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!

How We’re Really Missing Out

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A few months ago, I made the decision to rejoin Facebook.

I loved reconnecting with my friends and family up north, as well as sharing ideas in a less in-depth venue, with the many blogging buddies I met during my time away from FB.  I had found the muse once again with blogging, and I found the three blogging groups I joined to be very helpful in my efforts to increase exposure.

It was great.  And then it slowly began to take  over.

First, I found myself playing catch-up after days when I didn’t log in.  I had to read everything in my newsfeed, and one day off could lead to a lot of time spent making up for it.  Because what if I missed big news from someone?

I (mostly) stayed true to my commitment not to discuss politics at all, but I clicked on everyone’s links, even when the articles they led me to were anything but uplifting.

I made sure to visit everyone’s blogs in my blogging groups, so that I could comment on their posts before it was “too late.”  I was spending a great deal of time reading about everyone’s adventures.

And of course I had to login on a daily basis, to be there for my online friends who were going through challenging times.

And then there was the drama.  Facebook has been a hotbed for that lately.  And watching it has been like watching a train wreck.

A couple of days ago, I caught myself rushing home to start up my computer and check in on the latest drama.  And I finally had to ask myself, what am I doing?  What am I getting out of this?  Aren’t there things I would rather be doing?

This moment of clarity really led me to think about the time I spend online and to rethink my use and perception of this tool.  I had fallen prey to Fear of Missing Out.  And in doing so, I was missing out on opportunities for joy and happiness that were right in front of my face.

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Here are a few of the lessons that I learned:

  • We don’t always need to be around “like-minded” people.  There is something wonderful about connecting with people who share ideas and are living in the same counter-cultural way that we are.  Before we moved to the marina, I knew very few “minimalists” in real life.  It was through my conversations with other bloggers that I learned how to live as simply as we do, and gained the courage to take the plunge and do it!  However, there is a danger in viewing ourselves as “separate.”  We are a part of humanity, not just a small subgroup.  Having friends who are different from ourselves adds some color to our day and allows us the chance to learn from each other and grow.
  • It’s okay to miss out on the details of someone’s life.  It is okay to not get caught up on your newsfeed.  It is fine to miss someone’s blog post.  If somebody has big news, they will contact you personally, if they need to!  There is no need to miss out on the world around us, because we are busy getting caught up on everyone else’s world.  And I won’t hate you if miss a post here–nobody else will, if you miss one of their posts, either!
  • Online “friendships” need to be kept in perspective.  It’s true that you never know everything about someone else, but we see a very limited picture of those we interact with online.  Even when we try to keep it “real,” it is a very censored version of ourselves that others see.  It is valuable to share ideas and gain support from people we meet online.  But these are not the same as friendships and relationships in “real life.”
  • There is no persona that we need to protect.  We become involved in drama, because we feel the need to defend the person that everyone online thinks we are.  The drama we see online is much more intense and prevalent than the drama we encounter in “real life.”  This could be because everyone works so hard to create a “face” for themselves online, and we feel the need to protect the way we appear.  There is nothing to defend though.  If a total stranger, on the other side of the globe, “judges” us, so what?  In the grand scheme of things, does that matter at all?

Keeping these lessons in mind, I am finding it much easier to be intentional with my time spent using social media, and my online time in general.  With a little practice, we can learn to use this tool to enrich our lives, rather than having it use us.

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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.

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.

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Moving Beyond Possessions

Minimalism is not just about possessions. It’s about living intentionally in all areas of life: with your time, with your money, with your friendships, and even with your thoughts and your worldview. It’s about doing more than letting the wind blow you through life—it’s about adjusting your sails, about making choices. It’s about questioning the norm, the lifestyle that everyone else takes for granted as being the only way to live. It’s about questioning it and making adjustments to it, to fit your needs, to allow you to live more fully.

For us, it started with possessions. Two summers ago, we purged a great deal of the items that we owned, but didn’t need. And I’ll still share with you, some of the things that we do without, and some of the things we keep.

But, paring down on possessions, but continuing to live the way that you have been living, is pointless. Decluttering stuff is not an end in itself.

I found that it was a natural progression. By limiting our possessions, we were beginning to question the pre-packaged life with which society had presented us. After possessions, the next thing I began to question was time.

Everyone is so busy, so stressed out, so overbooked. To me, this did not seem like a fulfilling way to live, or even the way to contribute the most to the world. I noticed that I was wasting time online (not everything online is a waste of time, but the things I was doing—mainly going on Facebook–were). There were things I wanted to do, that I didn’t have time for. Being more aware of how I spent my time, and getting rid of the useless drains on it, has helped me to be able to do the things I love, and to do my best to add value to the world.

After time came friendships. I noticed, as I strived to be more intentional with my time, that a lot of the problems in the industrialized world today are due to a lack of community. People complain about it all the time, but I wanted to move beyond complaining. Technology drives people apart from each other, reducing friendships to the “fast food” level, with Facebook and other social networking. People pretend that they are “connected,” when they actually aren’t. I wondered if I could use technology to actually cultivate friendships and build community. By deleting my Facebook account and focusing on bringing people together and building relationships online—and corresponding through e-mail with some wonderful, brilliant people who have challenged me and helped me to grow in every way (and I do hope I’ve done the same for them!)—I have actually been quite successful in doing just that.

Friendships in real life are a bit more challenging. We want to have people over, to get together with others, more often. But getting used to that—and getting other people used to that—is not easy. We’re so accustomed to being “too busy,” or to expecting everyone else to be “too busy,” that we hesitate to “bother” anyone. Getting past that line of thinking is key. Spending time with others is something that we should be busy doing. And in challenging society this way, we need to understand that we are taking the lead, in the beginning at least. If our friends don’t initiate get-togethers as much as we do, that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to see us, or that we’re being rude. They’re just not used to doing it.

The next area in which I learned to be intentional was with my thoughts and worldview. I began to realize that the way I saw myself and others was not correct. The labels that I had adopted for various reasons—sometimes they were things that I had been told by others and sometimes they were just things that I assumed about myself—were not necessarily reality. Perhaps I was not scatterbrained, awkward, and immature. I began to view other with more understanding—perhaps the bad things people did were not personal. Perhaps everyone wasn’t judging me.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced, in my efforts to be intentional in all areas of life, is money. In the past, I have made some horribly embarrassing mistakes, financially. Poor budgeting and impulse buying has caused us problems with debt (now paid off) and has led to some very tight end-of-the-pay-periods. Most recently, while we were in Thunder Bay and right after we left last summer, we had to eat many pasta-and-butter and bean-and-rice meals. We didn’t get back in control of the budget until we were in Frankfort. And we’ve remained in control ever since then. We don’t run out of money before payday, and we do have a cushion now. But this year, I need to cut expenses, track our spending, and write an honest-to-gosh budget on paper.

Throughout the next month, I will be sharing ways in which we are being intentional in all of these areas. You’ll be able to see the ways in which we’ve been successful, as well as follow our efforts to improve the areas in which we struggle. I hope that you’ll learn something from the lessons that we’ve learned (and are still learning!).

The January Conversation: Moving Beyond Decluttering

There’s something about January. Maybe it’s the New Year, maybe it’s the fact that days are getting longer, maybe it’s because we’re all stuck inside, with nothing else to do but think. But, whatever the reason, this January has led to some very insightful discussions in the minimalism blogging world.

Here are some of my favorite posts from this month, guaranteed to give you something to think about!

There is More to Simplicity that Getting Simple
Once you’re done decluttering, will your life feel full? Not unless you find something to fill the empty spaces you’ve created.

Minimalist Monday: Redefining SuccessIt always bugged me, that “successful” people are those with the most money and stuff. Here is a different way to define it.

Overcommitment and StressWe don’t know how to say “no,” and we wear our stress and busy-ness like a badge. But there is a better way.

Connections
In this day and age, more than ever, being truly connected to each other is important.

The Case for an Ordinary Life
There is something to be said for living a good, ordinary life.

How to Stop Wasting Your Life
We’re only given so much time, so let’s use it well.

Simple Thoughts: Fully Present
Being fully present, in the moment, takes practice. But it is worth it.

Where Simplicity Begins
It doesn’t begin with a trip to Goodwill.

Have a great day, and happy reading