How I Overcome The Busy Trap

September 23, 2015

About the Author: Eric Bach

We all seek to look busy in the eyes of our peers. 

We tend to define success as how much work we get done, how long our work days are, and how much money we make. 

I’m not sure I agree on any of these definitions of success, but they’ve all played into my opinion of a successful day, month, or year at some point.

Unfortunately, this causes a huge issue: without a clear definition of success, we never fully define, limit, and achieve what we want.

At times in the past year, I’ve felt out of control. My time wasn’t my own. I committed to too many obligations,  and honestly, had a pretty shitty work/life balance. Most times, I hid this and put out a front that everything is perfect and I’m kicking life in the face. 

Sometimes that’s the case, but like anyone else, I battle day to day. Over the past few months, I’ve been able to regain control, and make my time more my own, and get more high-quality work done in less time. 

I’m not superhuman. I don’t have any “big” secrets. Yet every time I have an article published, I get a message along the lines of….

“How can you coach, run your business, and find time to write? There’s not enough time in my day!”

I feel for you. Honestly, I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew and like I mentioned, occasionally feel like I’m drowning under a never-ending flow of “vital” tasks. 

As a result, I trim my sleep to five hours per night, self-medicate with 5 cups of coffee today with a few Alpha Brain and go to work.

I’ll skip events with friends because “ I don’t have time,” when in reality, I’m not making time for what’s important.

I’ll stay on my phone at dinner checking social media, rather than talking with my wife.

Superhuman, right?

Yeah, far from it.

I face the same struggles as everyone else. But I do know this:
If everything is important then nothing is important. You must focus relentlessly on the most important tasks.

A few months ago I hit a breaking point. Instead of going full-fledged Edward Norton in Fight Club I found two solutions: The short list, and time blocks.

The Short List

For me, it all begins with creating short-lists. These tasks are vital in importance to my personal and business development. Three is the magic number, as anything else makes completing the day damn-near impossible.

Your short-list can’t just be any meaningless task that you think will work. They need to be meaningful tasks that overwhelm you with joy to scribble off your list each day.

For me, these tasks help me define a successful day and give me an “oh so gratifying” sense of accomplishment. I know exactly why I do these things every day and how they improve my life.

On the backend, completing them allows me to relax and enjoy the ride, rather than scrutinizing my every move on the back-end.

How to Make your Short List

To create your own short list you must first define what’s important to you. Second, select the small habits that when completely consistently over time, will reflect on your goals and aspirations. Third, pick 2-4 habits and begin implementing them one at a time in short 5-10 minute blocks.

  • Keep them short and defined by time; otherwise, you’ll never have an end point that leads to accomplishment.
  • Small lists and knocking them out consistently turns shit into sparkles, or a bad day into a satisfying, productive one.

Daily short lists ensure your essential habits and tasks get completed.

Start small with important tasks and get them done early—you’ll win the day and in most cases, accomplish much more than you thought you would.

More importantly, you’ll take actions that reflect your goals, prevent self-loathing, and realize that you are taking the steps to kick ass every day.

Set Time Blocks

Time blocks are essential to keeping focusing and staying on task. Without time blocks…

  • You won’t focus on your important tasks, like writing a blog post, reading, researching, testing new theories, or developing a long-term project. 
  • Working non-stop without rest is a sure-fire way to burn out, no matter your career or goal. I see it with my clients in corporate America as often as I do with other coaches. 
  • Without setting limits and focusing on the essential, you won’t have a social life. If you’re not enjoying the journey and fruits of your labor,  what are you working so hard for? 
  • Your relationships will suffer and you’ll push close friends, family, and significant others away. 
  • Workouts…what workouts? 
  • The quality of your work will suffer. Quality will always trump quantity.

Pick and stick to preplanned times for work, training, and relaxing to maximize your concentration and effort.

Use time blocks.

Starting off as a personal trainer I took every single session possible.

5 a.m. Monday? Count on it.

Sunday evening? Sure.
Whatever hours it took to build my experience and clientele, I was in.

I wouldn’t be the coach I am now if I didn’t grind my ass off. It should be no surprise that burnout in personal training (and sticking with your workouts) is a huge problem.

The issue isn’t a lack of skill or motivation. It’s a lack of organization or prioritization.

Without setting specific time blocks the inefficient grinder mindset trickles into every other aspect of your life.

Remember, more isn’t always better; better is better.

Working aimlessly, and doing work for the sake of work to the detriment of focused effort is akin to only using isolation exercises in your workouts. It’s ineffective in the short-term and a waste of time in the long-term.

Setting Time Blocks

The first step in setting up time blocks is to write down all your activities and set actions.

Each week, pick the one to three tasks that will bring you closer to your long-term goals if completed.

Within each day, set 1-3 small sub-tasks that bring you closer to your goal. This serves as your daily short list. 

Don’t just wing it. That’s a bit like walking into the gym without a plan, and haphazardly throwing together a handful of curls, calf raises, and kegels.

Sure, you’re getting shit done, but you’re not improving performance.

If you’re like me there are certain times of day you function best for creative tasks and training. Other times are more suitable for unwinding and realizing.

Often, I train clients at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 in the morning. Then, I’ll take a break from training clients until noon or 1:00 PM.  I use the late morning hours to focus on my own training or writing.

Here’s an example of what a day might look like:

Wake-Up, Meditate, Read:  5:00 AM – 6:30 AM
Train Clients 6:30 AM- 9:30 AM
Workout: 9:30-10:30 AM
Writing/ Business Planning: 11:00 a.m.- 2:00 PM                                                                                        Train Clients 3:00 PM- 6:30 PM

Within individual blocks, it’s easy to set-up further small blocks if you really need to maximize productivity.

For example, within a one-hour workout:

Warm-up: 6 minutes

Jumps and throws: 6 minutes (Box Jump 3×5, plank 3×60 seconds, 60 sec. rest)

Pure Strength Work: 15 minutes (deadlifts, 4×4 with 120 seconds)

Auxiliary Work: 15 minutes (Bulgarian split squats 3×8, one arm row 3×8)

Or during my writing block:

“Brain Dump” as much information as possible on your topic: 15 Minutes

Write potential headlines: 5 minutes

Create my story: 15 minutes

Explain benefits of a solution to a problem: 15-30 minutes.

Anything under an hour is pretty much useless to get real intense work done. I’m a spaz and end up watching LOL Catz unless I know I will make significant progress, and that means I need a big time block and singular focus.  I can’t just flip my brain from the overdrive of coaching to the quiet analysis required for writing at a moment’s notice.

Using time blocks give you a clear and focused work frame, a definitive starting and end point.  You’ll maximize your efficiency, bringing you more real success. And you’ll create free time to spend doing whatever it is you enjoy doing.

You’ll supercharge productivity and manage your sanity. It will become clear to others you are in high demand, driving up your value.

That’s what I call real success.

Final Thoughts:

None of us are perfect, and we all battle to achieve our goals, dreams, and aspirations. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of control unless we take action to overcome the busy trap. Setting time blocks and using a daily short list has made a huge difference in my productivity, sanity, and relationships, and I know they can help you. 

BONUS: Other Helpful Tools and  Applications to Overcome the Busy Trap

 Discipline: No tool in the world will do all the hard work for you. At the end of the day, you need the ability to put away your crackberry, log-off bookface, and get important shit done.

Eg.g. Timer: This little gadget is actually a website that allows you to set a stop-clock at whatever time you need. I use the Eg.g. timer with most of my writing to stay on task.

Google Calendars: Google calendars easily sync between your phone, laptop, and allow you to plan meetings via email and have them directly imputed into your calendar.

Rescue Time: Rescue time is some wicked awesome software that helps you understand your daily habits so you can focus and be more productive. What gets measured matters, Having a tangible summary of how efficiently you’re working each week,  is huge in making better decisions with your time.

Self Control: This is my secret weapon. The self-control app lets me block certain websites—a rapidly growing list—from being accessible for a pre-determined time. As far as I’ve tried, there’s nothing you can do to get on the websites until the timer expires.

Related Reading: The Ultimate Method to Avoid Negativity and Consistently Succeed


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