When things aren’t adding up in your life, begin subtracting.
Busyness is an illness.
Think about your own life and the lives of those close to you. Most of us have a tendency to do as much as we possibly can—cramming every waking minute with events, extravagances, tasks and obligations.
We think doing more will get us more satisfaction, success, etc. When oftentimes the exact opposite is true.
Less can be far more rewarding in the long run. But we’re so set in our ways that we can’t see this.
- When we work, we shift from one task to the next quickly and continuously, or we multi-task—juggling five things at once until the end of the day… and yet we still feel like we haven’t done enough of the right stuff.
- When we finally break away for some healthy exercise, we tend to push ourselves as hard as we possibly can… until we’re exhausted and sore, and less likely to want to exercise tomorrow.
- When we go to a nice restaurant, we want to try all the appetizers, drinks and entrees, indulging in as much deliciousness as we possibly can… and we leave feeling bloated, sometimes uncomfortably so, and then our waistlines stretch.
- When we travel to a new city, we want to see it all—every landmark and every photo op—so we do as much as physically possible… and we return home from our trip utterly exhausted.
How can we tame our urge to do too much?
Simply focus more on doing less every step of the way.
Be mindful of the urge to over-do it.
It’s taken me awhile to get the hang of it, but I’m getting there…
- When I’m working, I do just one thing at a time with full focus. And when I catch myself multi-tasking or feeling overwhelmed, I’ll clear everything off my plate and make a list of just one to three key tasks I absolutely need to complete by the end of the day. And yes, sometimes this list is just one thing long, because it helps me focus on what’s truly important and not feel overwhelmed.
- When I went to the gym two days ago, I had the urge to push myself to my max. I noticed this and instead decided to let that urge go. I did a solid 45-minute workout, but left some fuel in my tank. Yesterday, I went back to the gym and I put in another 45 minutes at a similar pace. This morning, I would have been happy to do the same, but I decided to take a light jog instead. My exercise regimen is sustainable, and that’s why I rarely injure myself or miss a day.
- When I sit down at a nice restaurant, I don’t try to taste and eat as much as possible. Instead, I leave the table satisfied, but not bloated. I eat less than I used to. This is something I still struggle with at times, because it isn’t easy. It takes practice. The result, however, is that I feel significantly better after each meal and my waistline thanks me.
- When I travel to a new city, I don’t try to do it all. I choose a few things to do, and I take my time. I then leave the city knowing that there’s plenty to see on my next visit—I leave myself wanting more of a wonderful thing.
Anyway, I hope you will join me on this journey.
Let’s do a little less… and make the less we do count for even more.
Here are five signs now is the right time to do just that:
- You feel overwhelmed by all there is to do. – Remember, overcommitting is the single biggest mistake most people make that makes life stressful and overwhelming. It’s tempting to fill in every waking moment of the day with to-do list tasks, events, obligations and distractions. Don’t do this to yourself. You CANNOT do it all. You have to let some things GO!
- You’re actually trying (consciously or subconsciously) to do it all. – Another major issue that keeps so many of us stuck in a debilitating cycle of busyness is the fantasy in our minds that we can be everything to everyone, everywhere at once, and a hero on all fronts. But, of course, that’s not reality. The reality is we’re not Superman or Wonder Woman—we’re human, and we have limits. We have to let go of this idea of doing everything and pleasing everyone and being everywhere at once. You’re either going to do a few things well, or do everything poorly. That’s the truth. (Angel and I build sustainable, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- You have no time to appreciate the space in your day. – Your life isn’t just about the things you do—it’s also about the open space between the things. That means the space itself is something to be appreciated as well. So, for example, if you spend your morning meditating and reading, the morning isn’t just valuable because of the meditation and reading—the space around those two activities is also incredible. The time spent walking over to your meditation mat, or finding your book, or turning the pages, or pouring a cup of tea, or sitting and watching the sunrise… these little open spaces are just as important as anything else. Pace yourself so you’re not hurrying from one thing to the next, but instead noticing and appreciating the spaces in between, too.
- You have lost track of your priorities. – Priorities don’t get done automatically. You have to make time for what’s important to you—time with your significant other, time with your kids, time for creating, time for learning, time for exercise, etc. Push everything else aside to make time. By saying no to more things that sound really exciting, you get to say yes to more of what’s truly important. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Happiness” chapter of the NEW edition of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Your physical space is a cluttered mess. – If you don’t have enough time to keep your physical space organized, you’re doing too many of the wrong things. Period. And there’s a good chance you’re buying too many of the wrong things too. Decluttering your physical space can lead to a less cluttered mental space—needless clutter pulls on us and distracts us in more ways than we often realize. So remember, the question of what you want present in your physical space with you is essentially the question of how you want to live your life.
I want to leave you with two quotes from our friend Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less, because I just re-read it and absolutely love how his sentiment coincidentally compliments this blog post:
- “Our excessive possessions (and obligations) are not making us happy. Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don’t matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”
- “Sometimes, minimizing possessions (and obligations) means a dream must die. But this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it takes giving up the person we wanted to be in order to fully appreciate the person we can actually become.”
Cheers to making life simple again! 🙂
In what way do you need to start doing less? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and stories with us.
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I love your books and teachings. I’ve been using your work to shift focus over the past several months. My thoughts on this post and especially the quote you mention at the end:
“Sometimes, minimizing possessions (and obligations) means a dream must die. But this is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it takes giving up the person we wanted to be in order to fully appreciate the person we can actually become.”
I will have to move soon, and the prospect of purging some pieces of my life have become a practice of grieving. It is not about the “stuff”. It is about giving up the idea of who I wanted to be, who I’d always imagined myself to become. But because life doesn’t always cooperate with one’s dreams, I will have to purge my own visions and expectations of who I was, am, and will be.
I will never be the kind of Mom I had wanted to be, because my children don’t need that mom, they need me. My children are amazing, dynamic and miraculous beings. They are not who I’d imagined they would be in my naive, pre-parenting days. My dreams of being the house on the block that all the kids come to, baking cookies, making art, writing music, having a community of friendships among the parents of my children’s friends…
It’s not gonna happen. Having a special needs child as a single parent dictates that I spend more time in waiting rooms than I do on playgrounds. I spend more time cleaning messes than I can spend making them in a creative flurry of artistic endeavors with my children. I spend more time soothing hypersensitive ears and intervening with overstimulated meltdowns than making music and dancing with joy. I spend more energy supervising and teaching some of the simplest self care tasks than I spend practicing and providing my own self care. Because that is who my children need me to be.
I will never be the professional I’d imagined myself to be. I won’t be presenting at conferences and lectures about the unique blending of my professions, I won’t write any journal articles about my research and innovative techniques for provision of care and primary intervention. I spend my time making appointments and driving my children to them rather than taking appointments for clients. I spend more time practicing medication management than I do teaching it as a professional. I spend more time struggling to manage my children through a daily routine than I can spend consulting with clients to educate them about ritual and routine. Because that is who my children need me to be.
I will never be the daughter that I wanted to be, because my parents also had a preset notion about what parenting should consist of, how children should behave, and how they expect to be treated and involved in grandparenting. I spend more time explaining and educating than I do celebrating. I spend more money on doctors and therapists than I do on father’s day cards, birthday presents, and college or retirement funds. I spend more time explaining why we’re always late or why we won’t make it than I do going to family events, because family events are usually overstimulating and overwhelming for my children. I spend more time wishing for help and time off than I do providing my parents with the support and attention that they deserve for raising me. Because that is who my children need me to be.
I will not be the kind of wife or partner that I wanted to be. That would require actually having a partner, someone to lean on, to rely on, to be a consistent force in my life. But I spend more time attending iep meetings than I do attending dates. I spend more time talking about relationship struggles than I do engaging in them. I spend more time teaching social skills than I do practicing them. Because that is who my children need me to be.
I will never be the community member that I had wanted to be. I spend more time receiving handouts of assistance than I do providing them for others. I spend more time attending school meetings, therapies, and coordinating treatment teams than I ever got to spend as a room mom, volunteer, or board member. I spend more energy advocating for a community in which my children can participate than contributing to the provision of community needs. Because that is who my children need me to be.
So all of that “stuff” I kept from school and from earlier days in professional practice, it is time for much of that stuff to go. My books, toys and games that sit collecting dust and cluttering up my basement because they are no longer age appropriate for my children, it’s time for much of that stuff to go. All of that clothing that I kept around “just in case” I needed to look or dress like a professional, it’s time for much of that stuff to go. Because that is who my children need me to be.
It is time to let go of who I thought I could be and would be, and it is time for me to embrace who I am, where I’m at, and who I will be. It is time to sacrifice some old dreams in order to make room for new, realistically achievable dreams. It is time for me to accept that I will never be who my father wanted me to be, I will never be able to give to my mother the way she gave to me, and that my children are just perfect at being an inspiration to become the best me that I can be.
Because that is who my children need me to be.
Kathy from CT says
I, too, had to learn to let go of who I thought I would be and embrace who I actually am. And I found the visual reminders of who I wasn’t was weighing me down. However, it was at such a subconscious level, I didn’t realize it unti I started removing the items from our home. It was like layers of guilt were being shed the more I purged.
Then I realized that was a negative analogy, so I decided to think of it like a flower blooming or a butterfly emerging. Much prettier, right?
So bloom away! You will love the flower or butterfly that you really are. Hugs!
Jennifer Winters says
That was beautiful! You are exactly who you need to be and your children are very lucky to have you!
Laurie, It has really supported me in being a parent of a child with special needs to participate in a group where others understand. This can be a group that meets in person or is available on-line or perhaps FB. It is essential to be heard by others who truly “get it” because they are walking the same walk.
Wow! Is this straight from the heart? Are you a writer by chance? Because this is such an impressive read. If this were 100 chapters of a novel, I’ll read on. Captivating, touching, pathetic and eulogizing all at once.
Laurie, thank you for this. I have trouble expressing myself and you have done it perfectly for me. This account is absolutely beautiful and truthful to my life. I take great comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in all this. Thank you.
Thank you so much for sharing, Laurie; that was beautifully written and absolutely inspiring. Thank you for the reminder that, no matter what life has dealt us, we can (and we’re meant to) be the very best version of ourselves RIGHT THERE. All the best to you and your very blessed children. ?
You have captured the beauty and drudgery, joy and grief, of growing in the understanding of the difference between living the daily details of the actions of caregiving informed by love versus having only the head knowledge of the names and descriptions of those actions. Your acceptance that life means embracing reality and it’s disappointments, as well as its joys, rather than holding onto to even good expectations is powerful. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!
I think a lot of this ailment is centered on the myth that busy people are more productive, and more productive people are more successful. Yet I have never seen a gravestone marked “very busy, and very productive.”
And I will counter point the “lost priorities” effect. People know their priorities, but its the constant pressure to settle for small trade-offs that cripple you over time. One less day vacation. Working even though your sick. Cutting down recovery time from ailments or surgery because you will be “so far behind.” A couple of extra hours Sunday morning. Checking email over Memorial Day…..
You want to treat downtime and vacation like an appointment. I always keep one day of the work week a “light day” by blocking out a four hour block of time. Its now “busy” to the outside world, but its all mine. If someone tries to schedule a meeting, I decline it or find another time where the team can meet. By the way, that time is Thursday afternoons, like right now.
Lastly, put away the screens. I read all about people who “got rid of their TV’s” but now are on the internet “learning”, “researching”, “connecting” or “communicating.” REALLY? Visit with people in person. Call five friends you have not talked to in a year or more, even if you just leave messages. I tried it last year, and found out it took leaving three messages on average BEFORE anyone called me back.
Try handwriting a letter, send a card with printed photos, just don’t stare at the screen. It will never love you back.
Marc, this post is a great reminder that most of us need daily — that a life filled with less busyness and a more mindful presence is necessary — something I know so well, and yet I needed you to say it just the way you did here.
Also, as I read this post I was reminded of a quote that Angel and you referred to in the Simplicity chapter of your book:
“Life is actually pretty simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Point taken! Thank you, thank you, yet again!
Luca Savoldelli says
Life is a beautiful thing, but too often we complicate things. involuntary gestures or thoughts generated by anxiety take us out of reality. we must be conscious and live positively.
Yolanda Gomez says
Spot on advice! I 100% agree that we all fill far too much of our lives with meaningless busyness and time-filler activities that don’t add value to our our lives. Too often I find that I’m just running in place as fast as I can and taking up time that could be spent more purposefully and mindfully. This has been one of my pain points over the years, and it’s something combined teachings of your emails, posts and course have helped me tremendously in recent times. Thanks for the continued support.
After leaving my job of over 14 years, 6 months ago, (without having another job to go to, probably not the best decision I’ve ever made, since I support myself) due to sharing an office with a bully (leaving made me realize this), and changes in the organization that were causing stress in addition to the stress I was already under, I find I am lost, and feel a different type of stress, since every time I think of going back into the same line of work, my mood plummets. I told myself I have to figure out what living my best life would look like, and then live it….. So, I’ve identified who and what mean the most to me and realize a lot has to change, specifically working for much less money, but also, a lot less stress….. I took the first step by leaving the toxic work environment. From here, it has to get better, and it will I suppose, if I don’t give up. Thank you for the wonderful articles.
M – I don’t know if you will see this. I too had a workplace bully & absolutely no one deserves to work with a bully.
You will get stronger & find a better job.
I wish I had something more substantial to offer – just wanted you to know that you are not alone.
I’ve felt the same way recently. It doesn’t feel good having to focus on so many things. I prefer to put my full attention on doing one task really well in my day. The older I get, the more I just desire simplicity. Less busyness, less drama, and just less stress overall. Not there yet, but getting closer everyday. I wrote an article on how to embrace simple living for the new year. Perhaps you guys might like it.
Cindy Pierce says
This article speaks to me in many ways-personally, professionally and in general I think the topic is spot on as to why there is so much hurriedness around all of us (traffic, congestion and unnecessary competition-especially in the area of social media.). Recently, my husband and I took an 18 day trip of a lifetime. We visited 5 countries. We had an excursion or two or three planned for every day. (I did take a 1/2 day off.). In hindsight, we should’ve focused on one event per day and relished our surroundings-no matter the perceived pressure from our travel mates. On our last day, we chose to stay in one place and absorb its qualities. It was very rewarding and we actually had time to learn about places in depth. Unfortunately, with some of our previously visited sites, I find myself looking at the pictures on my phone and having to research them after the fact! Next trip, no matter how far away we venture, I plan to slow down and relish the few experiences instead of desperately hitting all the “high spots” just for the sake of it. Lesson well learned. Thank you for the confirmation found in this article.
busyness is somewhat an uncontrollable vice in today’s world but it can be balanced if one takes out time for himself and slows down. Thanks to the author this point has been explained beautifully here.
i was groomed by 2 bullies where i worked, until i started to respect myself and walked out of my job, i learnt alot about myself and now set boundaries, i am now grateful for what happened i am the bigger person and finally people love to work with me for i can handle myself now, don,t need to be validated, no more little me either and bullies know that, so turn it all around and see the best in it,
i sincerely hope its encourages you
Bill Hord says
It’s funny. When I used to get overwhelmed at work, I would clear off some space on my whiteboard and made a list of the things that would “kill me first”. They were the must do things with hard schedule dates – promotions, raises, briefings to customers or upper management and those were worked until done. I let no interruptions stop progress. Now that I’m retired from that career and working on re-making myself, I forgot that trick until this reminded me. Distractions come easy – TV shows, social media, – easy to do with little value. Thanks for the heading check. Now, back to building my list.
I need to stop doing too much in my school club and taking on too many tasks which stress me out. I need to implement the one thing at a time strategy to focus and be present. I need to list out 1-3 big priorities each day or even for each week and let the rest fill in naturally.
Carrie Johansen says
Some people’s definition of life is working. We do have different ways of viewing things which are being overdone. Everything is okay, but with control and moderation. When we overdo everything we are creating our own disaster. We feed ourselves sometimes with too much dedication. Though, dedication is good, too much of it causes us to ignore things which are also important.