You Are Not So Busy, Part 2: You Have Priorities
How many times have you said, “I am so busy” this week? How many of these times have you used it as an excuse to decline an invitation? Frankly, the “B-word” is so overly used in our status-driven, stressed-out society that it has lost all meaning.
Everyone is busy and everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. If you are being honest with yourself and others, all you are really saying is, “that is not a priority for me right now.” Perhaps that would be the more honest answer, even if it sounds rude. Here are some alternatives for things you can say instead of using busyness as an excuse or explanation.
5 Things to Say Instead of “I’m so busy”
- Talk about your obligations: Tell them exactly what task or project you are working on or will be occupied with. Don’t bore anyone with a laundry list of to-dos. Your main priority will do.
- Reschedule for a better time: If the invitation is of actual interest and importance to you, schedule the work project/dinner invitation for another time when it does not conflict with your current obligations.
- Say “yes:” We can talk for hours about time management, priorities, and planning ahead, but sometimes you just have to squeeze things in, reprioritize, and shuffle your schedule around to make time for saying “yes.” Do it sparingly for things that are truly important, but know that it will make your life more stressful in the immediate future.
- Say “no:” As a mom, educator and executive coach, this word is key to my life. It will empower you and give you strength. The secret behind a good “no” is to know the “why” behind it. Once your “no” answer is backed by a well-thought response to any “Why not?” question that may follow, you are on solid ground.
- Think outside the box: Say your boss wants to get lunch with you in the middle of a busy Wednesday, or a friend you have not seen in a month wants to come by on Saturday to meet your newborn. If you know your boss just wants an update on the very project you are working on, ask for a raincheck and include a detailed project update in your email. In other words, spend a little time giving them exactly what they want instead of devoting two hours to talking about it. In the same way, you could tell your friend that Saturday doesn’t work but suggest Face Timing or Skyping for a few minutes so she can meet your baby. I guarantee that, once you resolve the root problem, the overwhelming visit and lunch date will disappear.
So Much to Do, So Little Time: Establish Priorities
Time is the most precious commodity. It is important to master the art of explanations for turning down invitations, projects, and events that are not your priority. But you must know how to properly assess your priorities so you can feel more balance in your work and life.
Former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower understood that everything you do in life and work can be classified by its importance and urgency. He used these two attributes to prioritize his tasks into a matrix that yields 4 different strategies, which I find very helpful.
- Quadrant 1: This is the DO NOW! Quadrant. The activities that fall in this quadrant are important and urgent, such as that memo you are putting together at the last minute while your boss looks over your shoulder. These are the things that will usually move the needle the most in helping you reach your goals.
- Quadrant 2: This is the Schedule Quadrant. The activities that fall in this quadrant are important but not urgent. Plan for them well and schedule them in your calendar. Do the things you scheduled because this is the most important quadrant. Your life-long dreams tend to fall in this quadrant (travel, reading, learning), as well as your personal relationships (date nights with your partner), and health (going to the gym or a doctor’s appointment). Work tasks should also fall in this quadrant (perhaps you could have written that memo when it was not last minute?). To keep Q2 activities from becoming Q1 activities, read last week’s blog You Are Not So Busy, Part 1. You Are Procrastinating.
- Quadrant 3: This is the Delegate Quadrant. The activities that fall in this quadrant are urgent but not important. Pay close attention to this quadrant, because a lot of us go through life “putting out fires” like mad people. As you try to prioritize tasks, it is crucial to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent. Delegating the urgent tasks that are not important will free up a lot of your time, so you can spend it on the important tasks. Quadrant 3 activities are not the same for everyone. My husband always tells me that I should do less DIY projects when it comes to decorating for our kids’ birthday parties. He believes these tasks belong in Q3 and I should just buy my decorations at Party City or Etsy. However, for me, crafts are a Q2 activity. I enjoy them and if I am not too busy, I’ll prioritize them.
- Quadrant 4: This is the Time-Wasting Quadrant. The activities that fall in this quadrant are not urgent and not important. We all know this quadrant too well: Binge-watching Netflix, trivial busy work, social media, etc.
What Is Important to You?
The Eisenhower Matrix is a great tool to prioritize your time. However, the classification of activities can be deeply personal. Watching TV is widely regarded as a fruitless task. In general, people would say reading is better for you. But if you are a literary editor and need a break from the written word at the end of the day, watching the World Series with your husband can be both a relationship-building time and a restorative activity and fall into quadrant 2, the most important of your quadrants. In the end, to be successful at prioritizing, you need to know what is important to you and what your long-term goals are in work and in life.
The most important thing is to keep this matrix in mind as you run through your to-do list. If you simply have a long list of tasks, it will be difficult to know where to begin. Try using this matrix to help you classify the items on your list so you can develop a plan of action and be more effective and intentional with your work.
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