Episode 281 Escaping the Busy Trap: Building Capacity and Reframing Priorities


Discover how to break free from the busyness trap and cultivate capacity for more meaningful productivity with host Anna Lundberg.

In this episode, Anna delves into the modern-day affliction of busyness and how it affects our productivity, time management, and overall wellbeing. She challenges the glorification of busyness and prompts us to consider the choices we make in filling our time. By discussing the potential consequences of chronic busyness, Anna highlights the importance of creating capacity, setting boundaries, and learning to say no. Join us as we explore practical tips for escaping the busy trap and making space for meaningful reflection and productivity.

00:00 Busyness robs us of our valuable time.

04:32 Surge in meetings, excessive emails, remote work.

07:00 Learn to guard your calendar and capacity.

12:03 Striving for balance amid relentless demands.

13:33 Realise power in change, exciting week ahead. Goodbye.

*Resources mentioned during the episode*

1:1 Coaching & Mentoring – If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring. onestepoutside.com/coaching

The Busyness Trap

I think more and more that the biggest affliction of modern day society is busyness. We’re busy all the time. Oh, my gosh, I have so many emails. How could I possibly answer them all? I’ve got all these meetings, I’m double booked. Oh, I have to reply and work on these projects in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. I’ve got so much. I couldn’t possibly do that. I don’t have time for this.

I am so busy. As Bridget Jones famously said, I’m so busy and important because that’s what we’re doing. We’re really glorifying this state of busyness. And yet, to play devil’s advocate, to shed light on a different way of interpreting this, do these people, I. E. Most of us, have poor time management and productivity habits, or, less judgmentally, getting a bit curious about. That’s an interesting life choice, because it is a choice, right? I’m choosing to, after the kids have gone to bed, continue to work. And that could be a good choice because I’m working towards a promotion.

I’m super engaged in my work. I’m having an incredible impact. I actually do my best work in the evening. I really enjoy it. It doesn’t impact on my relationship because my partner and I spend lots of quality time together. I’ve been with it, et cetera, et cetera. Right. I’m painting an unrealistic picture, I think, of what that could look like.

But it is a choice to be busy. And I think the problem with busyness is that we’re kind of giving away that choice, that power. We’re handing over responsibility, ownership for our own time, which, oh, my goodness, surely that. Isn’t that the most valuable resource that we have? We’ve all seen those shocking pictures, graphics where they show you how many beans are left of your life, or how many mornings do you have left, how many moments with your children, especially because when children are grown up, we spend very little time with them. So actually, the majority of time has already passed if you’ve got young children and so on. Right? So all these life is too short, memes and things, or life is certainly short, maybe not too short, depending on what you want to do with it. We know that life is finite. Time is finite.

That’s my point. And therefore, we are choosing. We need to choose what we’re going to do with that time. Now, this manic state of busyness, at worst, of course, leads to burnout. And we talked about that a couple of weeks ago, where you’re ultimately compelled, obliged, forced to stop. You have to take a break and reevaluate priorities once you have the energy to do so. Because physically, mentally, your body’s just said stop. Because we weren’t clear enough, mature enough, sensible enough, whatever you want to call it, without putting any blame on here to call it early on.

It is so hard to catch that stress before it turns into burnout. Because the whole point is that we’re sort of running on this conveyor belt, hamster wheel, whatever metaphor you want to choose, running, running. There’s a bit of an arrogance, I think, in that we can manage this. We don’t need help, we don’t need to slow things down because we are thriving on all this stress and we do really well and we’re good at multitasking and cheque me out. I’m doing all these things so we don’t stop before it’s too late. So that’s the worst thing, right, at burnout, not to mention divorce and health issues and whatever else, neglect of your children. At best, you’ll keep ploughing through tasks, reacting to what’s in your inbox, living out of your inbox, just whatever’s in front of you. Head just above the water survival mode.

And you’re really missing the bigger picture of what’s important on a personal level. Being busy all the time probably looks like neglected fitness routines or hobies. You’re missing cherished family moments, or you’ve got this constant nagging sensation that you should be somewhere else. You’re feeling guilty about doing this and not that resentful, probably of other people who are able to do those things. And ultimately you’re going to experience regret because you’ve missed out on really important things professionally. So at work you’re probably tackling the immediate tasks, right. Reacting to what’s being thrown at you, whether from people, colleagues, your boss, clients, everything that’s in your inbox. Sidelining some really critical aspects, like personal development, career development strategy, insight improvement initiatives and so on.

Right. So the reality, and especially post pandemic, is that there’s so many extra meetings. I think I’ve seen a stat that it’s 150% as many meetings as before. So over collaboration, perhaps because we’ve lost sight of how to work together effectively. Also because we have people working remotely and hybrid and so on, we feel the urge to make up for those kind of missed water cooler moments, as they’re called. So there’s meetings all the time. Emails has become this mad thing, such a useful tool and yet so overused and improperly used, I’d say coupled with really unrealistic expectations of oh my gosh, you have to reply to this right away. I always kind of laugh cruelly when I get an out of office from someone that says, oh, I’m out for 2 seconds today, please accept a delay in my reply.

Not quite 2 seconds, but it’s I’m out in a training this afternoon or something. My goodness. You shouldn’t have people expecting an answer from email. If something is urgent, you need to call, you need to have some kind of direct line. Most likely it’s not urgent because we have this false sense of urgency at work. And certainly unless you’re in really customer facing kind of PR customer service role, where your job is to reply to emails, that should not be where you’re spending your time. So all this labour, collaboration, emails, unrealistic expectations, plus of course, complexity of the dreaded life, admin, family stuff, chores, all other priorities, right? So it’s quite a tricky place to be in. And I don’t mean to be judgy or sarcastic, because obviously I struggle with these things too, and it’s just normal.

But that is the very thing I’m questioning. Should it be normal? Should we have normalised that we’re all busy and running around chasing our tails? And if not, what is the way out of that trap? Right? More time is obviously not something we can get. As such, we certainly can’t get back time that we had before. It’s also not going to be another training programme or project management tool or the latest productivity hack. I can read all these books and watch TikTok videos, whatever, telling me to do things, but that’s just kind of adding things to my already overflowing plate. So I really think what you need to take stock to make some much needed changes, to reflect and remind yourself of what really matters is capacity. You need capacity. You need space to breathe.

And that means that you need to really pause intentionally. You need to learn to say no, I know, shocking. Or at least maybe, or yes. But on my terms, you need to guard your calendar. An empty slot, unfortunately, becomes a magnet for more tasks, right? So you need to block time for strategy, for deep work, for time off, for lunch if necessary, disconnect, sign out of digital apps and turn off notifications, whatever, right? Seek refuge from all those external distractions. And so when you catch yourself thinking or saying, oh, I’m so busy, I can’t, I won’t, I don’t have time, just pause, take a breath and ask yourself, okay, are you genuinely that busy? What is it you’re busy with? Is that thing that you’re doing absolutely non negotiable, super duper important, urgent? Is it more important than this other thing that you’re now saying no to? Is it less critical because by default you’re prioritising this busyness over everything else that’s coming at you, right. That you’re saying no to? What are the potential repercussions of getting that wrong? And so how to create more capacity, one of the big things, and I just wrote sort of a one pager guide on this the other day and it was one of my first ever ebooks. I wrote, I don’t know, ten years ago on how to learn to say no because we’re people pleasers.

I don’t know about you, but I want to say yes to people. And Brene Brown said in one of her books that she chooses, she tries to choose discomfort in the moment over resentment over the longer term. So, oh, I’m going to say no to this obligation right now, this request, it’s making me uncomfortable because the PTA wants me to sign up or my friend wants me to cook brownies or whatever it is, and then that is preventing you from taking on more than you can handle or more than you want to handle and feeling resentful about it and regretful further down the line. Right. So good old Brene Brown, wonderfully insightful there. So how can you say no more comfortably? This is, as I said, a whole ebook that I’ve written, or at least a one pager, but a few little tips, you don’t have to say no, this is not a priority, although I applaud you. If you do, and if more of us could do that, that would be an amazing way of role modelling and I would definitely strive for that. However, in the meantime, given that we have so many hang ups about this, I’d look at alternatives.

So if you want to say yes, but that’s going to put you in a difficult position, try to say yes, but. Yes, but I can’t do it right away. I can do it later this afternoon, yes, but I can’t do it this week. I have time in my calendar next week. Yes, I will do this. But first I’d like you to do XYZ, to lay the groundwork, right. Or by the way, yes, but next time you’ll have to do it yourself. And this is how.

Right, so I’m doing it now, but for the next time because it’s a really urgent thing now and I’m being super, super helpful team player. Next time you’ll have to do it yourself. It’s an exception if then that person comes you again and again that it’s no longer an exception. So yes, but the other one is no, but no, I will not do this for you. However, here is a resource that will help you. I get lots of requests, as you can imagine, or maybe you can’t, but I will tell you for free advice, free guidance, whatever, free coaching, mentoring, et cetera. I now have podcast episodes that I can say, hey, cheque out these episodes or this resource, this PDF, this blog post, something for free. Join the group, join the training.

So no, but here’s how you can do it yourself or this other person is free, can help you delegate it, right? And then a really powerful word, maybe. So rather than saying yes right away or no right away, you say, oh, could you tell me more so I can understand what I’m saying yes to? Because you’re not just saying yes to the one thing, you’re saying yes to all the back and forth for getting the information, the things that go wrong and get postponed and blah, blah, blah. Tell me more or let me have a look at my calendar to see if I can make room for this thing. Right. You’re kind of just delaying the no, potentially, but it does give you an opportunity to really go, oh, if you had that extra moment, you’d see, I just don’t have capacity for this. So that’s sort of the really practical thing. Obviously, in the short term, we can’t say no to a lot of things. Longer term, we’ll be able to say no to more things.

That may be scary because in not being busy, that leaves kind of a vacuum where we’re really quite uneasy. If you’ve ever experienced that, which is rare. When you’ve quit something or stop something or you have this time in between, it’s so unusual that you’re sort of empty and lost, because what do I do now? And, oh, my gosh, nobody needs me and I’m not important, and so on. Right. And that can be a bit of an identity, Cris, but certainly in the short term, learning to say no in the longer term as well, to bigger commitments and then bigger picture, I ask you for help on this one. But how can we shift our thinking and change our behaviour? What is a more meaningful way of looking at productivity? It’s not just hours in, output out. Right. And of course, the big million dollar question.

Hopefully I could earn a million dollars. If I solve this, I’ll keep working at it. How can we balance those endless, relentless demands and distractions on our time, on the one hand, with the sadly, very, really, as in real, not really finite quantities of our time that we have available? On the other hand, and that’s the big existential question. So, I know we can’t spend every moment and every day philosophising about the meaning of life, but I would definitely spend a little bit of time on that. So, really practical, pragmatic. How can we set better boundaries? How can we say no? How can we create more capacity to then reflect on the second part, which is the bigger existential questions of what we really want to be doing? And again, otherwise, I’ve got the three horsemen of the apocalypse. Not the four horsemen, but we’ve got resentment, guilt and regret, which are none of them very nice feelings to experience. So, again, if you’re recognising yourself in this, that you’re just busy, busy, busy, try to take some of these tips of learning to say no.

Maybe yes, but. And ultimately, you’re trying to create capacity. See what happens if you have an afternoon free. Block it in your calendar. It can be your CEO day, your board meeting with yourself, with somebody else, with a coach or mentor, if that helps. Because it really is hard to do by yourself. Or even if you can, a couple of days away to just reflect and have empty space. It is very hard, I’m warning you.

But it can be so, so powerful. It can really make you realise what you might be running around trying to avoid something. Or there’s something exciting that could displace some of those things that you’re keeping busy with. Okay. Hope you enjoyed that episode, and I’ll see you next week. Bye for now.


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If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring.


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