a number of days per week.

Live to work. OR. Work to live.

It’s your choice.

It’s time to metaphorically stand your ground and guard your calendar to protect your time, home and sanity. Savour the possibilities of what could emerge with more time, energy and space for yourself, your family and your friends.

Note* This is caveated with the assumption the meeting is being effectively managed within time allocated.

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