I don’t feel like I’m over-estimating when I say that most of us probably wonder where most of our time goes. I know for me, far too much of it is spent worrying about useless things. For example, I have actually thought through what I would do about unwanted body hair should I end up surviving the Apocalypse, or in the event of a stroke.(So far, I’ve enlisted my sister to handle the latter. If anyone has suggestions for the former, please let me know. And don’t say I won’t care about unwanted body hair in that situation, because I know I still will.)
When I think about the generations before us, who lived a slower pace and had less stress-related illnesses, I think about what they were doing differently. One of the biggest differences is that they didn’t clutter up their time with so many action-oriented tasks meant to “improve their lives” or “advance their careers”, but somehow they still did both.
What are we so busy doing?
A whole lot. We’re busy all right, but is it quality “business”? Here are some areas to take a look at:
Does anyone else remember having one sport or activity at at time when we were growing up? And it wasn’t six days a week. It was once, and mom dropped us off, there was no way she was staying there to watch practice. Our kids are in so many things today, and we’re treating their sports as if they’ve really got a shot at making it pro. They don’t. Mine doesn’t, your doesn’t. They’ll be lucky to play in college, let alone land a scholarship.
I know we love our babies more than life itself, and truly believe that our children are the most perfect little humans to ever grace the planet. (I’m so guilty.) The truth is, they’re little people, and swallowing up all their time with organized sports and activities doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for them to be kids, and for parents to have a life.
Obligations of Guilt
Sometimes we have toxic relationships with people whom we’ve never learned to say “no” to. There’s that family member who expects you to jump at their every request, or who lays the guilt on thick if you already had something scheduled but they “really, really need you there”. Or maybe you have someone in your life who questions your loyalty or love if you don’t do what they expect you to do. This is because you’ve given your power away and you aren’t standing firm in who you are. When we let others make our decisions for us, we aren’t living our own lives. It’s okay to say “no”. It’s okay to say it often. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean you don’t love someone. It just means your life is your own.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
This can be especially tough for people trying to advance socially for professional reasons. There is nothing wrong with that, but attending events we don’t want to be at, or engaging in activities we don’t even like because the “right people” will be there is quite literally living a life you don’t want. Consider how and when you need to be at specific events and for the right reasons. Build relationships and connections in authentic ways that feel like you’re being true to yourself. You don’t like sailing? Even a little? Don’t go sailing. If you’re attending events or showing up at certain places because you simply want to elevate your social standing, that’s your business. But if you hate it, you may need to ask yourself why elevating your social standing is so important to you.
Unending To-Do Lists
This is where I’d probably give myself a big fat D minus. For professional reasons I think my to-do list has always served me well. I accomplish a lot of goals that way. The problem for perfectionists and over-achievers is that we tend to have to-do lists for every aspect of our lives, and those spill into to-do lists for our to-do lists and pretty soon we have to-do spreadsheets and we love nothing more than crossing things off in a harried haven’t-slept-in-days frenzy of accomplishment! But it stinks. Because our to-do’s are taking over our lives and we don’t actually live, we just do.
Unending “I Should” Lists
I should work out X amount of times a week, I should make an insanely amazing time-consuming organic, gluten free, soy free, dairy free, sugar free, caffeine free, ethically harvested meal three times a day for my family, I should read at least one hour a day, I should spend more time with the dog, I should clean all the floorboards. None of these things are a bad idea, but when we start making things “shoulds”, we’re creating resentment and busying up our lives with things we really don’t want to be doing. Check your motivation behind the “should” list. Even changing the should to “I want to” can free up the mental burden, and help you move through tasks like these with a lot more ease.
Maintaining Our Stuff
The more we own, the bigger we own, the longer it takes to manage and maintain it all. It’s a time suck. I’m not suggesting that we don’t enjoy some material things, or live in lovely homes, or never have yard work to do, but I am suggesting that when what you own owns you, you might have too much stuff. If you’re giving up opportunities to have fun and enjoy time with family and friends every weekend because you have to clean, organize and maintain a your stuff, you may want to look at where you can cut back.
I think we can do better than just wishing we had more down time. We can create that. We can carve out unaccounted for swaths of time that will be filled up simply with life. Laughing around a fire pit with friends and good wine. Dinner parties with friends and good wine. Driveway parties with friends and good wine. I feel like I’m leaning toward a trend right now…
Start simply. Start by saying “no” to things you don’t want to do without feeling guilty. Start by making your to-do lists smaller (seriously, you haven’t learned how to knit with your arms yet, it can wait a little longer…). Start by considering where your time needs to be spent so that it aligns with the life you truly want to live.