Woman preparing a list in post-it

There is something about the way we are living that just doesn’t seem to be working. I am talking about the constant sense of frenzy, chaos and overwhelm in which we live. We move through life at warp speed, searching for an elixir for what ails us. Yet what ails us, for the most part, does not relate to what is happening around us, but rather what is happening within us.

In order to address, this we must bring awareness to how we are living and being. Let’s begin by looking at it from what you say about time [which reflects how you feel about time]. One way to distinguish your relationship with time is in the language you use to describe it. In my seminars, I have asked thousands of people, “What do you most often say about time?” The almost immediate answer is, “I don’t have enough!” We live with such a feeling of scarcity regarding time but the more you relate to time as a resource or in fact, an opportunity, the more you will make conscious choices about what to do with this resource.

You’ve got to see to what degree you are playing the “I’m so busy” game. Many people find a sense of importance and self-esteem in how much they have going on; how many activities they do; or  how much their kids are doing. Where does it end? The busier you are, the more important you may feel; but as you well know, the “busyness” is draining the life out of you. Chances are you don’t know what to do about it. The resolution to this stress is to create meaning in what you are doing.

Finding meaning

Lack of meaning is a cultural epidemic. Negotiating the tension between cultural expectations and the cry of your heart requires tenacious resiliency. My client, Colette, was a perfect example of this. She was a successful corporate executive, but hated the culture in which she was operating. She wanted to leave her job to begin teaching yoga as she had been a trained instructor but never pursued that as a career. She longed to help people connect more deeply with their essence and experience wellness.

Colette was afraid of what people would think of her if she gave up her ambitions in the corporate world, not to mention her high-paying job, to pursue something that seemed “less successful” in the eyes of her colleagues, family and friends. She also knew that she enjoyed the stimulation of the corporate world—she just didn’t enjoy her toxic workplace. In fact, if she could find a way to bring wellness to corporate America, she felt she would have landed on her true calling.

After about nine months of coaching and support, that is just what Colette did. She found a new job as a corporate wellness trainer, where she was able to combine her love of yoga, nutrition, stress-reduction, communication enhancement and wellness, while doing all this work inside of a corporate setting. She was still being paid well and enjoying the camaraderie and stimulation of the workplace she enjoyed and yet she followed her heart’s calling to do what was aligned with her values and passions.

Busy versus Productive

What ends up missing is not time to do more, but time to feel more. What is missing is meaningful time.

Man having loads of work
Being busy feels overwhelming while being productive feels energetic

Many people spend their lives being busy to avoid delivering on who they really are. Following your heart and pursuing your true calling, like Colette did, takes tremendous courage. It requires a willingness to go against the grain of what our cultural norms tell us we are “supposed to be doing”.

There is a tremendous distinction between being busy and being productive; two words that reflect similar notions but are energetically divergent. How do you feel when you say you are busy or you hear others say this to you? Most often, when I ask people that question, the reply is that ‘busy’ feels chaotic, frantic, disorganised, pressured. People who report that they are chronically busy most often say that they start on many things, but finish very little.

I use the notion of being productive in a whole different way. The word ‘productive’ indicates that things are actually getting accomplished. My definition of productive is that you are clearly and consistently taking ground on what is important to you, producing an intended outcome that you desire and for which you find meaning.

A man approached me after my seminar and told me that he had spent a year sailing with his family. He said that during that year he was constantly doing things: reading charts, adjusting sails, checking navigation and weather patterns; but he never once felt that he was ‘busy’ like he does in his day-to-day life as a CEO. His example highlights this point well—being busy has nothing to do with the amount of activity. It has to do entirely with the amount of choice, enjoyment and meaning we associate with our activity.

Below is a chart to help you break these concepts down a little more so you can begin identifying the skills and ways of being that you have been practising regarding busy behaviour versus productive behaviour.

Busy Productive
Scattered Intentional
Disorganised Orderly
Random Planned
Reactive Responsive
Stressed Optimised
Chaotic Centred
Overwhelmed Enthusiastic / Inspired
Time as enemy Time as opportunity
Driven Focussed
Anxious At ease
Confused Clear

You will experience all life’s challenges and opportunities through your predominant level of consciousness

Moving from busy to productive

These two different states, of being busy or productive, represent divergent ways of thinking and perceiving. This is what I call your level of energetic consciousness. It is the vibratory field created by your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and ways of being. Change your level of consciousness and you change the way you see the world. Altering your perception, in turn, creates the energetic conditions to bring to fruition what you truly desire. In this way, you come closer to your innate perfection, or what I call your “God-Self on Earth”.

You will experience all life’s challenges and opportunities through your predominant level of consciousness. Let me illustrate this further with a real life example. I had a client—let’s call her Sheila—who inherited $350,000 when her mother deceased. Sheila is a ‘high energy’ individual who is wonderfully engaged, happy and vital. On the other hand, her sister Sonya, who is a ‘low energy’ person, is frequently negative and complaining, often having health and financial challenges. Both women inherited the same amount of money, yet had radically different responses to their inheritance.

Sheila was grateful to her parents for planning and providing for her in this way and quickly went about deciding what to do with the funds. Contrarily, Sonya received this gift with anxiety and complained that she cannot trust anyone to invest the money for her and that now “everyone would want something” from her. Sonya is a woman with financial need, yet she could only experience this gift through her principal level of consciousness.

Change your consciousness, change your life

As we shift and elevate through the levels of consciousness, our experience of life changes.

Level 1: Survival

Characterised by

Victim thinking
Notion that life is hard
Living in the predominant feeling of just getting by
Frequently blaming others and circumstances for difficulty
Desiring help from others but often rejecting it
Tendency toward apathy

Level 2: Stress

Characterised by

Anger at how difficult life is
Having difficulty relaxing or enjoying simple pleasures, therefore a tendency to ‘numb out’ with various addictive behaviours
Being hard working, driven
A tendency to be antagonistic
Being chronically overwhelmed
Anxiety and ‘what if’ thinking
General unhappiness
Tendency to hold a grudge

Level 3: Transformation

Characterised by

Taking responsibility for thoughts, emotions, circumstances and actions
Living beyond the notion that life is hard
Having solid ability to cope with life
Being self-motivated
Being cooperative and productive
Having a strong desire for improvement, growth and success
Being encouraging
Being primarily focused on internal locus of control, self-empowered

Level 4: Transcendence

Characterised by

A strong tendency toward loving kindness
Easily accepting people and circumstances
Creating harmonious relationships
Inner peace
Believing they create their own life experience
Predominantly being happy, often blissful
A focus on spiritual understanding and growth

Your level of consciousness is constantly changing. On the energetic plane, you attract other people, situations and relationships that vibrate at the same resonance as you. If you live at a low resonating level of consciousness, it is likely that you will attract low-resonance realities into your life. Likewise, if you live at a high resonance, you will attract high-resonance realities. When you incorporate higher, lighter, more beautiful energies into your day, your energy is lifted and you rise to a higher level of consciousness.

It is in understanding and managing your consciousness rather than your time or stress that life mastery begins. As you recognise that it is your perception of any given event that creates your reaction to it, you can train yourself to shift your perceptions and create the experience of life that you desire. It is about empowerment—recognising that you can consciously choose how you experience life.

The image of the Levels of Consciousness Model given below will deepen your understanding. The centre arrow in the spiral represents that we are always moving up and down these four levels of consciousness. The colours represent the colours of the energy centres of the body, known as the chakras, with the lower energies being at bottom of the spiral and the higher energies at the top.

You cannot organise what you cannot see. Most likely, your mind is a little too much like your cluttered storeroom

Organise your mind

how-to-stop-being-busy-and-start-being-productive-1A disorganised mind creates a disorganised life. Therefore, to begin calming the chaos you have to bring order to your mind. To understand this idea of organising your mind, let’s take a look at how you organise material things. If you want to organise your storeroom, for example, a reasonable first step is to take everything out of the storeroom so you can actually begin seeing what is in there. You cannot organise what you cannot see. Most likely, your mind is a little too much like your cluttered storeroom. It is too full of things that are probably useful and important, but you cannot really gain access to them because they are cluttered and disorganised.

I’m going to show you a three-step exercise that can help you bring clarity and order to your mind. It may seem overwhelming at first, but I have done this with thousands of people and it is amazing to see what happens and how much fun it can be.

Step 1

Brain dump! Get it all out!

Write down everything you have to and want to do in your life between now and when you die! I want you to literally empty your mind! You cannot organise your inner world until you begin sorting out what’s in there.

This list is not to be confused with what some people call a bucket list, which only contains the things you want to do before you die. The list I am asking you to create includes your dreams and hopes, as well as everyday things like going to work, paying the bills, cooking, shopping and the rest of it.

This list has a dual purpose. On the one hand, it helps you capture the whole of your life [which we often feel is overwhelming] in one place. The other benefit is that it helps you evaluate your life. When you actually put your life down on a few pieces of paper and look at it, there is this odd sense of “That’s it? That’s all I have been stressed out about? This is all I am going to be doing with the rest of my life?” You may even realise that you need a bigger life!

Now, of course, this list is not exhaustive nor a one-time creation. You will always come up with new and exciting things that you want to experience and ‘have to do’ as well. Keep adding to the list over the coming days so you can just jot down items as they come to mind.

Step 2

Establishing your sacred intentions

The next step is to begin organising the list. Break it down by placing all of the items you are not currently working on or doing anything about on a separate list. These are items that are simply dreams and you have no intention of doing anything about them right now. They are what I call your “Sacred Intentions” list. It serves as a constant reminder that life is a sacred gift and that your dreams and intentions are uniquely yours, directly put into your heart for you to enjoy and pursue. Labelling this list of desired experiences “Sacred Intentions” has a higher consciousness to it that elevates your life.

Creating a list of your dreams and intentions creates what I call an “energetic placeholder” for the things you wish to bring into your life. It is not something that you have to reference all the time, but it is something that you have given your attention and positive emotion to. Creating positive intentions for your life is one of the elements of living in higher consciousness. This list is central to that magnetic force.

When you live in chronic overwhelm and chaos, there is no room to dream and explore your deeper sense of self. The dreams I am referring to here are not so much about material possessions for fame and fortune but the deeper longings for self-expression. I have reinvented myself time and time again in service of seeking to grow and express more of my highest Self. That is what we are here to do, rather than be confined to our fear of change or to the convention of culture. I left a successful career as an inpatient psychiatric unit director in my mid 30s to pursue my own business, dove into motherhood in my early 40s and am now reinventing myself as an author and speaker in my 50s. None of these changes came to me lightly; each felt like a direct communication from God to keep reaching higher and experience more of life and give more to life. That is the importance of paying attention to your desires.

It is easier living in the lower realms of consciousness where you can shirk these kinds of challenges by pointing to all of the external reasons for why you cannot change. That is easier than doing the hard work of facing your fears, learning new skills, taking on new routines and living with an open heart in the face of failure. But it is not nearly as full, rich and expansive as knowing that you can meet any dream and challenge with faith rather than fear. You would only choose to live this way if you have a passion for something beyond the ordinary—and since you are reading this article I know you are one of those passionate ones.

Learning how long things take to manifest helps you make better decisions regarding what you commit to doing with your time

Step 3

Schedule your life and live your schedule

This is my favourite part of calming the chaos. When you finish, and then live by, this next piece, you will never again have to live with a to-do list. This doesn’t mean that you will not be recording and organising the things you need to do. In fact, you will be doing so much more than keeping a to-do list. I am talking about keeping a schedule, a time-bound structure that keeps your mind organised and keeps you moving toward your desires.

Once you start managing yourself in relation to time, actually scheduling what you are doing and when you are doing it, you will begin to establish a relationship with time in reality rather than in an illusion. Learning how long things take to manifest helps you make better decisions regarding what you commit to doing with your time.

Normally, your schedule contains things that you do for work or for someone else, like people you have to meet or tasks you must accomplish. Often you leave out the things that most matter to you, like rejuvenation, meditation, connecting with your spouse or partner or playing with your children. These ideas stay in your head and your head can only hold so much data before going into overload. That is why everyone walks around in chaos, with overloaded circuitry, feeling stressed out and depleted.

Far too often, to-do lists are a setup for failure because they have no bearing in time. As a result, you walk around with this incredibly disempowering inner conversation of “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get it all done? I need to be more productive.” Or an outer directed conversation of, “What is wrong with them [boss, manager, or spouse]? Can’t they see that I am running on all cylinders here? They are trying to run me into the ground.”

Consider that your schedule can begin living for you, not as just a list of things you have to do, but as a meaningful, organic, fluid structure that provides the container and accountability for you to live an empowered, balanced and joyful life. Imagine that it is a contract of sorts between your day-to-day self and your higher Self. By higher Self, I mean the part of you that is connected to God or Spirit or whatever notion you choose to represent the wholeness of life.

You often walk through your day feeling overwhelmed with things to do, but what happens when you actually have a couple of hours with no meetings or no place to go? Do you sit down and become wildly productive ticking things off that you know you want to accomplish? No, you don’t. Instead, your mind goes into neurological overload and you can’t think straight. So you do busy work; a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and then at the end of all of that busy work you only have a half hour left before your next meeting so you can’t start anything too profound in such a short period of time!

Learning to plan your life and to live your plan quiets the inner turmoil. So what do you put on your life schedule? Well, I suppose the answer to that is everything that you are doing. You will only begin calming the chaos when you start getting present to what you are doing and when you are doing it. You have got to get clear on how many things you are saying “yes” to in any given day or week in order to stay even remotely out of overwhelm. The only way you can really know how much you are doing is to be able to see it all in front of you in a concrete structure that shows you when you are already committed and when you are free.

This is how you create your schedule

Man enjoying the freedom
Once you manage your energy instead of your time, you will like yourself better

First, you will need to get all of your daily activities set up on your calendar. Start with the face-to-face things like meetings and appointments, and put those on your schedule first. Then add other routine things you regularly do but that are not in your schedule. Here is a list of items that might be included:

  • commute to work [you can use this time to listen to audio books or make phone calls here when you plan ahead]
  • exercise
  • meals and meal prep
  • food shopping and errands
  • planning for meetings, writing reports, doing paperwork.

Lastly, add those items that you have been wanting to do, but simply have not made time to accomplish. For example, one of my students had put off painting her kitchen for over three years because she “didn’t have time.” She had the paint and supplies for three years and never did the project. After applying these principles, she had the kitchen project completed in three weeks! Because she never planned her time, she would “stay busy” every evening after work and therefore “didn’t have time” to do the project. With a change in mindset and skill set, something she had put off for three years was literally complete in three weeks!

You will have to schedule things out further in time to accommodate all of the items that you have been keeping in your head. Most people just schedule things a day to a week in advance, but using this method, you will likely start scheduling things several weeks or even months into the future. And be sure to schedule the things you want to do not just the things you have to do!

There can still be plenty of room for spontaneity. Remember, this is your schedule and you can do whatever you want. Suppose you have scheduled on a given Saturday to pay bills and do errands but get a call from a high school friend who is only in town on that Saturday. Do you rigidly say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I am scheduled to run errands”? Of course not! You simply adjust your schedule accordingly. You are not rigidly locked into anything but clarity and planning will drastically expand what you accomplish.

Learning to plan your life and to live your plan quiets the inner turmoil. So what do you put on your life schedule? The answer to that is everything that you are doing

Create your freedom

This system does not limit your freedom. It creates freedom! That may sound counterintuitive as you think about bringing this level of order and organisation to the living of your life, but here is something to ponder: there is no freedom without the freedom to express your deepest, truest self. There is no freedom in life when you are living in chaos, too busy and stressed to think about what your life is for or how to move toward what your heart is calling you to pursue. This system addresses that challenge head on. It provides you with tools and structures to bring forth your deepest desires and passions, as well as increasing what you deliver to this world. I don’t know what is more exciting and freeing than that!

The fundamental reason to learn to manage your energy rather than your time is simply this: you will feel better. You will come to trust yourself in a new way and you will like the person you become as a result. Calming the chaos begins and ends with you.

Before I created this system and way of life, I was always busy, dealing with two chronic injuries, intermittent depression and attention deficit disorder. I was on medication for all of these ailments. I had a fine career, but I knew that I was staying busy to avoid the calling of my heart. Today, my injuries have healed, I am not taking any medications, and I can honestly say that I am one of the happiest, most productive and engaged people I know. I love my work, am happily married and enjoy being a mother. It is an amazing shift for me since learning how to manage my energy rather than my time and stress.

The most important thing for you to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, is that the calm you are seeking is also seeking you. Living in a higher level of consciousness will not solve all of your problems, but imagine what a difference it will make to address practical, day-to-day challenges with this knowledge and awareness. As each of us calms the chaos and elevates our consciousness, all of humanity changes.

A version of this was first published in the August 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
Jackie Woodside
Jackie Woodside is the founder of the Woodside Wellness Institute. She is a certified professional coach and licensed psychotherapist with over 25 years experience in both fields. Jackie is author of Calming the Chaos: A Soulful Guide to Managing Your Energy Rather than Your Time and What If It’s Time for a Change and contributing author to Conscious Entrepreneurs. She leads spiritual retreats, offers professional development training and keynote speeches around the country.


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