Thursday, August 23, 2012

Perfecting Time Spent

At the beginning of this month, I just finished my last college class and am no longer working. I allowed myself to have an entire month off to do what I pleased without worrying about a job yet. I promised myself that I wouldn't start looking for jobs until September 1st, just so I had time to enjoy an obligation-free lifestyle for just a bit.

Well, doesn't that sound heavenly, if it ever were to happen! Doesn't it always seem like what you have isn't good enough? This whole time that I have had "time off" I have actually spent worrying about how to spend my time. The way I saw it at the beginning of the month was that, if I had all this time - a month! - obligation free, work free, school and homework free - I had better use all the time to the best of my ability. What this translated into was wanting uber productivity every single day (aka unrealistic expectations!).

I'm training for the half marathon. I've had several items on my to do list for what seem like months. I have a stack of books begging to be read. And I have an 8 month old puppy to entertain and keep track of! In my eyes, there was so much I wanted to accomplish this month. This is a good thing except that it turned into a bad thing because of the pressure I put on myself. Pressure to extend my to do list, do more, read more, run more - just plain more period. And because of this mindset, I realized something important about myself: I am addicted to action. In the back of my mind somewhere, I believe the lie that I must always be doing something or I am useless. I certainly can't sit and write in a journal for an hour because it's just sitting there. I certainly can't go on a walk for fun. I also can't go take a nap because it feels good (and I need it). I am so addicted to action and productivity at times that I am unable to relax, enjoy life, and just take it easy like I wanted to this month. What a way to spend a precious month off!

I dreamed of having so much time that I could do so many things. I dreamed of filling my time with all this meaningful, interesting stuff so that when I do get a job, I wouldn't regret not utilizing that time. When I get a job, will I have time to read, run whenever I want, meal plan, play with Beans, sit on Pinterest for hours, organize stuff? Probably not, or at least not as much. So I feel as if I've guilted myself into thinking that I must use this time off to get things done so I'm "on top of it all" when I do have a job. But when are we ever on top of life?!

But you know what? I have done a lot! I've been plenty productive, but because I am apparently my own personal slave driver, I failed to see it until now. I was talking to my mom yesterday, explaining this to her, and she said I should make an "accomplished list" instead of a to do list. I started to give this list some thought, and I realized all that I have done. Yesterday, my day didn't go quite as planned and I didn't get done "nearly what I should have," so I felt disappointed with how I'd spent my time. But when I reflected on how I had spent my day versus how I hadn't, I felt really accomplished. Yesterday I vacuumed and deep cleaned my whole car, I met with a friend for coffee and we had great conversation, and then I went on a run in the evening. There's three pretty cool things I did. Yet so often my mind focuses on the ten things I didn't do.

Why this is, I can only assume because I am a perfectionist. I believe more is better, and I demand more from myself daily. While a lot of this month was spent in anxious anticipation for what I was going to do next, I have understood that I've actually been productive, but also that I haven't spent every waking minute of this month in unhappiness or anxiety. The more I demand from myself, the more time I need to de-stress. A couple of ways I de-stress or aim to reduce stress in my life are...

  • Let something go unfinished. Last night, I was knee deep in my meal planning at midnight. Why on earth I was meal planning at midnight is beyond me, but I realized it was late and I was exhausted. I just had to stop. I closed my laptop without hesitation and put myself before my work, letting the project go unfinished until later. Sometimes you just have to leave something, even if you desire to finish it right then. Leaving work is a good thing because it puts you in charge of what you do instead of letting the work rule you. 
  • Just do what you love. So often I think, "Oh, I'd love to take a bath this week." But in the back of my head, I know I won't let myself or ever get around to it. Sometimes I just have to wake up and let myself do something I deserve. I don't have to work on projects and to do lists forever. I am allowed a break, whether that means a bath or a trip to Starbucks. You deserve it. 
  • Set lower expectations. This is a hard one for me. Sometimes, I get a little nuts with my to do lists, thinking if I merely write something down that it ensures that I will do it. Often, I make daily schedules the night before for everything I'm going to do the next day. But I also often make this schedule without any regards to the 24 hours that are allotted to one day! I often have to remind myself to be realistic. If getting two big tasks done in one day and resting for the rest is realistic, that's what I should aim for (not aiming getting two day's worth of to do lists done in one day). 
  • Mono-task. I've seen and read this everywhere lately, but it's true. Don't aim for multitasking. Aim for doing one thing at a time. This is close to impossible with my multiple tabs in Google Chrome, music playing, phone going off next to me, to do list staring at me, and the dog vying for my attention all at the same time! But it's much more rewarding to just sit and do one thing, complete it, and move on than come back to it twenty times. 

This weekend the hubs and I are spending away at a marriage retreat. I'm planning on using this weekend to totally unplug from the world and just enjoy some time away. As for the rest of August, I think I need to give myself a little break before the job searching starts!

What ways do you de-stress? Do you ever feel "addicted to action?"

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