I get up early to read the paper (and by paper, I mean I surf the Internet and read from different news websites). I recently came across an article on RadioShack, and it made me mourn the loss of this iconic American store. It also made me pause, reflect, and feel sad about the lack of free time American professionals have and its broad impact. It’s impossible to imagine, but since the 1970s we’ve been working – time wise – the equivalent of an extra month more per year.
I think it’s fair to say that we’re not going to reverse this trend in the near future. But there is something that we can do to at least reclaim our precious minutes. It’s an idea that I’ve just started implementing and it’s called “One Less Thing to Do.”
You’ve heard the phrase “I’ve got one more thing to do.” Well, this obviously is the opposite. It starts by making purposeful decisions that protect your time. Here’s one I made last week: I’ve been flirting with the idea of joining a community group. It’s one I admire greatly. But to be a full participant, I have to make a huge time commitment. As a mother of two, a business owner, a wife, and a grad school student, spare time is just something that I don’t have. Last week I finally came to a conclusion: Since I can’t commit wholly to this organization, it’s best that I just don’t commit at all. After all, I’d rather be remembered for my exceptional contributions to the organization than my sub-par ones.
Another “One Less Thing to Do” is about oldest son’s bed (he’s 9). I’m not making it anymore. The Marine in me used to obsess about “hospital corners” and whether or not his Pottery Barn bedspread was displayed just like in the magazine. Even though it still pains me to walk by his bedroom in the morning and see his hurried job, I work hard to let it go. Making his bed is one less thing that I have to do each day.
I’ve also stopped obsessing about making perfect breakfasts, lunches and dinners. (My husband is probably going to wonder when I started?!) If it’s food and it’s healthy, then it’s just fine.
I’ve also stopped opening up my calendar so generously. It’s hard saying “no” sometimes to meetings and lunchtime engagements, but if the appointment doesn’t connect to a goal, then I take the time to weigh its value and whether or not I should attend.
The “One Less Thing to Do” campaign has a purpose. It’s so that I can be “more” to the things that matter most to me: my family, my friends and my career. There is a limit to my time and attention and when I try to spread it around, the quality and impact that I make starts to weaken. It’s not that I don’t want to do more – I’m ambitious, there’s so much that I want to do. But there’s a limit to how much I can do. And when I try to do too much, so much in my life suffers – especially those important leadership roles that are priorities for me.
There is also a secondary aim – and that is to help me carve free time back into my life. We all need margin in our lives, which is that quiet white space where we can go to reflect and tinker away at a project or hobby. Ah-ha moments don’t happen in our busy days. They occur in the moments when our mind is quiet, our thoughts are free, and our imagination is turned loose.