20 Practical Ways to Stop Being Busy

A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety. ~Aesop, Fables

Being busy has become a modern badge of honor, one I was happy to throw out by embracing a simpler life. Being less busy has a wonderful effect. It helps reduce daily stress and chaos while opening your schedule to things you actually want to do.

I think Moms, especially, become busy with the chores of the whole family. It’s just what we do. This leaves little or no time to work on our personal goals. A recent post on the science of happiness by Jennifer Gresham explained that focusing on your goals is one of the keys to a happy life.

If you’re new to my “stop being busy” mantra, you might find it a bit annoying. You might be thinking, “Just tell me how to stop being busy and girlfriend, I’m sooo there.”

To clear up any confusion, here are some ways I avoid being too busy in my own life. If you’re craving a slower life with more time to do things you enjoy, try a few of my ideas:

Give yourself permission to use free time for yourself. For instance, I focus on my amazing work while the kids are at school. Instead of doing housework, I’ve decided that time is too previous. It is the only time I have to write, build my Smalltopia and take care of myself.

When the kids come home, I can put my job away and focus on homemaking. By giving myself permission to prioritize that time, I don’t feel guilty cleaning the kitchen while they do homework and have a snack.

Cancel appointments. If the week is filling up with appointments, reschedule a few to different weeks. I try not to plan more than two evening appointments during the week so we can enjoy a flexible schedule.

Be at home. If you have kids, you know they are constantly looking for instant gratification. Set the expectation that it can be wonderful to be at home. No library trips. No friend visits. No wildly fun adventures. Those things usually fit best during the weekend. Being at home is an extremely enjoyable and relaxing way to slow down.

Call people instead of sending thank you cards. When my kids receive a gift, they call the giver to chat and offer their thanks. We don’t send out cards.

Listen to music when cleaning. This makes it more enjoyable. It also allows me to focus and get things done quickly.

Simplify personal care. Cut a step or two out of your make up routine. Get rid of old products or items you no longer use. This makes everything streamlined and keeps closet clutter to a minimum. Read about Tammy’s minimalist make-up and beauty for more inspiration.

Create a master grocery list. Set it up in order of how you navigate the store. This makes filling out the weekly list a breeze.

Create a monthly dinner menu. Come up with two weeks worth of meals, then copy and paste to complete the month. Most people don’t mind eating the same delicious meal twice in one month.

Cook simpler meals. For instance, we always have eggs during the week – either scrambled or as an egg sandwich with meat and cheese. A healthy side can be simple – cut fruit or veggies. Focus on meals that can be created and cleaned up in no time. This leaves more time to enjoy each other.

Visit Stone Soup for 5 ingredient recipes.

Ask for help. My kids are awesome helpers. Helping around the house has always been the expectation, and not something we make a big deal about. Delegate a few chores per day and pretty soon it becomes second nature for everyone to work together.

Minimize stuff. First, resist the urge to store it in a plastic bin. Instead, live with fewer things in the open and fewer things in storage. This makes cleaning and keeping up with daily clutter so much easier. For the best how-to articles, read:

Minimize clothing and jewelry. This makes getting dressed so much easier. Be bold and try dressing with just 33 things.

Before you spend money on something, decide if you really need it. Do you need to cover your lawn in pesticides this spring? (We decided no.) Do you need a manicure? (Yes, but not willing to spend the money.) Do you need to highlight your hair? (Yes. Willing to spend the money.)

Limit kids’ extra-curricular activities. We allow only one activity per child at one time. This helps reduce their daily stress, too.

Say no. Stop doing things you don’t want to do. You don’t need to give an excuse. Just say no. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • No.
  • No.
  • No.
  • No.
  • No.
  • Okay, okay, here are Fifty+ Ways to Say No from the halfway point. Maybe you’re nicer than me.

Leave breathing room between events. I still ignore this rule at times and usually regret it. The chaotic, busy feeling creeps in from time to time. To avoid it, leave plenty of time between weekend plans. Don’t rush from lunch to shopping to dinner. Say no to a plan or two. You could also say, “Maybe,” and decide later if the event fits or not.

Set a timer. When there is a lot to do, limit distraction by giving yourself a deadline. Unless you’re taking a nap. (Just kidding.)

Create a lost and found bin. I used to spend tons of time putting away everyone’s clutter. Now all that misplaced stuff goes in a bin. If the kids are looking for something, I direct them to the lost and found bin first.

Have kids walk or ride bike. If your kids are older and the is weather okay, have them walk or bike to activities that are close by. We live within a mile from school, which is too close for driving everyday, in my opinion. If they are younger – or older and not embarrassed by you – walk with them. This is an extremely healthy habit for the whole family. It saves money and gas fumes, too.

Try laundry/movie night. I love to watch movies on Netflix with a few breaks to switch the laundry. This makes the process enjoyable and I can get two or more loads done in an entertaining way.

How about you? What are some ways you create a full life instead of one that’s overly busy?

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Photo by Miriam Cardoso de Souza – ‘ VISÃO PHOTO & CINE CL

Special Note: I learned that Leo from Zen Habits has a Bootcamp that helps get your family back on track. His work is always amazing, helpful and inspiring. Check it out! (aff)

Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.


1 Jenni April 7, 2011 at 5:16 am

Your first quote made me think of one of my favorites:

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than to be crowded on a velvet cushion. ~Henry David Thoreau

Great, great post! I do many of these things and it really does make all the difference.

2 Wendy April 7, 2011 at 8:11 am

Love this list! The two that I will be implementing? The Lost and Found Box and Laundry/Movie night.

3 fashaNY April 7, 2011 at 10:20 am

I don’t have any kids (and probably never will) but if I do, that lost and found box will be implemented for sure! Love it!

4 Lynn April 7, 2011 at 11:54 am

Maybe at the next girl’s night we could give each other manicures. There is something relaxing about having someone else do your nails. And it would cost very little! We did this at work a few weeks ago for the college students and it was a lot of fun. I’ve been thinking of checking these out too: http://www.sallyhansen.com/products/nails/nail-color/salon-effects-real-nail-polish-strips

5 Melissa April 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I can’t stand having painted nails … but I like someone else cleaning them up. Though I’m not sure you want to snip away my cuticles. We’re good friends, but even good friends have limits, haha.
Hope to see soon.

6 Tracy April 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm

What a fantastic list! I think people nowadays feel so obligated to accept every social request, to try to fit every appointment in, to cram every little piece of time with SOME activity. The pressure to allow (or push!) kids into every type of event, sport, or activity, without taking the time to realize that everyone needs “self” time and family time.

Great post!!

7 Melissa April 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Thanks, love! xoxo
I have definitely experienced that kids don’t like to be too busy, either. Even if they don’t realize that is what they’re going crazy over.
Love you,

8 Grace Kelly April 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Great post Melissa,
I have been addicted to busy just about all my life, now trying out a simpler life in terms of schedule, diet and social diary.
I have recently written about “busy” in my latest blog,
CITYGIRL GUIDE TO ….LESS feel free to have a look, you may like…or not.

I think the piece about delegating things to others is key, in order to do what you love it is necessary to delegate what you don’t love to others who would want to do it, so in my case a cleaner when I can afford it etc.
Keep up the inspiration!
Gratitude, Grace

“Live the life you so deserve, gracefully”

9 Melissa April 7, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Hi Grace,
I’d be happy to check it out – sure!
Delegating is a wonderful thing – it makes boring chores go fast, which means the whole family can enjoy some things that make them happy. Ahhh, I miss the days of having a cleaner. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by!

10 Mallory April 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Yay for doing laundry while watching a movie!

You are so right that people need to stop running around so busy. Even on the weekends I see people rushing about and not enjoying themselves. For the most part this sense of urgency is completely self-induced and only leads to stress and diminishing fun. And what’s the point of that, really?

11 Melissa April 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Soooo true, busy feelings are mostly self induced (or the result of taking on too many things from other people).

I am actually looking forward to doing laundry. It’s a wonderful thing.

12 Faith | Minimalist at Home April 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for including me in your list, Melissa! I love using my timer and I too have a spot for collecting the misc. stuff that ends up around the house. I couldn’t live without my master grocery list either. These are great tips!

13 Melissa April 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Excellent! I’m happy to share your helpful tips with the world.

Take care,

14 Steve Rice April 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm


I LOVED this post. Great work!

I especially loved the little trick about watching movies while you do laundry. But the best thing I appreciated was the suggestion of a Lost and Found bin. What a neat idea. It keeps one person in the family from having to fill the “Where’s My ‘XYZ'” position.

Again, great work!

15 Melissa April 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Hi Steve,
Thanks for your support and for helping spread the word about my writing. I truly appreciate it!

16 Linda Lee April 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I was just whining to my boyfriend that, “I don’t want to fast today or go meditate at the zen center tonight. Whaaaa.” Interestingly enough, reading this piece has inspired me to keep going, which seems almost counter to your message about “staying home and saying no.” But, what I noticed is that I was inspired to follow through on my commitment to myself by the example you set for self-discipline. Thank you!

17 Melissa April 7, 2011 at 5:57 pm

That’s great, Linda! I hope you enjoyed connecting with YOU. Much peace and happiness (can you feel the vibes?).

18 Becky Benson-Flannery April 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I feel more relaxed after just reading the post. Feeling less busy seems difficult when simple errands take twice the time for us: we walk most places and my toddler adamantly prefers to walk (sometimes a mile or more–I usually end up carrying him) so even a few chores on one day seems like a frenzy.

I think the best piece of advice you offer is giving yourself permission to do something you like when you have some time. Women, particularly, seem prone to feeling guilty for taking care of themselves or putting themselves first for even a moment.

Very thoughtful post. Thank you!!

19 Living the Balanced Life April 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Great post Melissa! Love this list. You think so much like I do! I love the first one! And I love the one about NO NO NO! Big one!
Will be sharing this!
Good Enough is the New Perfect

20 Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:42 am

🙂 YES. Thanks for this uplifting comment.

21 Angela Artemis April 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Hi Melissa,
I can relate to this even though I’m not a mom. Slowing down by relaxing at home is one of my favorite things to do.

22 Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:41 am

Me too! I think it’s funny how much time, effort and money people put into their homes, only to plan their lives outside of their homes.
Thanks for stopping by!

23 Jen Gresham April 8, 2011 at 9:50 am

Thanks so much for the link love. Makes me, errr, happy!

I whole heartedly agree on the joys of being home, which goes hand and hand with limiting activities for kids. Before I ever had my own, I watched friends and family go absolutely bonkers with activites. At one point, my cousin and her three kids were regularly eating dinner at the little league field.

Not my thing.

We spend a lot of time at home and I don’t know that I’ve ever set up a play date in the four years I’ve had my daughter. I figure she gets plenty of time with other kids at school. This allows us to do things like play pretend or take walks as a family.

That said, I will admit I keep myself VERY busy with the work I love. I do think there’s a difference if you’re talking fun “work” versus chores.

Great post!

24 Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:40 am

Hi Jen,
I’m making busy a negative word … being “full” with work is another thing. My life is definitely full, too!

Kids do get a lot of time away from home with school. I’ve never felt bad about the whole play date thing either. It’s never been on the top of my priority list. I like having my kids home and present and learning about life with us. Now with a teenager, I realize those moments will become less and less frequent as she desires to be with her friends alllll the time. 🙂 So enjoy your daughter while she still likes you and thinks you are the coolest.
Take care,

25 Marci | Liberating Choices April 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I love the photo for this post! Great ideas. Lost & found bin sounds great. I have a tiny tin for those pesky toy pieces, but I hadn’t thought about it for the big stuff.

The grocery list is great. Ours is set up to circle items. What I really dislike is the menu. Not sure why I’m so resistant to making the same meals within a month. Going to go do that right now…

26 Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:36 am

Why thank you. 🙂
Our menu is flexible … sometimes we spice it up. I guess the beauty is we have the choice if we want to or not.
Good luck!

27 Lisa April 8, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Oh Melissa,
This is a fantastic post– I love your practical strategies- so nice to hear where rubber hits the road on this issue not just theoretically.

🙂 Lisa

28 Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:35 am

Thanks Lisa! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

29 Classic NYer April 8, 2011 at 9:16 pm

I’m so guilty of packing my appointments in… it means I’m always late as well, since one thing will invariably go on for longer than I thought it would… Thanks so much for posting this. 🙂

30 Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

That is a great point – packing things in often leads to missing obligations. And no one feels good about that.
Thanks for stopping by!

31 Traci April 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Hi. Found your site through Simple Marriage. I like the tip of listening to music while cleaning. I do this sometimes and other times forget. It does make the time more enjoyable. Thanks.

32 Melissa April 14, 2011 at 9:33 am

Hi Traci,
I forget sometimes, too! But it helps sooo much. Which reminds me, I’ll be sure to plug into Kings of Leon while I’m dusting today. 🙂

33 Lauren April 18, 2011 at 9:59 am

Ever since my daughter was born almost 3 years ago, I have felt constantly “busy” even though we rarely schedule activities outside the home. I lowered my cleaning standards after she came along, but I still felt like I never had enough quality time with my daughter because of regular chores and errands (you know, the essentials like laundry and grocery shopping). Finally, about 6 months ago, I came to an epiphany – I do not have to be the parent who physically goes to the grocery store every week! So, I explained to my husband that I could not continue to go to the grocery store every week because it ate up so much of my time and left me exhausted. We decided to take turns grocery shopping each week, and ever since we made the switch I have used my ‘extra’ time to take my daughter to the library (which satisfies my goal of quality time with my daughter, because I have been dying to share my love of books with her).
The most interesting part is that I used to love grocery shopping, which is why I was the one who always did it. But after choosing to become a Mom and take on new responsibilities, that old paradigm didn’t fit anymore. I just wish it hadn’t taken me 2.5 years to figure that out!

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