How To Prevent Busyness From Wearing You Out

How To Prevent Busyness From Wearing You Out

preventing busyness from wearing you out


No matter what your job is, or your social status, or any other demographic, your relationship with time is a major factor in your satisfaction with life.

We live in a world where busyness is often worn as a badge of honor, even (especially?) by those who complain about never having enough time.

Of course, everyone on the planet has the same 24-hour days. The problem is not lack of hours. It’s lack of direction.

And as the old adage says, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

That’s certainly the view of Laura Mae Martin. She author of UPTIME: A Practical Guide to Personal Productivity and Wellbeing.

Martin, the happily married mother of three children under the age of five, serves as executive productivity advisor at technology giant Google. That combination says a lot about her expertise with life management issues. She offers actionable steps to optimize your productivity, help you accomplish more, prevent burnout, and cultivate a peaceful work-life balance.

How does her approach to self-management differ from traditional “productivity” paradigms?

Her focus is on redefining productivity to include creativity and longevity. It’s still a focus on output and getting things done, but it’s also a focus on having space in your schedule for thinking of your best ideas. “A full day of watching television could be considered productive if your intention was to have a relaxing day and catch up on your favorite show,” she says. “When your intention matches your action, it’s productive.”

Martin advises people to treat their time like a bank account of energy.

“If someone asks you to borrow money, you don’t hand them your routing number,” she says. “If someone asks you for time, you shouldn’t hand them access to book on your calendar. You should be very specific and ‘write a check’” for exactly how much time you’re willing to give them and when. We are very prescriptive about our bank accounts, managing closely what goes in and out of them. We should be the same way about our time and energy because they are also finite resources.”

Laura Mae Martin


She says seeing emails in your inbox that you don’t need to is a waste of energy from your account. So is attendance at meetings that you don’t need to be in. “Conversely,” she says, “making time for yourself in the morning fills up your energy account so you have more to hand out later. It’s all about keeping the tradeoff mindset about how we approach our time and energy and where it’s best spent.”

In setting priorities, Martin is a big fan of the “Rule of Three.”

“Studies show that our brains prefer things in threes—easy to remember, a natural number of things to focus on,” she says. “So, while we all have many priorities and competing responsibilities, it’s best to define for yourself what your top three are. Of course, you will always be working on more than three things at a time, but first defining what your top three are allows you to put those in the jar and let the pebbles and sand (lesser important items) fall in around it. As you know, you cannot put large rocks in a jar already full of sand.”

A lot of people struggle with the “urgent versus important” conundrum. Martin offers advice on saying no and focusing on those things that genuinely deserve a yes.

“I’m a recovering say-yeser and had to learn ways to say no,” she says. “I don’t believe no is a complete sentence. I think to maintain social capital you need to do it in a way that is friendly and respectful. I prefer complete sentences like, ‘No, but thank you for the opportunity! I won’t be able to speak at your event but here are three other speakers I would recommend.’ or ‘Thanks for including me as part of this steering committee! I won’t be able to join because I am leaving room in my schedule this quarter for some of my top priorities, but please consider me next quarter if you extend the project.’”

Martin says that on the topic of urgent we need to ask ourselves if urgent itself needs to be one of our top three priorities so we can get ahead of it.

She says this could be something like, ‘I’d love to take on this new project but given the nature of my role I leave lots of room in my schedule for urgent matters, so I won’t be able to commit fully!’

Emergency room doctors, she notes, don’t have a full day of regular well visits scheduled. “They leave their schedule free for things that come up,” she says. “And we can do the same. We can dedicate one hour a day to urgent matters that may arise, and if nothing comes up, we can use it as work time. That one simple habit can help keep our schedule on track regardless of what comes up.”

What seem to be the keys to managing a personal calendar that focuses on things that matter most?

“Once you’ve identified what matters most to you right now (your top three priorities),” Martin says, “you need to look at how that’s reflected in your time. Your calendar does not lie. If you’re not spending most of your time on the things that matter most, there is a misalignment. It’s also helpful to break down a priority into the ways that will show up on your calendar. So, ‘spend more time with my kids’ is vague, but ‘do school drop of three times a week’ is more specific. That gives us something to look for and plan for on our calendar to ensure our time is being spent in the right places.”



Procrastination can of course capsize the best of intentions. When you determine that a particular thing is important to you, Martin offers this advice:

1. Plan the right time to do it. Ask yourself, “What is the ideal time for me to work on this type of task?” Schedule that time. If you’re a “morning person” and you schedule afternoon slots to work on your hardest tasks, you will procrastinate.

2. Act like your own assistant. Our brains love “a prepared environment,” she says. We can use this to our advantage by splitting up the preparation of something and the doing of it. “If you’ve been putting off painting a picture frame in your home,” she says, “ask yourself ‘What would an assistant do to set me up here?’ Then just do that. In this case you could set out the paint can, the paint brush, and a tray. The next day, when you see everything already set out, your brain is delighted and ready to get started. By splitting things up, you removed the resistance and got the project done.”

3. Swiss cheesing. The hardest part of tasks is often simply getting started. So instead of focusing on a big task—“Build a new presentation”—it can be helpful to poke holes in the task so it becomes a group of smaller pieces. Then it’s something your brain can get excited about: “Create a title slide for my presentation.” By making the task small enough for your brain to accept and do it, you increase the chance that once you’ve made the title slide you can add another or make the outline.

Martin says that to achieve uptime one must prioritize downtime.

“Uptime is when a computer is running, on, operational, productive,” she says. “Your uptime is the same—the time you’re feeling totally on top of what you have to do and feeling good while doing it. In the computer world, in order to sustain that performance, you need to shut down, reboot, refresh your device. Same goes for you. Without downtime to decompress, process, create, you risk burnout and decrease longevity.”

Martin says downtime is not the opposite of uptime. “It’s necessary to support it. Not to mention that your best ideas come most often on your commute, your workout, your walk, your shower (downtime), not in your seventh back-to-back meeting of the day or knee deep in your inbox. Downtime promotes more inspiration, good ideas, creativity, and longevity.”

Meetings, as everyone knows, are often time- and energy-killers. Martin offers advice on this challenge, too.

  • Plan the meeting with the shortest amount of time to start makes sure that presenters and succinct and on track.
  • Start the meeting on time with something fun or energizing so participants are motivated to be there then. Include only people who will add or receive value. Make others optional and let them decide.
  • Label the type of meeting before it happens so people know what to expect (Information sharing, Decision Making, Brainstorming, Connection) and include an agenda so people can decide if it’s still relevant for them to attend.
  • Send out pre-work with enough time to read and start the meeting assuming that everyone has already read it.
  • Use egg timers to keep presenters on track and end early if the agenda is complete before the meeting starts to expand.

Also, Martin says, if you have a standing meeting with someone (like a weekly 1-1 check in), use that as your main platform for communication and avoid also emailing and instant messaging them throughout the week in addition to the time you’ve set aside.

Finally, Martin says pay attention to your “Power Hours.”

“Power Hours are the two to three hours a day when we’re at our best and most productive,” she says. “They’re different for every one of us. Pay attention to your natural productivity patterns to find out when yours are, then try to block those hours one or two times a week to work on your highest impact tasks and biggest priorities. Filling your Power Hours with lower energy meetings or work, then trying to do focus work during your off-peak hours, can leave you feeling drained and producing less than optimal output from your work time.”

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