Busy street Do you have to skip interesting opportunities because you’re too busy? Do you ever wonder how some entrepreneurs seem to have plenty of free time while you work around the clock?

If you do, I know how you feel and I know a way out. Yes I know a real fix, a permanent solution. It’s not the old “be more productive and squeeze more juices out of yourself” story either.

Things started to slip out of my hands after I launched FirstOfficer. By last autumn I felt busy and frazzled all the time. My workload was out of control. By December I reached my breaking point. A competitor launched their SaaS analytics and I was browsing their team page to see who they were. I suddenly realised they had 5-person team doing the work I was doing alone! I curled up on a sofa and cried for hours. I was just that tired.

Fast-forward 8 months. I work 15-25 h per week and I’m speeding towards my goals. I almost never feel busy.

How did I do that? Well, the key is to understand why your brain sets you on the “busy mode”.

What causes you to feel busy?

How do you feel when you’re busy?

You have trouble staying in the moment and enjoying the work at hand, right? Your mind races ahead to the things you should be doing and the opportunities you’re missing because you don’t have time. So you rush through everything you do.

You don’t feel busy because there’s a lot of work to do. You feel busy because your brain says that there’s something else to do RIGHT NOW!!! and you’re not doing it.

Why would your brain say such a thing?

Because your brain believes that it’s true! Your brain thinks that you’re not doing enough of the important things. It’s trying to help you, because if you’re busy, you’ve lost your focus.

Your brain is being nice to you. You ought to listen to it.

Now, let’s imagine you had that the focus. You wouldn’t feel busy, because you’d know that the important things are getting done. Even when you’re spending time with your family, you are enjoying the moment because you know that you’re moving towards your goals. When you bypass an opportunity, it’s because something else is matters more to you, not because you didn’t have time. When you have a lot of things to do, you do the best work you can without hurrying or feeling busy.

The lies we tell ourselves

Why don’t we all just focus on the important things? There are two lies that keep busy people stuck where they are.

The first lie you can tell yourself is: “I don’t have time”. The second lie is: “I have to do X”.

Let’s start our busyness rehabilitation program by stopping that self-sabotage.

Busyness Rehabilitation Rule 1: Ditch the word “busy”

“Busy” itself just means you have a lot to do. However, when you use the word “busy” in a sentence, it often appears with: “must do”, “should do”, “can’t do” and “have to do”. Those words are toxic waste in your vocabulary.

Those words implicate that you cannot choose. Yet, you can! So choose not to use those words!

When you surprise yourself from saying or thinking any of those, try replacing the sentence with:

“I choose to do X, because…”

Instead of saying “I have to wash the toilet” you’ll find yourself saying “I choose to wash the toilet, because I love a clean house”. Eventually you might say “I choose to wash the toilet, because I still haven’t hired that maid”.

Both of those new sentences are superior to your old one.

The first one reveals a priority - a clean house. Why is that important? Is it really?

The second one reveals an action to change the situation - hiring a maid.

Back in 2012, there were several days when I walked along the river to my workplace saying “Today I choose to go to work, because I don’t have the courage to tell my boss that I quit”. The courage did appear soon.

If you want a phrase to describe your life, you can say that you’re living a full life, like Adii does. From today, “busy” means “out of focus”.

Busyness Rehabilitation Rule 2: See time as a precious asset

Time is different from all your other assets. You can’t get more of it - everyone has the same amount each day. When it’s gone, you can never have it back.

When you say “I don’t have time” you’re breaking the rule we just set and worse - you are using it to one of your most precious assets!

You’re telling yourself an outrageous lie instead of admitting the truth:

“I choose to use my time to things x,y and z, because…”.

There’s a story about Warren Buffett teaching the importance of focused time to his personal pilot. Warren asked him to list 25 goals that he wanted to achieve. Then he asked the pilot to circle the five most crucial ones. Next, Warren asked the pilot what he was going to do.

“Well, the top five are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in at a close second,” he said. “They are still important, so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top five. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.”

“No. You’ve got it all wrong.”, said Warren. “Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list.’ No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top five.”

You can do anything, but not everything. Just admit it.

Busyness Rehabilitation Rule 3: Unload your brain

Part of the noise in busy person’s head is just the weight of all the things he needs to remember. It’s easy to get that stuff out of your head and into your “avoid at all cost list”. I promise you, you’ll feel so much lighter.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.” – David Allen

I use Getting Things Done (GTD) method by David Allen, but any system that lets you store away the noise will help. Some people just use a Spark File.

My everyday tool for implementing GTD is Nozbe. It’s simple enough to prevent me from making things too complex, yet it allows me to assign tasks to others too.

GTD is known as a productivity method, but we’re not talking about squeezing those juices today. What I primarily use GTD for is to help store things away and to restore my focus.

Busyness Rehabilitation Rule 4: Decide what’s important - set goals

So how does one create the focus to store in that GTD system? Well… still remember the Warren Buffett story?

Tom Corley, the author of Rich Habits, spent 5 years following up 361 people to find out what separates the financially successful people from their less fortunate peers.

80% of successful people are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.

Without goals, you can’t have focus. There’s nothing to focus into.

I’ve always had some kind of goals, but I didn’t take goal-setting seriously until things fell apart. Remember how I had hard time last Christmas? After my wake-up call I spent the rest of the month visiting startup incubator happenings, asking for advice and searching for solutions.

It was then when I found The Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt. It’s a 5-day course that only runs once a year around New Year. It teaches you how to set good actionable goals.

One of the biggest insights of the program was that you can keep all your goals together. Both business and personal. Otherwise there’ll never be any real work-life balance.

Final thoughts

If you’ve been busy for a while, it will take time to unlearn being busy.

When I changed my habits it took about 3 months before I stopped feeling busy. I still relapse every now and then, especially on days when I need to dig into my “avoid at all costs”-list.

On the other hand, it took only 5 months until I was already living my best year ever!

No, I didn’t reach all my goals by then, but the ones I did reach had such a great impact to my life.

It was a wonderful surprise. Maybe some of the goals that you’ve put far into the future are actually accessible right now, too. It’s a nice bonus of fixing the busyness problem. Everything affects everything.

Do you have a dream that you’ve been putting off? Could you put it to your goal list today?