Busy bee

Let’s get real about busyness. You know what I’m talking about — you see a friend at the grocery store, she asks how you’re doing, and you reply, “Busy. I’m so swamped. I have so much going on.” And you do. Your to-do list is never ending.

Busyness is a badge of honor. By declaring to the world that you’re super-busy, you’re demonstrating to everyone that you are important. Plus, being busy makes you feel good about yourself — you’re getting so much done.

But busyness creates its own problems:

  • You’re so occupied doing everything that you don’t get your most important tasks done during the day and have to stay up late to get them done.
  • You’ve buried yourself under your to-do list to avoid admitting to yourself just how overwhelmed you really are.
  • You’re secretly afraid that at any moment, you’ll come completely undone because you know that your to-do list is the only thing keeping you from an embarrassing breakdown.

Does any of the following sound like you?

  • You don’t have time to take care of yourself.
  • You aren’t getting enough sleep.
  • You wake up in the middle of the night with never-ending thoughts of everything on your to-do list.

If so, busyness may have become toxic for you. Your body and mind are overloaded, and you’re on the path to burnout.

So, what’s the cure?

Not so fast. First you need to figure out what your top values are and then figure out what’s keeping you so busy.

Here’s the quick assessment:

  • Determine your top values. What really matters to you? Your family? Your health? Your finances? Your job?
  • Then, write down your current tasks, projects, and obligations.

Now, run each task, project, or obligation through this three-part litmus system:

1. Does it align with your top three values?

2. Are you doing it because you want to do it — because it is personally, financially, or intrinsically meaningful to you? Or are you doing it because you feel like you should be doing it, out of some sense of duty to another person? Or because it’s an ingrained habit from your past?

3. What would happen if you didn’t do it?

If, after taking this test, you realize that some of your tasks, projects, and obligations don’t align with your values, then figure out how to remove them from your list.

If the project is on your list because you feel guilty telling others no, then you need to work on setting clear boundaries with other people and practice saying no. If this is hard for you, then keep in mind that whenever you say yes to something that doesn’t match your values, you’re inevitably saying no to something else that does matter to you.

For example, say you agree to take on a complex, lengthy pro bono matter this week, one that isn’t aligned with your values and provides no intrinsic benefits to you. And next week, a new client calls, wanting to retain you on a case that truly lights your passion. As a result of saying yes last week, you’ll have to say no to the paying client. Don’t get me wrong – taking on pro bono matters is an important obligation of the profession. But pro bono matters need to be aligned with your values. You can serve others only when you’re personally and financially comfortable. If you’re unable to work on pro bono cases because of your financial need for retained clients, then be sure to donate to your local legal aid office so that it can help those clients. That way, everyone wins.

If you still have a hard time saying no to someone straight out, then, consider saying, “Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll get back to you in 24 hours.” Then go home, look at your schedule, and think about whether the current request passes your values tests. Just be sure to get back to the person the next day.

We all have a limited amount of time each day. It is up to you to decide exactly how you wish to spend your time. Do you want to spend it keeping yourself happy or keeping other people happy?