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How To Get More Of What You Want Out Of Everyday


jen neitzelA friend of mine was telling a story recently about her husband and a house that they used to own together.

It was a fixer upper and my friend and her hubby were always working on the house. At some point they decided to sell the house, but they had a huge list of tasks that needed to be completed before they thought they’d be able to sell the house.

Then the house sold easily and quickly without completing all the items on the list.

My friend’s husband, who was the list maker, pulled out the many undone to-dos after the house sold and said, “What about the list? What should I do with the list?”

He was troubled by not completing all the tasks and didn’t want to just throw it away because this list had been an ever-present, all consuming reference for his time and his days. It directed him and kept him busy and all of a sudden it was totally irrelevant.

Sometimes to do lists, and the items on them, don’t really matter as much as we think they do.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing lists here. I’m a list maker, problem solver type of personality, too. I enjoy breaking down tasks into actionable steps and then crossing items off my list as I complete them. And even though I’m a list maker, sometimes I have to throw my lists out the window and just hunker down to focus on what I’m trying to accomplish.

There are times that I cannot be on top of everything. Sometimes I need to focus my energy in one direction exclusively. There are times when I’m working on a deadline that I don’t cook, clean or really do much of anything but work. I think it’s one of the secrets to productivity and it’s also a way to feel more happy and free in your life.

There are even times that I put off things that aren’t urgent so that I can have, let’s say, an entire day to knit or crochet. And you know what? When I return to the list, or work at hand, I’m always more productive with new ideas and insights that the day before I wouldn’t have had. We all need a little freedom from responsibilities from time to time.

All this month we’re talking about freedom. I believe that too many of us get ourselves into a place where we are so mired in obligations and responsibilities that we often have no room for focusing on the things that matter to us – whether it’s for work or play.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to remove some items from your plate. Drop some responsibilities. Ditch some obligations. Tell someone “no, I’m busy this week and cannot x,y,z.”

Does that email have to be answered today? What if you waited till tomorrow to answer it so you could focus on what you’re doing right now.

Does the dog need new tags this week? Or can it wait a month or two? What if you waited till the dog tags expired and just renewed the tags when it worked for you. What if you said, that timeframe isn’t good for me and just did what worked with your schedule.

Something I do is save up medical, and other, appointments and sometimes I receive 3 reminders before I get around to scheduling them, then I do all of them at one time in one bulk batch. It’s less work for me to do it that way and I wait until my focus is on my health. One thing at a time is so much less maddening.

Another thing I do, sometimes, is look at my to do list and decide that I don’t need to complete that item at all. I just cross it right off my list without completing it. Talk about liberation! It feels so rebellious to rebel against your your own rules sometimes. Try it, it’s fun!

I think too many of us become our own slave masters. Deciding that we MUST go out and price curtains on Saturday, or whatever rules we decide to put on ourselves and our time, then we’re so busy running around and feeling like we don’t have the downtime we need. What if instead we just sat in the sun with a cool drink on Saturday and just enjoyed our lives? How many of us allow ourselves to do this?

Danielle La Porte talks about productivity and time management in this post, which is directly related to what I’m talking about today. She talks about going to yoga classes when she had other obligations so she could stay focused on the book she was working on. She got rid of her to do list all together so that she could totally focus on her book. She also talks about how doing this increased her productivity.

There have been times in my life where I was so busy just trying to stay on top of my to do list that I was miserable – running from thing to thing, with almost no downtime – growing more and more unhappy because the list was too long and I wasn’t getting any ME time.

Sure, I was accomplishing things, but I wasn’t enjoying the ride at all. What’s the point of life if you aren’t enjoying the ride?

At this point in my life I’m willing to subject myself to short stints where I may not love every second, but living a life where you regularly feel obligated and tied to a constant barrage of responsibilities is exhausting and soul-sucking.

Maya Angelou talks about dysfunctional people and unhealthy relationships – how when people are emotionally cutting us down, or hurting us verbally, it’s what she calls a tiny murder. These people don’t have the courage to directly kill us, so they kill our spirit in tiny ways that, over time, make us feel damned near dead, broken, battered.

I think the same thing is true of the dysfunction that can arise when we aren’t able to pursue things that matter to us – this is true of both personal and professional pursuits. It’s like a tiny soul-death. Every time we don’t make time for the things that matter to us, we are killing a little part of our true selves. We are saying to ourselves and our true priorities, “You don’t matter. I don’t matter. Only the obligations matter.”

It’s my hunch that no one wants to be saying this sort of thing to themselves, so how can a person find balance between what they want and what they have to do?

If you’re in a place where you have that icky feeling of obligation of things you’d rather not do, try removing some of these items from your list. Even if you don’t feel exhausted by a particular task, is there a way that you can create a little more room in your day for some pursuits that is purely devoted to something fills you up or makes you happy?

Think about what that thing might be. For me it’s singing with my ukulele. Now, look at your to do list and add that item to your list. If your list is too full, remove something – put it off, cross it out, add it to a future week’s to do list – just get rid of it for this week.

All too often we say we must get the work done before we allow ourselves to have some fun. What if we flipped that? Had the fun first thing in the morning and then got our work done? What if it increased your productivity all day? This is what I’m finding with my ukulele playing. I’m more fulfilled everyday and have more to give as a result.

So, I want to leave you with this thought, you have the ability to create freedom in your life. You don’t need permission from anyone, but yourself. The question really is, will you give that to yourself?

Let me know if you’re ready to give yourself a little more of what you want everyday. I’d love to know what you have crossed off for this week. Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

If it takes me a day or so to respond it’s because I’m busy playing my ukulele and singing, because that’s a daily priority in my life. It’s a degree of freedom that I give myself daily. How will you give yourself some freedom this week?

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8 Responses to How To Get More Of What You Want Out Of Everyday

  1. Tara says:

    I actually cancelled a date with a new woman I’d met on-line. Feeling depleted, I really didn’t feel like meeting for our breakfast and walk in a few days, so I let her know I was burnt out and needed to take some “me time.” She was understanding and I’m so glad I off-loaded that burden! Whew.

    • It’s so important to be in the right head space when doing anything, but dating maybe even more so than most things. Good for you for knowing you weren’t in a dating frame of mind and for taking time for yourself and your needs, Tara! – Jen

  2. Andrea says:

    When I was washing the dishes furiously a few years ago, I realized that if I kept rushing around like I was that I would DIE rushing around. My life was consumed by all the tasks I had to do. I was hating everything. So, I decided that if the dishes needed to be done that I would do them at a pace that felt right. There are days when I feel that I am not getting anything done. I think that it is part of a natural cycle. We can’t always be doing stuff on a list and we need to rest, laugh, sit around, chit chat, and dream too. Thanks for a great post!

    • I know what you mean, Andrea! I’ve been there too, times in my life where I hated what I was doing. I also struggle with feeling I’ve gotten enough things done, but the thing I’ve realized over the years is the amount I get done is the amount I needed to get done. Sometimes it’s just not possible to work that far ahead because we need downtime, like you mentioned with time with friends chatting, resting or whatever. I think the more we talk about these sorts of things the more we can let ourselves and others off the hook. Isn’t great to be off the hook? Thanks for sharing, Andrea! – Jen

  3. Hi Jen,

    Great article. Not to create more work for you, but could you please repost the link to Danielle’s article? The link isn’t working and I’d love to read her post as well.

    Thanks so much!

  4. Lana says:

    This article resonates with me strongly right now. I’m a mother of a three year old, I’m working on my doctorate and I have different obligations to family, friends and a to-do list as long as my arm. While I do find it satisfying to check off items on the to do list, at times it can distract me from the process of enjoying life. I think to-do lists have a time and place but other times, it’s a simple case of inner-prioritization. If I need to write it down as one of a million other things to do, it may well not be that important anyway.

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