Time Management: Real Life is Never Too Busy

My mother would be surprised to hear me say so, but she’s really a very wise person. She said something to me the other day that I thought deserved an article just to expand on it.

She said, “Life is always too busy. We’ve always got too much to do. But we’ve got to do the important stuff and stop trying to do all the other stuff we don’t have time for. It’s just a distraction from real life.”

Gee, I wish I’d said that.

So many time management tips fall under the categories of “organization” or “prioritization.” Too few fall under the category of “real purpose” or “authentic living.”

Mom put her finger right on the core issue for most of us: we don’t have enough time because we’re not living our real lives.

• We’re living on artificial schedules developed by other people. Schedules that don’t fit our needs.
• We’re living by the clock rather than our natural cycles. We may need to use clocks to coordinate our activities with one another. But do we have to schedule everything right down to the absolute minute? Did you know that people who wear watches die years earlier than people who don’t? Did you know that stress is called the “hurry-up disease?”
• We’re doing what others think we ought to be doing rather than what we must be doing to live by our own standards.
• We’re acting without purpose and direction.
• We’re trying to be fulfilled by artificial means. (Like texting instead of sitting down together and having a real conversation, face to face, with someone you care for.)

All this isn’t about some existential philosophy. Or Zen outlook. Living authentically is a basic necessity of high performance and high productivity.

The antidote to our rushing around trying to do too many things in too little time is being true to ourselves and fulfilling our actual human needs. Not trying to live some fantasy lives based on impossible standards. Living authentically, in terms of busy-ness, time management, procrastination, performance and productivity means:

• Considering our highest desires and making sure we are doing what we can to meet them. And this is possible because our true desires are reasonable. Most of us want simple things like enough financial wherewithal and material things to take care of us. Good friends and loved ones. Enough time to sleep and eat and have leisure. Time to play and have fun.
• Considering times, schedules and organization that fit our natural cycles, rather than disrupt them.
• Considering our strengths and weaknesses, so we can emphasize work that we do best and get help in areas where we are weak.
• Considering our own characters, our basic natures — our essential selves. Our moral selves. What we can and will do based on our natures. (Remember the old saying about the leopard not being able to change its spots?)
• Considering the restrictions of our current conditions: physical, psychological, social, economic, environmental. How much freedom do we really have to act? For example, no matter how much multi-tasking we do, we can’t be in two places at the same time. Do we have the knowledge and/or skill to do our tasks? Are there people blocking our abilities to achieve?

These are the considerations of our real lives.

Think about a mom with a scheme for how she can get her kids from soccer practice to the movies and still have time to make deviled eggs for Aunt Matilda’s afternoon tea, while taking a business meeting on a smart phone, in between bouts of dictation into her digital recorder regarding the latest reports on a shipment from China.

That’s crazy enough to be the subject of a Stephen King story. Yet it describes fairly usual thinking about how we organize and run our lives and times.

Let’s get real. We’ll find we have enough time to do everything we need.

How about a “laughter break?”

'''The proverb “laughter is the best medicine,” is so old and well-used that we no longer remember its origin. I was first introduced to it as a kid reading “Readers Digest,” in their column “Laughter is The Best Medicine,” a column still being published. And I was delighted as a graduate psychology student, years later, to find that the old saying actually had research to back up its truth.

I think what brought laughter-as-treatment to the forefront of popular consciousness was Norman Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. Cousins wrote about how he developed his own recovery program for a serious illness, a great deal of which relied upon a positive attitude and a great deal of laughter.

Since that time, much research has been done in the physical and psychological benefits of laughter. The beneficial effects of laughter are profound and long-lasting. But even better, some of them are immediate.

Who doesn’t want to do something that makes you feel good right away, is contagious, makes other people around you feel good right away, and makes you more socially attractive?

Dr. Joe Kosterich wrote an excellent article explaining these basics, which I published earlier today. Not surprisingly, it’s titled “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”

I’d like to put together the research on the benefits of laughter with the current research on the harm that so many of us do to ourselves by sitting so much each day. To remind yourself of some of the harm sitting does, go back to an earlier article on this blog where I included a borrowed infographic that explains it in detail: See “Are You Sitting Down for This? Sitting Kills.”

I’d like to suggest that you not only take breaks to avoid illness and injury from sitting, but also that you make some of those breaks “laughter breaks.”

Ever so often, get up from your chair, and go find some office mate to share a joke or a cartoon or a funny story with. It will get you a brief bit of exercise, it will help solidify your social/career network, and it will be fun. But before you do that, please take a moment to read Dr. Joe’s article.

Information overload or lack of discrimination?

This morning, I published a guest article, “The Truth About Information Overload,” by David Bohl, which is a bit out of date. In it, the author only specifies the overload from television, email and instant messaging.

Today, we are also hit with news, demands, questions, ads, chats, writings, audios, videos and more from so many sources it’s difficult to count them. The prevalence of instant communication devices such as ordinary cell phones, smart phones and tablet computers have added to the internet noise.

Everywhere you go, you see people texting, tweeting, conversing, taking pics and sharing photos, checking or updating their Facebook accounts, taking to others they can actually see on their phones’ video functions, watching movies on their phones or tablets. We’re connected 24/7/365. Ha. Just think of all the folks who scoffed at Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio and two-way wrist TV.

It’s exciting and fun. It’s also overwhelming and nerve-wracking. Especially for those poor suckers whose employers, colleagues and clients can now interrupt them anytime, anywhere. Privacy has become a hard-to-get experience.

So, why publish a dated article that doesn’t cover tips for avoiding the tension and stress of the information overload? Because the specifics don’t matter. The bottom line is always the same.

It’s not that we neet to control the information. It’s that we need to control ourselves. We need to each decide, as individuals with different needs and tolerances, how we control the use of technology. And that’s what Bohl advises. I like his simple, no frills advice. It applies to all our technologies. Including the ones coming in the future that none of us are yet expecting. Yes, even the iPhone 5.

The technology is a good thing. Helpful and waiting for our creative use of it. We have the choice about when and how and what to do with it.

We can actually turn of our phones. We can just sit and think about things peacefully, all by ourselves. We can compose our feelings before dealing with calls from annoying people. We can put strict filters on our emails. We can refuse to read or answer some emails. We can refuse to accept video chats. We can tell others that if they want to contact us by phone, they can use their voices rather than their thumbs. We can limit ourselves to how much time we spend on phones, TV, computer games, internet and face-to-face contact.

I carry a cell phone. Not a smart phone. I use it if I need to make a call while I’m out. Otherwise, it’s turned off. I do not use it while driving. I seldom use it while a passenger — it’s too distracting for the driver. Soon I will succumb to my desire for an iPhone. When I get it, I’ll use it in a similar way to my cell phone. I’ll be able to turn it on and comparison price shop. I’ll be able to take photos to send ideas to my email. I’ll be able to dictate articles and email them for later publication. If I have to wait for someone or some event, I will probably play a game. (Oh, come on, of course I’ll get game apps!) But I still won’t do any of that while driving. And I still won’t be available to incoming calls unless they are pre-arranged and absolutely necessary. Why? For the same reason I have email filters and different email addresses for different functions. I want control over who contacts me and when and where they do it. I have a life.