Remember the days when someone asked you, “How’s it going?” “Fine,” was your auto-response.

“Fine” was code for, “I have a lot on my plate both personally and professionally right now, but unless you have an hour to listen, I don’t think you want me to get into it.” Everything wasn’t fine. You knew it. The other person knew it. But, “fine” was the socially acceptable response.

Today, when someone asks you, “How’s it going?” the new socially acceptable answer is, “Busy.” Busy-ness has become a badge of honor. You have messages to answer, meetings to prepare for, data to review, and decisions to make. You’re connected to work 24/7. You’ve tried the latest software to unclutter. You’ve bought the newest devices to keep up, but you just can’t break the cycle of busy-ness.

In 1992, global internet traffic measured 100 GB per day. Last year, that rate exploded to 20,235 GB per second. There’s been an explosion of information to consume, but we still have a finite number of hours per day to find the valuable bits. As this rate, we’ll quickly move from busy-ness to burnout if we don’t find a way to better manage our time. Here are four ways successful leaders don’t let busy-ness get in the way of business:

1. Prioritize. Start by deciding the most important priorities in your life – both personal and professional. Stephen Covey called this the “Big Rocks” principle. If you think of your day as a bucket, and you start your day without a plan, you’ll soon get busy filling your bucket with little rocks (tasks, cat videos, whatever). Before you know it, your bucket is full, and you spent another day working on things that have little value to you either personally or professionally. Instead, watch Covey demonstrate how to prioritize your Big Rocks.

2. Centralize. Next, decide on a system where you can keep a daily list of things you need to work on. The choices people make here fall into one of two groups: the techies and the Gutenbergers. If you’re a techie, you’ll probably want to use one of the many multi-platform productivity tools like Evernote and sync it with an app like Remember the Milk to help you manage your tasks. Gutenbergers prefer to track tasks on paper. Franklin Covey is a recognized leader in this area, with lots of options to choose from. Regardless of your preference, you’ll want to centralize all of your tasks in one system. Stop writing reminders on sticky notes and in random devices. Put all of your tasks in one place – and remember to put the Big Rocks in first.

3. Categorize.  You’re clear about your Big Rocks and you’ve chosen one place to keep track of your personal and professional tasks. Now what? In no particular order, make a list of your daily tasks. Next, put them in A, B, and C categories. A tasks are important, B tasks have medium importance, and C tasks have low importance. Now, number all of the A tasks in order of importance, and do the same for the B’s and C’s. If you’ve done this correctly, something that made your Big Rock list has an A beside it. Not necessarily A-1, but it’s at the top.

4. Recognize. Brace yourself for this – your task list will never be done. But, think of it this way. If you start each day with a plan in place, and if you only manage to get one thing on your list done, it will be the most important thing you had to do that day. Over time, you’ll see that some of your B’s and C’s could be delegated so that you’re focusing on the most important priorities in your personal and professional life.

You can continue wearing the busy-ness badge, or get real about your priorities and work on the most important things first. The choice is yours.

Question: Do you know someone who uses a time management system? What impact do you think it has on them personally and professionally?