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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on January 27, 2020:
Thank you for your kind words, Gregory.
Gregory DeVictor from Pittsburgh, PA on January 27, 2020:
Carolyn, you’ve written a fantastic article on a very important subject. Yes, I’ve learned the hard way over the years to budget my time more effectively, and this includes balancing work, household tasks, exercise, etc. Generally, I have a “silent knowing” each day when I have reached my saturation point. However, my one slippery area is when I am researching and writing one of my American nostalgia articles at HP. Sometimes I just don’t know when enough is enough, and there are consequences to that. Thanks again for a great article.
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on October 12, 2019:
Yes, I agree with you on meditation. I need to get better at putting it on my calendar with a specific time.
Thanks for reading and your comments!
Laura Izett-Irwin from The Great Northwest on October 12, 2019:
Full of awesome advice and things to reflect on. Meditation is always in my schedule. I schedule it like I would anything else and my kids respect that.
Once I started to see the importance of downtime, I started seeing money in a different way too. Turns out you don’t need as much when you Budget and simply buy less. Everyone I know has too much...and I’m still getting rid of things from years ago when I used to spend wildly. I’m determined to live comfortably, never working more than part time.
Abitha from Chennai, Tamilnadu on September 19, 2019:
Great advice especially on aspects like taking some time for introspection and leading an uncomplicated life by saying NO to things that can be made simple.
breakfastpop on June 28, 2019:
Your advice is very wise and completely necessary. I am at a point where I take a lot of down time. It is called retirement and I love it.
Lorna Lamon on June 28, 2019:
I really enjoyed reading this article full of great advice. I do have a busy life, however, I am a firm believer in the art of downtime, and I have found that taking those precious moments just for yourself actually makes you a more productive person. Thank you for sharing.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on June 28, 2019:
Nice article and so relatable.
As we age, our priorities do change. I can feel that myself. Sooner we set our priorities, the better. I agree with your list, especially about health and finances.
I also feel the need to cut down on, difficult to manage clothes, or too many things in the household. Minimalist is the word—I would prefer to be a minimalist.
Thanks for sharing the valuable suggestions.
Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on June 27, 2019:
First - sorry for your loss. No matter how much you anticipate it, there is still shock and grief in the end.
Now it's time for you - to heal and move forward, never back. Thanks for reading, and the comment.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 27, 2019:
I like your list of priorities. Now that I am older without children in the house, with several health problems, planning downtime is essential. I was caring for my elderly mother and she passed away on 6/18. It was getting very difficult to meet all her needs, but I am still grieving her loss none-the-less.
I have someone help me clean, take care of the yard and keep meals very simple but healthy. I wish I had taken more downtime years ago, but I just didn't. Your article sums up numerous great reasons to care for yourself, and I agree.