Make ‘busy’ work for you

Welcome to the 21st century, where 'busy' is the new norm. Here's how to move efficiently (and gracefully) through your jam-packed day.


From youth, we’ve been told we can do anything, and that life is short—it’s no wonder that we’re constantly scrambling to fit it all in. We’ve been conditioned to want so much.

With our devices constantly in hand, we’re being told what to eat, where to holiday, how to decorate our homes, and why we should hike more. To add to that, we’re comparing ourselves to the ‘projected’ lives of our connections on social media, who selectively show off their bustling, exciting lifestyles. There’s an unspoken pressure to be busy, to demonstrate our zest for life, and avoid the perception that we may be lacking ambition, direction, or even work ethic.

Ultimately, we’re living creatures – subject to the limits of our energy, and the routine of making an income. What we’re able to fit into our days doesn’t always align with our expectations, and that’s when we get down on ourselves for being ‘unproductive’. If your schedule is becoming too stressful, with too little reward, it’s time to step back. Take the opportunity to re-think not only your tactics for achieving your goals, but whether those goals are actually worthwhile in the end.

Make organisation a daily ritual

So you’re a last-minute person. You may have been using that line for years, but you owe it to yourself to prioritise organisation. It’s not a natural born talent, but an easily learned skill. Organisation involves a lot of ritual and routine, and while being a creature of routine sounds a little dull, it’s actually liberating. It frees you from the anxiety that comes with being unprepared, and gives you back time that would otherwise be wasted.

If you’re serious about becoming more organised, why not consider taking a course? There are free courses you can take online, like the one delivered by Udemy, and as well as paid courses with more extensive information. One 6-week course that stands out is The Daily Map, created by artist Nirrimi Firebrace, which gives you organisation tools and methods to help you clear the path to becoming your most creative self. It’s also beautifully illustrated—who said organisation couldn’t bring you joy and whimsy?

Change your perception of stress

Why do some people cope with a hectic schedule so gracefully, while others spiral into emotional turmoil? It’s all about the way we perceive stress. There’s no concrete number of tasks that constitute a stressful day, and while there are certain experiences that commonly induce stress, it’s possible to remain cool-headed if you look at a situation through a different lens.

Start by identifying what stresses you out, and think about how you can normalise that experience. Repetition can help take the stress out of a task, as can a bit of healthy comparison. The task may feel difficult, but it doesn’t compare to such-and-such that you’ve experienced previously. For more tips on reframing your perception of stress, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal gave a great TED talk on how to turn stress from an enemy into a friend.

Isolate the moment

Living in the ‘now’ has become a bit of a buzz-phrase as of late, but this concept is the key to feeling relaxed, even when you’re on a tight schedule. Once you’ve blocked out time in your schedule to do a certain task, think of that time as a bubble, isolated from the rest of the world, where there’s no past or future. If you’re thinking about what you need to do next, or what you forgot to do earlier, you’re not reaping the emotional benefits of the activity you’re engaging in.

To help you master this technique (which isn’t always easy) the obvious first step is to switch off your devices when they’re not necessary. Secondly, if any stray thoughts circle around in your mind when it’s not their designated time, write them down. Transferring them from your head to paper (physical or digital) allows you to relax, knowing your thoughts are in safe-keeping. The fear of forgetting is the best way to throw off your focus, so don’t let it mess with your priorities, or ruin your positive emotional experiences. 

Ask yourself 'What can wait?'

Due to constant over-stimulation, our to-do lists keep growing and growing with no clear direction. With little red notifications popping up by the minute, begging for attention, how can we be expected to get our priorities straight?

A great tool for creating clarity is a good old fashioned notebook, where nothing can flash, pulse, or pop up at you. It’s just you, your common sense, and a blank slate to sort through your goals. It’s more manual effort than using a Word doc, but there’s something about the pen-to-paper experience that really helps you connect the dots, and helps information stick in your mind. So why not grab a coffee, sit down, and give it a go—you’ll find that many of your goals are not as urgent as you think.

Find happiness in fewer goals

Every now and then, it’s wise to ask yourself, should I pursue this goal at all? You may have decided on a whim that something was worthwhile, but is it really? One of the best things you can do for yourself is to write down a list of 5 things you want to achieve in your life-span – things that make life worth living – and let that list be your north star. Any task that doesn’t get you closer to these goals? Let it go.

Life has a lot to offer. If you’re a person who wants it all, that’s excellent, just make sure that you take time for yourself. Sometimes it’s quality over quantity that wins in the end, no matter what anyone thinks of you.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed fitting study into your lifestyle, don’t hesitate to call a student advisor, who can help you find a solution.

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