Several years ago I stopped answering the question “How are you?” with what had sadly become my standard reply, “I’m great! Just SO busy.” I was, of course, busy. Who isn’t? We live in a culture that is fully committed to making us feel like if we’re not packing every second of the day with something, then we’re just not doing it right. Not only are we obsessed with activity, we’re passing this pattern on to our children with every night we spend telling them, “Sorry honey, we don’t have time to ____ if we want to get to ___ on time.”
The proper decision metric for whether or not to say yes to the next thing is actually not “is there room in my calendar for this?” (It’s certainly one, but it’s not enough.) How often do we simply check our phones and if we are not already booked elsewhere, automatically say yes?
Can you predict what happens when we do that? We spend another day breathlessly running from one thing to the next, often arriving late, painfully anxious that we’re not doing anything particularly well.
We’re drowning in a flood of our own doing.
But then when we have a chance to do something really amazing – the chance to fulfill a dream we’ve held for a long time – or to say yes to something truly worthy of our time and attention- we hide behind the veil of busyness we’ve created.
“Oh I just couldn’t possibly do THAT. I’m way too busy.”
If you have something important calling to you, you don’t need more time. In fact, we can’t get more than the 24 hours a day we’re each already given.
We don’t need more time, we need more courage.
We need the chance to prove to ourselves that the tradeoffs that come with pursuing a worthy goal are worth it. Because there are tradeoffs. But if we choose those tradeoffs instead of being surprised by them, we can protect what matters most to us.
That’s the essence of Life Design – choosing to use your time and energy in service to what matters most to you so you can make a meaningful impact there. For many of us “there” comes down to two big arenas – our professional (paid or volunteer) body of work and our relationships.
We long to make an impact with all those hours we work but sometimes it feels like we’re on a hamster wheel of tasks that just don’t add up to much. We want to have strong families and close friendships but we’re ships passing in the night. The words and pictures don’t match.
Life Design lines up the words and pictures. You get to choose how you spend your days, and thereby, how you spend your life.
So when I adopted Life Design as a practice, the first thing I did was to sit with my family to decide how we wanted our family time during mornings, evenings and weekends to look so we could anchor those in first. That “backwards” approach was revealing.
It showed me how much time was actually available for me to do my professional work and for all five of us to pursue activities like sports and music and nonprofit work. It created well-defined boundaries around my workday (and my husband’s) and gave me a good reason to fill those hours with the highest leverage work, essentially crowding out time-consuming busywork that doesn’t move the needle toward my objectives
This year, that means I’m serious about using work time primarily for these four things:
- Conversations (with my clients, my collaborators, my mentors)
- Writing (blog posts, speeches, a book (!))
- Planning (business growth, marketing, budgeting, content)
- Connecting (fellow entrepreneurs, collaboration opportunities, prospective clients)
I protect time for these daily practices that energize and sustain me:
- Exercise (30-60 minutes a day of yoga, spinning, running, or time in our home gym)
- Quiet time with my Journaling Bible (about 20 minutes a day to get through the Bible in a year – the Old Testament once and the Psalms and New Testament twice)
- Conversations (with my husband, my three children, my parents, my friends)
- A family dinner
- Reading something uplifting or educational (usually to wind down before bed)
- Sleep (7-8 hours nearly every night)
And I have ongoing responsibilities to attend to just like you:
- Grocery shopping & other errands
- Laundry and housekeeping
- Packing lunches and backpacks
- Driving kids to practices and cheering from the audience or sidelines
- Checking homework
- Bedtime snacks, baths and stories
So to fit all that in, something has to give. I have to really check myself on how much time I spend on things like:
- Tidying up my house (I could spend all day doing this if I’m not careful)
- Reading and answering email
- Mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds
- Bouncing between multiple tasks without finishing one (colossal time drain)
- Watching TV or reading magazines (I watch 1-2 shows a week.)
- Shopping (“I’ll just pop into Target” can so easily turn into an hour I don’t have)
- Coffee with people who want to “pick my brain”
It takes commitment to protect the time and energy we need to move the needle on our most important contributions and to build into our most treasured relationships. Those people you admire – the ones who make you wonder where they find the time to do what they do – this is how they do it.
It takes courage to say no to things when everyone else is saying yes. It takes patience to invest in activities that have a long term payoff but sometimes little short term reward. And it takes persistence to stay focused when the world is hurling distractions at you by the millisecond.
But it’s possible.