Skip to main content

Choosing to Not Get Things Done

Carolyn Fields is a lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, and all-around bon vivant.


So Why Listen to Me?

I’ve written a book about procrastination, I’ve read “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and designed a training program on time management and goal setting. I know a thing or two about getting things done. What I want to talk about now is the value of not getting everything done. Or stated a different way, knowing when enough is enough, and it’s time to just kick back and take some time off. Let the items on your task list slide to tomorrow, but without guilt.

That’s the trick, isn’t it? Letting things slide without guilt. We’ve all been conditioned by society to take on more and more, to rush about in a daze, running short of sleep and even shorter on patience. Then, at the end of the day, we beat ourselves up for not finishing everything on our inflated task list. Well, I’m throwing a flag on the play. I say it’s time to take back our free time, and still be proud of ourselves.

Being Busy is NOT the Answer

Today when you ask someone, “How are you?” often they simply reply “Busy!” But more importantly, why is that considered to be an acceptable answer? We jam so many things on the calendar that we literally have no time to just sit and think. We get up, get dressed, “grab” some coffee and maybe a power bar and off we go, non-stop until dinner. Then, we have dinner and perhaps a cocktail to unwind, sit in front of the television and try to decompress for a couple hours before going to bed, just to start the cycle over again the next day. Unless, of course, you’re a total type A personality, and you work during the evening as well.

What would happen if we planned some non-task time into our days? Notice I didn’t say non-productive time, because I feel that sitting and thinking can be very productive. Schedule an hour to just sit outside in the sun, without so much as a book to distract yourself. Or perhaps stay in bed, awake, for an hour in the morning, contemplating the day ahead before actually getting up.

I can feel the resistance already. Especially from people who have children. I totally get that. There is no “off” switch for a sick child, or even a healthy one who wants your attention in the worst way. That actually makes my case for “downtime” even more compelling. Without any rest and restoration, you become the grumpy parent. And a grumpy parent is not doing the best possible job of parenting.

Start with Priorities

Let’s say, for argument sake, that you agree with me that we should all take a break to just sit and decompress. Let’s also say, that you’re already running on six hours of sleep per night, and as many cups of coffee during the day. How do you break that cycle?

It all comes down to priorities. Knowing when to say “no,” or even, “not now.” But in order to stick to your priorities, you need to know what they are.

Here is my “starter” list, for those of you who need/want a little push in the right direction.

  1. First, and foremost, anything having to do with your health, and the health and well-being of your loved ones must take a spot in your list of top priorities. I would argue it should be your first priority. Yes to sleeping enough, yes to eating a balanced diet, yes to getting enough exercise. That doesn’t mean that you need to over-complicate wellness as I see too many people do. Taking a brisk 20 to 30-minute walk is free, accessible, and can be done virtually any time during the day. There is no need to drive to a gym, get into special workout clothing, stand in line for special machines, and so forth. Over-complicating your diet isn’t the answer either. There is no need for expensive or elaborate meals. Try eating more fresh produce and increasing your water intake. That’s all I ask.
  2. Anything having to do with your daily living must get done. Things like laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills, maintaining your car, etc. must be attended to. Delaying these items will only make matters worse, and usually more expensive in the long run. That doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours and hours doing chores. Look for ways to be more efficient, like paying bills online, or cleaning the countertop while you wait for the microwave to ding.
  3. Money is essential to modern life – like it or not. Making and managing your funds is a top priority and can’t be overlooked. This could be a job or managing your budget. I firmly believe in the power of routine, especially when it comes to finances. Automate bill paying and saving as much as possible.
  4. Something that renews and refreshes you must also be on your “to do” list. It doesn’t have to be every single day, but it must happen regularly. Without rest and recreation, life becomes dull and tedious. If “busy” is your thing, then I suggest scheduling an hour of rest and relaxation right onto your calendar. Then you type “A” personalities can get credit for checking it off when you’re done.

That’s about it. Anything that falls outside of these four priorities should get time and attention only when you have mastered them.

Just Say No!

Now for the hard part, which is learning to say no. In the interests of helping you on your way, let me share a partial list of things I say “no” to on a regular basis:

  • Going to any party, grand opening, mixer, or other social event that I don’t truly want to attend. Hand-in-hand with this item is only having friends who understand this desire in me.
  • Cooking elaborate meals, except perhaps during the holidays. I just don’t see the sense in spending hours preparing and cleaning up after a meal that will be eaten in 10 minutes or less. Unless cooking is recreation to you, in which case I say “Bon Appetit!”
  • Buying high maintenance clothing. This means anything that must be ironed, dry cleaned, or hand washed. My favorite words on any clothing label are, “machine wash, tumble dry.”

That’s enough to get you started. Let me stress that this is my list and doesn’t necessary apply to everyone. If going out to parties is your favorite thing in the whole wide world, then by all means go. It’s just not one of my priorities, and I’ve spent years getting comfortable enough with myself to recognize that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Carolyn Fields

Related Articles