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Posts Tagged ‘Redeeming the Time’

As already stated, I think the main culprits for lack of time/busyness/overwhelm is mostly phone addiction and trying to live up to certain expectations. So why don’t I just – you know – put my phone down more, and do less stuff?

Well, I’m going to go back to something that more than one person has put forward as a theory, and is a little controversial – I think because it hurts feelings – but I think goes down to the heart of the issue, at least for me. The proposed theory is that, ultimately, we are all too busy because we need to look important. And I rolled my eyes at that at first. But the more times I heard it, the more it niggled at me (YES, that’s a real word!). So many things I do – hobbies, keeping up with people, trying to know what’s on the news 24/7 – there is no doubt a lot of that does have to do with actual desire to know and enjoyment – but – I began to realize a lot of it actually is based on the desire to shape others’ perception of me – kind of like my perfection issue I posted about a while back.

I had a moment just the other night where the statements I just made in the previous paragraph came to life. I was out shopping with a friend – she had been in a wedding the weekend before, and I had been invited to the wedding, but declined. Now, I feel my decline was legitimate – I’d been to two different states in just the previous week and a half and this would have involved a third, and it was one of the first weekends yet this year where I wasn’t preparing for visitors or something – but I still felt kind of bad for declining because, technically, I could have done it. I would just have had to postpone my dentist appointment and be willing to pay for a hotel – it was a drivable distance, so no flight.

So, as I explained again, probably needlessly, to my friend why I hadn’t gone, I found myself struggling to come up with verbiage to sound busy. I had an appointment, plus a church thing the night before – it was just all so busy. Yup, literally the words I used. And as I spoke them, I realized exactly what I was doing. I was using the word busy to make it seem like I just had so much going on I couldn’t handle another thing, when in actuality, I just needed a break. And yes, I did end up having a lot going on that day – I went to my appointment, then we met a couple for lunch, and went shopping for my wardrobe refresh, plus church on Sunday, and more shopping – I got home pretty late both nights – so it isn’t like I was sitting at home. But you know what? All those things I did? They were my choice. I had chosen to do those things instead of 1. Go to the wedding and 2. Stay home and rest. It wasn’t that I was “too busy” to go – it was that I had chosen to do other things instead.

And, it further occurred to me that it was both dishonest and self-focusing to boil it down to “It is just so busy.” Yes, I had all those epiphanies in a matter of a few awkward seconds of quiet. So, I corrected myself. “I take it back – it wasn’t busy. It was just pure laziness – I didn’t feel like going.” And you know what? She didn’t yell at me, and I don’t think she even judged me. And I felt like I was actually being honest not just with her, but with myself. It felt like a major breakthrough to be able to verbally say I wasn’t busy – I had just chosen to do something else. I also immediately started judging myself for being too lazy and thinking of all the different things I should have, could have, would have. But you know – I think that was actually really important – for me to realize in my journey toward not feeling so “busy” that what I chose that weekend was actually a choice and I was out doing things of my choice that, yes, involved me being out all day – but wasn’t just busy for the sake of busy. I don’t know – I feel like I’m not explaining this super well.

I guess what I think I’m trying to get at is – due to social media, work, and perfectionism, I expect a lot from myself, I want to prove myself to both myself and others, and I fear others’ opinions. I get overwhelmed and busy because I am always trying to live up to those expectations and because I feel like there is a modern expectation to be busy – have you spoken to anyone in the last decade who didn’t respond with “busy” when asked how they were? – which I think is fueled both by the desire to hold up to unrealistic standards and so I don’t feel less important than someone else who is talking about everything they are doing. I add to my own business by constantly trying to get the best deals and therefore heaping “shadow work” on myself, and try to combat all the constant pressure and decision fatigue by mindlessly scrolling through my phone so I don’t have to think about it too deeply – which, ironically, also adds to my own perception of being too busy.

If I want to redeem my own time I think I need to reshape the way I think and act. So, here are my goals (because you all know I am a list person):

  1. Be willing to be second best at work – do my best as a Christian without having to be the person people always come to for help (because, yes, I do struggle with that desire)
  2. Be willing to accept “good enough” decisions on things like travel, and online shopping, and things like that so I don’t spend hours researching those things and become exhausted making all those decisions.
  3. Be willing to miss out on some things – don’t constantly check my phone, e-mail, or social media for missed calls, texts, posts, updated news, and other things that eat away at my time, energy, and self-confidence.
  4. Purposefully take time away from my phone and other electronics to pursue my old loves (reading, writing, etc.). Set the phone down when with friends and family – including when watching movies with them.
  5. Stop myself from saying the word “busy” and instead recount what I am actually doing with my life when asked to acknowledge that the things I am doing are my choices and not the choice of some mythical “busy” being.

I have high hopes for the future, guys! Thanks for listening while I talk through all my issues, and please pray for me as I work to redeem my time.

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And then there are our phones. Oh, our phones. Those blessed, cursed, brilliant, soul-sucking devices. This little piece of plastic that stays near you at all times is, I feel, really at the bottom of all that I wrote before, and all I continue to write, and all the articles in the world that address being too busy.

So here is the thing that all my reading both told me and made me realize (after telling me multiple times). Phones keep us connected to work, meaning we are technically available 24/7 and occasionally peeking at it to make sure we aren’t missing anything “important”. They keep flashing news at us, keeping us constantly updated on the state of the world. And they connect us to social media. Which, I have been told and learn more and more, is a great way to keep up with family and friends on our own time, in our own way, without actually connecting with them. Not to mention all the pressure I wrote about in the last post.

As said in the shadow article, “And while we were formerly forced to largely work during regular work hours and shop during regular business hours, technology allows us to produce and consume 24/7. We never fully clock out from our “real” jobs, nor do we ever fully take a break from the marketplace. Even when we’re not actively engaging in shadow work, in the back of our mind there’s that ever-present niggling: Is there something I need to buy? Is there something going on I should know about? Should I check my phone? We’re always “on” and constantly mentally switching between roles.”

So, I recently spent a day away from my phone. A full 24+ hours. The number of times I reached for it was insane. The previous note was so true on constantly switching roles, constantly deciding whether to do something with my phone, stopping myself from doing it – it is exhausting and energy-draining.

But the life and energy I felt when I suddenly had so much more time in the afternoon and, even with the desire to check my phone, the pressure to check it being gone? It was almost exhilarating.

Hannah Brencher, author of Come Matter Here had an enlightening series of blog posts about social media burnout and phone addiction. And her article really got me thinking. She said, basically, you have burnout if you have the following symptoms:

  1. You’re constantly checking your phone (There is nothing more enlightening on this point than taking a day away from your phone – believe me. I just did it, as I mentioned)
  2.  You are avoiding your feelings (remember the comment I made about curling up on the couch avoiding what I thought I should be doing? Also goes for when I’m frustrated, or stressed, or don’t want to make a decision, or anything else.)
  3. You are not loving what you used to love (this point really spoke to me – you should read her description of it)
  4. You aren’t present anymore (You know all those friends who scroll through their phones while you are watching a movie “together”? Oh, wait – maybe that’s me . . .)
  5. You just don’t care as much (So true. I am starting to roll my eyes at all the “causes” out there. I don’t even want a cause anymore because I am always exposed to so much stuff on the internet that I can’t handle it anymore)
  6. You’re worshipping the pressure to be more (I already talked about this a lot previously).

So, the result of all this is – I’ve decided that my phone is the biggest culprit of my overwhelmed feelings, my lack of motivation, my loss of direction in life, and the feeling I will never be enough. Therefore, I’ve decided one day off my phone wasn’t enough and I am going to make it a goal to do phone-free-Fridays. I am going to try to take every Friday off my phone – and I know that isn’t realistic and won’t always be the case. But even if I take two Fridays a month, I think my life will be better.

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I debated between calling this Social Media Overload or the expectations one. I actually was going to make it two posts, and almost did, but the two are so closely connected, I decided it was too hard to keep them separate. Besides, I’m sure you are hoping I stop rambling at SOME point.

We all know that little ding on our phones. The one that says we got a new Facebook or Instagram notification, a text, or – what else does everyone use? Snapchat, that’s right.

And then there is this thing call FOMO. I have it pretty badly. It stands for Fear of Missing Out, in case you are lucky enough not to know what it is.  Every place I look there is social media bombarding me with all the things I might be missing out on.

I look at all these feeds, scroll through them, watch people’s lives via the version they present, hear so many opinions that half the time I don’t know what to think or believe anymore, and essentially get information overload on other people’s lives along with news.

Here’s the thing my brain technically knows, but it is hard to truly understand. Photographs are supposed to capture a moment. But they don’t. They capture an ideal. Families pose for photographs. Scenery is only captured when it is beautiful, not when it is ugly (unless we are going for the dramatic if a natural disaster has happened). Friends capture photos when they are having fun together. We take pictures of food successes, not disasters. Of houses after we get them clean, not of us sitting on the couch procrastinating beforehand.

I read blogs, see photos, look at news, watch movies, and think “I want that.” I want the perfect house, I want to be the perfect mom, I want to be able to crochet like that, I want to learn all the martial arts, I want to have a perfect answer when something political is discussed, I want to make sure my kids aren’t under socialized or don’t miss out on an opportunity, I need to go out with my friends like that. I should host a party too – everyone else does!

Basically, my standards are too high. And anyone who actually knows me is dropping their jaw right now because I am the queen of there-are-no-standards-too-high. But I am taking all the information overload that we get from the conveniences of today and applying them to myself.

I may no longer fully adhere to the ideal worker, technically, but I take those standards and apply them to myself in my personal life and standards.

One thing this research explained was even though it feels like I should be able to have it all, there is one finite resource – and that is time. I literally cannot fit in exercising, work, devotions and prayer, cleaning, cooking, master classes, writing, taking one or more of the numerous other classes I want to (dancing, martial arts, rock climbing, etc.), and still have leisure time and get enough sleep that I don’t feel exhausted in a single day. Oh, and don’t forget planning for the next social event! But all the information flying at me from social media and modern times tells me I should be able to. And believe me, I try. Until I get tired, and then I curl up on the sofa with my phone and scroll social media and play games while feeling guilty I am not currently working toward my lofty goals.

As Hannah Brencher says, “Social media will always try to convince you that you need to be more, do more, say more, care more— the list goes on and on. Because that’s the world we live in now. We no longer compare ourselves to the kids in class or the group of moms we meet up with on Tuesdays. We can compare ourselves to people everywhere at all times of the day. It never ends. And it will never be “enough” because someone will always have more, do more, be more, care more, and say more than you. It’s a never-ending battle.”

I think the best thing to do for the whole social media overload/expectations (although more on that later), is to disconnect from it. It took far more resolve than I can possibly admit, but I deleted my Facebook app several months ago and I’m pretty sure my content/happiness level went up by like 30 percent. I don’t possess the capacity to delete my Facebook account altogether because I need to be able to go look occasionally or post every now and then, and, really, how else will I know what my family is up to? All excuses, I know. But I still only visit it now when it is a purposeful move. When I actually want to check for something or post a specific status and I find myself on it usually no more than once or twice a week. And if I start scrolling through the feed instead of keeping it to what I went on for, I instantly feel my anxiety level rising.

I hear constantly that social media isn’t real – but it’s hard to actually register that. So I’m trying to work on removing it almost altogether. The other thing I did, was stop Instagram notifications. So, even though I still look at it every day, usually every time I pick up my phone, in fact, at least I do not automatically grab my phone if something happens, because I don’t know that it happened.

I’ll go more into it in the next post, but I realized more than ever that even with those corrections, social media and my phone still takes a lot of my time away from me. But more than that, my expectations both of myself and what I think others expect me to be take so very much of my energy and resources instead of me being able to spend it on what I actually want in life.

P.S. I just ran across this excellent post that’s so much more interesting than mine: http://thedirectiondiva.com/life-unplugged-the-reality-of-10-days-away-from-social-media-by-judy-davis-2/

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I thought this deserved its own section because it is such a unique concept. One of the other articles I read from the website (yes, you may laugh), The Art of Manliness, discussed the idea of shadow work (Shadow Work and the Rise of Middle-Class Serfdom). Essentially, what they say is that, with the advent of internet and transportation, we have taken on a lot of tasks normally reserved for other people, which ultimately increases our busyness. It used to be that someone else had to book travel stuff for you, but now we have the option to spend dozens of hours in research online trying to find the best deals.

We used to go to the doctor if we had something wrong with us – now we spend hours on the internet trying to search for a solution ourselves or make sure the doctor’s recommendation is the best one.

We used to read the newspaper in the morning and go to work, content we knew what was going on in the world. Now, if there is breaking news and someone mentions it to you within five minutes and you haven’t heard of it, then you are not only behind the times, you might not be doing your job well (especially as an analyst). It’s called information overload, which I will probably mention again.

“Rather than experiencing long, unbroken stretches of time in which we concentrate on completing tasks for a single role in our lives, we are constantly changing the hats we wear — toggling from husband to cashier, office worker to news editor, father to travel agent.”

Anyway, it’s not necessarily bad that we do all these things – it is just another choice we have made on how we are spending our time, is how it was explained.

It also leads to what is called decision fatigue. According to more than one article I came across, as humans we can only make so many decisions before we become too tired to choose anymore, which then leads to us choosing instead to watch tv or spend time on our phones – mindless activities.

In other words, one reason we become exhausted is because every day, every hour, we are making decisions about what we want to do, how we want to do it, even things as mundane as whether we check our phones, what we might be forgetting to do, etc.

The authors in the article discussing this put it in a way that resonated with me:

I think it gets to the heart of why people feel overworked, worn out, and harried — why they just can’t be bothered to be civil or to socialize or to have hobbies, even though on paper they don’t seem to have that much going on. The stuff that’s eating away at their willpower aren’t the things you’d put in a planner, but the overlooked shadow work in the wings.

So, the question becomes, what to do about it? Well, the article has lots of suggestions, but I think some of the most useful and ones I’ve been slowly trying to implement are: Be ruthless in filtering information. Basically, don’t try to read everything, and don’t read crap. There is too much information to process.

And secondly – and perhaps what I think is most useful – is to be “satisficer rather than a maximizer” – in other words, when making decisions, don’t weigh every single option – speaking of things like buying things – pick the first thing you are happy with and assume you made the right decision. I’m terrible at that. I like measuring every single thing before I purchase and I sometimes spend hours on that. I really need to do better on that. It is probably one of the things that sucks away my time.

Hey, look at that – progress!

"I just went online for tips to help my cold, and now apparently I'm dying."

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The book I mentioned in my last post, Overwhelmed, had some great points. I skipped a lot of the book because it seemed to overly focus on how stereotypes between men and women placed more pressure on women than men, and I wasn’t looking for an equality speech (can’t we women at some point take responsibility for ourselves instead of automatically blaming men?). But she did have some excellent points once I got past that. One of which, was the ideal worker.

The ideal worker basically is how there is a certain expectation that I think anyone who works in a career of any kind is familiar with – that, if you want to make it, you will dedicate more of yourself to your work than any other part of your life. The one who gets promoted, be it women or man, is the one who puts in the most hours, makes it the number one priority, never complains, etc., etc., etc. That is becoming, I feel, a little less of a problem in today’s society – more and more people and employers are finally realizing the benefits of a work life balance, but it is still hard to shake the old idealism even with the best intentions.

I can see it in my current job – both the new and the old ideals clashing together. All the managers put in long hours, are always traveling, always busy, and if they aren’t at work they are running off to a child’s sports game or something else. It doesn’t matter how much time they work, they are paid the same (they literally told us they don’t care what we put on our time sheet if we are salaried as long as we actually work/put in the minimum 40 hours). But, at the same time, they allow us to telework on a limited basis, give us tons of PTO, great benefits, and try to encourage team building events. Nonetheless, I am pretty sure those who actually use all the PTO they give don’t get promoted as fast as the ones who don’t.

But it is more than the expectations – it is almost as though, if you aren’t incredibly harried or busy, always late to the next meeting, and constantly working, you aren’t working hard enough. That is literally the impression you get at work. You must be busy enough to be harried if you are actually working as hard as you ought to. In addition, you must be good at multitasking. Preparing a report while answering emails within 5 minutes (I’ve literally had my manager come to me within one minute of sending an email to ask if I got it), and participating in a conference call where they are upset you couldn’t make it in person all at the same time.

I have three daily meetings, five weekly meetings, and five monthly meetings. Do you know what that means? ~85 meetings in ~20 workdays, not counting the quarterly meetings and one-time briefings. 90% of which is to give status updates on the work I barely have time to do. That demonstrates a world who is desperate to appear busy.

In all the reading I’ve done, I’ve come across multiple references to studies that say the more work/life balance you have, the better your actual work is. According to Overwhelmed, “Research shows that forcing long hours, face time for the sake of face time, and late nights actually kills creativity and good thinking and the ensuing stress, anxiety and depression eat up health care budgets. . . [A research study finds that] the team with [regular] time off increased learning, improved communication with their team, worked more efficiently, and were ultimately more productive than their ideal worker colleagues.”

The book later states that a person cannot be productive for more than 90 minutes at a time and after 90 minutes, they should take a break to refresh their mind before starting again. Another study I found awhile back introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique. It essentially says that you should work in 25-minute bursts. Set a time for 25 minutes and concentrate only on one thing – multitasking hurts both your work and your productivity – then take a 2-5 minute breather, and then start again on either the same task or the next one. After five “Pomodoros”, take a break of 15-30 minutes. I’ve been slowly implementing it and I really think my productivity has increased significantly. I am not as good at the longer break unless it is actually lunchtime, but even the short bursts of concentrated activity have been very helpful.

The other thing many articles talk about is e-mails. We get so freaking many emails, most of which interrupt our workflow. Every pop-up we get pulls us out of our concentration and then we have to refocus. The recommendation I’ve seen most is to turn off pop-ups and only check email at predetermined times. I’ve been trying to get better about that too by not looking every time I get a new e-mail until I reach a break in my work, and that has helped – until my manager comes over when I haven’t responded within a minute or two. But I think he is starting to get used to my response that I am in the middle of a project and haven’t looked at my e-mail. *crossing fingers*

All of these various things have been slowly working their way into my own life. I figured out work/life balance a while ago, I think, and finally decided I would rather be home half my life than climb the career ladder faster, and I’ve been much happier since. (I’ve also become a rather annoying advocate – anytime someone starts talking about working late or on weekends I tend to scold them) Since implementing the Pomodoro Technique, my productivity has increased significantly, and I have very recently begun only checking my email in between tasks, as previously mentioned (though I fail in that a lot, like today – I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to turn off the pop-ups, and it’s hard to ignore them!!).

But, all in all, I think that, though these are all valid points, I don’t think they are the biggest time suckers for me since I have actually been working on it. It was nice to get validation though for my continued quest for work/life balance.

The rest of the pointers outside of the ideal worker really struck a chord for me though, so more on those later.

work life balance

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I went to a Bible camp when I was . . . mm, probably like 16. It was a week-long of chapels, seminars, prayer time, etc. There is one thing that sticks out in my mind from that time over 15 years ago. It is a seminar called Redeeming the Time. He spoke on how to better use your time. The only thing I actually remember him saying is that you shouldn’t use alarm clocks because if you were woken by an alarm clock then you weren’t getting enough sleep. He obviously works for himself. I still use an alarm clock. I could never get to work on time without one, no matter what he says. I don’t remember anything else he said, except that I was mesmerized by the idea of redeeming the time. Using my time wisely, better, and doing more.

I apparently still have a fascination for time, because lately, I’ve been doing a lot of research into the subject of being overwhelmed lately. And by research, I mean when I have a moment and a thought occurs to me, I’ll do google searches, and I (sort of) read a book called “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” And I occasionally go on spurts of reading articles on related subjects. Anyone who has been reading my blog longer than this post is probably currently tilting their head wondering why. After all, I am a career woman with a hobby of writing, living in the city with a 10-20 minute commute, and it’s just me and my husband – no children, no yard work, not even family in the area, and, yes, I even have maids come in to clean my apartment on a biweekly basis (courtesy of my new job/raise). Why on earth would I, of all people, need to read about being overwhelmed?

Well, let me tell you. Because despite the fact that there is no earthly reason for me to be one of the rat race runners who feel like they never have a chance to breathe, I feel like I am. I feel like I am always rushing to the next thing, like I don’t have time for work, writing, exercising, hobbies, seeing people, cleaning, laundry. I write and re-write to-do lists and schedules and yet, I can’t figure out how to fit it all in. How on earth do moms do it? People with families in the area? Those who have sports, or classes, or church commitments, or any of the other numerous obligations that most people in America do and I don’t? So, I figured I was going about something terribly wrong.

I think I really started looking into this when I happened upon an article that mentioned how, every time you asked how someone was, it was almost guaranteed they would answer in some synonym of the word, “Busy.” Which, struck me right at the heart – because, I’m pretty sure that is my automatic response too. Anyway, I’ll tell you the conclusions to my ramblings first – what I now believe are the primary reasons for the “rushed” feeling that I always feel.

  1. Phone addiction
  2. Trying to live up to specific, usually unrealistic standards (whether your own or someone else’s)

I’m going to take the next few days to go a little bit more in depth into what I’ve taken away from my research. This was going to be a single blog post, but when I copied it into a word document at it registered at 4 (now up to 8) pages, I realized my husband was right when he suggested making it a series. You can read the rest of the posts as you so choose, but don’t feel like you have to, since I’m pretty sure it’s just me brain dumping everything to better think through it all.

Busy

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