I’ve recently stopped telling people I’m busy. Why? Because busy isn’t the problem. My priorities are.

Everyone is busy. Everyone has a full agenda. Yet Youtube and Netflix continue to make billions. Why is entertainment profitable, yet no-one has time supposedly? The answer is simple, the way you spend your time is not determined by how much you have on your to-do list, but by what you prioritize. You aren’t too busy to make that call, go for coffee with a friend or finally get started on your passion project, they just aren’t a priority for you.

That’s not to say those activities aren’t important to you! They can be really important, but still not high on your priority list. The difference between importance and priority is perceived urgency. Something which is not important for you can become a priority because you feel as if it needs to get done soon. Which is where busyness comes in: the problem is that your priorities are not always the same as what you consider to be important. The reason for this is that priorities are often not rational. They’re emotional unless we consciously set them. If you organize your priorities reactively, i.e. emotionally, the result is that you:

  • Prioritize other people’s demands over your own goals.
  • Prioritize external factors like salary/job over personal needs, values, and passions.
  • Prioritize short-term satisfaction over long-term value.

In the end, you add lots of little tasks to your to-do list that you don’t really care about, you give in to distractions, you avoid creating something meaningful, you live reactively, not proactively, and you constantly feel as if you’re busy.

Want to spend your time more effectively? Want to improve your time management? Focus on prioritizing first. Start deciding what is truly urgent and important for you. Every morning when you start working ask yourself “what are my priorities today?” Pick one thing that’s really important for you every day and prioritize it. When someone asks you to do a task last minute, or when you get distracted, ask yourself: “is this a priority?”. Is this something I “could,” “should” or “must” do? (See The Crossroads of Should and Must for more on this)

Being busy is partially the result of undefined priorities: the result of saying yes to anything that reactively feels important, rather than focussing on what is actually important to you. Therefore, if priorities are a choice, then so is being “busy”. Being busy is my choice, I’m not busy, I just haven’t defined my priorities clearly.

Side note: This concept applies to other resources as well. Although limitation in resources is a real challenge for some, for most people in the western world limitation is rarely as much of a factor as prioritization. For instance, I know many university students who would never dream of paying €40 for a museum but regularly spend that on alcohol in one night. I think most would say that they do consider going to a museum a more important activity than going out for a drink. However, they prioritize drinking not because the alcohol is actually more valuable (in objective terms) than enjoying some culture, but because the experience of spending a night with their friends is quite simply higher on their priority list. Marketers take note, the objective value of what you are selling has little to do with what people are prepared to pay. The perceived value is what’s important: how urgent and important is it for your customers to own your product? How high are you on their priority.

P.S. Yes I know I didn’t cure busyness. But hopefully, this is a step in the right direction. Apologies for the clickbaity title : ).