By Eric Barker
April 23, 2014

Feeling overwhelmed? Are you constantly running from thing to thing but never getting it all done?

When researchers survey people, they say they’re too busy — about everything.

Too busy to make friends, date, sleep, have sex, to go on vacation… or to even have lunch.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

“The average high school kid today experiences the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient of the 1950s.”

And being this busy isn’t healthy — in fact, neuroscientists have found it shrinks your brain.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

How did we get here? How did this happen?

I have an answer but it’s going to surprise you and might even make you angry…

It’s all an illusion. You have more free time than you ever did.

Do I sound insane? Keep reading.

You’re Not Busy. You Just Feel Busy.

John Robinson is the leading sociologist who studies time use. His colleagues call him “Father Time.”

Looking at time diary studies he shows that globally we all have more leisure time than ever.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

So why do we feel like we’re overwhelmed even though we’re not? Partly, it’s because our time is so fragmented.

Switching between checking email, making dinner, watching TV and finishing that report is more mentally draining than doing one at a time.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

Multitasking is killing us. And the best part?

Multitasking doesn’t even work. It makes us less efficient even though we feel we’re getting more done.

In fact, it makes you dumber — effectively stupider than being drunk or stoned.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

Ed Hallowell, former professor at Harvard Medical School and bestselling author of Driven to Distraction, says we have “culturally generated ADD.”

Via CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast- Paced Life:

Why do we do this to ourselves? In recent years being busy has become a status symbol.

When you ask anyone what they’ve been up to, what’s always the first word? Busy.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

So what can we do about it? Here are seven things experts recommend:

1) Write It All Down

What’s the first step toward killing that overwhelmed feeling?

Do a brain dump and write everything down that’s on your mind. Writing reduces worry and organizes your thoughts.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

More on the power of a notebook here.

2) Prioritize or Die

Repeat after me: you cannot get it all done. And some things are more important than others.

So you need to prioritize or you will have a clean garage but get fired from your job.

Decide what is important and do that first. Otherwise you may never get to what really matters.

Via CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast- Paced Life:

More on the power of work/life balance here.

3) Make Things Automatic

Things that are habitual don’t tax your willpower. The more activities you make into habits, the less overwhelmed they will make you feel.

Build routines and habits so that you’re not deciding, you’re just doing.

The secret to getting more done is to make things automatic. Decisons exhaust you:

The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.

More on how to build great habits here.

4) Work Like an Athlete

We were not designed to go 24/7. We were designed to sprint, rest, sprint — just like an athlete.

You sleep in cycles and your mind naturally works in cycles. Alternate hard work with breaks to be at your best.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

More on working like an athlete here.

5) Switch To Singletasking

Forget multitasking. That’s what causes the feelings of burnout and it’s not effective.

Discover what your peak hours are and protect them.

Focus on the most important thing of the day. No interruptions, email or calls.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

More on how to use your best hours here.

6) Live in OHIO

Not the state. It’s an acronym: Only Handle It Once.

That email you’ve opened sixty times today, unsure of what to do with it? Stop it.

Make a decision. Reply, trash it or set a time to properly deal with it.

Revisiting unimportant things over and over is a huge time and energy thief.

Via CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast- Paced Life:

More on how to be efficient with the onslaught of email here.

7) Have Leisure Goals

Ironic, right? Most of us think about “leisure” as doing nothing. But that’s a dangerous way to view it.

Research shows we’re happier when we accomplish things (playing tennis with a friend vs. flipping TV channels.)

And given our habits, we’re prone to start checking email and firing up the usual 17 things we multitask on.

So set a goal for leisure. When you have a fun thing to accomplish, you can singletask on relaxing.

Via Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time:

More on how to make your free time more awesome here.

Sum Up

Just because the other people at the office are overscheduled and the other parents are doing 1000 things doesn’t mean you need to.

We all only have 1440 minutes a day. Accept you can’t do it all, focus on what’s important and do that well.

We’re all jealous of the people who are calm and cool under pressure. Be that person.

Next time someone asks how you’re doing, don’t talk about how busy you are. Don’t get sucked into thinking busy means important.

Busy doesn’t make you important. Doing the important things you need to do makes you important.

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Related posts:

How To Achieve Work-Life Balance In 5 Steps

Time Management Skills Are Stupid. Here’s What Works.

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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