I recently wrapped up a post series on busyness that investigates the research, root causes, and realities of busyness. You can check out those posts here:
- Research Says We’re Not Busy — So Why Do We FEEL So Busy?
- Busyness 101: Why are we SO BUSY in Modern Life? (7 Hypotheses)
- Busyness 201: A Brief History of Work & BUSY in America
- Busyness 301: The Future of BUSY, Work & Leisure
Now that we know why we are so busy, we can intentionally and effectively do something about it in our lives. If you’re here to find practical tips to bring balance back to your life and eliminate “busy” from your vocabulary, you’ve come to the right place—a full life is not a busy life!
There are a lot of regurgitated, surface-level tips out there for slowing down and becoming unbusy. My goal is to provide you with tips for slowing down that go deeper. Keep in mind, many of these tips are currently countercultural. So, while they are “simple” in theory, they aren’t necessarily easy in practice. But, they are 100% worth it.
10 Tips for Slowing Down & Becoming Unbusy
- BUSYNESS: Self-diagnose your busyness root cause(s)
- TIME: Track your time to figure out how you use it
- CHOICE: Know your purpose so you can (more easily) choose to say “no”
- LEISURE: Prioritize your leisure time & intentionally plan breaks
- WORK: Don’t over-stress your mental bandwidth
- DISCONNECT: Make digital technology work for you instead of against you
- RECONNECT: Get outside for natural therapy and travel slower
- PRESENCE: Practice mindfulness moments to be present
- RESET: Constantly reset perspective and take the long-term view of your life
- DOWNSHIFT: Get started with slow living
Let’s kick things off with a slowing down tip that I haven’t seen in any other list online. As I mentioned in Busyness 101, my personal poison of busyness was a cocktail of 3-4 different causes. What’s yours? Until you identify the root cause(s) of your own busyness, you will continue to only address the symptoms of being busy. Busyness is a vicious cycle that leads to being even busier. Start here, and be honest with yourself.
Just like tracking your finances, tracking your time will give you detailed data about how you use it. You can use a time-tracking app, or you can try calendar time blocking. Time blocking has helped me be more realistic about how long things take and plan my days accordingly. While an infinite number of things can fit on a to-do list, there’s really only so much that can fit into 24 hours when you lay it out on a calendar. This approach also helps promote single-tasking (or monotasking) by only blocking one thing at a time.
Knowing your purpose is one thing. Maintaining an authentic inner compass and guarding your time against anything that distracts from your purpose is another thing. Follow essentialism—the disciplined pursuit of less but better. Saying “no” to as much as possible is always my #1 tip I give people to slow down, get unbusy, and take back control of their time. By eliminating choices, you also remove the stress of tradeoffs. So, get yourself a very big waste paper basket, and get comfortable saying no! There’s not much more freeing than shifting from having/doing it all to having/doing enough.
There is a simple way to take back your time: Do less. And yet, those two words are perhaps the most challenging call to action. Doing less means understanding your priorities and constantly defending them against the encroachments of the status quo, which dictates that busyness—and material wealth and value—is best. — Johns Hopkins¹
As outlined in Busyness 301, all non-work time is not created equally. “Active leisure” is voluntary use of time on entertainment and relaxation, but it is a type of busyness itself. “Recuperation” involves voluntary breaks of non-occupied time between tasks to rest, refresh, and re-energize. Ah, sounds nice. There’s even a difference between mindful rest and mindless rest. All in all, do whatever possible to use your leisure time in intentional, rejuvenating, and recuperative ways.
This is another area where time blocking can help. I agree with author Daniel Pink when he says, “What gets scheduled gets done.” He’s compiled the research on restorative breaks and taking naps. Proactively schedule them into your day. If your plans change during the day or something gets cancelled to open space on your calendar, consider leaving it open. Creating and maintaining space and margin in your day is a consistent theme from slow living authors like Erin Loechner and Shauna Niequist.
Of course, there will always be household chores and errands that chip away at leisure time. Try doing those things on weeknights to free up your weekend time so your weekends actually feel like week-ends.
Managing your time is only as effective as managing your energy during that time. No margin in your life leads to no mental bandwidth. Managing your time also means managing your bandwidth. Check out these tips to unbusy your work life including: how to not run from meeting to meeting, how to keep your head above water in your email inbox, how to stop unintentionally multitasking, how to handle different paces of work, and more.
There’s a whole new genre called digital minimalism. There are countless ways to take back control from your devices like decluttering your phone home screen. Apple recently launched an app called Screen Time that shows how much time you spend on your phone, where you spend it, how many times you pick up your phone, and how many notifications you get. I’ve been actively working to cut down on my phone time ever since I’ve had this new data. Check out these digital minimalism tips including: turning off notifications/badges/sounds, unsubscribing from email newsletters, quitting the news, going on a social media sabbatical, and more.
Apparently forest bathing may be the next yoga. Research shows that very few of us get outside enough. Also, I’ve previously written about slow travel tips that you can use on your next adventure. Time to head outside to enjoy Spaceship Earth!
The phrase “mindfulness moments” is something I learned from Brooke McAlary. As my dad says, “Do what you’re doing while you’re doing it.” This is definitely easier said than done. Start by trying to be mindful at mealtime. Want to take it further? Always be mindful of your MEDS (Meditation, Diet, Exercise, Sleep).
Busy is in your brain (and therefore, a choice). Haemin Sunim reminds us that it’s our thoughts and feelings, not the world. Remind yourself daily that time is precious—that non-stoppable, non-renewable resource. Your life is 1% of recorded history, and you can only paint one part of your masterpiece per day.
Slowing down to live a paced life of purpose is my personal goal and why Sloww exists. If the phrase “slow living” sounds too slow for you, you can also call it unbusy living, balanced living, intentional living, deep living, conscious living, or mindful living. No matter which term resonates with you the most, I’d love to be part of your journey. Here’s the best way to get started:
- What is Downshifting? How to Transition into Simple Living
- Slow Living 101: What is Slow Living?
- Slow Living 201: A Deep Dive into Slow Living & The Slow Movement
- Slow Living 301: How to Start a Slow Living Lifestyle
Have more slow living or unbusy tips that have worked for you? Share them in the comments!
Also published on Medium.