Don’t Confuse “Busy-ness” With “Doing Business”: 5 Practical Time Management Tips

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Vocabulary Bank:

  • “busy-ness”– (adj.) a play on words. The state or condition of being busy all of the time. Compare with the states/conditions of “happiness” and “sadness”, for example.
  • necessitating – (gerund) to make something necessary to do or use
  • deploy – (v.) to deploy: here – to move a resource into action
  • prioritize – (v.) to prioritize: the verb form of the noun, (a) priority – to place something, such as a task, at the top of a list.
  • (to) have a lot on your plate  – (idiomatic expression) picture sitting at a dinner table with a mountain of food on your plate that you are obliged eat: meaning – to have a lot to do
  • insult – (v.) to insult: to attack a person’s sense of pride or honor
  • embarrass – (v.) to embarrass: to make a person feel a sense of shame in public
  • pings – (n. pl.) the sounds that an application on a smartphone or PC make to notify someone of an incoming message or update
  • mismanagement – (n.) the act of managing a situation in a way that produces losses or is considered abusive

Time Management is a Soft Skill. Most people know that.

But what most people don’t know is that the idea of “Soft Skills” was an invention of the United States Army in 1972.

This fact makes “Soft Skills” a part of American English-language culture.

That is why learning about and developing Soft Skills is so new for non-native speakers of English around the world today.

Corporations adopted the Army’s idea of creating training and evaluation systems for jobs that dealt mainly with people and paper. This was in stark contrast to the training and evaluation systems that were in place for the “hard skills” that were required for working only with machines.

Tasks like: quality control, supervising office personnel, conducting studies and writing reports, relaying information and providing training are just some of the responsibilities necessitating the use of Soft Skills at work.

The person who is successful at applying Soft Skills at work possesses the relevant vocabulary for each Soft Skill. This person also has a deep understanding of how to deploy the Soft Skills needed in a given situation and an ability to talk about the Soft Skills that they have to offer with both interviewers and supervisors, as well as with the various members of their teams.

In this blog article, I’m going to lay out 5 Time Management tips that will not only give you practical advice on how to manage your time more effectively, but will also give you the vocabulary that you need for letting others know that you possess this Soft Skill.

Ready? Let’s go!

Tip Number 1: Prioritize

If you have experience in project management or even just in managing your own productivity, then you have most likely come across the need to prioritize your tasks. This is where the negative idea of “busy-ness” comes in.

There is a fine line between trying to figure out what to touch first because you have a lot on your plate and running around touching everything at the same time because you believe that you are accomplishing something but, in reality, almost no task is ever brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

Someone who is good at time management avoids “looking busy” in exchange for undertaking the real business of checking items off of their list permanently.

Here are three key questions to ask yourself when prioritizing your tasks:

  1. What outcomes are needed in the short-term?
  2. What outcomes are needed in the long-term?
  3. About how much time would each task take to complete? (Can the task be completed in one sitting or in one day, or should the task be worked on over several days?)

Answering these three key questions each time you approach your task list, even if something comes up last-minute, will give you the structure that you need to manage your time more effectively on a daily basis.

Tip Number 2: Set Boundaries

It’s very popular to talk about setting boundaries in relationships, but actually establishing those boundaries and keeping them in place proves much more difficult in practice.

That is because the essence of setting boundaries is the ability to say “no” to others.

No one wants to insult, offend, embarrass or reject others; moreover, no one wants to be seen as the type of person who would do such things. For this reason, most people choose to either not set boundaries around their time at all or they relax their boundaries over time.

The downside of not setting or not maintaining your boundaries is that your time is left unprotected.

The person who does not set boundaries around their use of time will often find themselves starting work on a task only to be interrupted by others requesting their attention on a completely unrelated task.

Because boundaries had not been set and made clear, this person usually ends up working with the colleague until the colleague’s task is completed – leaving little to no time for getting back to the task that they had originally sat down to start working on for themselves.

At the end of the day, this person’s productivity and performance in the eyes of supervisors and other team members suffers.

The key to setting boundaries effectively and with respect for others’ feelings is to: think “no”, but speak apologetically.

Phrases such as:

  • “I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m in the middle of something else right now.”
  • “Unfortunately, now is not a good time. Could we plan to talk about this later today?” and
  • “I’ll tell you what – let me just finish what I’m doing first, then I’ll message you when I’m done.”

go a long way in helping you to better manage your time at work.

Remember, each time that you say “no” to something that you don’t have time for, you are saying “yes” to something that needs your time.

Tip Number 3: Develop Patience

Impatience is the root of all “busy-ness”.

Advances in technology, social media activity, the entertainment industry, fast news cycles and consumerism have all played a role in the ongoing shortening of the average person’s attention span.

Expecting instant outcomes has emerged as a by-product of our prolonged exposure to the list of forces mentioned above.

If left unchecked, this expectation of instant outcomes evolves into a form of impatience that is difficult to justify with regard to 99% of tasks related to productivity and project management.

One can even be impatient with oneself.

This expectation-of-instant-outcomes approach to task management is counter-productive at best, and at worst, an act of self-sabotage.

The person who is impatient at work tends to describe their behavior as “multitasking”.

Speaking purely about workplace settings, multitasking used to occur in slower-paced environments where much of the activity was more physical in nature. Hand-signing documents or physically filing documents are two examples, that, before the digitalization of certain administrative tasks, could have been done while attending to other things.

But, the digitalization of office work has transformed what used to be largely physical tasks into tasks that require more mental focus (once you hit “send” you have a very narrow window of time to take back your mistake, for example).

What’s more, all of these tasks that now require more mental focus no longer rely on a linear process – as was the case in the past.

The fact that we all must now operate in a world where, literally, everything can happen everywhere, all at once has conditioned us to live largely in reaction mode.

We react to notification “pings” on our smartphones and PC’s, we react to email requests that land suddenly in our inboxes, we react to direct messages, we react to messages in team chats that aren’t addressed to us, the list goes on.

This phenomenon has distorted our sense of time. We lose track of it. We say that we don’t have enough of it and that we don’t know where it has “gone”.

In the case of good and effective time management, it is necessary to maintain a level of self-awareness in this regard.

For us, time is linear. However, our use of technology has compressed time into a single moment in which everything happens.

The person who lives in reaction mode will express an irrational form of impatience when they don’t have anything to react to. They will find themselves creating conditions of “busy-ness” as they wait to hear the next “ping” –  which is almost non-stop.

This person wants to be where “the action is” – knowing that they would prefer to react to instant outcomes than wait for outcomes in a realistic way.

Stillness and focus are the enemies of reaction mode.

Sitting still for the duration of a task despite the distractions, or lack thereof, is a Soft Skill that is highly sought after at the uppermost levels of business.

Developing patience for the sake of placing your clear mental focus on your tasks in a linear fashion, rather than in a reactionary way, will actually end up saving you time in the long run.

This next tip might be somewhat unexpected.

Tip Number 4: Factor Yourself In

This tip stands in direct contrast to the idea of “busy-ness”.

Allowing yourself to enjoy your lunch hour away from your desk should not be considered a guilty pleasure. Instead, it should be treated as an opportunity to refresh your senses for the rest of the day ahead.

Not checking your email or anything else related to work after the workday is done should also be something that you may want to consider allowing yourself to do guilt-free, if possible.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “This sounds like work-life balance.”

In a sense it is, but work-life balance is more about avoiding overwork and burnout.

What I am focusing on here is more within the context of managing your time while at work.

If you have an hour for lunch, take the full hour – don’t spend 15 minutes eating at your desk while continuing to work on tasks. The person that does that (and we’ve all done it) ends up feeling mentally drained and more physically exhausted than necessary because they didn’t factor in their biological needs for maintaining a satisfactory level of productivity over the course of several hours.

Such behavior is time mismanagement.

Another pattern of behavior that is also a form of time mismanagement is not thinking before acting.

Similar to being impatient, as was discussed in Tip Number 3, choosing to communicate or perform your tasks in a reactionary way, or overly-spontaneously typically results in wasted efforts.

Outside of an emergency situation, when a person chooses to act first and think afterwards, they are acting without a plan. More often than not, such behavior results in wasted time, waste-worthy outputs, the need to backtrack and in some cases, the need for another person to perform the task again – fresh, from scratch.

Why do some people persist in acting without thinking?

All possible explanations can be boiled down to one word – fear.

In most cases, thinking demands no physical movement. When a person is engaged in a thinking process, they are usually motionless. Their eyes tend to be closed, even if for a short period. Their head is often down.

To the untrained eye, it could appear as if the person is asleep, and in a time-compressed world where everything happens in a single moment, such an appearance is an absolute “no-no”.

This is why the Soft Skill of Time Management is so highly-valued and so widely talked about.

Effective time management takes courage and confidence to implement in real time.

It takes a willingness to seize control of the time that is available and to slow it down in the moment, if necessary, in order to be able to move more quickly later on. It requires a personal “executive decision” to not behave in a reactionary way no matter what others are doing or how others might perceive that decision.

The person who is able to allow themselves to think before acting will not be rushed into action – thus potentially avoiding the kinds of missteps and mistakes that could end up wasting time.

Factoring yourself into the time equation that is your workday in the form of enjoying your breaks and thinking before acting has the capacity to give you true time management superpowers.

And now, for my final tip…

Tip Number 5: Choose A Time Management Tool To Back You Up

It’s no secret that the number of apps that promise to help people to effectively manage their time is impossible to quantify.

From digital To-Do lists to Gantt Charts, it’s also no secret that an equally countless number of us have tried one or the other of these tools with varying degrees of success.

I’m not here to discuss the merits of any one tool over another, but I am here to suggest using something other than your memory.

Trying to keep the overlapping timelines and deadlines, benchmarks, targets, goals, sub-tasks and deliverables straight in your head without the support of some form of backup will result in a definite time management fail.

Whatever it is that helps you to stay on top of your tasks and to stay on track, use it shamelessly.

Whether that be in the form of a digital To-Do list or a handwritten one, a traditional diary or calendar, app notifications or Post-it Notes, take the time to integrate a tool and/or a system for organizing your time around your tasks.

The result will be an increase in your reliability as a part of the network that is fed through your productivity, as well as greater freedom and flexibility and peace of mind. Effective time management is a discipline that pays dividends.

In summary, the main thread that runs through each of these tips is “control”.

If you are able to maintain as much control as you can over how you spend your time, in connection with your tasks, while taking your deadlines and due dates into consideration, then not only will you have mastered the Soft Skill of Time Management, but you will also be fully capable of talking about the ways in which you apply that skill.

I hope that you found this article helpful. Thank you for reading my blog.

What do you think about the tips? Which one of them are you going to try?

For more information about my Business English Coaching and Soft Skills Training services, visit my homepage.

Until next time!


Published by Michelle Charles

Michelle Charles is an International Communications Consultant specializing in Soft Skills Training and Advanced Business English Coaching. You can send her an email at

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