Reclaim your time from the jaws of the non-essential

From the outpouring of responses to my last blog, The Case for Blissful Inefficiency, it is clear that many, many of you are ready to slow down and enjoy the day-to-day experience of LIVING your life. You don’t want to spend your days crossing items off of a ToDo list, you want to spend your days savoring them.

Game on. Let’s engineer it, shall we?

One of the biggest obstacles to doing things enjoyably instead of efficiently is, as you probably have already discovered, time. You want to create space to slow down and enjoy, but you just can’t seem to get everything done.

As one of my readers wrote to me: “Sure, Samantha, it sounds great to take a long bath and relax. But how in the world do you find the time to actually do it? My life wouldn’t function if I was any less efficient!"

Can you relate? Have you tried to live inefficiently this week, only to become frustrated that things weren’t “getting done” and then go back to your old ways?

Ok, so let’s deal with time.

The biggest time mistake that you are likely making is that you commit to non-essential activities. Note that I am not saying “unimportant” or “pointless” activities. Because, let’s face it, everything you do likely has a purpose. But many things aren’t essential.

What does “essential” mean? It means something that is absolutely vital to your living the life you want. It turns out that sometimes the quickest path to having that life is not in adding anything, but in subtracting the non-essential.

What is most essential to you? Let’s figure out! Got your paper and pen handy? Ok. I want you to:

Pick your top five priorities. Write down the five most important areas of your life to you, such as career, family, health, romantic partnership, community, spiritual practice, wealth, home, etc.

Make each one specific. This is key. For each priority, write down your exact goal in that area. For example, if you picked family as your area, perhaps your specific aim is to “raise my children to be great people” or to “really know and bond with my children.” If you picked career, perhaps your specific aim is to “create organizational change in my department that results in better patient healthcare,” or “to advance to a senior leadership role.” Pick something that captures the essence of what you want in that area, in one simple sentence. It should inspire you, and be specific!

Remember your day. Go through and think about everything you did today, down to 15-min increments. Include things like “called pediatrician” and “had water cooler convo with Tiffany.” I know this may take a few minutes to remember everything, but I promise it will be worth it.

Take a moment of reckoning. Now here is where we separate the wheat from the chaff. Circle the activities that are 100% essential to your five priorities. Be honest! How effective is that activity actually in accomplishing your highest goals?

Be careful that you aren’t fooling yourself! There are many things you do that may be indirectly helpful toward your priorities, but are they essential?

For example, my client Georgia had picked “being close to my siblings” as one of her essential priorities. One of the events she had listed in her day was “My sister called me and we talked for 45 minutes.” At first glance, you would think that this was 100% essential to accomplishing her priority, right? Wrong.

When I asked her about this conversation, here is what she admitted:

“I didn’t enjoy the call very much. My sister and my brother always have dramatic conflicts, and they both call me to complain about each other and try to win me over to their side. I am so sick of it. It is really draining, and makes me resent them and wonder why I even bother."

Can you relate? It turns out that, with further inspection, these calls were actually getting Georgia further away from her highest priority, not closer. Are these calls essential to her goal? Nope. Time to change it!

As another example, my client Melanie, who works in a creative firm, had the priority of “creating unique concepts for future programming” as her priority. In her activity log, she listed many instances of other people asking for her help with their projects. It made Melanie feel important and needed, but did they contribute to her goal? Here is what Melanie said:

“Well, the projects are all interesting. And I know they are helping my team and the company. And I know my input is really valuable. So that’s a good thing, right? I mean, ok, they don’t involve me creating unique concepts for future programming, which is what I really want to do. Yeah, that’s right. In fact, every time I set aside time to do real thinking, someone comes in with another request. Ok, fine. You’re right. These projects are a complete distraction."

Exactly. Were these meetings with colleagues essential to her top priorities? Nope. Time to change this!

As a final example, my client Cliff had the priority of being closely bonded with his children. He was an active volunteer in their school’s PTA. At first glance, that might seem to support his priority, right? Wrong. In Cliff’s words:

“I love that I am contributing toward their school experiences. But the truth is that the meetings take away my valuable evening time with my kids. I spend a lot of time talking with the parents of their friends, and less time talking with my kids themselves."

Not surprisingly, Cliff comes from a family background where acts of service were considered to be love. Hence why he joined the PTA. But joining the PTA was actually not achieving his actual goal of connecting with his children. Time to change it!

Notice that all of these examples highlight activities that are great and useful. The PTA is a good cause. It’s kind to be a great team citizen. It’s loving to be there for your siblings who are struggling. But none of these activities are essential.

Strip the non-essential away. Yes, I appreciate that this will be painful. And sometimes stripping means modifying something that is non-essential to become essential. Georgia had the difficult conversation with her sister that she didn’t want to have phone calls about sibling drama, but rather about constructive subjects. Melanie set up “office hours” for her colleagues from 1-3p (her least creative hours of the day). Cliff quit his role within the PTA.

Any pain of stripping away the non-essential is typically short-lived. What emerge on the other side are bliss and confidence. Bliss at having the space to do what really matters to you. Confidence in being proud of yourself for taking a difficult stand in honor of you.

When my clients and I strip their lives down to essentials, it is not uncommon that we chop about 10% of their time commitments. That is almost one full day!!!

What non-essential activities will you strip away in your life? How will you do it? What courage do you need to summon to make it happen? Write me a note and share!

Essentially yours,

Photo Courtesy of: David Poe

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Copyright Samantha Sutton, Ph.D., 2016

Samantha Sutton, Ph.D. is a life coach, career coach, relationship coach, and executive coach. Samantha is committed to helping her clients achieve successful, passionate careers, find love, fix marriages, build strong relationships, master time management, develop their minds to overcome limiting thinking and emotions like anxiety or anger, change bad habits and create new ones, or take on any goal. Samantha works with clients in New York City (NYC), Boston, Los Angeles (LA), San Francisco (SF), Chicago, Toronto, Massachusetts (MA), California (CA), Pennsylvania (PA), Texas (TX), Washington, DC, London, and all over the world.