[amazon-product align=”right” alink=”0000FF” bordercolor=”000000″ height=”240″ region=”us” tracking_id=”varsblah-20″]B0049B32AQ[/amazon-product]Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits and author of The Power of Less, offers practical advice in Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction. All parts of this review are available in the Archive.
The world is a busy place. Our obsession with having, doing, and being all things all the time is the reason we feel so burdened. It’s the reason supermoms and their wunderkinds spend days filled with activities here, there, and everywhere. It’s a lot like my life in high school, which involved music lessons (I played two instruments), orchestra rehearsals, choir practices, composition classes, and aural training (in addition to the hours at home practising all of the above and making time for normal schoolwork too). Oh, and I had to just be a kid as well!
There’s been much debate recently about ‘tiger moms’ and whether all this pushing for productivity is necessary from such a young age. In some sense, the answer is yes. The global labour market is incredibly competitive and we all need to work hard to set ourselves apart. But there comes a point where it takes a toll. Fact is we don’t have to blindly accept this as the reality of corporate or city life nor do we have to sell all our stuff and move to remote parts of the world to get away from it all. Since our environments don’t control us, there are things we can do right now to start making changes:
- Work on what you love. The goal here is to only do what absolutely needs to be done. That means everything unnecessary (especially meetings) should be eliminated. Go for high quality activities that excite you rather than high quantity ones that don’t. There’s no reason for you to serve on every single committee or constantly rush from one appointment to the next. And while it might be hard to say no to other people (or get out of what you’re already in), they’ll live and life will go on. That happened when I decided to give up playing the oboe after studying the instrument for almost three years. Yes, it was a decision I battled with, but focusing only on the piano meant I could excel far better there than I did before.
- Keep space in your schedule. Ironically, eliminating unnecessary tasks and only doing work you love can actually leave you busier than ever. That’s because you’re so excited about all the great things you get to do that you don’t know where to start (or when to stop). For me, that often means starting the day with an ambitious list of really enjoyable projects only to find myself a little overwhelmed and unable to get through even a few. This is where strategic postponing comes in handy. Cut back on your task list. Start each day with the single most impactful action item and then move on to a second or third when you’re done with the first. Remember that not everything needs to be done every day. Trying to do too much means making mistakes as you rush from one task to the next. That’s not good.
“If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things, then this is the best season of your life.” – Wu-Men
- Take it easy it on yourself. Not every single moment of our waking lives needs to be filled with being productive. Sometimes it’s okay to just sit around doing nothing. Sometimes it’s okay to just stand in line without feeling the need to whip out your phone and catch up on your communiqué. And sometimes it’s okay to save the work for tomorrow (or give yourself the permission and freedom to work on other things altogether). This doesn’t mean we should abandon all our goals, loaf about in our pyjamas, and claim we’re, like, living in the moment. That’s too extreme. We all still need some direction and some drive. The key is not to let it make you miss what matters most. Life is meant to be appreciated and savoured, not hacked to death by productivity nuts.
- Accept the imperfection and change in life. Even though we can spend a lot of time and energy worrying to have the future figured out 100%, we can never really know. Besides, things are bound to go wrong sooner or later. There are just too many factors (especially other people) that we can’t control. So instead of getting upset when the inevitable occurs, we should simply accept it all. Breathe into the emotion, laugh it off, and realise it won’t matter in a week so you might as well get over it now. Be like water by flowing naturally around obstacles instead of forcing the life’s ‘rocks’ to move out of your way. Embrace the fact that life is a perfectly chaotic and constantly changing beautiful mess. In fact, the inconveniences that seem set to make you explode can sometimes be opportunities in disguise. So stay flexible and keep an open mind. You never know what serendipity might bring!
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupe
Most importantly, be happy with where you are and what you have right here, right now. One of the fundamental insights in Buddhist teaching is that suffering is caused whenever we want things to be other than they already are, either by moving away from something bad or by moving towards something good. The problem with traditional goals is that most of them make us painfully aware of what’s missing in our lives. And so we go out and work towards greener pastures in the hopes that this will make us happy. But it doesn’t take long before we figure out it’s never enough.
Again, that’s not to say that we should simply sit around at peace with everything and have no reason to change; life would never progress if that were the case. It simply means we should go out and strive to achieve goals for the sake of challenge, learning, and growth. It should never be about proving our worth to other people or chasing the highs of victory. We should do it just for us. That’s in itself is more than enough.
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