This post is part of a series on slowing down you can find the rest of the series here – Slowing down.
Last week I wrote the post 11 signs that you could be a busy addict. It was a super easy post for me to write as I had done every one of those things listed at some point.
As noted in the post, being busy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is good to be occupied with work and play of value to you. I love setting goals and achieving them. I love contributing positively to the world around me.
The problem with busy comes when you are addicted to it or you feel you cannot control how busy you are. Generally when you reach this point you also reach either overwhelm or burnout. I reached that at the end of 2014 and it took for me to reach that point before I did anything fundamental to start slowing things down.
If you are feeling this way, I have outlined the three steps I took first to help me find a new way of operating. Being busy ALL.THE.TIME. was all I had known for years, so to change this behaviour in myself was going to take some work.
I needed to accept that I indeed was addicted to being busy:
- The jittery feeling I would get when I didn’t know what big thing I was going to work on next? Addicted to busy.
- My inability to relax and enjoy the moment without thinking about what I was going to next? Addicted to busy.
- Working beyond my energy levels to tick stuff off my to do list? Addicted to busy.
I needed to accept that it was okay to:
- Sit down and spend time on activities that I didn’t deem “productive”.
- Completing one goal, didn’t mean I needed to set another one straight away.
- That taking time to sleep, relax and re-energise myself was actually a good use of my time.
- Not being busy does not automatically make me “lazy”.
- I would have to say no to fantastic opportunities at times.
Some of these I still struggle with a little, but the beautiful thing about acceptance is it gets easier as you work on it. It gets easier especially when you see the results.
The best example of this for me was with regard to working at night. Remember on my list 11 signs that you could be a busy addict I included the point “you get your second wind for the day at about 9.30pm“. When I had kids at home during the day, I needed to work at night. Working at night without me knowing it had actually become a habit.
The plan had been when the youngest went to school I would no longer work nights, but due to a combination of factors including taking on too much freelance work, I felt I had more work than the hours I had available so night work crept back in. I would start work with the intention of “just finishing something off”. The clock would tick past 9.30pm and I would get my second wind and start working on other stuff. Next thing you know it would be after 11pm before I would shut off and go to bed.
When I reached the point where I felt like quitting everything, I knew part of it was because I was exhausted and sleep deprived, so had to start there. I had accept what I was doing was detrimental to my health and commit to not working nights, regardless of what work needed to be done. If I had a deadline, I could get up an hour earlier in the morning and complete the work, but I couldn’t get online at night.
And guess what happened? I became more productive. The work I was doing after 9.30pm was taking me twice as long as it was during the day, so I was causing myself to work longer for very little gain. Knowing I couldn’t go on at night, meant I was more focused during the day. With more sleep came more ideas and more solutions to problems. I was working less, but doing more and the work I was doing was of a higher quality.
Having accepted the fact that taking time to sleep, relax and re-energise myself was actually a good use of my time and see it work out in reality; it gave me the confidence to accept the other truths to help me slow down.
ACTION: Assess whether you are truly in control of how busy you are? If it has grown out of control, don’t berate yourself. Accept that it has and work on the next two steps.
I love the quote from Henry David Thoreau –
It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
The quote sums up beautifully the conclusion I had come to. I could be as productive as I wanted but if I wasn’t working on the right things, it wasn’t going to help me. I needed to focus what available energy I had for work on the right things. I needed to focus my free time to spend it with those I loved and wanted to be around. I needed to focus on caring for myself well, so I could care for my family.
This realisation was the driving force from moving from a long list of goals for each year, to one goal for the year – 2015: the one thing.
In 2015 I set my focus, my goal for the year to be a planned, patient and present mother to my beautiful kids. Underneath that I had some habits to help me achieve and measure my success. Some of those habits had appeared on my list as goals in previous years and I had failed to achieve them.
Having a core focus overriding the strategy was a different approach and one that made a huge difference. Going to bed at 10pm for example became no longer about me – it was about my kids. If I choose to stay up later, I would be tired and most likely a little cranky. It is hard to be patient and present when you are feeling that way.
Having one written down goal gave me focus and most importantly it gave me a framework from which to make decisions on where I would spend my time. As new opportunities arose through out the year, I would ask “Will this help me be a planned, patient and present mother to my beautiful kids?” And if the answer was no, then I would decline the opportunity.
It didn’t mean I didn’t do things for myself that brought me joy and happiness. I went to USA for over two weeks on my own and ran the Boston marathon amongst other things. But it did mean there were weekends and nights were I declined invitations out to spend time with the kids or just to stay home so I could get more rest.
ACTION: Set yourself one goal for the remainder of the year. Let it be your focus and your guide to help you stay on track with slowing down. See my tips for goal setting here.
Having accepted I had been addicted to being busy and then setting a goal to help me slow down, I now needed to start acting. This meant making some hard decisions on what I needed to stop doing and what I needed to start doing.
I had to make hard choices on the work commitments I had taken on and if they should continue. I finished up working on a project which I really loved, but was taking up more time than I was no willing to give. I stopped doing some small work activities that weren’t adding much value, but I was still doing more out of habit.
Two key activities I started doing in 2015 that had an enormous impact on my life was:
- Going to bed at 10pm – I highlighted how that transformed my productivity above, but it also made me a much nicer person to be around!
- Starting a gratitude journal- you can read in detail how I started this and the app I use in this post – Monthly review – practising gratitude but I have quoted below the section I wrote on how it helped me slow down.
Has practising daily gratitude helped? Without a doubt! I have always been a bit skeptical about gratitude and was not sure whether it would make a difference. But it really has. Starting each day, thinking of three things I am grateful for moves me into positive thinking. Already I am looking for the good around me and there is plenty.
I also like having to come up with an affirmation for the day. On tougher days, I will often repeat my affirmation to myself and pay attention to it if I find I need help focusing.
There are days when I cannot wait to list the amazing things that happen and I am very happy that this happens frequently. But there are days, where as the end of the day draws close, I wonder if I will be able to think of anything amazing to include. But as I feel compelled to list three things, I think and think and always come up with things that I am very happy that happened in my day. Without having to journal these amazing things, I would most likely go to bed feeling more deflated. Journaling at the end of the day, albeit in incredibly short form helps me end the day on a positive note.
In the three months I think I missed two entries. I will continue with this practice and I truly feel it has helped me improve my attitude. It helps me stay focused on my goals, makes me accountable and I am so happy I have started this new habit.
I am still making daily entries in my daily gratitude journal. It starts off my day more intentionally and having only three things on my list of what I want to do, narrows my focus and helps me stay on task.
ACTION: Choose one thing you will stop doing right now and on thing you will start doing right now.
Through these first three steps, I slowed the pace of my life significantly in 2015. It didn’t mean there weren’t times when the calendar was overcrowded or I never had to work extra hours to get tasks completed, but the overall feel of the year was slower and I reached the end of the year in a good place which set me up to make more changes this year, which I will share next week.