If you meet me before, you know I love sweets. Chocolates, gummy bears, cakes, cookies. Yum. I could be sitting working on a blogpost or at work and all a sudden get a constant craving. Some days I’d give in. Go out of my way to get something sweet. Other days, I’d have some willpower and be able to resist. Over the years, I’ve been able to get better at resisting the sugar fiend inside me.
I can still feel it though, deep inside. Even now, I’d love some toffee or some hot chocolate. Now imagine instead, my phone was vibrating. Of course, I’d pick it up. A text message. Let me do a quick reply. Oh, Instagram notification. Who posted something? And so on. All a sudden I’ve lost track of time and it’s an hour later.
Worse yet, at least with my sweet cravings, I’ll know that I should stop and not eat the whole box. With my phone or laptop the various notifications, beeps, vibrations are almost endless. It even sometimes feels productive. Let me reply to this email. Oh, a new article on my favorite blog, well that’s a productive use of my time. Let me read that too.
It’s late afternoon and I haven’t gotten a single thing done on my to-do list. No emails to reply to though! Yep, and all those new blog posts, read! In a sense, technology is worse than sugar. At least after the first few bites of anything sweet, I realize I shouldn’t be eating too much and am usually able to stop. My use of technology could be endless and that guilt is rarely there. I’m not usually doing anything that unproductive. There’s usually some benefit in my interaction with technology.
But that’s the problem, there’s no negative feedback loop. If anything, there’s a small positive feedback loop. I’m getting stuff done. And I keep going. But that blog post I wanted to write sits there as a blank word doc. I’ve let the world make my schedule instead of sticking to what I want to have done. I’ve been able to re-wire my brain a bit with my technology use. Before I sit down on my laptop or phone, I try to think of what I need to do with using it. I turn on do not disturb.
I try to be a little more intentional with my time. Rarely will an email or text need a reply right away. I’ve actually found that people are appreciative of this: if I respond right away then they feel the need to as well. I changed the ringtone for a handful of people in my phone so that it rings even on do not disturb. My wife. My parents. Just in case. I’ll send a quick text saying I’m busy though and ask if I can call them back in a bit.
Like with sweets, I’ll put my phone a little further away. Out of arm’s reach. This helps me resist the urge to grab it when there’s a second of downtime. I just got an email. It can wait. Let me finish this post.
There’s a barbershop right under my apartment. It’s pretty convenient to call down and head over there. No driving. No looking for parking. walk downstairs. It saves me about 30 minutes or so. The catch is that it’s almost double as expensive as other places. It’s so convenient that I never looked elsewhere. Why would I? The haircut was good enough and it was convenient.
Well, one day I wanted to get a haircut and it was closed. What did I want at that time? Just for my normal haircut place to be open. So I can get the same convenient haircut that I always got.
I reluctantly looked for another haircut place. I was pretty surprised to find one a block away. It was half the price and a much better haircut. Now I always go to this new haircut place and would have never known about it if the first one wasn’t closed.
It made me wonder where else in my life was I willing to take good enough since it was convenient? It’s so easy to go with the flow. Stick to something that works. I did the same with a laptop that was showing signs of aging. Getting a new laptop improved my workflow. But I was stubborn and keeping to my old, slow laptop.
I decided to do an audit of some of my normal activities. Have I looked at this recently? Is there any way I could improve it? Could it be cheaper? Better quality? Or take less time? Do I even need to do it at all?
This last one is the most important. I used to spend an hour or two grocery shopping every week. This was would also lead me to buy a bunch of unhealthy food because I happened to run into it at the grocery store. Instead, I discovered I could order from pretty much anywhere and have it delivered. Get exactly what I need, and not end up buying a bunch of junk food. I was able to save time and money instead of the grocery shopping myself.
When was the last time you took a look at your normal activities? Could you find a cheaper, higher quality, or more efficient alternative?
Say I had your permission to follow you around for a week. Awake hours only. At work, at home, at the gym. We would never talk, and I’d take plenty of notes. The end of the week comes, and I give you a piece of paper. It says here are your priorities. What would yours say?
Now someone, let’s call her Izzy, comes to talk to you a week before me. She asked you to write down your priorities. Family, Work, and health; you write. You’re told to be more specific. For example: spend an hour of quality time with your wife daily, focus on your new project, exercise for 15 minutes a day. Those are better.
Izzy and I compare notes. What do we see? Do you spend time where you say your priorities are? I know I don’t. I try. It’s hard to live up to your ideals. But ever since I did this exercise, I’ve been able to get closer. Closer to spending time with what I say is important.
If you’re like me, you’re working throughout the day. Notes, side hustles, administration. Work is being done through all waking hours. But there’s more to life than work. I know. I’ve even written it down as a priority. But how much time do I dedicate to my non-work priorities? 10% of my day? 20%?
Some weeks: it’s 90% work and 10% family. Other weeks 80% work, 10% family, But life is passing me by. Work will always be there. There will always be more. More projects to pick up. More money on the table.
With this goal in mind, I’ve been better. I have some tricks though. I realized those three priorities don’t have to be done individually. My wife and I exercise together. Quality family time and health are taken care of together. We changed our diet. We eat healthy. Again quality time and health.
Instead of working in the office, we work together. She may be studying or shopping. Usually the latter, and I’ll be typing away. Or on a phone call. It’s not a replacement for quality time, but we fit in quality time when we can. We try to do the weekly date night. It usually occurs every two weeks. But we try.
I could get some more done. Pick up another project or side hustle. But that’s okay. They will always be there. This time with my family and my good health is priceless.
What does a typical day look like for you? You wake up, then coffee. More than likely you grab your phone, respond to some texts or emails. Go to work. Come home, some family time. Dinner, TV, and then sleep.
If you’re like me, then between all those times you try to fit in as much as you can. Read articles or blog posts. Listen to podcasts. Try to get a workout in if there’s time. You squeeze out every minute of free time. out. All in the name of productivity.
There’s not a bit of free time. Free time. Do we even need it?
Well, think back. When was the last time you had an epiphany? What were you doing? All a sudden an answer comes to you despite not thinking about the problem at all. Your mind was idle for a bit so it had the brainpower to work on your problems in the background.
Or it was something you told yourself you have to remember, but somehow you forgot. Just letting your mind sit idle for a bit was able to bring it back.
We often run our brain at top speed and wonder why we still feel tired after a good night’s sleep. Our brain is mentally exhausted because it’s been working non-stop. It would be like going to the gym for 8-12 hours a day and expecting not to be sore the next day. Then beat myself up when I can’t come up with any creative solutions for my big problems.
To combat this, I try to insert a bit of free time throughout the day. So that my brain can run free. It can relax if it wants, or go and attack whatever it wants in the background.
Small stuff here and there. I stopped taking out my phone as soon as I got in the elevator. I sit there and stare at the door. A few seconds of blissful free time. I’ll listen to music or even commute in a silent car. Instead of turning on a podcast as soon as I step in the car. I’ll wash the dishes and resist the need to play a video or podcast.
Try to think of where you can insert a little free time into your life. Your brain will surprise you with how much more productive it can be with a little rest and free time.
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