By: Rachel Hall
We all have those days, weeks, and years where we feel like we are on autopilot. We end our days exasperated, maybe our to-do lists completed, or maybe a few things on the list we didn't quite get done. Some days we are proud of all we have accomplished, and some days we wonder if we will ever be happy doing the same routines over and over again, rarely and barely "staying above water." The challenge is, most of the people we hear saying "we can barely stay afloat" (including myself at times) have more than enough resources to not only stay afloat, but to soar.
Yes, it's helpful that I grew up mostly, in one-bedroom apartments where my mom slept in the living room and we used coin operated laundry. It gives me the vantage point of humor when I catch myself saying, "I have no idea when I will clean all of these rooms, and get all this laundry done." (The laundry that I can leave in my own washing machine as long as I want). I challenge us to stop asking the question "How do I get it all done?" and instead ask, "Why is this on my list?" Lets take some responsibility for the life we have created…because much of our lives are a choice, much of our chores are a choice, and it's very easy to forget that, if not forget to acknowledge it at all. This does not mean we should not have compassion for all we set out to do, quite the opposite.
Whether we have actual lists or not, we often have so many items on our imaginary "must do" list. I know this because I do it all the time. I do dishes before playing with my kids, I spend hours cooking them healthy food and then resent that I didn't get to just be with them. My partner and I divide and conquer household chores, high five each other for cleaning out the basement, walking the dog, doing laundry, fix an appliance, take the kids/dog to the park, buy the birthday present for tomorrows party, make meals ect… We have those "maintenance" days all the time. But we don't want maintenance to be our whole life. So many of us in our society have to physically leave, take a vacation from our life, before we give ourselves permission to "not-do" or act differently at home.
A few questions to move us towards a more value driven way of spending our time.
1. Identify your time wasters and plan on doing them. We all spend time on things we wish we would spend less on but not necessarily quit all together; Social media, web browsing, drinking, smoking, eating, watching tv ect… If you know you want to do this activity, but don't want it to get out of control, it's sometimes nice to put it in your calendar. Ex: Netflix 9:30-10:30pm. Drinks 7-8pm. Zone-out on phone 2-3pm. You get it.
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2. When do we feel really good and how do we make that feeling more present? Some of us crave feeling useful, industrious, productive, strong, capable, ect... A quick way to fulfill that very useful desire is to do mindless reactive things around the house. Don't get me wrong, I love a good planned day tackling projects that have been eating away at me, but I don't love accidentally spending 2-4 hours stumbling upon un-planned endless cleaning. Many of us get caught up "choring," trying to feel accomplished and grounded, before we even have a chance to spend our time elsewhere.
3. How much time will it take and what are we willing to let go of? If you know what makes you feel good, (hiking, the gym, crafting, traveling, reading) you can clearly identify how much time you need. 90 minutes? Two hours? Three days? How often? Everyday? Once a month? Annually? To make this happen, what might you need to let go of? Before we decide what to let go of, we can spend a minute understanding what we are holding on to. Examples might be holding on to the idea that we can never take time off our jobs for non family vacations, the idea that we can only invite our friends over to hang out if we have food and alcohol to offer them, or that our kids/partners need every or even most meals to be hot/homemade/consumed all together as a family, or that we need a shower before a certain event, or that our bed needs to be made, or that we have to decorate for that holiday, ect… There is zero judgment, just a mathematical equation that we all hold on and cling to certain things that are choices that we can give up, to make time for something else. Are we willing to have people over even when we don't have time to serve them meals or have alcohol to offer them? Are we willing to be the one who sends their kids to school in wrinkled (but clean) clothes? Are we willing to be the one to serve peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, or let our kids make their own (within reason) dinners once or twice a week? Are we willing to be the one to live in a "less nice" home so we have less debt? What we hold onto becomes what we slave away to protect. It's worth taking a second, third, and fourth look at what we are protecting, small and big.
4. Are we able to say no to events, functions, and social expectations that bring chaos and drain resources from our life? Are we able to say "now is not a good time for me to be on that committee," or "no, I wont be volunteering that day," or "I wont make it to your wedding but would love to see you if you come to town"? Keep in mind, there might be tons of events we would like to help/volunteer for, attend, ect… but don't have time if we have filled up all of our time with reactive "yeah sure, I can " requests.
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5. What do you need to ask for and from whom? Lets use the gym request as an example. I love to workout first thing in the morning. My old boss had no problem with me checking early am emails in my workout clothes, heading to the gym for an hour, and then back to the office, knowing I would make up the time. In fact, I think I inspired him to block out time for am workouts himself. It's possible. The request might be to your partner, perhaps a request to miss dinner once or twice a week, or skip a family function in order to partake in a favorite sport or whatever they are into. The point is, a simple request might go far, and your partner often might be able to help you come up with a time for you to be gone that works well for everyone, or minimizes the inconvenience
How to Prioritize? A simple way to mix things up is to prioritize the things that we know bring us extended happiness. What is extended happiness? It's the things that last beyond the time we are actually doing them. For me, going to the gym in the morning is like a time-release drug, my whole day is usually saturated with a feeling of accomplishment, even if I don't complete a million other things on my list. Another example, if I make my kids a green smoothie some mornings, I loosen up the rest of the day about their diet and am able to micromanage less. It's a feeling that bleeds positively into the other areas of my life and leaves me feeling energetic. Sounds obvious, but so many of us are more uncomfortable going to bed with our houses a total disaster than our bodies and brains. We prioritize unnecessary stuff ALL THE TIME. We prioritize buying a birthday present on time, returning an unnecessary text, folding laundry, hosting or attending social events we actually would prefer not to... I fall into this trap too. If we start off our days acknowledging that much of what we are "beholden to" are things at one time or another we chose, we can give ourselves permission to choose them again, or consider taking them off our plate. This is the perspective that will help us realize…we have plenty of time.