Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Cutting Back On Busyness

I knew that at some point this year I'd need to address the issue of giving up some activities. Even the very best time manager (and I don't know that there's ever been one of those) has to accept the fact that time isn't elastic. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, fifty-two weeks in a year...You see where I'm going with this. There comes a point where we have to accept that we're going to have to pick and choose what we do with that limited resource, time.

I decided at the last minute to do this post today after Pam at MotherReader brought The Busy Trap to my attention by way of Facebook. The Busy Trap deals with one of the situations that impacts our time. It's not a situation that is imposed upon us by life--sick family members, raising children, financial issues--but a situation that we impose upon ourselves. The trap I'm talking about is accidentally filling our lives and time with things to do and places to be.

What Tim Kreider, the author of The Busy Trap, and I are talking about is a very First World, middle class situation. As Kreider says, "Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet." It's the people who have time to volunteer, take classes, and serve on local boards and commissions who are busy. They tend to have busy kids, too, busy kids who need rides and time-consuming support.

I am a former school and community volunteer who often put in ten hours a week or more on volunteer work. I was a slackard. I had friends who were putting in fifteen or twenty. We were doing valuable work. We built a forty thousand dollar playscape, for instance, and the next generation of volunteers restored it to the tune of seventy thousand. We're not talking chump change here. Volunteers do significant work.

But, as I already pointed out, you can't stretch time to make enough of it for all the things you want to do. I've had to confront this in a big way because I did have a time-consuming situation imposed upon me, one that impacted my career in a big way twice. In order to deal with the imposed situation (elder care) and maintain a career at some level, I had to snatch back time from the only place where I had some flexibility, the time-consuming situation I was imposing upon myself.

I cut back on busyness. It can be done.

I gave up my last volunteer "job," which was only one hour a week because I'd already been slowing down, maybe five years ago. I no longer do volunteer work at church or attend church more than a couple of times a year, for that matter. I don't volunteer at the elementary school in town or the library, two spots you might have seen me, if I lived another kind of life.  I gave up walking monthly with a hiking group a couple of years ago. I only  take yoga classes one week a year while I'm on vacation. I'm only biking a few times a year. I've turned down an opportunity to be part of a writers' group. For years I've only been doing NESCBWI events that require only a day, including travel time.

Sure any one of these things may not be much time. Taken altogether, though, I was using up a lot of time that I could have given to writing. I could easily foresee a time when I would be writing only when I didn't have anything else to do. I was published. I was supposed to be a writer. I realized that if I was always going to be busy doing other things, I couldn't even pretend I was working any longer.

There's nothing wrong with not being a writer, by the way. There's nothing wrong with being busy, if that's what you've truly chosen to do. But we have to be careful that busyness isn't something we just fall into.

1 comment:

MotherReader said...

I'm using my elder care time to revisit some articles that I had flagged during my busy time. Ironic, in a way.

That article really spoke to me, as did your post. There are times that I am genuinely busy - May/June particularly w/ school events and work gearing up for summer reading - but I've avoided wearing that busyness like a badge of honor. Falling into that mindset is a trap.

I've also become more comfortable with the idea of a bigger cycle of giving back that doesn't work my week, month or even year, but more broadly. There will be times when I can volunteer or give back in other ways, and times when I need to pull back on volunteering and need to take more. When I first was working with my kids in school, I counted on friends at times to give my kids rides. When I wasn't working, I was the first to offer rides - to their kids and others who needed that help. Now with a combo of kids and elder care issues, I'm back to needing help with rides. But it all works in the grand scheme of things.