What Time Is It?
My hands hurt. My eyes hurt. And I’ve got a crick in my neck that would make the Spanish inquisition tremble.
As my mind ticks away at all my daily tasks I hear a soft thumping in the hallway that matches the pounding in my head. I suddenly realize that it’s my girlfriend walking up the stairs on her way home from work. Her key in the lock wakes me from my daze.
What time is it? What have I been doing?
I feel tired and cranky and I fear the question she is going to ask me. It’s the same one she asks me almost everyday. What did you do today?
I’ve spent all day working but if feels like I haven’t gotten anywhere. I feel defeated and confused. What the hell happened?
This happens to all of us. We get caught up in working and a whole day vanishes before our eyes. We work hard, but it feels like we are hardly working.
Our jobs can feel like a Sisyphusian task, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can choose to live differently, to live more simply, to do less, and get more done.
I recently attended a webinar with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits about simplifying your day and here is what I learned.
What does it mean to simplify your day?
It means different things to different people.
It could mean taking time to write, exercise, spend time with family, and enjoy a good book.
Or it could mean working on a project you are passionate about, coordinating with a team, and collaborating with your boss.
Everyone’s simplified day looks different, but there is one universal theme.
Simplifying your day means making time for what’s important.
Well as Leo Babauta pointed out we all strive for this, but we get caught. And the same things often catch us.
He identified 10 main obstacles to simplifying your day and one bonus obstacle that I’m sure you’ve gotten caught up in as well.
10 Obstacles to Simplifying Your Day.
1. Underestimating Completion Time
Completion time is simply how long it takes to get something done. We are good at guessing a general completion time, but we often gloss over transitional steps.
The example Leo gave was that before the webinar he decided to go on a run. He wanted to run 8 miles and at 9 minutes a mile he should be able to complete his run in 1 hour and change and have plenty of time before his webinar. But he failed to factor in things like putting on his shoes, grabbing his keys, and making his post run smoothie.
Because of that he was still drinking his smoothie as he signed on to the webinar. This is something we’ve all done before. We don’t think about all the extra little steps that are added to other tasks.
We often plan for everything to go perfectly and things rarely do. These small steps and delays add up and before we know if our whole day has gotten off track.
2. Overestimating Capacity
Many people underestimate what they are capable of, but overestimate what they can do. Leo gave the example of a typical daily to do list.
Let’s say you make a long to do list for your day. You work all day and can’t get it done. Instead of simplifying your list, you think, “Man I need to work harder tomorrow.” So, you add that list to tomorrows list.
Tomorrow you work even harder and get your list done. So you think, Wow look at everything I did. Maybe if I work even harder I can get more done. So, no matter if you do your list or not you end up trying to do more.
This process leads to you rushing through your tasks and results in a ton of stress. Even if you get a lot done, you probably aren’t doing it well.
3. The Ease of Yes
Saying yes is so easy, especially when you say yes to someone else. We rarely say yes to things like exercise or self care, but we are great at saying yes to all sort of other things.
Leo tells us that fulfillment is much harder than commitment. Saying yes only takes a second, but fulfilling that commitment takes time and energy, which are two of our most precious resources.
We always think we are going to have more time, more energy, and more money in the future. But when we say yes all the time, we run out of these resources faster that we think. Our short-term commitments eat up everything and we never
4. Misallocating Personal Resources-
One thing I always tell my clients is “You are your most valuable resource.” We are great at protecting our assets but often neglect to honor the precious resources of our energy and attention.
Leo gives the example of waking up early and working hard all morning. But because you have pushed yourself, in the afternoon you are spent.
You have to take a nap or you just can’t seem to get going. Even if you do take a nap, you might find that you are groggy all afternoon and can’t really work effectively.
When we misallocate our resources, we don’t have energy for what’s really important. We find ourselves rushing around and tiring before we can get anything done.
Distractions are not new, but with the pace of modern technology the amount of time and energy that we can lose to distractions is greater than ever.
Leo gives the example of sitting down to write. But first he wants to do this one little thing. That one little thing leads to another. And then he has to check something else and then something else.
All of a sudden, he looks up, it’s five o’clock, and he never got around to writing. He spent the whole day caught up in distracting tasks.
Distractions always start will a small diversion, but if we’re not careful they can eat a ton of our time. All those little 5 min diversions add up to a ton of lost time and energy.
6. We Forget To Make Time for What’s Important
Most of us know what’s important to us, but we often don’t live our lives in accord with our values. Leo notes that most people value things like spending time with loved ones, creative work, and self-care.
But even though we care about those things we forget to prioritize them. Because those things don’t jump out and demand our attention. We have to make a conscious choice to focus on the things that really matter.
7. The Demands of Others
Humans are by their very nature social animals, but if we don’t have direction we can get lost in the herd. My teacher used to tell me, “Without strong vows, you will spend your whole life caught in someone else’s agenda.”
Leo said that you could spend all day answering emails and responding to phone calls. But this means you are letting other people dictate your day.
Working with others is great. But if you don’t find a balance, your priorities will get lost in the shuffle.
8. Wanting to Please Others
Other people are not the enemy, but even people with good intentions can get us off track. Leo noted that simplifying your day doesn’t mean we should never try to help others. But there has to be a limit.
If we don’t set these limits, we not only become stressed out, but we lose the ability to be present. And that doesn’t benefit those whom we want to help.
Leo put this in a category all its own, because E-mail can become a black hole from which nothing escapes.
There are many good reasons you need email. A lot of our work is done there and it can help us organize our correspondence. But when you are working in your inbox, other things are always coming in. There may be questions, requests, and/or the demands of others.
Leo warns that email can expand to whatever time we give it. Which means email demands a special kind of awareness.
My father always used to tell me, “You’ve got to inspect what you expect.” Expectations are common, but often lead to a load of problems. Because when reality doesn’t match our expectations, suffering ensues.
Leo identified 2 categories of expectations that act as obstacles.
1. Our Own expectations- This is how much we think we can do, who we think we should be, and how we think we should respond. These expectations can lead to inner criticism and doubt. They also often hide the fact that we are actually doing a kick ass job.
2. Other peoples expectations – This includes what everyone expects us to be able to do, who they expect us to be, and how the think we should react.
It’s really easy to get tied up into knots about these expectations. They begin with the primary relationship we have with our parents, continue through school, and then expand, as we become an adult.
They can be a prison that keeps us from realizing our potential or maintaining balance in our lives. But for living a human life, expectations are par for the course. If we aren’t aware of these expectations, they will buffer us at every turn.
In the original list that Leo shared on the webinar there were only 10 obstacles but in the Q&A discussion he identified 1 more.
11. Small Task Mode
Leo describes small task mode as being caught up in doing lots of small tasks. These small tasks include things like emails, social media, and anything that is done in small bits.
The real danger of small task mode is that once our mind enters this space we tend to avoid doing larger more complicated tasks. For example, have you ever noticed that an email that takes more thought to respond to stays in your inbox longer than other emails? We often skip over these longer emails while we are dealing with fast response items.
The way to get over small task mode is to slow down and give yourself space to do longer tasks. Not only will we get these items done more efficiently if we just take a moment to work with them. We will also give ourselves space to be creative and work on the harder things which are often more important.
5 Radical Simplification Skills
Leo didn’t stop with these obstacles. He went on to talk about 5 simplification skills that can help anyone tackle these obtacles. So make you check out my next post where I’ll share these 5 skills. And how you can put them into use today.
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