Are You Really as Busy as You Think?

Laura Shin

3. Change Your Habits

Your Task: In “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg writes that habits are formed out of routines, which each consist of:

  • a cue–the trigger that sets off the habit
  • the routine, which is the habitual behavior itself
  • a reward, which makes the habit worth remembering for the future

For instance, he had a mid-afternoon cookie habit that led him to gain eight pounds. In observing his habit, he noticed that he always got a craving between 3 and 4 p.m., but what he mainly seemed to want was an excuse to have a chat with co-workers.

In order to change your habits, you have to identify each of these aspects in your bad habit. You can do this just by observing your bad habitual behavior for a week: Note what you were doing, what you were feeling and what actions proceeded the urge for the bad habit.

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What I Did: I realized that my cue was simply being in bed, procrastinating on either getting up or going to sleep. Part of it was due to the feeling that I wanted to do more–whether that was reading more articles or checking to see what my friends were doing on Facebook. I could literally while away hours “doing” these non-essential activities that don’t help me to progress with my goals.

The solution: I removed the device that allowed me to keep procrastinating–my iPhone. I set a rule not to keep it in my bedroom, and I was only allowed to break this rule for specific reasons.

RELATED: 4 Ways Willpower Affects Your Finances (and How to Increase It)

What I Found: Sure enough, by not having my phone by my bedside, I was able to find time for things that I’d previously put off. I also got out of bed more easily, since I actually did want to check email–but when I was already on my feet.

Your Own Game Plan

Ultimately, how we spend every second is a choice. If you feel like you don’t have time for big priorities, sometimes all you need is a little consciousness to steer your habits in the right direction.

For me, making myself aware of how I was spending my time was the main kick I needed–I realized that I didn’t want to spend hours of my life watching Jon Stewart (as entertaining as he is) on my iPhone. And setting simple rules for myself quickly set my time on a more fulfilling path.

Now for my next New Year, New You project: Getting some exercise!

  • Lacy Pierce

    Fantastic article!  I recently found myself doing the exactly this. Wasting time in bed in the morning going through the many applications on my phone, or in between meetings.  I recently deleted all of the applications I found were using most of my time, which has been a great help.  I enjoyed the additional tips and will definitely be checking out the books you mentioned.

  • Michelle

    I do think I’m pretty busy. I have a full-time job and a blog (which I spend so much time on that is equivalent to another full-time job and also earns more than my job!), and I also have a house to take care of. However, I do waste a ton of time watching TV!

  • JackieAU5

    Thank you for posting this! It’s a giant pet peeve of mine listening to so many people saying how busy they are but in reality they are terrible with time management.

  • Britt

    This is something I started thinking about a lot in the fall and I stopped saying “I don’t have time for that” and started saying “That is not a priority”  I’ve realized that if something is really important to me then I can MAKE time for it!  By saying something is or isn’t a priority it forces me to really evaluate how I spend my time. Granted I still haven’t made exercising a priority, but I’ve now found time to volunteer 30 hours a month and have become much more productive in my precious hours outside of work.

    • Silverpanic

      What irked me about this article was that it seems to convey the message,
      “If you aren’t doing something productive every minute of every waking
      hour, you are wasting time. Only lazy and unmotivated people watch tv or surf


      Britt clarifies the message that it should be about self-evaluation and priorities, but I would
      also like to add that allowing yourself to do “nothing” for short
      periods of time during the day can be positive, both mentally and

      Don’t feel guilty about not running at
      a marathon pace every day. 

  • Kelly

    Thanks for this useful article! Some days, I feel like I’m pretty organized but other days I’m just totally overwhelmed. My trick is to use a “to do” list to schedule tasks for the upcoming week. It usually shifts around as the week goes on, but having the tasks “planned” for a specific day is really helpful and fulfilling since I’m able to cross off maybe 1 or 2 a day. I usually take 5 minutes on Monday mornings to do the list.

    I’m always looking for more ways to maximize my time and this article had some helpful strategies!

  • MaraDS

    If, like me, you are interested in using a time tracking app, but horrible at remembering to actually use it I’d recommend Last 5 (  I have it set to automatically start when I turn on my computer and it runs in the background. It pops up at specified intervals (i.e. 15min) and asks what you’ve been)working on for the last # minutes.

    It has definitely helped me become more aware of how I use my time.

  • sjdemo

    precisely why I don’t have a “smart” phone/tablet, or cable tv for that matter. Avoid the time-sucks altogether and save money to boot.

  • C.

    This article is *exactly* what I needed.  I just tried Toggl to track my time on a particular project yesterday, and while I worked on it throughout day, the amount of time spent in total was a lot smaller than expected.  I knew I needed help with time management, but these tools are what I needed to get me there.  Thank you!

  • Shane Richardson

    Great article! I thought I was busy until about 2 years ago. Someone pointed out that the average american watches 25 hours of TV per week. That was me a few hours each night adds up. 

  • blight

    Great article! I have three kids under four and I work. I have been having a hard time balancing everything. I used to get really stressed out. Two things have really helped me. I use essential oils, such as Lavender when I start to get anxious and stressed about everything I have to accomplish and moving has also really helped me prioritize. We moved to a rural area and I now workout at home (saving a trip to the gym), work at home (has cut down on my meetings) and go less places because everything is so far away. It is a beautiful area and my kids have more freedom to roam and space to play I love it! It has allowed me to get into nature more as well. I am still doing the same activities but am using my time in better ways.

  • Cynthia Lenz

    This reminds me of a story about Dale Carnegie. He was always on the hunt for ways to be more efficient. His granddaughter told me that when he signed his name, he stopped picking up the pen between his first and last name because it saved time.

    Cynthia Lenz
    Cynthia Lenz’s Naturally Healthy and Happy Blog

  • Phick Steven

    Practically there is no word called “busy” what I think according to the corporate world. When ever we think of the term busy we should first think of whether we have done proper time management or not. Strategically there is 24 hours for every individual. Its better recommended to make a proper time plan and strategy and hook up with it to get organized ans streamlined.

    Our kinda time tracking and management is being taken care by the time tracking software from Replicon – that is hassle free and helps manage the time with absolute plan. This time tracking software really makes us busy but with proper expertise.