3 strategies to keep the peace while staying busy

We’re all about zen these days. We’re all about cleaner, leaner calendars, and making time to breathe, and walk, and do our yoga routines. And for good reason—that balance, and those types of activities, are objectively positive, and enrich our lives.

But sometimes our lives have trouble catching up with our ambitions. We place our goalposts ahead on the path, and the rest of our lives, especially our calendars, struggle to catch up. It’s just the way it goes sometimes—and it is far from being a bad thing.

If our worlds were perfect, every day would be like that.

It’s not bad to be busy. Sometimes it’s actually fun, and fulfilling.

But busyness is a double-edged sword. It’s very easy for that kinetic feeling to infiltrate your mind and leave you feeling harried, scattered, and anxious. That’s the part that’s not okay.

What if I told you that you could have the good parts of being busy without the anxiety?

The answer isn’t a snake oil pill or a magical Bullet Journal. And, obviously, it’s not easy. It’s like performing a dance, or a balancing act.

Here are a few North Stars to guide you. Use them to direct your routine and outlook.

Your calendar is your compass

Calendar writing - reminders - time blocking-min

You might have heard a type-A person in your life use the phrase, “if it’s not in my Google Calendar, it didn’t happen.”

A little bit dramatic? Sure. The kind of thing you see in a TikTok and wonder when they last touched grass? Maybe. But odds are good that this type-A person is closer than many of us to achieving that elusive balance of productive and calm.

It’s a beautiful thing to be in demand. And it’s very easy—and fun—to say yes to invitations and work obligations. Coffee meetings, dinners, social events, even fun things like concerts—they’re all worth trying and doing and devoting your time to.

But if you’re lucky enough to be in that kind of demand, you’ll start to feel like all your dates and lunches and “let’s meet ten minutes early” arrangements are slipping through your fingers. If there’s only one “coffee at 11 with Chuck,” it’s not that big of a deal. But a coffee then a Zoom then getting groceries for the dinner party you’re gonna throw, and all while working the whole time—it quickly becomes too much.

You’ll be reminded at the last minute by a stroke of luck, about a meeting that you would have missed otherwise.

In the worst case, you forget and miss one entirely. You used to judge people who did that sort of thing! It’s not even entirely your fault—you’ve just taken a big bite and you’re struggling to chew it. We haven’t determined yet if it’s more than you can handle.

So listen to your type-A friend—everything goes on the calendar. If it’s not on the calendar, you’re not responsible for it. Of course, you’re responsible for your calendar, but if it’s on your calendar, you’re on top of it. Don’t they say that 80 percent of success in life is showing up? Then show up.

The little moments between

Your calendar might be stuffed to the gills with meetings, meet-ups, and meet-cutes. And there’s probably untold hours where you’re, you know, working. And as we’ve established, it can feel overwhelming and all-encompassing, and like you never have a moment to yourself to even breathe.

But at the very least, you have to get from place to place. At the very least, you have short periods before and after meetings and engagements. Lunch time, maybe. And hopefully, you’ll have some quiet-ish moments at the beginning and end of your days.

Let’s do something powerful with those little moments.

If you’re in a line of work where you commute by train, plane, or automobile, you’re afforded many moments to pause. It can be very simple. Look out the window. Watch the clouds pass. Let your mind wander. Think about where you’re going—in the grand scheme of things, and also on this specific trip. I’ll bet it will often be something you’re excited about, or that will service your growth in some way. Try to remember the truth of that. Soak in that gratitude.

When you’re not driving a car or otherwise operating heavy machinery, close your eyes. Whether or not you have experience with meditation, you know how to breathe in and out. You know how to listen to the sounds that present themselves to you—if you’re lucky, it will occasionally be something pretty and cliché like chirping birds. Whatever it is, stay in that little moment. Check in with how you feel, free of judgement. Just observe yourself, sitting there, listening. Just be. Doesn’t that sound nice?

These moments are what make life truly magical for me. Even when I’ve lost sight of the goal, or the path, or anything about where I am in a particular moment, I can come back to Earth and feel some peace again just by looking out the window.

Staying present as you work

These tips get progressively more touchy-feely as they go, but that’s part of the point. The process of finding calm, and of facing down frantic feelings and anxiety, is ultimately an internal one that relies on self-knowledge and self-reflection.

We’ve tackled putting your busyness on an external plane so you can see it and feel on top of it. We’ve explored how to make the best out of those moments between the busy times.

But what about the vast majority of the time—the time when you’re actually working? Not too long ago, whenever I was fully immersed in my work, I was a chattering, leg-shaking mess. I felt frenzied and energetic, and sometimes that feeling would masquerade as productive or dynamic, but in reality it was just sloppy.

It helps to be doing work that you truly value and enjoy. Work that you can pause every now and then and appreciate. Where you can look down at your hands or screen or the people you’re interacting with and say to yourself, “this is actually kind of cool, isn’t it?”

The road to our dreams coming true is as long and winding as we can possibly imagine. And because we walk the road every day, forced to look down at our feet taking one step at time through the daily minutiae, we can lose perspective. But if what this journey is is taking step after step, then we should do our best to savor the feeling of our feet hitting the ground.

The ultimate goal here is to find a flow state. There is much that goes into finding this state of being. Books are written about it, and more will be written here in the future. But in short, it’s about finding a zone of light, easy focus, and a subtle feeling of pure joy in your work. If you’ve felt it, you know it. It’s so fleeting that it feels almost futile to chase it.

But in the overarching and ultimate pursuit of joy and success in the work of our life, it just might be our goal.  

And finding that feeling is one of the goals of RescueTime’s Focus Zones. You can use RescueTime and the RescueTime Assistant to set aside time to focus and avoid distractions—in other words, time for flow. It’s helped some members of the RescueTime team come the closest they’ve come so far to regular, meaningful trips to the flow state.

Whether you find flow or contentment as you work, just try to stay present. In these moments inside these blocks of work, keep calm. Remember: you’re where you need to be. Your focus can narrow down. And, truly, you can enjoy yourself as you work.

Good luck.

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Robin Copple

Robin Copple is a writer and editor from Los Angeles, California.

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