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How to Get Less Busy

We’re all busy. We all pack our days and our lives with things to do, places to be, tasks to tick off, people to meet, and then lament the lack of time for all the other things we want to do, the things we didn’t get round to. We curse ourselves for not having got half of what we wanted done. Does this situation sound familiar to you?

I recently got the chance to do some extra hours at work, and I took the opportunity, thinking the extra money would be useful. So, for the last few weeks I’ve been working full time. But outside of work, I didn’t want to change anything. I still wanted to write blog posts, and read what everyone else has been up to. I still wanted to cook everything from scratch, take my own lunch to work every day, and make sure we were eating proper meals at night. I still wanted to keep things plastic- and convenience-free. I still wanted to take photos to post on instagram. I’m also doing a short course, so I need to make some time for studying. Did I mention that my job has a killer commute? 2+ hours daily. Oh, and outside all of that, life was going on. Friends were having birthdays, I had friends to catch up with who were coming back from travelling, others who are imminently leaving to go travelling. There were interesting events happening in the community. Family commitments. My boyfriend (completely reasonably) wanted us to spend some time together.

Of course, I tried to do everything. On one level, I was relatively successful. I juggled a million things and micro managed my time so any spare second was filled with something productive. But I felt stressed out, tired, and fed up. My boyfriend and I seemed to have endless conversations about chores; who should be doing them, why they weren’t being done, whether the world would really end if we didn’t wash the tea towels for another few days, whether it was acceptable to eat the same thing for dinner five days in a row. I knew I was making less healthy choices, and that made me frustrated. How on earth does everyone else manage to cope, when I don’t?

Then it struck me (or more accurately, my boyfriend pointed out) that other people aren’t coping so much as compromising. When people are busy, they’ll go out for dinner, or get takeaway. They’ll buy convenience foods. They’ll put friends and family on hold, maybe. Or they’ll continue to try to manage everything until they compromise their health, or their relationships, or just burn out.

My problem was, I wasn’t willing to compromise. On anything. I still wanted to do all the things I did when I had more time, except with far less time.

As I wasn’t getting any more hours in the day, and I clearly didn’t have enough time to do everything, I either had to compromise, or drop something. They were my only choices. It may seem like a daunting choice, but you know what? Deciding what to do wasn’t nearly as hard as I imagined.

Here’s what I did.

Step 1: Figure out what is important to you

This was easy for me. My relationships, my family and my friends. My commitment to living as sustainably as possible (no nasty plastic packaging or convenience foods). My desire to eat proper, healthy, balanced meals. My need to see things through that I start. Your priorities may be the same or they may be completely different to mine. Either way, map them out.

Step 2: Figure out how your spending most of your time

I was spending 40 hours at work, as well as 10+ hours commuting. Out of my week, that is a lot of hours… but working didn’t feature in my first (priorities) list. Neither did money. That’s not to say I don’t need to work at all, or that the extra money isn’t useful, but right now, neither of these are a priority for me. The part-time hours I was working before were enough to pay the bills, and we aren’t saving for anything specific, so those extra hours I was working weren’t doing much to improve my life. In fact, they were taking time away from all the other things that I wanted to do, and making me feel stressed.

Step 3: If they don’t match up already, take some steps to get them aligned

Are you spending the majority of time doing the things that you want (or need) to be doing – the things that you prioritised in Step 1? We should be spending more time on the things that are important to us. Once I realised this, I found it a whole lot easier to figure out what needed to be dropped, and where I needed to concentrate my time. Starting next week, I’m going back to my part time hours, which should give me an extra 10 hours to focus on what is important to me. Maybe in the future my priorities will change, but for now, this is how I’m creating space in my life for the things I want to do.

Your priorities and commitments will no doubt be different from mine, but the process is the same. If your situation is such that you can’t drop things completely, think about compromising. Devote more time to the things that matter, and let the rest take the hit.

Our time is precious. We can’t get any more hours in the day, so we need to use our time wisely.

“Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” ~Brian Andreas

Success Is Not A Number

The last post I published was my 100th post. I did not realise this until I actually published the post – and when I pressed that button I almost had a heart attack because I hadn’t actually meant to publish it at all. I’d meant to hit the preview button. I still felt that the post was a jumbled collection of thoughts that was littered with typos, it was far too long; plus I hadn’t actually decided if I even wanted to publish it.

That’s never happened to me before – the accidental publishing – and I found it quite ironic that just as WordPress sends me a notification that I’ve published 100 posts I’m scrambling to delete that 100th post, or at least block it so I have a chance to actually tidy it up.

I decided that these things happen for a reason (and it was definitely an interesting learning experience for me!), so I decided to leave it published – once I’d checked the spelling and straightened it out a bit.

But it got me thinking about creating milestones and targets for ourselves, and how they don’t always serve us.

Let me explain.

When I first started blogging, I had targets. Well, I thought they were targets. I wanted to reach 100 followers in the first three months. After that, I decided I wanted to reach a new  x number in the next x months. But then I began thinking – is that actually something I can actually decide?

I have no way to control who comes to my blog, and likes what they read and decides to sign up. The only thing that I have control over is my writing. I can control what I write about, how I write and how often I publish posts.

I can’t make people follow me, so why was I setting myself targets for followers? I also realised that I love it when every single new person follows the blog, because it feels great to know that I’ve connected with a previous stranger. I love making friends here! As I write this post, I have 497 followers. I’m getting really close to 500, but the number doesn’t matter.

I want readers who like what I write about, who want to engage with me, and feel inspired as a result of reading what I have to say. That is what success feels like to me; the numbers aren’t important. Of course I love getting more readers, and being able to interact with a wider audience, but the 500th reader will be no more exciting than the 498th, and 499th, or the 501st.

The same applies for post numbers. When I started blogging, I decided to commit to writing 3 posts a week. I was unemployed at the time and I felt this was useful to provide structure, keep my mind occupied and give me a creative outlet. Once I got a job I managed to keep this up for a time, but during the month when my parents came to stay I found it too hard.

The way I saw it, I had two options – either keep up the target and write shorter, less thought out posts; or reduce the number, but keep up the quality.

It was an easy decision. I want people to enjoy what I have to say. I don’t want to be writing posts telling my readers that I don’t have time to write posts. Or telling people that I’m having such a great time that I don’t have time to tell them about it.

People are busy, they have inboxes that get bombarded with all kinds of information (and often far too much) and the least I can do is have enough respect for my readers to only write when I have something worth saying. There is no point in publishing posts just for the sake of numbers.

So now I don’t have number targets.

Instead I focus on what I do have control over – which is the content. If I have lots to say, then I will publish three posts a week, maybe more. If I don’t have anything to say… then I don’t publish empty space. I wait until I have the time and content to actually write something worth reading. Which is why my 100th post wasn’t any more significant than the others.

So I thought it was fitting that I made a mess of my 100th post. It was as if the universe was testing me, saying well you said it didn’t matter – so let’s shake things up and see if it does matter!

And no, it didn’t.

But imagine if I had attached some kind of meaning to it? I would have been disappointed, or angry, or upset – over something that was actually quite trivial and insignificant.

We can’t measure our success by plucking numbers out of the air. By doing so we create unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and then we feel bad when things don’t pan out the way we’d hoped they might. Success is about doing the best that we can with the time we have and the knowledge we have. It’s about making connections. How many isn’t important, what matters is how good they are.

One last look at 2013…

We’re now into the third week of 2014, and so far on the blog all I’ve talked about is 2013. I need to get with the times, so this will be the final post I write that dwells on what is now behind us. Enough of living in the past, I say!

Holidays and the start of a New Year are great times to start making plans for how we want the next part of our lives to be. All the things we want to do, to see, to learn, to experience, to feel. I love to plan, and in previous years I would go charging ahead into dreaming and scheming. This year though (or last year, technically), I slowed down. I decided to spend some time reflecting on the year that just passed before I started thinking about what’s next. Specifically, I thought about all the things that I did that I was proud of in 2013. My achievements. Read more

Rested, refreshed and ready for 2014!

Ah. Four weeks away from it all. It was fantastic. I finally managed to slow down, take the time to relax properly and have a well-needed rest. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

That’s not to say I took time out from trying to live as sustainably as possible, keeping things simple and continuing to embrace minimalism. After all, why should holidaying change anything?

Having spent four weeks with a small backpack weighing less than 6kgs, and not feeling once like I was without something I needed, I am sold on the idea of taking as little as possible when travelling. It was such a great feeling not to be burdened by a huge heavy backpack, and it certainly made traveling around much more enjoyable. Read more

Goal setting – three months on

I decided a while back to make goal setting one of my routines. I figured it would help guide my thoughts and be a stepping-stone to making all the dreams I have become realities. The technique I decided to try is called 3 1 5, with goals set for 3 months time, 1 years time and 5 years time, under four categories: emotional/spiritual, financial/vocational, heath/education/recreation, and friends & family.

Goal-setting isn’t something that comes naturally to me. It did take a while to gain the momentum and shift from thinking about it, and wanting to do it, to actually begin the goal setting. I wrote about my struggle with goal-setting on a previous post, three months ago, when I finally filled in all the boxes in the matrix.

Three months ago. Which means my goals are up for review.

I was a little nervous about this. Whilst I knew most of the goals I’d written, I hadn’t actually consulted my matrix during the three months. I decided to take myself out of the house and to one of my favourite cafes so I was in a neutral, but pleasant, environment.

I unfolded the matrix.

My first thoughts, when I looked at all the ‘3 month’ boxes, were “Oh no! I haven’t achieved any of it!” But when I looked more closely, I realised that I was actively working towards a lot of the goals, I just hadn’t achieved them yet. Others I had changed direction slightly, so the timescale was no longer valid. Rather than 3-month goals, these had become more like 6-month or 1-year goals.

The 1-year and 5-year goals were much easier to review because they are still goals for the future and I wasn’t expecting to have achieved them. It was super reassuring to see that they all still fitted with my general plans, though, and I did feel that I was working towards most of them.

Next came writing the new matrix. This was so much easier than the first time as I now had a framework to follow. It allowed me to address the way I’d phrased things the first time round to make them more appropriate. For some of the goals, rather than saying “I have…” I wrote “I’m working towards…”. It was satisfying to move one of my 1-year goals into the 3-month box, and one of my 5-year goals into the 1-year box because that now seemed like a reasonable timescale.

It was also obvious when I reviewed the matrix that I’d left some gaping holes with major aspects of my life not even considered, so now I need to think about how to address these.

One of my goals is to do this exercise four times over the space of a year. Whether it’ll be something I stick with long-term I’m still not sure about, but at the moment I’m finding it quite motivating. My favourite bit about it is that it’s so empowering – recognizing what I want and committing to working towards it. Taking control of my destiny, if you like!

If you’re not someone who regularly sets goals, why not give this a go? It’s a great way of thinking about what you want to get out of your life, and being pro-active, rather than lamenting the things you don’t have and can’t do. In three months time it will be New Year’s Eve, so rather than trying to make New Year’s resolutions whilst laying on your sofa nursing a hangover and eating comfort food, start thinking about what you want now. That way when it comes to New Year’s Day you can look over the last three months and congratulate yourself on what you have achieved…whilst nursing a hangover and eating comfort food. A much better start to the New Year!

New Year’s Day is not the time to start planning the rest of your life. That time is right now!

My struggle with goal-setting

I like the idea of achieving goals. I like the idea that if I want something to happen, then it will happen. So if I decide that I’ll be more organised/learn a new skill/make some other life changes, then, miraculously, it will happen. Except, quite often, it doesn’t. It turns out that deciding that I want something to change, but doing nothing else to achieve the change, isn’t really a recipe for success. Deciding that I want something to happen might be the first step, but there’s a lot of other steps out there on the path to achieving that goal. Read more