Rethinking the Value of Busy-ness

Originally posted February 2013

In Western culture, we value productivity. We think quite highly of the person who uses their incredible energy to get something done. And we really, really frown upon laziness.

This is all good. But the way we’ve applied it to our own lives is not.

In order to not appear lazy, we’ve all become very busy. We work extra hours, volunteer for extra projects, take on numerous leadership roles. We sign our kids up for every activity that peaks their interest, and drive them around town, after hours. We volunteer and offer to help out whenever someone asks us to. If we have any free time, we spend it trying desperately to get some housework done.

And we’re stressed. We don’t have time for leisure activities, such as entertaining or pursuing our hobbies. We say, “I need to learn to say ‘no,'” or “I need to get my life in balance.”

But we don’t mean it.

Because the busy life is something that our culture values. Stress is stylish. If we’re busy, it means that we’re doing something meaningful. That our time here is not a waste.

But does it really?

We live intentionally, because we realize that every choice we make is a trade-off. We pare down on possessions, because we realize that when we own too much–even if they are all good things—our lives become so cluttered that we can’t enjoy any of them. So it is with time.

So many times, we have been involved in fun, meaningful activities with friends. These get-togethers always stopped, eventually, because we got too busy. We really need to think: are the activities we are choosing to use, to fill up our time, more important than cultivating friendships?

I’ve met a lot of people who want to pursue their passions. They want to write, possibly, or do some adventuring of their own, but they don’t have time. In reality, we make trade-offs. There is time. We just need to decide what is more valuable–our current obligations or spending time developing skills that really can give us something to contribute to the world.

Simple living is about quality over quantity. After I left Facebook, I’ve had more in-depth conversations with fewer people. Since I’ve pared down my schedule and–yes–I do say “no,” often, I’ve been able to focus my efforts on the activities that I have chosen, rather than do a poor job trying to do everything.

It takes courage to live this way. Living intentionally with time is more counter-cultural than living simply with possessions. But we need to do it anyway.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Let Go of Survival Mode!

Originally published May 2013

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We live in tough times.  So, we do whatever we can, to keep the “security” of a steady income.

We’re in survival mode.

Survival mode justifies a dog-eat-dog mentality, that puts what we perceive to be necessary for our family’s survival, above the common good.

Survival mode justifies throwing innocent people under the bus, so that we might draw attention away from ourselves.

When we’re in survival mode, we compromise what we believe to be right, because it might cause us to lose that income.

We think we’re protecting our children.  We think we’re being sensible and doing what must be done.  We think we have no choice.

But we do have a choice.

The notion of survival mode is fake.

What happens if we lose that income?  Is our family really going to starve?  Do we not have it within ourselves to find a way, to meet the challenge?  Are we really in danger of not surviving?

And if we’re not being true to ourselves, if we’re deliberately doing what we know to be wrong, in order to “survive,” are we really living?  If we’re sacrificing our dreams and passions, for “security” that really isn’t there, is that a life?

We need to have more faith in ourselves, in our place, and our purpose.  We need to believe that we were put on this earth to do more than sell-out, be miserable, in order to have some level of material security.

The right thing to do is to do right things.

We need to believe that if we do what is right, the rest will be there.  That there is more to life than “earning a living” and looking out for number one.  It is NOT the human “race,” and we have a much larger role to play, than survival.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Digital Diets–Why and How

I love the Internet.  It is definitely a positive force in my life.

It is during my online time that I am able to develop and share my writing, receive feedback and encouragement from other aspiring writers, and form great friendships with like-minded individuals.

However, we all know that sometimes the virtual world can get a bit out of control.

Maybe we’re staring at the computer screen, instead of spending time with our kids. Maybe we’re using the computer to avoid facing issues, or completing tasks in real life.  Maybe the Internet has gone from adding to our lives, to taking us away from reality.

When that happens, I recommend a brief time away from the computer.  I recently took a little more than a week off, and I was able to realign my focus and prepare for the changes that we are currently making in our life.  I’ve returned, after facing the issues I had been avoiding, ready to set limits and allow my online time to once again become a positive aspect of my life.

Are you ready to go on a Internet diet?  Here are some tips, to get you started:

1.  Let your friends know.  That way, if you slip up and login to your e-mail, there will be no messages waiting to tempt you.

2.  Don’t be a perfectionist.  You will likely find yourself checking your e-mail or social networking accounts.  That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and you’re off the hook.  You might even find yourself needing to go online, to conduct business and set up plans in real life.  That’s why it’s important to let your friends know not to contact you.

3.  Be prepared for some strange emotions.  I know a lot of people–myself included–who experienced some anxiety.  We worried that we’ll become isolated, and it doesn’t feel right to cut back on this aspect of our lives.  The Internet involves instant acceptance from like-minded friends.  It’s easy and it’s positive.  But, we need to work on our real-life relationships, and we need to trust that our online friends will still be there, waiting.  A friend once told me, in e-mail there are no awkward pauses.

4.  Figure out what you want to work on.  I set up a great morning routine, did a lot of spiritual reading, worked on relationships in real life, and looked into the roots of the fears I was experiencing.  Make sure you use your time well.

5.  Once you’ve seen the positives, develop a re-entry plan.  What limits will you set?  I will start out only writing 3 blog posts a week, and only writing 3 e-mails a day.  I will take my time getting caught up on the blogs that I follow, and the writers of those blogs know that (or at least you do now!!!).

6.  Stay off until you’re no longer feeling the negative emotions.  I made sure my anxiety was good and gone.  You’ll be stronger for it, your online friendships will be stronger for it, and it will put everything into perspective.

So, my virtual diet was a success!  I hope yours is, as well.

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And, as an aside, an update on my personal adventures:  We are spending tonight in a poolside room in Little Rock, Arkansas.  By this time tomorrow, we will be moving into our apartment in Houston, which we have never seen.  We will not have Internet access until Thursday, so I will not be writing a post tomorrow.  I am anxious to get settled in, meet our neighbors, and do a little sight seeing around Houston. 

But, life is good now.  We had some excellent sushi, from a small restaurant downtown in Little Rock, and I am ready to take Beanie to the pool.

Clearing Out the Chaos

This spring, my life has been chaotic.  I’m not talking about Fly Lady’s CHAOS (Can’t Have Anybody Over Syndrome), although that definitely has been a part of it. 

But I’m talking about complete, chaotic randomness.  The kind of randomness, where I’m scrambling to stay on top of everything.  Where we’re running to the grocery store everyday, to throw together meals.  The kind where I’m searching for clothing every morning.

The kind where I’m never caught up.

Sound familiar?  I’ve found that this kind of chaos tends to lead me toward procrastination, because I feel like I can never keep up.  I’m physically and mentally exhausted, and constantly craving a break. 

So, you guessed it.  I find myself sneaking in relaxation whenever I can, going online when I should be working, taking snack breaks, and finding other ways to try and rest my tired mind. 

In the past, my solution would have been to berate myself for lacking willpower, and try to plow forward.  Maybe if I cut out all leisure time, I would be more motivated. 

But, the problem isn’t motivation, it’s exhaustion. 

The problem is too much mental clutter.  I’m making too many decisions.  My days have too little predictability.

We all have some chaos that we need to remove from our lives. 

Here are some tips (that I am most definitely applying in my own life!):

1.  First, take a day (or days) to get everything in order.  Get caught up.  This will be drudgery and will take some willpower, but remember that, once you have some routines established, this won’t happen again.

2.  Plan ahead, if you can.  Look for things that can be grab-and-go.  I do this with the lessons in my classroom, and our meals.  I shop once a week (or every other week) and try to get everything so that it can be easily prepared, without having to think about it.  Lunches are pre-packed.

3.   Do the laundry on Saturday or Sunday.  Have it ready, so that the week’s worth of outfits are hanging up and ready to go.  By doing steps 2 and 3, you have eliminated a great deal of decisions from your day already.

4.  Plan your leisure/relaxation activities.  That’s right–schedule them first!  Wondering when you’ll finally get to relax, can cause a lot of anxiety, which is mental clutter.  Figure out what you need to do, in order to feel your best, and set up times to do it.

5.  Now, set up your rhythms for the remaining, recurring tasks.  If you do these things the same time every day, or every week, you will go on autopilot, and eliminate a few more decisions from your day.

Taking these steps, should free up your brain, so that you can stay calm and have the mental resources for making real decisions.  Living a chaotic life is nothing to brag about–with a little time spent on decluttering your day, you will be able to accomplish so much more!

My Challenge for May: Plugging the Online Time Drain

All right, yesterday I wrote about 5 time drains.  And I’ve admitted to you before, that managing online time is something I struggle with.  Giving up Facebook certainly helped, but I’ve realized that, over the winter, I’ve still spent more time on teh internets than I should.

And–the funny thing–is that nearly everyone I talk to says the same thing.  Which has led me to do some thinking.

Why Does the Internet Have so Much Appeal?

Why are we so content to stare at our computer screens, for hours a day?  What does the Internet do for us, for me?

Well, in my case, being online provides me with…

  • A creative outlet and a hobby.
  • A chance to contribute something positive to society and the world in general (albeit a small population of the world!)
  • A community in which I belong.
  • Incredible, intellectual discussions.
  • Friendships as close as any in “real life.”
  • Entertainment!

So, obviously “just saying no” is not the answer, as recreational online time does serve a real, positive purpose.  In fact, that is what I learned when I gave up most of my online time for Lent last year. 

So what’s the problem?

The problem comes when this online time interferes with the rest of our lives.  Admit it: there have been times when you’ve been on the computer, when you probably would have enjoyed doing something else, much better.  I will confess that I have spent sunny days checking the same blogs over and over again, and that there are times I missed out on opportunities to play with my daughter, because I was staring at the screen.

It’s really a matter of balance and moderation–two things that we really struggle with in Western cultures! 

My plan, to find a bit of balance with my online time, is twofold.  First, I am going to be more intentional with the time I spend online.  I will focus on one task at a time, rather than trying to multi-task.  When I’m blogging, I’ll keep my e-mail closed.  When I’m doing work-related tasks, I will resist the temptation to check my e-mail or blog comments.

Second, I will designate times, in my daily rhythm, for rescreational online time.  It will actually be a sizable amount of time, because I want to put my best into my blog posts and my e-mails to friends.  The difference is, it will be intentional, in its place.  I won’t be sneaking in online time when I should be doing something else.  It won’t be spread out through the day.  And it will be spent doing meaningful activities. 

Here is my plan:

  • The majority of the blogs that I follow, I have subscribed to.  I will subscribe to comments as well, so that I don’t find myself going back and checking everyday.  The few that don’t allow subscriptions (hint: You know who you are–add a subscription option!), I will check once a week.
  • Recreational online time will be limited to mornings, after my morning routine and yoga, and evenings from 7-9.  I will answer e-mails, read and write blog comments, and write posts.
  • I can use a little more time on weekends, to get ahead of writing posts and get caught up on e-mail. 

I think that’s a solid, realistic plan.  And, of course, it’s not set in stone.  So I will keep you posted, and tweak it as necessary.

Note: It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway–rhythm is not routine.  This is not carved in stone.  If a friend is going through a rough time, of course I’ll do what I need to to support them.  Basically, if it’s something that I would answer the phone for during dinnertime, then it is a priority and could possibly get more than my “allotted” time.  Being a decent human being is still being a decent human being…

So what about you?

All right, now it’s your turn.  What are you going to do to be more intentional with your online time?  Have you managed to keep your virtual interactions from interfering with your real-world life?  If not, what can YOU do?

5 Huge Time Drains

Are you busy?

When I’m at my happiest, and most efficient, I definitely am not.  However, this winter I have found that I am lacking the time to complete everything I would like to do.  I have the same amount of time each day as everyone else, but what changed?

What changed, of course, was how I was using my time.  I was wasting it, by having a life that was too cluttered, too disorganized. 

Here are the top 5 things that were wasting my time:

1.  Inefficient usage of online time.  Taking a break from being online would make it impossible for me to do my job, or pursue my hobbies.  But, poor online work habits were costing me time.  I’ve been trying to multi-task, which our brains are not capable of doing.  I found that if I closed my e-mail while blogging or working on projects for work, I was not distracted when a new message popped up.  Separating work, blogging, and e-mailing time has helped me to get more done. 

2.  Looking for things.  When things are chaotic at home, clutter creeps in.  Clutter leads to more things being lost.  Not following a regular rhythm or routine leads to things being thrown in places where they do not belong.  I’ve found myself wasting much more time looking for things.

3.  Choosing my clothes.  When I’m following a regular rhythm, laundry gets done, and my 5 outfits are happily on their hangers.  When things are chaotic, I spend my mornings frantically searching for a presentable outfit. 

4.  Grocery shopping trips.  Normally, I shop once a week or once every other week.  When we’re not following a routine, I end up making little shopping trips to pick up odds and ends everyday.  This not only costs us more money, it uses up a significant amount of time.

5.  Avoiding work.  Think about it.  When you don’t want to do something, you procrastinate by doing little, slightly-enjoyable activities.  When I’m supposed to clean the house, I’ll go on “junk food” websites, or read a chapter of a book, without having the time to really get into it.  A better usage of time is to do the task at hand, get it over with, then have plenty of time to devote to activities that you really want to do.

Intentional living is a journey, not a destination that we ever reach.  There is always room for improvement, always room to grow.

  • Arum Lily - Zantedeschia Stock Photo

Facebook-Free, Four Months Later

Last December, I pulled the plug on Facebook.

I despised the fact that I was spending way too much time online, and much of it was spent on Facebook.  I spent hours scrolling through my newsfeed, looking at pictures of people’s breakfasts, engaging in pointless arguments, and not hearing from the people I really wanted to chat with. 

Finally, I decided it wasn’t worth it.

To be honest, I was a little anxious when I made my decision.  We’re pretty isolated, where we live, so interacting with people online is one way that I stay connected to the world outside of our family.  I feared that everyone would be “too busy” to continue our discussions, via e-mail, and that I would become more isolated.  I knew that, if we couldn’t be bothered to write each other directly, then it was time to go our separate ways, but I was afraid that was the case with everyone.

Long story short, it wasn’t. computer

However, my break from Facebook was had its share of surprises.  Here are some unexpected results, of my decision:

1.  I lost touch with the vast majority of my Facebook “friends.”  About 10 of them wrote initially, and we exchanged a couple of e-mails.  Now, I only correspond with 2-3 of them, on a regular basis.

2.  Instead, I have developed some amazingly close friendships with people I have never met in person.  The vast majority of my correspondance is with other minimalist bloggers, all of whom I have started writing since I quit Facebook.  I also write to other crunchy mommies from Michigan Natural Parenting, and a few of my readers, who have contacted me.  We have discussed politics, religion, and the meaning of life…and, also, what we ate for breakfast…

3.  My blog traffic has increased significantly since I deleted my account.  Social media has become completely unnecessary, to the accomplishing of my purpose.

4.  I get many more comments, after quitting Facebook.  In the past, people wrote comments on my Facebook page, instead of on the blog.  It’s been very beneficial to have all the discussion take place publically, in one place.

5.  I still spend a lot of time online, sometimes.  But it’s time spent in more valuable ways.  I used to regret the time I wasted, on social networks and the like.  But I spend most of my time writing now–it’s therapeutic.  I’m spending more time on my blog posts, and putting more thought into them.  I will not regret using my creativity in this way.  The only other activity I do online is write e-mails–and I also will not regret spending time cultivating friendships and growing spiritually and intellectually.

6.  I’ve had to come up with more time-filler activities.  When I’m in a waiting room, or doing some other similar boring activity, I can no longer keep checking and refreshing my newsfeed.  And “I’m bored” e-mail discussions only go through so many exchanges.  ( *smiling at those of you who have participated in such discussions* )  Once my blog posts are written for the week, I’ve found myself reading ebooks, writing guest posts, and doing other writing–activities that are much more valuable than checking my news feed!

Overall, my decision to quit Facebook has been the right decision.  I no longer feel like my online time is guilty, wasted time.  I often regretted spending so much time social networking, but I have not regretted spending time writing, learning, and developing friendships.

Technology can be used for good, worthwhile purposes.  It’s just a matter of being intentional.