The most important thing we keep throwing away (and how to get it back)

I’m grounded today, like a jet ready for takeoff, but out of fuel. The worst part is, I have only myself to blame.

Last Sunday, after a week away from the gym, I decided to dive in and hit the weights. I spent 45 minutes pumping and straining and then cooled down on the treadmill for a 30 minute, incline run.

Artwork by John P. Weiss

 

Proud of myself, I came home, showered, made some coffee, and settled into a good book.


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An injection of Toradol

The next morning, a dull headache slowly enveloped my skull. As the day progressed, so did the pain. A few Advil mid-day blunted the intensity, but it came back full force at bedtime.

I crawled out of bed, took more Advil and wrapped an icepack around my neck. I slumped onto the couch, focused on my breathing, and eventually slipped into a fitful sleep.

The headache stayed with me, at varying intensities, all week, until I finally visited the doctor. After an injection of Toradal, a prescription, a massage referral, and stretching suggestions, I was sent home to ice my neck and back.

My productivity and creative output suffered all week because I overdid it at the gym and failed to stretch.

The wasted time got me thinking about how we spend time. Subtract roughly eight hours of sleep, and each of us has 16 hours a day. Some people seem to accomplish amazing stuff in those 16 hours. Others, not so much.

Busy has become the new fine

It seems we all get wrapped up in life’s minutia, like gum in our hair. Our crazy schedules, commitments, and appointments monopolize much of our time.

Add to that the unforced errors, like forgetting to stretch before a workout, and soon we feel totally time-starved.

What’s worse, a lot of people confuse busyness with effectiveness. They view a hectic schedule and rush-rush lifestyle as a sign of success and status.

There’s a video by social entrepreneur Jeff Shinabarger that captures perfectly today’s glorification of busy (watch it below). In fact, Shinabarger points out that “busy” has become the new “fine.”

In other words, when we used to ask people how they were, they’d say, “Fine.” Now, people say, “Busy! I’m really busy.”

At some point toward the end of my law enforcement career, I started to figure out the value of slowing down. I paid more attention to my calendar and commitments.

I couldn’t predict every time waster, but I employed strategies (laid out below) that bought me some peace and sanity. I learned the value of slowing down, in order to get more out of life.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman, stoic philosopher who shared some wisdom about slowing down and living better.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

Seneca also shared the following observation.

“Finally, everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is preoccupied with many things — eloquence cannot, nor the liberal studies — since the mind, when distracted, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it. There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn.”

Five ways to simplify

We all have different lives and professions but fall into similar traps in how we manage our time. To that end, here are five ways to simplify your life and get more out of it. None of these suggestions are earth-shattering revelations, but they are often overlooked and/or neglected.

Sleep

Getting enough sleep pays huge dividends on your overall health and mental focus. It’s easier to think when we’ve had enough sleep, and that means we can problem solve better.

The sleep-deprived end up taking longer on tasks, which only cheats them from pursuing more enjoyable things.

Digital vacation

Social media has its charms and its curses. Facebook, Instagram, and all the other digital rabbit holes can suck serious time out of your day. If you’re wondering why you don’t have six pack abs, or never wrote that novel, take a look at your social media use. Same goes for TV and smartphone use.

More and more people are reevaluating their use of social media, television, and smartphones. They’re removing apps, quitting social media, and rediscovering the gifts of face to face conversation, outdoor exercise, and passions like sports and the creative arts.

Try taking a digital vacation, and replace all that online time doing family stuff, exercise, and neglected passions. You’ll be surprised how much happier you might feel.

Mindfulness

Learning how to breath deeply and un-cluttering your mind will help you become more mindful and at peace.

So much of our thoughts dwell on the past or what might happen in the future, at the expense of enjoying the present.

Ever notice how we miss out on savoring experiences because we’re so busy documenting them with our smartphones?

What on earth are we going to do with all those digital images and videos? How often do we ever really review all those images? Sure, some special moments deserve a photo, but not every waking hour. And what makes you think posting your chicken sandwich on Instagram will fascinate others?

Turn off the devices, clear a smidgen of your schedule, and work on being present. When I was a police chief, I used to take my lunch in a local park. I’d go somewhere quiet, enjoy my lunch, and listen to the birds and wind in the trees. The experience was a welcome refuge from my hectic schedule. It grounded and re-energized me.

Nowadays, I take long walks with my dogs to clear my mind, enjoy the fresh air and be mindful of the peaceful moments.

Solitude

I’ve written often about the power of solitude and quiet time. We’re all social creatures to varying degrees, but spending time with ourselves is important. It’s how we reconnect with our inner being.

I love my solitude but struggled with the need to be doing something “important.” It took me a while to change habits, and realize that quiet time is important, too.

In the past, whenever I went to a coffee shop by myself, I’d pull out my iPhone and sink into the Internet quicksand. Now I sip my latte and take in the sights, sounds, conversations, and life around me. I’ve become a quiet observer, and notice so much more.

I enjoy my friends and some social engagements, but solitude is what recharges my spirit and creative energy. Even if you’re an extrovert who needs social interaction to energize, a degree of solitude will quiet your mind and offer some balance.

Say no

There will always be people willing to spend your time for you if you let them. Learn to politely say no to commitments and obligations that make your life unnecessarily busy.

Take the time to add “me time” into your calendar. Add cushions of time between appointments and meetings, if you can. Use that time to slow down. Maybe grab a cup of tea, or read in your car for half an hour.

I used to fear disappointing people and often said yes to things. Then later, I regretted it and resented the commitment. I learned to gently thank people but tell them, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t commit to that. I appreciate the kind offer, but I need to focus on my work.”

Today is a gift

One of the most important things we have is time, and we have the power to manage how we spend a lot of it. Sometimes it takes discipline, but wise time management pays huge dividends.

“Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”- Bil Keane

With some thought and effort, we can change our habits and make more time for family, exercise, our passions, and quiet reflection. Do this, and you can significantly change your life for the better!

Before you go


I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint landscapes, and write about life. Thanks for reading!

This article first appeared on Medium.


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