My husband likes to give me a hard time about supposedly not being able to relax. Whenever I fall a slight bit ill, he is quick to blame it on my stress.
The thing is, while I acknowledge that he is partially right, I also find it hard to totally agree because I have had a tendency to merely maintain an appearance of business by wasting time, rather than actually working to get anything meaningful done so that I can fully relax later.
I have to give myself credit, though, because I’ve been getting a whole lot better with time management as I’ve been seeking employment, as I’ve become more serious with my writing, and as I’ve gotten to know myself better, but wasting time is still something that plagues me. Now, though, it’s more because I have a broad definition of what it means to waste time, than because I’m actually still sitting around wasting a lot of time.
When I’m honest, wasted time is only time that’s spent on things that don’t bring me joy.
When I’m being a harsh self-critic, though, wasted time is anything that doesn’t produce some sort of quantifiable result.
This is where my husband likes to prod at me about relaxing, and this is where I can agree that he’s right.
I picked up this desire to remain ever busy, or appear to be ever busy, from my dad, who picked it up from his dad. I admire my dad and grandpa, and I want to make them proud, but they are a little too extreme in their efforts to spend their time purposefully.
My grandpa has been the property manager of a block of apartments for as long as I can remember, and he always has a project to do over there. When he’s not working hard on the apartments, he’s got a project at home. My dad has a long list of projects, too, lest he be caught idle for one second. I have a distinct memory of him, having just barely recovered from back surgery, hastily planting a tree in the backyard. He didn’t further injure himself, but if he had, then he really wouldn’t have saved any time by getting to work on the yard sooner than the doctor recommended.
When I was younger, if I didn’t have something that I had to do, I was constantly bored.
I even had a list of activities, much like my dad and grandpa have their lists of projects, so that I could stay busy when there wasn’t anything to do. But, I didn’t usually enjoy the way I spent my time. It always felt like I was doing things just to fill the hours until there was something I had to do, which is a habit that stretched long into my adulthood.
As I’ve discovered more about myself through writing and challenging myself to try new things, I’ve grown less anxious about wasting time.
This is largely because I’ve developed hobbies that aren’t mindless scrolling or binge watching, and because I actually enjoy these hobbies, I’ve stopped seeing them as ways to waste time.
I can now sit down to read, more often, without thinking “I should be working harder on my own novel,” or I can sit down to write without thinking, “I should be doing the dishes,” or I can sit down to practice my calligraphy without getting antsy to clean the house, or do those chores that I used to feel were more important.
Plus, in getting to know myself better, I’ve learned that I thrive in a more structured, routine environment, and I can relax better at the end of a day if I’ve accomplished a few goals. Sometimes those goals do involve cleaning, but more often, now, they’re creative or personal goals.
I’ve been able to create an effective structure for myself with these four strategies:
At night before I fall asleep, and/or in the morning while I journal, I make a plan for the day. It doesn’t have to be in-depth, and it’s usually nothing more than: “Today I will ___ and ____ and ____.” But, even having a few intentions for the day helps me to accomplish meaningful things, which helps me to relax easier when I’ve fulfilled those intentions.
2.Limit or eliminate multi-tasking
I’m terrible at multi-tasking, as I think we all are, but it’s always a good to have a reminder to stay present in the moment and focus on one task at a time. The more energy I put into the task-at-hand, the more I can get out of the process, and the sooner I can move on.
I’ve tried different kinds of daily routines, different browser applications to block the Internet, and different timer techniques. Nothing has stuck, but I continue to experiment. Some days, I need to set a timer to get things done, and some days I don’t. I used to have email and other distracting sites consistently blocked for several hours during the week, but I would just find workarounds by going to different browsers, so now I only use the option where I can block the Internet for an hour or more at a time when I’m really struggling to stay focused, but, to be honest, since I took the daily block off the Internet, I haven’t needed to to block the Internet much. I guess it’s the whole, what is forbidden becomes more appealing concept.
I continue to experiment with ways to avoid distractions, and I have found so much freedom in allowing myself to try different techniques, rather than relying on one.
4.Stop to reflect instead of deflect
I mentioned something similar in my last posts about goals and procrastination, but I’ll mention it again because it has been working so well! When I start getting incredibly distracted, it’s most helpful when I shut things down or turn things off, and consider why I’m having so much trouble focusing, because when I deflect, I waste time.
It seems like reflecting would be the real time waster, but it’s not.
Maybe I’m working on the wrong thing that day. Maybe I need to take a prolonged break. Or maybe I just need that moment to reflect, and then get back to working on something meaningful (or those occasional obligatory tasks).
Having a structured routine in which I can accomplish some goals has, paradoxically, given me freedom.
When I went about my days without any intentions, I was much more rattled by anxiety about “getting things done,” and by the evenings, I would feel bad that I hadn’t accomplished more with my day. While I don’t think it’s wise to only permit myself to do things I enjoy after I’ve accomplished a certain amount of things, I do find so much more joy in relaxing and exploring my hobbies when I’ve worked at a few goals or fulfilled a few intentions. When my husband badgers me about relaxing, he’s not saying that I should sit around and do nothing, he’s saying that I should invest my time in things that bring me joy, and I can agree with that.
I’m curious to know about your relationship with time and routines. Do you find yourself worrying over wasted time, or does it not phase you? Let me know in the comments!