When in a moment of wanting to zone out on my commute home on an overly packed BART train, I accidentally read an article about mercury going into retrograde soon. Dude, wasn’t mercury just in retrograde?
So yeah, while I’m over here trying to simplify and creatively be the superhero in my life, I guess things could get crazier. However, that’s not where I choose to focus or put my energy.
That being said, March snuck up on me like a ninja in the dark. 2018 is whizzing by and I’ve barely been able to come up for air. I’m bursting to create but I never feel like there is enough time. Yet, it’s time to manifest this whirlwind of dates, ideas, words, and emails that have been swirling in my mind.
It hit me especially this last week when everyone wanted something yesterday. As soon as I began to focus on a task, an email, a skype message, or a text would buzz through and someone needed something else. My mind was ever shifting from this deadline to that deadline, or to this idea scribbled on yet another sticky note, to another line item on the personal development to-do list, to what’s for dinner, to wondering who I could pay to come fold the laundry that’s in a pile on the couch. I’ll skip the many “mama, mama, look at this,” and “MOM! She hit me,” and “I’m starving, I’m going to die,” interruptions, conversations, and fatigued shifts in direction and focus. Phew!
I jokingly told a coworker that I was going to lead a lunch + learn on mindfulness and single-tasking because I was fed up with the barrage of chaos, stacking deadlines, and the feeling of early onset Alzheimer’s, let alone the shame of wanting to sit in silence or take a time out.
Having deadlines is nothing new and can be great motivators, but when your work becomes subpar because there are too many week after week, it’s simply too much.
And somehow, despite not being proud of the busyness, I get used to it and don’t know how to turn off.
Even on vacation, I find myself checking email unnecessarily because I fear I might miss an important email (even knowing I won’t) and more so, don’t know how to fully relax, because it almost makes me feel like I’m lazy if I actually enjoy myself.
Can we all agree that’s not healthy?
Based on a suggestion, I started reading Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte. When I initially began reading the book, I found myself wanting to throw it across the room with every other page I read. As a woman, and a single mom, I could relate with the author’s frazzled existence and pursuit of leisure and time. Simple enjoyment of one’s life and family - the elusive balance we all talk about but seldom discover, seemed more doomsday and I didn’t want to read it. I’m more hopeful than that, or so I want to believe. Perhaps I’m just being naïve – or else I need to move to Denmark. Regardless, I kept reading.
She made it apparent that women, especially mothers, have a bum deal.
“Women’s leisure tends to be more fragmented and chopped up into small, often unsatisfying bits of ten minutes here, twenty minutes there, that researchers call “episodes.” ….that’s too short for anything other than a quick item on the to-do list.”
“Mother’s leisure tends to be more interrupted, contaminated by mental noise, and “purposive.”
It seemed like a dead end. This was something I most certainly didn’t want to read about since my pursuit of 2018 is to include more peace and joy, and surrounding myself with freedom and learning from the dreamers and doers, the high achievers, movers and shakers.
Redemption came toward the end of the book, as it usually does.
This nugget of wisdom, and the following tips of how to create the time management, leisure, and freedom we all crave, is golden. Because let’s be honest, at the end of the day, all of our problems are a TIME issue:
[Terry] Monaghan’s approach to time management is simple:
You can’t manage time. Time never changes.
There will always be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in that time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize, she said, is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need to, want to or should do. “When we die, the email inbox will still be full. The to-do list will still be there. But you won’t,” she told us. “Eighty percent of the email that comes in is crap anyway, and it takes you the equivalent of 19 ½ weeks a year just to sort through. Eighty percent of your to-do list is crap.
Look, the stuff of life never ends. That is life.
You will never clear your plate so you can finally allow yourself to get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now?”
So much grace, with a healthy dose of reality and tough love.
So let’s do it. It starts with you, me, right now. Yes, right now.
How, you ask?
If Shulte can do it, so can you.
Her trick: “Pulsing — deactivating and reactivating the brain — actually makes it pay better attention.”
Despite the belief we accomplish more when we multi-task, it in fact fragments our time and our thought processes, making tasks take even longer.
We've become a society of lollygaggers, with extended water cooler conversations, multiple IG and FB scrolling every 20 minutes as source of a “mental break,” all the while extending our actual work day.
What if we got our work done in an allotted time frame and allowed ourselves the rest of the day to be free? To actually live, in the moment without thinking about the emails that “need” to be written (hint – they probably can wait), or the dishes that need to washed when our kids ask us to play a game.
This tactic of pulsing allows you to focus on yes, a single task, and follow it through to completion without interruptions.
As a result, the structure of dedicated time allows you to accomplish more, more efficiently.
Much like attempting meditation for the first time, it may seem foreign and excruciatingly painful to sit there for 30 minutes in utter focus. If needed, set a timer and begin with a single task for 30 minutes before you take a break or move on. Most tasks require more than 30 minutes, but begin there and slowly increase the time to 45 or even 90 minutes. Take a short break and come back to the task, or move on to something else. But given that time span, only focus on that one issue – do not be tempted by the black hole of email, or any other “alarm” that sounds.
Applied to the family side of things, this can be accomplished with family rhythms which provide an organic approach to creating structure around reoccurring activities built into your day. This works especially well with kids who need to know what comes next as a sense of well-being and safety.
Meal time is a good place to start. Turn off all electronics and focus on your food, each bite, and the people sitting around the table. Talk to them, ask questions, and get to know them!
For example, in our house:
- Friday is our Picnic movie sushi date night, where we make homemade, nothing fancy sushi, pick out a movie, pull out a towel and eat dinner picnic style on the floor while watching the film. Ok, yeah, this one involves a movie, but we it’s really the only time we have the TV on for more than 10 minutes.
- Saturday mornings are for waffles or scones and sausages before ballet classes.
- Sunday mornings are for farmer’s markets and church.
It’s in these little moments where the extraordinary can happen.
Not only can this time be more focused because we’re somewhat on autopilot due to the rhythm we created, but we also allow our brains to sit happy with the single task rather than jarring, redirection every 5 seconds attending to this thought or that email or that person’s emergency.
The world will not end if we slow down.
The weight of another’s crisis, is not a burden we’re called to carry alone. You’re not Superman.
The laundry pile and dirty dishes don’t have a heart and soul like the child that simply wants to play a game with you. It can wait, your child cannot.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. – Annie Dillard
Don’t waste it away with a frantic brain in a sea of deadlines and busyness. Pursue purpose and passion, and create the space and time to love on those that mean the most to you. What’s the point of running the race, burning out, and forfeiting your precious time?
It’s up to you my friends. Seize the day and seize your life.