Take Back Your Time
How do you decide what’s important enough for your to-do list?
My rebel cry these days is that the conventional wisdom isn’t wisdom at all. On a daily basis, I bear witness to a sea of tired, unfulfilled, and empty human faces. My sense is that many of us are in survival mode, just getting by, one day at a time. Certain transitions, and certain stages in our lives are by nature more draining than replenishing, these are the natural cycles of life. The peaks have valleys, life is not linear, and I’m not advocating that if every day is not a good day then you are not living. However, if we find ourselves continually drained, with no end in sight, perhaps there is something we need to do differently. Perhaps we need to be different. What am I advocating for is taking a good, hard look at our live and being very clear about how our hours are spent; because I think that the time is ripe for rebellion against the conventional demands on our time.
I have an endless list of all of the things I’m meant to be doing. Today we wear our busyness like a badge of honor, like it somehow proves the worthiness of our actions and sometimes even misguidedly, our lives. But what does all of the busyness really get us? For me, it can be an underlying state of dissatisfaction, a feeling that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not enough. For each thing I cross off my to-do list, I can add two more things. It can feel like, to quote U2, “running to stand still.” So what does it take to buck the conventional wisdom, to listen to the sirens that are going off inside us and all around us, saying that this overly busy lifestyle is unsustainable and unsatisfying?
It takes a little bit of rebellion. It takes committing ourselves to saying no to what we see everyone around us doing and saying yes to those things that are meaningful to us as individuals.
Sometimes the most meaningful activity can seem utterly frivolous when compared to our to-do lists or our calendars. For me, it’s things like:
- Looking my child in the eye and really hearing what she has to say without glancing at my phone or rushing off to the next task
- Reading a mindless book, just for the pure enjoyment and lack of pressure of it
- Going outside for a walk, just to watch the sunset
- Taking a long, hot bath
- Having a conversation with my husband that goes deeper than planning the logistics of our daily lives
- Calling an old friend who I haven’t talked to in a while for no reason other than to connect
- Giving myself ten minutes of disconnected, uninterrupted time to just sit and breathe and notice what’s here
- Writing a poem
Do any of these types of ‘tasks’ actually make it onto our to-do lists and calendar appointments? How do we make these things happen that are important to our lives, but seemingly have no deadline, no urgency, and don’t seem valid when confronted when a conflicting event? How do we find the conviction to rebel against our own scheduled calendars? For me, the happiness and satisfaction derived from these simple actions listed above can last for days and can make everything else I am doing feel more satisfying. I think many of us think about these types of actions and then dismiss them with a fleeting thought of “Wouldn’t that be nice…” and then we’re off to the next more pressing item lurking in our minds or on our lists. But if it would be nice, why don’t we just do it? I think it has something to do with confusing false urgency with importance.
Writing is one of the many possible activities that I could engage in on any given day and even though it is one that I find most fulfilling, many times I don’t get around to it. A few weeks ago, amidst yet another busy day, I had committed to myself, and even put on my to-do list for the day, to write a poem. I’d been working on several poems for months in inspired little bits of time and was excited to devote an hour or two to reading through and adding to the lines I had already written to create a finished poem. There was no deadline for this poem, and no publication I was planning to submit it to, I just wanted to do it for the sheer joy and satisfaction of it. As I ran upstairs to my office after cleaning up dinner for our family and checking in with my husband, kids and dog, my husband asked me what I was heading off to do.
“Write a poem,” I replied.
He looked at me in disbelief; he knew, as I did too, that there were still many things that we needed to address that evening, including getting our kids to bed. His response was “Really, you’re going to write a poem, right now?!”
“Yes,” I said guiltily, and then with more conviction, I said,“It’s a commitment I made to myself to do it today, and there never seems to be a good time to write a poem, and if I don’t do it now, when will I ever do it?”
And I get it. I get where my husband was coming from and I also knew that in that moment that best thing I could do for myself, the thing that would make everything else I had to do that evening and the following days easier, was to go and write my poem, and it felt like an act of rebellion, against all of the other things that I “should” have been doing. It felt great!
We’re letting other people, or prevailing trends, or perceived urgency tell us what we should be doing, rather than listening to our innermost selves and knowing what’s truly important. We’re driven by deadlines and email requests and things that we’ve been led to believe have to get done. But who chooses how we live our lives? Most of these deadlines and imperatives come from outside ourselves, and in our cacophonous lives it can be difficult to actually hear our own inner voice.
So I ask, what and who is going to drive your to-do list for today? Will you resolve to add things that aren’t conventionally urgent, but are important? Those things you never quite get around to doing because they don’t have real deadlines? Will you add one thing to your calendar for today that will feed you in innumerable ways that you could never explain to anyone, that feels rebellious, but that you know in your heart will make all the difference? Will you write your poem? The rebel in me is hoping that you will.
Heather Buck is the founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at InStill Coaching. While on her own journey to live an authentic life, she partners with others seeking to live and lead authentically. She is constantly asking herself and others what it is to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Writing is how she makes sense of the world and her place in it, and she basks in the connection of shared experience between writer and reader. You can find out more about her work and her journey here and here.
Post originally shared on Holstee’s online magazine, Mindful Matter.