How to Reduce Meaningless Busy Activities and Create Space for What Matters


The previous article highlighted examples of busy activities that give us a fake sense of accomplishment but don’t really add up to something that matters to us.

I hope you had a chance to look at some of the busy patterns in your life and determined any unhelpful busy work. Awareness is the first step in change.

When we do something, and keep doing it over and over, it’s because we have a recurring event or feeling that triggers such behavior.

The importance of knowing when we do something cannot be overestimated.

As I looked into my own behavior, I found that my triggers fit into one of these categories.

  • Physical and/or mental fatigue
  • Emotional distress
  • Avoidance and resistance

Once we know our triggers, we can stop and make a different choice when the situation arises again. To change the behavior, we simply need to replace the unhelpful (and automatic) action with something we want to do consciously. Or we eliminate the behavior completely by facing the triggers and choosing not to engage.

How to cut down on useless busyness

Here are a few of the things I’m trying to work with. I hope you find them useful.

Accept the feeling or need and see the underlying gift

Whether it’s the need to rest or the need for validation, don’t resist or fight the feeling. Acceptance brings relief.

Instead of judging myself for feeling tired or needing validation, I can just admit it: I’m feeling a void at the moment and I don’t know what to do with it.

Needs and feelings usually come bearing gifts. If you’re physically tired, your body is telling you to rest or go to a doctor. If I’m mentally tired, my mind is telling me to take things easy and not do too much at the same time.

At points of emotional distress, it’s best to sit with the feeling and let it take its course (imagine emotions as internal tears running through your body).

Listen and observe instead of acting

When the need arises, stop and listen to it. Sit with it and see what happens.

Instead of going on Facebook and searching for people, I can step away from the computer and sit quietly for a few moments. Maybe take a few deep breaths or have a drink of water. But I stay with the feeling.

When we rush into action, it’s because we feel uncomfortable and want to numb the feeling. As we all know, this only makes the feelings stronger. So why not allow the feelings to be and not rush into action? What’s the worst that could happen?

I’ve noticed that observing a feeling and letting it go through me before I act takes much less time than automatically doing something that wastes my time and drains my energy.

Relax and play

We all can use more rest and less busyness. What I found the hardest is taking time to rest and relax when I feel I have so much to do and I haven’t made any progress.

How can we rest when we don’t feel we earned it?

The metaphor I’m trying to work with is to imagine relaxing as doing the body or mind a favor. Imagine that they are separate entities from you and you are helping them out. If a friend asks you for a favor, you will be more than happy to oblige if you can.

The same goes with play. Imagine that you are meeting a friend for a little bit of fun. Except the friend is your heart and soul. It may take you a while to figure out the type of fun that nourishes your heart and soul. Going back to memories of childhood might help.

When we feel better, physically, mentally and emotionally we’re more likely to not want to escape and engage in useless activities.

Change your context/environment

If the fake busy activity is easy to do, we will automatically do it when the need or emotion is triggered. We can make it harder to start the action by changing our environment.

If I want to escape on social media sites, I can block them by using something like Leech Block on my browser. It will be too much work to remove the block and restart the browser. So I’m more likely to wake up at that point and choose to do something useful. Or not do anything at all.

Take tiny action in spite of fear

This is the best thing in the face of resistance, avoidance, and all the related busyness. A tiny action is so small and simple that it will not even nudge the protective and fearful lizard brain. Do something even when you feel confused or unsure.

And the beauty of tiny action is its domino effect. One little step pushes another little step, with hardly any struggle.

Eliminate the unnecessary

One thing that is at the heart of our busyness is the unnecessary. Eliminating something is much harder than replacing it with something else.

Instead of spending time organizing and filing papers, wouldn’t it be easier to just throw them out? Very few documents are needed these days, but I still have files of “just in case” or “when I get a chance” documents.

We need to eliminate unnecessary papers and files, tools and gadgets, clothes and other physical objects. Then delete digital documents, software, and online accounts.

Everything we own or keep demands our attention, and keeps us busy. When we purge the unnecessary we create space, which can be scary.

What’s even scarier is eliminating a thought, belief, or behavior. We create a void and with that comes the temptation to fill it up with something else.

Since last week I’ve been eliminating papers and digital files. Starting with papers will probably trigger some thoughts and beliefs that I will deal with later. The main thing is to start somewhere and make it as easy as possible.

Start with the easy stuff and move your way up. If you, for example, just get rid of one paper a day, you’ll be 360+ pages lighter in a year. Then move to computer files and programs, online accounts and so on.

The more we delete and feel the space, the more comfortable we get with the process. Which brings me to the last, but not least step.

Become comfortable with space and emptiness

Instead of filling a physical, mental, or emotional void with useless noise, we need to be okay with feelings of emptiness and quiet.

It is not the emptiness that scares us, it’s our thoughts about it. We view space and emptiness as devoid of meaning and substance.

But this is just a programmed thought and belief. We can change it if we choose to.

Having space and being okay with it, without any expectations, can be calming and insightful. We can decide to accept and even welcome emptiness. This is where we become still and allow the genius of life to express itself through us.

No matter how busy we get, there is always an opportunity to stop and make a different choice. We can have more time and space to be, and live in a way that honors our unique desires and nurtures genuine connections.