Being intentional with our (super, crazy) busy lives

Do you feel that your life is just a little too busy?

Many people don’t realize that part of the reason they feel as though they don’t have enough hours in the day is due to disorder and disorganization. If you are feeling stress, your crazy schedule definitely is not helping.

This is something that I’ve been quite aware of ever since Tsh encouraged us to say no to ourselves.

Sometimes you have to take a pass on things and avoid overcommitting your time. For me, it’s something that I’ve gotten better at doing — with one exception: saying “no” to me.

The Reality We Live In

Let’s face it. We’re all busy and have our own agendas that get disrupted and knocked off track every day. That’s how it is, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.

I’m probably no different than the next person on social media or someone who works online for a living, and it’s true that I’m pitched multiple times a week to collaborate in some fashion.

Unfortunately, each of these times I need to say “no”, but that’s the easy part. Not because I’m a mean tyrant who’s incapable of working alongside folks — just that I have commitments elsewhere.

As a person who started a WordPress theme business, and currently a partner in a software development company, I have endless tools at my disposal. Whether it be a wide selection of beautiful designs, content optimization software, or web hosting, the endless amount of ideas that I pitch myself are astounding.

I can easily say “no” to other people, but I have a ridiculously hard time saying it to me. I’m an “idea guy”, so I fend off ideas in my head multiple times a day. And it’s exhausting, to be quite honest.

Idle Minds are the Devil’s Playground

When it comes to idle minds, I’m not referring to a lack of work that I have. There’s plenty of that around, trust me. This is all about the brain. I put in my full 40-60 hours a week, but my mind is on ludicrous speed practically every waking moment. (Un)fortunately, that’s simply how I’m wired.

If you’re looking for examples, you don’t have to go far. My personal blog is one example of an effort to utilize my creativity from a design standpoint.

Then there’s the “content” itch that I feel like I need to scratch — which I can do (somewhat) successfully there, but I’d love to create one (or a hundred) niche sites in areas of my personal interest.

Whether it be developing a community around running, or Starbucks or (insert some random topic that I feel would be fun to monetize here).

The Responsibility of Being Responsible

Sounds easy peasy lemon squeezy, doesn’t it?

The reality in my life right now is that I have a full time job, a family to feed, a house that I’m building and close to 40 people in our company who all rely on me to do what I’m supposed to be doing.

Which is … work.

And as I’m learning to say “no” to not only others but also to me, it’s something I admit that I need to continually work on.

One of the reasons I’ve been intentional about separating my personal blog and company efforts is to establish some efficiency (and balance) in my life.

That’s why I’ve chosen to live deliberately and ensure that I stay happy. And part of that effort includes saying “no” to certain things that I want to do.

Putting Yourself First

Now that I’ve admitted to you that I struggle with my schedule and everything I want to do, I thought I’d share a few things that I go out of my way to do. This is my attempt to retain sanity, and I hope you find these helpful.

1. Pursue a Hobby

It might sound like an obvious suggestion, as we all have areas of interest in our lives. I believe that we don’t give ourselves enough time to pursue and enjoy them. For me, this is running — so I make sure that I go outside (thank you Spring and warmer weather!) and run at least three times a week. It’s really difficult to check email and social media while I’m cruising, so this definitely gives me some much needed time away.

2. Declutter My Work Area

I generally tend to run a lean ship, but once in a while my office starts to accumulate “stuff” in various places. Whether it’s my desk, an end table or other places there. Sometimes when we see things laying around, it subconsciously starts to add up. So I’m trying to be better about putting things away after I use them. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

3. Writing Stuff Down

I realize that the idea of making lists might seem like it would be adding to the things we have to do, but intentionality can go a long way to reducing distractions. For the most part, I’m a Type-A person, who’s highly organized. So when I think of ideas or things I need to do, I’ll write them down. This gives me immediate access to taking care of them without spinning the wheels in my mind trying to remember them.

How Are YOU Doing With This?

Are you taking on too many projects or running too many errands? Are you spending too much time chasing down rabbit holes that aren’t productive or don’t bear fruit?

What are the things you struggle with when it comes down to saying “no”?

Let’s talk about it below.

Brian Gardner

Brian is a partner at Copyblogger Media. He is passionate about authenticity, web design and running. He lives in Chicago with his wife Shelly and son Zach. Follow Brian on Twitter (@bgardner) or read more on his personal blog.

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  1. When my husband and I started our blog, we were trying to post with the same frequency of full-time bloggers. It was completely unreasonable. We both work, we have a young family, +++. Lots of other fun and hobbies suffered. Now we’ve lowered our productivity expectations, and we are content again.

    • I recently read a fantastic blog post from Sarah Kathleen Peck called The problem with thinking too big. She writes, “Worry less about getting there and more about being here.”

      It sounds ironic, but there are times when reaching for the stars can crush your chances to get there. The problem with thinking too big is that you’ll forget to get started. Or you’ll become afraid of getting started.

      Being content feels great, doesn’t it? 🙂

      • I have never heard that quote before but I LOVE it!!! Working towards being intentional is my goal for the year! I feel like I have a good handle on 1 & 2 but I am working on writing things down more. It makes perfect sense! I am a person whose brain is constantly thinking too. When I don’t write my ideas/thoughts down, they keep popping back into my thoughts. Great post, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. Saying “no” to ME. Hmm. I think I may need to try that more.

    I have goals, but can so easily get sidetracked by the next great thing in front of me. And then before long, I’ve completely derailed.

    • I think I should have done a better job delineating the “no” to me part — for me, it means saying no to things that busy my schedule and don’t bear fruit. I wasn’t referring to “me” time such as solitude and things that keep my soul content.

  3. I can definitely relate to your words. I am an idea person as well. I was a stay at home mom for 11 years and just went back to work full-time as a Speech Language Pathologist in my daughter’s middle school. I have always been driven by my emotions-what do I feel like doing? And what I often feel like doing is not the day to day things that need to get done, whether at work or at home, but rather the research, acquisition of knowledge, the setting up of systems, decorating, decluttering, painting the house, making elaborate meal plans. I tend to see an idea and think that I can do it, but don’t realize that it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should at this time or ever. Time is more limited now for me than it ever has been and I need to choose wisely. My family does need me to do those day to day things in order to avoid a constant state of chaos. I am still working on this and probably always will! However, in my job, knowing that the creativity, organizational and idea piece is a big part of why I love it, I think I will allow myself to work this way to an extent. Thank you for giving me something to think about!

    • Sounds like you’ve got a really great handle on things, and most importantly aware of it all. Part of the problem that some folks face is the fact that they can’t really put their finger on what’s missing in their life or how to fix the unsettledness they feel.

  4. I’m a relatively new reader of this blog, so my apologies if this is an observation of business as usual, but nice Spaceballs reference! It kept me smiling as I read about a topic that is usually so anxiety-provoking that I often stop before the end and slip away to other corners of the Internet.

  5. Saying ‘no’ to myself or others is hard right now. I need to be better at both, but cramming this into my busy life feels like one more thing I have to do! I do understand the long term benefits, but just seems to get going. I work 30 hours per week, from home, look after my 2 year old almost full time, and have a 5 year old. I also run my daughter’s school PTA. Life is busy and like you I am highly organized, making lists, plans, and piling on more responsibility on my own shoulders, while compromising my own personal interest (I have not played tennis for years!). A thought came into my head as I was trying to figure out how am I going to accomplish all of the things I committed – and it was – WHY am I doing all of this? Why did I take on the PTA role? I didn’t need that in my busy life, that’s for sure….. Maybe finding out the answer to the question ‘WHY?’ will help me to be able to say no more readily??

  6. I hadn’t thought about it as saying “no” to me, but more to everyone else, but you are correct, there is a need to turn off all the busyness that’s just inside my brain about what I want to do or have happen.

    I also agree about the benefit of writing things down to get them out of my head. It helps reduce my anxieties over remembering (especially since my brain’s been on the planet since 1957–the memory circuits are less reliable). 🙂

  7. I enjoyed this post, Brian, partly because I could so relate! I’m also an “idea” person. I’m a home schooling mom and part time church planter, and I definitely have more ideas than I could possibly implement in my lifetime. I drive my husband crazy.

    One thing that helped me is to realize that just because I have a great idea doesn’t mean I have to do it. (Not rocket science, but it took me a while to realize this.) Before I used to get so frustrated, but now I try to let my ideas sit a while and the ones that keep coming back are the ones I actually consider doing something about.

  8. I think it’s easy for me to get distracted by social media and all of the interesting things that are out there to read (SO many great blogs and articles and videos….). A couple days ago, I read a tweet from Rachel Held Evans: “Back to writing today, and my trusty mantra: ‘The next sentence is not in the refrigerator.'” Ha, I loved that! It’s sort of tongue-in-cheek, but I think for me, it is helpful to remind myself: “The next sentence is not on social media.” When I’m writing, I need to have my writer hat on. And I can give myself permission and time to read and comment on blogs and connect on social media. But it’s helpful to separate my writing (or whatever task it is) from things that easily take me down rabbit trails.

  9. Brian, I deal with the same issue of having too many ideas swirling in my head at times. I have recently started making a list in my phone anytime an idea hits me. I may or may not act on the idea right away, but at least I’m getting it out of my head and saving it to potentially utilize down the road. That way I can stay focused on the few goals I am working on right now, such as writing, and not get sidetracked by shiny object syndrome.

    And I completely agree about hobbies. I must spend time hiking and taking photos, or I get a tad (okay extremely) restless.

  10. Melissa Mcintyre says:

    Ahhh, “ludicrous speed” from Spaceballs and “easy peasy lemon squeezy” from Veggie Tales The League of Incredible Vegetables, right? Love it! You sound like a very well rounded guy 🙂

  11. Sarah Westphal says:

    This reminds me of my new mantra:

    Just because I CAN, doesn’t mean I should.

    I have to say that to myself daily. Sometimes several times per day.

    We are such an over-productive culture aren’t we? To the point that we aren’t productive. Oh, the irony.

    Loved the post!

  12. Hey Brian,

    Cool photo! And a very rich topic indeed. One I’m waist deep in right now. I’m taking time to outline my priorities, as you say “what bears fruit” being on top. I’m surprised to find I have things a bit mixed up but that’s ok 🙂

    I see it now, and I’m giving it my all to make it intentional going forward. My writing, I sincerely hope, will be better for it. Giving my full attention to what really matters to me, killing off the rest (or at least tucking them away 🙂

    Thanks as always for your inspirational words and ideas!


  13. One of the most profound realizations I’ve had this past year, was being selfish. Taking care of myself first, being intentional about becoming a better version of myself each day. With that, I learned to say no, to others. I thought by saying yes, to others, to everything, was the path to success. Currently, I am committed to traveling an intentional journey of self growth. Doing actions and forming habits that make me feel better, therefore shaping a better version of me, so I can give the best version of myself to others. Saying no to others allowed me to slow down and be more present with the things that matter most to me and it allowed me to be selfish.

    I have never thought along the lines of saying no to myself, or within those realms. But, your words here reminded me that it is indeed a journey and this is something I need to work on. Thanks much Brian!

  14. Christina says:

    Saying “no” to myself right now means that sometimes I have to tone down my need to have everything organized to my standards in worlds that I cannot control (like at my new job), and the responsibility to be responsible speaks to me that it IS better to keep the job I accepted even though in the end (after childcare & travel expenses) it brings in less money than unemployment does… and reorganizing my family world is what is in first place right now. No time for a hobby, but I’m working to try to figure that out.

  15. Decluttering is a major issue for me. Not so much in my home, but mainly online. When it comes to inspiration, I have yet to develop my routine. There are simply too many locations where I’ve stored ideas. Textfiles, drafts, mailbox, open tabs, newspaper cuttings, Delicous, Evernote, todolist, etc. At a certain point it becomes overwhelming. Subconsciously that really does start to add up. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth keeping, or if I should just hit the delete-button and get it all out of the way…

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