I like to be busy and I like to keep myself occupied. Yet above all, I like to do absolutely nothing.
The further I’ve delved into mindfulness and meditation, the more I’ve learned about the importance of just being rather than doing.
We are in a society where productivity and success is echoed as the ultimate goal. We are taught from a young age that we should take up every opportunity and fill our spare time with activities that enrich us and famously “add to your CV”.
I’ve found myself frequently in the trap of a calendar bursting at the seams, agreeing to take up X amount of opportunities alongside my other commitments, in a bid to learn more and become more well-rounded in my life.
I’ve left the house at 6am and returned at 8pm, only to rush my dinner and shower before a unsatisfying 6 hour sleep and repeating the cycle for days at a time. I would feel guilty and bored for having hours in the day where I had a bit of wiggle room, and I’d quickly fill this time by saying yes to the next opportunity or finding something to do to keep me busy.
I actively aimed to have no time to myself and spend all my time doing something.
Yet what I’ve learned over time is that agreeing to everything doesn’t make you more successful, greater or wiser. I find myself returning to the old saying of “Jack of all trades, master of none” – which is very applicable.
An example would be last year at university. I joined four societies, threw myself into any social opportunity, secured a placement, trained for a half marathon, worked on various pieces of work for university, held a part time job with over 16 hours per week and also went to the gym 3-4 times a week. Additionally, I was also trying to start a youtube channel, keep my blog going and journalling twice a day.
To me, it felt like taking on so many tasks was an admirable thing to do. I’d often get comments from people saying “I don’t know how you do it”, “You’re always out and about” and “I could never do that”. To me, I felt some sense of pride in the fact that I could stretch myself so thinly over so many different areas of life. Yet I still felt like I was doing nothing fulfilling. I would try to find more things to do – volunteering, attending as many things as I could within my societies and agreeing to more hours at work.
I fell asleep and woke up with my phone under my pillow. I would wake with a start every single more, anxiety pumping in my chest and throwing me into a panic about what the day holds. Sometimes this would even lead me to cancel everything I’d planned, because I was too overwhelmed to comprehend my day. I would eat robotically and out of necessity, completely unaware of when/if I was hungry. I exercised out of necessity and equally had no idea whether my mind and body even enjoyed it or needed the movement. I attended lectures and seminars, but would often zone out into planning the rest of my day, or mindlessly scrolling through my phone to numb my brain.
I’d agree to an 8 hour shift in my old retail job, knowing full well that this was 8 hours where I would stand bored out of my mind, completely uninspired and wasting time (whilst also calculating what 8 x £7.95 would look like in my bank account).
This is when I was reminded of a book I read a few years ago called Essentialism by Greg Mckeown. The premise of the book is that you should have clear, defined goals in your life, and only take on responsibilities which fall in line with the goals. I had read the book once before, which had sparked me to cut off all the lose ties and commitments I had in my life – which helped me greatly for a few months.
Just before lockdown, I had come to the conclusion that something needed to give, and I needed to have a complete reset on how I managed my time. Then lo and behold, a global pandemic did just that.
Forced to be with my own thoughts and spend 24 hours doing barely anything, I learned to become more comfortable and respectful of my own time and energy. I had time to focus on my long term goals, but also be completely present and understand that I don’t need to be swimming backwards and forwards to be peaceful, I just need to be present.
As real life has picked back up again, I have started to notice that my views on productivity and time management are much healthier and stable than before. I am agreeing to less things, and learning that I am always within my rights to give something up or end something. This doesn’t make me a failure. This means that I understand my time and energy is best when it is in a concentrated form.
When you spread yourself so thinly over various tasks and commitments, you’re only able to give a fraction of your capabilities to it. You could have the best genetics to be a swimmer, but if you’re swimming 3 times a week as well as working a 45 hour job, rarely sleeping and drinking all the time – you’re going to be a very subpar swimmer. If you devoted 15 hours a week to swimming, and worked 18 hours a week, with optimum sleep and nutrition, you’d be on your way to being a very successful swimmer.
This applies to anything in life. The reason I feel so average at many things is because I don’t give myself the time and energy to different avenues to let them flourish. Over lock down, my flexibility was the best it has ever been in my life, because I did 4 hours of yoga per week, compared to the 0 hours I had been doing before.
On a social level, we are much happier and brighter people to be around when our social batteries are allowed to rest and charge up again. Of course, there are variations between people who identify as introverted and extroverted – but the same principle remains, that we are much more sociable when we’ve also had time to be unsociable.
Moving forward, my biggest goal or aim for the next few months is to have one day per week where I have no commitments other than the odd bit of house work. Additionally, I want to limit how many plans I make after 5pm each day. I am someone who functions best on a 10pm-7am sleep cycle, and I like to spend a good few hours winding down in the evening time. Making less plans in the later half of the day means that I always have the time to check in with myself, rather than running around like a headless chicken.
Of course, life happens and it’s not always possible to have the most perfect life schedule. But always remember, you are completely and utterly in charge of your own life and time. Nobody/nothing else should have control over how you spend your time and how much energy you need to put into something out of your choice.
I am much happier, financially better off, healthier and more intelligent now that I’ve been more selective with what I say yes to, verses several months ago when I wanted to take on absolutely everything.