How to Stop Time: Why “I’m Too Busy” Is No Longer an Acceptable Excuse

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I’ve gone through a few periods in my life where “I’m too busy” was my favorite excuse. It doesn’t require any additional explanation and is hard to argue with. But then I would look back at my days, weeks and months and wonder, “Had I accomplished anything?” Sometimes the answer was no, and that left me feeling pretty badly about how I was spending my time. I realized that in reality I wasn’t that busy, I was just pretending to be. The worst part wasn’t that I was making others believe I was busy – it was that I was making myself believe I was busy.

I always thought about the things I wanted to do or should do, but didn’t have the time. The ideas I had about starting (and finishing!) projects, growing my business, and spending more time with friends and family. I’d compare myself to others who seemed to accomplish so much in just one day, and I’d wonder how they did it.

So I started to pay attention to where my time was going, and when I realized where it was slipping away, I wasn’t that impressed with myself.

I was spending way too much time on tasks that didn’t require that much time. I would stretch things out and make them longer than they needed to be.

I would lose entire nights browsing Pinterest and Facebook. I could justify it by saying I was being inspired and staying in touch with friends, but those were really just excuses for wasting time.

Being honest with myself about my habits was the first step towards progress. The next thing I needed to do was change the bad ones. So whenever I found myself mindlessly browsing online, I’d close that tab and start working on something more productive, like blogging or learning a new trick in Illustrator. I gave tasks that needed an hour, just an hour – not two or three. There’s a fine line between doing an exceptional job and over tweaking. Just being mindful of how much time I spent on certain things allowed me to stop doing them once they were done and prevented me from dragging them out. Before long, I was not only more productive – I was happier.

The shift was so simple to do, I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t done it sooner. My new lifestyle was just that – a lifestyle. It wasn’t a chore, it didn’t feel like work. It had become my new way of living, and it was easy and enjoyable.

I stopped saying:

“I don’t have the time.”

And started saying:

“I will find the time.”

Whether you’re trying to learn a new skill, look for a new job, or simply want more free time to do what you want, the smallest shift in your habits will get you there.

Quit Saying “Yeah, I Should Do That Someday, I’m Just Too Busy

There are a couple of key strategies I continually use to get more done in a day. Some are mindset shifts, and some are habit changes, but they’re all relatively simple. If you feel overwhelmed trying to do all of them, just choose one or two that resonate with you and start there.

Eyes on the prize, Violet, eyes on the prize.” – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

If you can’t seem to find the time to work on an important personal project, stay focused on what benefits you’ll gain from getting it done. Could finally updating your portfolio mean a new job, a promotion, or a salary increase? I found the inspiration to get out of a job I despised by focusing on my end goal of being a fashion designer. I was so determined to accomplish my lifelong dream that there was nothing anyone could do to distract me. If you continually remind yourself of the rewards, it’ll be easier to stay motivated and find time in your busy schedule to make this task a priority.

The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great cause they paint a lot.” – Macklemore

If you’re learning a new skill and get frustrated when mastery doesn’t happen overnight, it’s easy to quit and fall back into old habits where your time just seems to slip away. Are you trying to learn Illustrator and wonder how others can sketch flats so quickly? Many of my students watch me demo a technique and are in awe of how fast I am. What they forget is that I’ve been practicing for 15 years and I wasn’t always this good. Don’t get upset that you’re 15 years behind, just start doing it now. Get into a routine of practicing every day – even if it’s just 20 minutes – and you’re guaranteed to get better. Once you start to see the progress, you’ll become more excited about continuing to learn and it’ll be easier to find the time.

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This simple rule seems so obvious, but is easily forgotten. The most common example we’re all familiar with: you must learn to walk before you can run. If all you see is the big picture, it’s easy to think you don’t have the time or the ability to accomplish your goal. The first garments I ever sewed were simple a-line skirts. It wasn’t until I had mastered the basics that I slowly worked my way up to more complex designs. If you break your project down into bite-sized pieces, starting with the simplest tasks first, it will be easier and less overwhelming to find time to achieve a ton of tiny goals instead of one giant one.

Lost time is never found again.” – Benjamin Franklin

It’s amazing to think that the average American loses 1.72 hours per day on social media and 5 hours per day watching TV. I’m not telling you to remove this media from your life completely. We all love to stay in touch with friends and indulge in our favorite shows. Instead, just decrease your consumption by 20% and you’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish. I used to spend a lot of time on Pinterest and Facebook, and now I limit my time on these sites. The best part? I don’t experience FOMO and things on my to do list get checked off very quickly. Cut your media time by just 30 minutes a day and instead spend that time writing a new blog post, sketching or sewing.

Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.” – W. Clement Stone

Getting yourself into the right mental and physical space to complete a task can make or break your success. Long ago, I realized that I was insanely productive on an airplane. I’m denied wifi and am anchored to an uncomfortable seat between two strangers. Since it’s not very practical to get on a plane just to work, I mimicked this environment the best I could and headed to a coffee shop. And guess what? The days I make a cafe my office are always the most productive – and I love sitting there amongst the hustle and bustle of NYC. Figure out where you’re most productive – it may be at the library, a co-working space, or anywhere as long as you’re next to an inspiring friend. If you treat yourself to this each week and create a work environment you enjoy, you’ll start to look forward to it, it will naturally become a priority, and you’ll get some of your best work done when you’re there.

Don’t overdo it, don’t underdo it. Do it just on the line.” – Andrew Wyeth

It’s easy to take a task that requires one hour of work and stretch it into something much longer. We’ve all been guilty – maybe you don’t want the project to end, or maybe it’s your way of procrastinating. You don’t need to cut corners to get things done, but there’s a difference between going the extra mile to do an exceptional job, going overboard for no reason, and simply taking way too long to finish something. I used to spend a lot of time endlessly creating spreadsheets to track things that didn’t need to be tracked. Why? Because I’m a dork who likes spreadsheets. That’s probably not your thing – but before you start adding unnecessary tasks to your project or dragging things out, take a good hard look at what you’re doing. Are you really adding value? Should this task really take so long? Go above and beyond when necessary – I’m a firm believer in doing an exceptional job – but don’t overdo things that are already done.

You never fail until you stop trying.” – Albert Einstein

Things may not go as planned, and that’s okI have created some less than amazing content, but did the best I could at that time and learned how to do it better the next time. I would be embarrassed to show you some of my first fashion sketches, and the clothes I made when I was first learning to sew were down right horrid (both construction and design). But I kept on going, and every time I drew another sketch and sewed another dress, it was better than the last. Remember, failure is simply proof that you tried. And when you fall, get up and go try again.


Heidi’s eye for design and expert Illustrator skills carried her from an associate level designer to partner at a fashion design firm in less than 4 years. She has a proven track record of teaching fashionistas industry best practices for using Illustrator so they can beat out the competition and land their dream job.  As an educator and advocate for designers, she helps them more effectively use modern design tools as a natural extension of their creativity.

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