Time. How often do you hear yourself or others say that you don’t have enough of it, or you’re running out of it, or you wish you had more of it? Yet everyone has the same amount of it. And we all get a new stash of it every day.
So why do we feel like that there’s never enough, and we could always use more? I reckon that many of us have an unconscious belief that we’re not quite doing enough, causing us to add activities without considering their value.
Time is abundant…
Time is a renewable resource, totally unaffected by anything that has come before. As the clock strikes midnight, whether you are awake or asleep (existential matters notwithstanding!), you are issued with another 24 hours, to do with as you will. Nothing you can do today will “steal” time from tomorrow – you’ll get another 24 hours to play with at midnight tonight.
And yet, time is also precious
While we get a new allotment of time at midnight every night, there is only so much that we can get done. There are aspects of “life infrastructure” that we must attend to – eating, drinking, sleeping, exercise, self-care, personal relationships and caring responsibilities etc. We can skip or skimp one or more areas for a short period, but if we do it for too long, or across too many areas, things come crashing down rather quickly.
So, once we’ve taken care of our life infrastructure, we’ve got a few hours left in which to work, play, and chase our dreams.
To optimise or not, that is the question!
For most of us, time optimisation (filling our days and hours to the brim with activities) doesn’t come naturally and isn’t a fulfilling and joyful way to live. If you are one of that very exclusive group that absolutely love doing so and find yourself energised by it, then go ahead and optimise to your heart’s content, because this is your path to flourishing!
If, however, like most people, you feel stressed when you think about all of the things you think you need to get done, I’m going to suggest something that feels a bit subversive: take something off your to-do list!
This isn’t something that you should delay doing – the best time to take something off your to-do list was as soon as you realised you didn’t want to do it; the second best time is now!
That’s right – you have just enough time right now to look at your to-do list, and discard an item!
Doing less is paradoxically a way to achieve more. When we relieve ourselves of the pressure to cram in more than we have the capacity for, we are able to be more creative, imaginative and productive. And we also have more capacity to appreciate the good things in our lives, enhancing our sense of wellbeing.
Do you need a sign?
If you’ve been wanting to do a little less, but were waiting for a sign it was OK to do so, this post can be your sign.
Pick up your pen, and cross that thing off your list. You know the one. It’s the one that feels like a black hole, sucking all your energy and enthusiasm, for no apparent benefit to you∗.
Go ahead and do it now; this post will be right here when you come back! If you want to go to the “extra for experts” level, strike two items off your list!
∗ Note: if the thing you want to cross off your list is something you are legally or morally obliged to do, I can’t recommend that you ditch it; that would be unwise. If that’s your situation, how can you re-frame it to be more palatable or energising? Which of your strengths can you use to do it well whilst making it enjoyable? How will you reward yourself for completing it promptly? The sooner you get it done, the sooner you will be released from the dread, and free to play at things you want to do!
How did that feel?
Did that feel a little scary? Like maybe you’re going onto Santa’s naughty list? That’s probably an indicator that you aren’t fully in-charge of your to-do list. (And, by the way, you won’t ever go on Santa’s naughty list for looking after yourself and implementing healthy boundaries!)
Who is in charge of your to-do list?
While we like to imagine ourselves as strong, independent and unswayed by the opinions of others, social expectations play a huge part in the choices we make. That’s the nature of being human. We (consciously or unconsciously) consider what others might think about us if we say “No”, especially if we’ve previously said “Yes” and are now withdrawing that agreement. And we sometimes value the opinion of others more highly than our own needs, so we drag ourselves through tasks that exhaust us for no personal benefit.
So, it’s time to take charge of your to-do list, so that you can be more present, energised, and emotionally-available for yourself and your loved ones. I’ve written elsewhere about how to turn your “to-do” list into an “achieved” list – check out that post over here – but first, make sure you’ve got the right items to work with.
What goes on your to-do list?
I can’t emphasise enough the importance of ensuring that what you have on your to-do list is there for the right reasons. How do you do that? Go through your list and ask yourself:
- Who benefits if I do this item? Am I OK with doing things that don’t benefit me?
- Do the items on my list reflect my goals, values and priorities?
- What are the consequences for me and others of not doing each item?
- Which ones can I delegate?
- Which ones will bring me a sense of joy, contribution, excitement, enjoyment, satisfaction etc and/or contribute to my sense of flourishing and wellbeing? I’d suggest you prioritise these items, and make sure they stay on your list unless absolutely necessary. And if they need to move off, try to make this a temporary “hold” rather than a permanent “delete”
- How much time and energy does each item require, and how much time and energy do I have available? What needs to shift to balance what is required with what I have available?
It’s time to step up and take charge of your time and energy, take control of your to-do list, and do one less thing (even if that scares you!) You are the most important person you can look after; as the saying goes “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. By eliminating one item from your to-do list, you’ll be offering yourself more time, space and opportunity to be fully present and engaged in what you choose to do.