Gah, we're all busy, aren't we? Sure, it's used as the badge of 'an important person' but it also feels true. It feels like time is limited and that there is too much to do each day. The thing is, even if we didn't need sleep, there would always be more to do than we can each day, so let's look at how to live well when we are busy and to avoid the pitfalls most people fall into when time is short.
When you're busy, what do you drop?
I spent the last year or so interviewing lots of different types of workers about how they use their time each day and how it impacts on their wellbeing. Here's the bottom line, when time is scarce, health and happiness usually suffers.
I could just about put money on what you drop when you get really busy. I spent the last year studying it through research I conducted with a team at the Australian National University.
Now before I go further, I want to point out that people aren't short on time simply due to time management issues. This is especially true at work, where most people are conscious of prioritising and so on. There are bigger trends to do with government policies on working hours, work becoming more time pressured and the 24/7 economy that are really making us feel the time squeeze. That's without going into child care issues and the like.
Time pressure and long hours don't actually make us more productive and actually risk our mental and physical health, but workplaces and government policies haven't really caught on to this well established research...
So what do we do in the meantime?
Research that I did with the Work, Time and Health team showed that when people get busy, say working long hours, physical activity is the first thing to go. We also make meals shorter and shorter, eat at our desks, cut down on sleep and stop seeing friends and family as much. Yep, when we get busy, life gets narrow and decidedly one-dimensional.
It's baffling how we drop all the things that make life worth living and that sustain us, in favour for things that give us no real energy (internet, smartphones) that we believe help us recover.
More interesting still, is how we actively ignore our body calling for the things that actually help us thrive aka resist self-care.
What does the research show?
Our research shows that there are some people that are doing better than others at dealing with these busy, time pressured lives. What makes them different? They treat self-care as non-negotiable. These are people from all walks of life, with different access to resources.
For executives, it was often about maintaining peak performance, while for more blue collar workers it was about having fun and making the most out of life.
What should you put into your week to help you be healthy and happy?
The one thing I think we should really push for in life is the time and space to meet our basic needs: good food, moving our bodies, rest and sleep, connection with others and connection with ourselves.
My big trick for overcoming resistance to self-care is two-fold. Firstly, know you will resist and think of smug future you, who is so pleased with themselves for doing what you really need to feel great. Then make it as easy and clear as possible to look after yourself with these five steps (*writing it all down and having it somewhere you'll see it, is key).
1. If you don't have an idea of your week and timing, take a few moments to sketch it out now.
2. Next, decide what you're going to eat all week. If you're like most people I interviewed, there'll be one takeaway night, so choose when that will be handiest. Then pick any meals for the other nights and write down any extra ingredients you might need. Write this down so you don't have to think about it again.
3. Now look at where you can add in moving your body – any physical activity. Add it in three times, it doesn't matter how long you do it for, or what type it is. We are animals, we need to move.
4. Pick someone you'd love to connect with and make a plan to spend time with them. It can be on the phone or Skype or in real life. Whatever and for whatever time you can manage. Anything will be good for you and a highlight. Choose to be really present and even 5 minutes will be amazing.
5. Sketch out some time for you. This is likely to be first thing in the morning or later at night. What really makes you feel satisfied and calm? Drawing, playing music, writing (not for the professional writers), doing some random dancing or pilates in your living room? Just pick 5 minutes and an activity or two.
Now apart from the food biz, which takes a bit more time, all these activities just require choosing the time and use about 5 minutes.
Everyone has time for this and it will transform your week and promote your health and wellbeing.
Let me know how you go!
P.S. Have you been thinking about giving yourself a boost by coming along to my Canberra or Melbourne workshops in September/October? Find out more about getting more confidence, clarity and learning to live with purpose here... do you want to let another year go by?
Hi, I'm Dr Lara Corr, life coach and researcher in work and wellbeing. I coach successful 30 and 40 somethings who want more fulfilling or bigger careers but doubt themselves and their options. I help them get out of their own way, find direction and go for what they really want.