3 Ways to Un-Busy Yourself: What Saying No Taught Me

When we take on projects that don’t feel right, we’re stressed.

When we agree to another coffee date, we run out of time.

When we pack in too many meetings, we miss important deadlines.

No matter what we do, it seems like there’s never enough time to get things done.

We’re always busy doing a million different things at once, but we never have enough time to tend to reach for our dreams.

A few weeks ago, I felt more busy than ever — and more stressed than ever. I was running from meeting to meeting, usually late, and having a horrible time. When I finally deep dived into my bed that night, I started thinking about why I had inflicted such a scheduling nightmare on myself. There was only one thing I could come up with: filling my schedule with things to do made me feel productive, like if that made me worthy.

Being busy doesn’t make you accomplished. It makes you busy.

After that horrible day, I decided to be more mindful of my schedule and give myself more breathing room. That means no back-to-back meetings and no stress-fests. Do you know what happened when I finally achieved a relaxed day? Absolute guilt!

Have you ever felt something like that?

It’s something I struggle with from time to time, but I override it by not tying my identity to accomplishment. Being un-busy is the kind of advice I wish I had learned years ago.

If you’re wanting to get un-busy, here are some ways to go about it:

1. Take Work That Matters

Have you ever asked yourself the following question: What is your ideal work like? Who is your ideal client?

I can’t tell you how much these questions changed my life — and my career. When I read this question for the first time, I thought to myself, “Wait a second. I get to choose who I work with?!”

Why did nobody ever teach us to stop and think about who we take money from? Why did nobody ever teach us to be as picky with our clients as we are with our significant others?

Most of us would never do business with a drug cartel or a thief, but the filter of who we do work with stops right around that legal barrier. We usually don’t take it much further than that, do we?

It’s time to start.

To give you an idea of what an ideal client might be like, I’ll share with you what I answered a few years ago:

“People who can teach me things, share great articles/books, like to bounce ideas off each other, share experiences and try to help me better myself through their experiences. They are also open to my suggestions for new ideas in bettering themselves. Happy.”

It’s a small sort of revolution when you realize you don’t have to take all the paid work that comes your way. The change is extraordinary.

2. Monitor Your Meetings

Even when you take work that matters to you, it’s still tough to not get caught up in constant meetings.

According to a study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, it takes office workers an average of 25 minutes to bounce back to their original task after an interruption. The problem is that office workers usually only get 11 minutes between each interruption.

If meetings are breaking your focus, is there something you can do about it?

Don’t get me wrong. Some meetings are necessary, but some are not.

When they’re necessary, it’s in your power to schedule them in a way that’s compassionate with your own time and stress levels.

What I try to do is leave a few days clear of meetings. When that’s not possible, I aim for either a morning or afternoon free. That way, I have enough time to really dig in and do focused work with no interruptions.

Sometimes, these meeting-free moments make me feel guilty, but I try to remind myself that these moments are sometimes necessary to true progress.

3. Say No to Coffee

This one is the hardest point for me to follow because it’s the most fun!

Every once in awhile, I get messages from friends or entrepreneurs in my city asking me to meet up for coffee. These coffee dates always end up interesting and fun, especially when it’s like finding a kindred spirit I didn’t know existed.

The downside, though, is that these coffee dates do take time away from focused work. Coffee dates are amazing, but they require a lot of creative time that I could be investing in y work.

Instead of turning down all coffee dates, though, I’ve started limiting myself to one per week. This way, I don’t end up with nonstop entertainment and no work.

I have some questions for you:

What are some things you can do to space out our scheduled appointments?

How do you feel when you’re busy? Or when you’re not?

What’s standing between you and a calmer life?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below.

Bio: When Marcella Chamorro decided to quit her job to live every day as if it’s a vacation, she turned her attention to creating a lifestyle that is both meaningful and exciting (watch her TEDx video in Spanish). As an author & entrepreneur based in Nicaragua, Marcella guides those who want to quit their jobs, live their dreams, and live a vacation that never ends at The Perpetual Vacation.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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