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4 ways to stop being so busy

(MoneyWatch) There are 168 hours in a week. I think that's plenty of time to build a rewarding career and a fulfilling personal life. After all, if you work 50 hours a week and sleep eight hours a night (56 per week) that still leaves 62 hours for other things. And most people don't work 50 hours a week (not even people who think they do).

The problem is that many of us don't use our 168 hours well. At least that's my takeaway from the long emails I get from people claiming that I just don't understand. They really have no time! I always wonder why, if they have no time, they're using precious minutes to write an email to someone they don't know.

The problem is that we mistake busyness for doing things that matter. Just because our time is filled with things doesn't mean it's filled with the right things, or that it has to be filled with many things at all. We forget just how much control we have over what goes into our 168 hours. Let's put it this way: Do you iron your sheets? I doubt it. Who has time? But if someone offered to pay you $50,000 to iron your sheets, you'd probably find the time in your busy schedule. Which means you could find time for other priorities if you wanted to. You just need to stop being so busy. Here's how:

1. Don't mistake things that look like work for actual work. Just because you're doing something during work hours doesn't mean it's advancing your organization or you toward your goals. Are you spending your morning getting ready for a meeting that wouldn't have to happen if you had a better project management system in place? Solve the bigger problem and claw your time back.

2. Tune out. We spend a lot of time checking email, reading headlines online, and then following links to new and interesting stories. While that's personally profitable to bloggers like me, it's probably not good for your productivity. Don't keep electronic temptations available (Related post: Don't let email ruin your life).

3. Think long term. Stop and think about what you're doing. Ask yourself, "Will this contribute toward something that people might mention at my retirement dinner, or even at my funeral?" If not, that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it -- no one's going to mention that I did my taxes on time -- but you shouldn't spend all your time on it, either.

4. Ignore, minimize, outsource. What do you have on your plate that shouldn't be there? Don't mistake other people's priorities for your own. Your priority may be raising resilient, happy children, but that doesn't mean you need to be a one-man taxi service shuttling kids to eight different activities. Your teens are capable of working out a carpool with other families, riding their bikes, or taking the bus.

What could you do to stop being so busy?

Photo courtesy Flickr user nycstreets
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