My friend Brett posted a link yesterday on his Tumblr to an article that really made me think. I guess this was going around Facebook, but I didn’t catch it then… maybe because I’m too busy. Yep, it’s an article about being busy. (Brett’s Tumblr is worth a look too, if you’re OK with profanity. I don’t censor anything on this blog, but I know some people are sensitive to it.)
Anyway, the article – the author does a much better job of explaining where we are in society than I can. We are all looking for something in life to validate our own self-worth. So we are all out there, getting new hobbies, engaging ourselves in activities, and beefing up our resumes. Even kids are being over-scheduled at increasingly younger ages. I think that trend started when I was young, and has grown over the past twenty years. But what is all this busy-ness really worth? If we are so caught up in what we are doing all the time, when do we have time to actually enjoy life?
I actually feel like I am in a good place with this, and can speak to it. I am sure things will change when the baby comes. I don’t have any illusions of a perfect, balanced life, with a computer in one hand and a baby in the other. But before I make that change, I can share what I have done in the past five years.
When Ed and I were first married, I was the type of person who had every moment of every day scheduled. I could not let a day go by without pushing myself to do more and more. Part of it is because I do, in fact, like to be busy. But even when I wasn’t working on a project or participating in an event or meeting friends, I was planning out everything we were going to do next. During that time, my creativity suffered – I couldn’t write because my brain was constantly worrying about the outside world – and my marriage suffered, too. Ed is a spontaneous person and felt stagnated by having all that time planned. One day we had a big talk about it – I distinctly remember sitting on my bed and crying because I had no idea how I was going to balance all my obligations and still give my husband the time he needed from me. My “busy-ness” came down on my head like an anvil – I was finally overwhelmed.
I’m currently reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Duhigg emphasizes that when you create a habit – what he calls a “keystone” habit – that habit will extend to the rest of your life. I didn’t know it then, but that’s what I was doing. Once I started decluttering my calendar, a chain reaction started, and balance started coming back. I had more time for Ed, more time for me, and more time for creativity. My moods lightened – I stopped stressing out so much about everything. I started decluttering our house, and I felt less anxious to clean constantly when I was home.
So, what did I do?
I prioritized. I asked myself, why was I doing a certain task or activity? Because I wanted to, or because I felt like I had to?
I started saying no. This is the #1 thing you have to do if you want to be less busy. Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends and co-workers, and I get very excited by opportunity. I like saying yes. But I realized I could no longer continue to take on every responsibility and task that was asked of me, both in my personal and work life. This means making sacrifices, but in the long run, it will give you space to breathe. It will also empower you to make the choices you really want to make.
I became more productive in my structured time. I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. It helped me to create an airtight organization system that works for me. I know where everything is in my office, in my house, and on my to-do lists and calendars. I am very specific about the action items I need to accomplish. I already loved lists, so doing this was in my comfort zone and helped me manage my time. What was left was my unstructured time.
I don’t plan my unstructured time. I’ve posted before about my lazy days. These days are great. I can do what I want, and it doesn’t mean I’m not going to get something done on a lazy day – but I’m not going to plan them. Maybe I’ll hang out with my husband. Maybe we’ll go to the mall and walk around. Maybe I’ll sit on the porch and write, or play video games, or when the baby comes, play with the baby. Probably, I’ll do some laundry and some chores around the house, too. But I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t.
If you’ve made it this far, I hope these experiences have given you something to think about. I’ll leave you with the last thought, similar to what the article’s author said: take some time to really experience your life. Stop for a moment and notice everything around you. Whether you’re in a beautiful place, an ugly place, a commonplace place. Just see it and let yourself experience it. Life is too precious to waste running from task to task without enjoying it.