"The Radiant Buddha said regard the fleeting world like this: like stars fading and vanishing at dawn, like bubbles on a fast moving stream, like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass, like a candle flickering in a strong wind; echoes, mirages, and phantoms, hallucinations, and like a dream."
- The Eight Similes of Illusion
About a week ago, I gave my first keynote speech. Because it was an event at my graduate school, I volunteered my time. I had a great time, and I think the attendees did too. Win/Win
Volunteering has a downside though, in that you step into void that can never be fully sated. I left with a half-dozen requests for my time. Will you join our committee? Will you meet me for career coaching? Will you be a part of our council? It was like being chum in a pool of hungry sharks. (as nice as the sharks can be)
Time is What Matters
Did you read the opening passage to this blog post? The message there is that our time is fleeting. Life in fact, is fleeting. We only get so many hours on this earth. How will you spend yours?
I can tell you that mine won't be spent in someone else's committee meeting. Sound selfish? I can live with that. I'd argue you should be a little selfish too.
Stop Giving It Away
There is nothing wrong with volunteering of course. It's a chance to make a difference, to fuel a passion, and to make the world a better place. But sometimes we give our time away because we are afraid to say no. Because we feel obligated.
We also give our time away because we get careless. Do you ever scan through the latest news articles, in search of stimulation but not really sure why? Have you ever fallen into the Facebook vortex, reading "shared" content that really doesn't add anything to your life? Do you ever go window shopping, or get guilt tripped into attending unpleasant social events, or spend your evenings watching garbage TV that leaves you feeling tired or sad?
I think it's time we opt out. When we opt out of the garbage and guilt-induced obligation, we are opting into our lives instead.
DeCluttering Your Days
Back in 2009, I decluttered my physical life by downsizing my home and moving into the city center. That got the ball rolling. These days what I am interested in decluttering is my time.
How does one do this?
1) Stop Feeling Obligated - Your book club, knitting circle, business council, and local chamber of commerce can live without you. If a group or gathering is adding something meaningful to your life, by all means stay! If not, bow out. You're not Jesus. They'll be OK without you. In my case, I dropped several group memberships.
2) Stop Working for Free - I no longer routinely accept requests to "pick my brain." Neither should you, in most cases. I do believe we should all "pay it forward" in our professions, and for this reason it's important to find a less experienced person or two to mentor, FOR FREE, just as you have been mentored. But don't confuse that with letting strangers pay for an in depth consultation with a three dollar mocha at Starbucks. Don't value yourself and your time so cheaply.
3) Stop Wasting Time - I have this habit of "circulating" through various internet news sites in the evening. Then a few months ago the Seattle Times put up a paywall, meaning you can't look at articles for free any more. Removing that website from my "circulation" has subtracted nothing from my life. So now I'm considering an "information diet" to further scale down. Why the heck do I need to know about a sensational murder trial in another state? I don't. Bye Bye internet news. Hello discretionary time!
Living a Rich Life, Not a Busy One
A few years ago, I realized that I was perversely proud of how busy I always was. I would sigh somewhat dramatically and comment on my workaholism like it was something to be admired. What an odd thing to be proud of! Today, I'm proud of something very different.
I had a great week! I met with two of my favorite long-term clients (really nice people!) to hash out the details of some upcoming projects. I got a third project confirmed with a new client, and wrapped up a coaching program for a fourth. I sent off two proposals. I spent an extra half day tutoring some of my college freshman on how to write their very first APA style paper. I taught four leadership workshops this week, responded to several emails from coachees, and picked up supplies for next week's leadership classes.
The proud part? I worked only about thirty hours this week. I used the rest of my time to take some long walks, do some housework, talk on the phone with my sister, work on my novel, make plans for an upcoming vacation, play with my cats, and read a few books. This, despite having a very productive week - just as productive as those old 60 hour work weeks I used to embrace.
Are you ready to improve your work life balance? Here it goes: Your time is precious. Stop giving it away! Say no. Stop feeling obligated. Then you can say "yes" to the things that matter most to you.
Let me know how it goes, OK?
Cheri Baker teaches classes on time management and other leadership skills to great organizations in the Pacific Northwest.