How to Know When it's Time to Dial Back
If you’re a parent, you know where I’m coming from when I say that, as a mom, I give out a great deal of advice. If you’re a parent, you also know where I’m coming from when I half-jokingly say, “Sometimes they even listen to me!” A recent conversation with one of these young people left me thinking about this question, “If I had one piece of UNCOMMON advice that I could give someone, what would it be?“ By UNCOMMON, I mean advice other than my “somewhat expected” mini-sermons like:
- choose your life partner carefully (because 95% of your future happiness will ride on this choice)
- spend time with your loved ones and tell them you love them every chance you get
- don’t nit-pick!
- develop a close relationship with God and keep it that way
- eat healthy foods
- get plenty of rest
- do the things that make you the happiest
- never ask someone to do something for you that you’re fully capable of doing yourself
And on and on.
I tired to think outside of the traditional advice box (or off of the traditional platform) and see what I could come up with. The answer came almost immediately and, given the fact that we live in a world that says, “Do this!… do that!… do everything!” AND given the fact that those of us who write about self help are often the ones with these very words on our lips… the advice I came up with may seem contradictory.
My number one piece of UNCOMMON advice, “For crying out loud, don’t try to do everything!”
Have you ever fallen in the trap of trying to do too many different things? Or have you ever tried to put on too many different proverbial hats? It’s exhausting at best and unhealthy at worst. Trying to have a hand in too many soup pots and a foot in too many doors leaves you:
a. looking like a perfect fool
b. too busy to truly enjoy life
Ironically, it’s also woefully unproductive.
We’re all only human – we can only give our undivided attention (where the good stuff is conceived) to so many tasks.
The more things we try to do, oversee, or take care of – the more diluted our attention becomes. Diluted attention is the place where mistakes and half-assed results are conceived. It kind of reminds me of a big batch of freshly-squeezed lemonade I made this summer. The first day, it was out of this world. It tasted like summer and it was just crazy delicious. In an attempt to extend its life, I added more water to the pitcher a few times. Each time, the great flavor was diluted or literally “watered down.” That’s what we do, in effect, when we have too many things going on.
We take something that could be awesome and add to it until the awesomeness is threadbare.
It’s common sense, really. The fewer things on your “to do” list, the more time you have to devote to each. When we try to do too many things, we spread ourselves too thin and aren’t able to give our best to anything. We become watery lemonade without a lot of flavor or oomph.
Many people simply try to do too much and, whether they realize it at the time or not, they aren’t getting the most out of themselves by doing so. These are the same people who search for magic answers on Google – “how can I manage my time better?” and “time management tips” are popular searches because TRYING TO DO TOO MUCH is a popular mode.
And people wonder why they’re so stressed!
It actually isn’t even a time management issue, when you think about it. We’d all do well to remember that we’re given the same number of hours in our days and weeks that were allotted to Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson… As Chinese author and teacher Lin Yutang said, “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone… The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials,” possibly the difference is these people knew what to eliminate and what to keep. They had a beautiful clarity and singleness of mind which allowed them to..
- get things done
- live fully in the moment
- change the world
I think we’ve covered #1 and I’m not going to even pretend to know the secrets for #3 – but you KNOW I have to spend a few minutes with the second one. You know me, I’m way to feely-feely not to want to shine a spotlight on this one, right? I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen the following scenario play out: I’ll find myself in an especially remarkable place (the mountains of eastern Kentucky, downtown Nashville, the banks of a gorgeous lake, a Julia Roberts movie….) and as I’m soaking the experience up with my every pore, I’ll notice people all around me looking down at their phones, iPods, notebooks, games, or devices I couldn’t possibly name without either a cheat sheet or a 20-something year old.
The moments pass them right by because their next “Status Update” was too important or because they just HAD to know what so-and-so had to say about such-and-such. And it’s not just kids, either. You’ll see people of all ages looking down when they really, really, really should be looking around. Live in the moment, see what there is to see… THEN tell everyone about it or THEN see what everyone else is up to.
Eliminate the nonessentials.
Rachael Ray is another name that comes to mind when I think about singleness of mind. This fantastic cook and cookbook author will be the first to tell you that she is a lousy baker. She doesn’t make desserts, she buys them. Why? She has chosen what she considers to be essential and has eliminated the nonessentials. How do you suppose that’s working for her?
The main reason people don’t get things DONE is because they’re trying to fit too MUCH into 24 hours.
Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew and, other times, someone throws more onto our plate than we have the time or inclination to handle. What happens more times than not when our plate is too full? We walk away because we either aren’t sure where to start or we feel so overwhelmed that get a headache!
So what do you do when there’s simply too many things for one person to deal with? Repeat after me, Something’s gotta give! Oftentimes a good, honest, realistic assessment of everything you’re trying to do will show you the things that can easily be removed… things you’ll never even miss.
Just be careful not to try to pull something into the vacancy a few days down the road.
We could all take a “Lin Yutang” Approach: Get a piece of paper and a pen. Make one column that says ESSENTIALS and one column that says NONESSENTIALS. Beneath each, list 5 things that fall under that particular category. But don’t miss the whole idea and leave out time for things you enjoy under the essentials. Things that bring you relaxation and bliss are possibly the most essential things of all.
One final thought. I firmly believe that age is mostly in the mind. And if someone says, “You’re only as old as you feel,” I quickly nod in agreement. However, let’s be completely honest and open for a minute. As we grow older (and each year we all grow older… whether it’s in our 20′s, 30′s, 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s or beyond) – we’d do well to realize that we need to approach life a little differently. We may need more sleep than we once did – or we may even require less. There will be some things we can do better than ever and there’ll be some things we simply can’t even think about any more. When I was in my 20′s, I could work in my flower beds and herb gardens for 4 hours straight and feel annoyed when it was time to come in and get cleaned up to make dinner.
This past summer, I thought I was going to have to call an ambulance after an hour and a half in the garden. It didn’t make me sad or angry though. Fact is, when I wondered if it was “socially acceptable” to call an ambulance for yourself, I had to laugh. But not too much because it would have taken too much energy. I know I’m not the same person I was years ago and realize that this means approaching life differently. Heck, after raising three daughters, my husband and I are just thankful to still be alive!
The way I look at it is this: When you pass 40, you’re in an especially beautiful place. It’s a place where you can set your own pace. Where some people drop the ball is they try to suddenly UP the pace. They seem to think they have to do all they did when they were younger and then some.
Again…. and people wonder why they’re stressed.
“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone… The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” Take an honest look at your essentials and nonessentials, you may find that a lot more time, energy, and enjoyment suddenly open up.