Again, given summer’s undeniable pull to go outside and play, you may be feeling greater tension than usual right now between what you want to do and what you have to do. This week’s excerpt from the Foundations program can help you resolve that conflict, so you can both enjoy the season and still finish what needs doing.
Summer also calls us to slow down, recover and prepare for the more ambitious energy that will arrive with autumn. It’s a season well-suited to adjusting to the growth and changes that resulted from whatever you created in the spring and to make space for the new to come. Decluttering is part of that preparation – and so in this week’s mini-guide, I share my thoughts on what happens at the intersection of Space and Time.
Foundations, Week 3: What Needs Doing
In the third week of the Foundations program, having gained a fresh perspective on Time, Systems and You, we then shift our focus to everything that is demanding your attention, all the activities you need and want to do and the relationships between them.
Finding those connections is key to shifting that no-win sense that whatever you’re doing now comes at the expense of other things you need and want to do – and ultimately learning to work within your capacity and feel satiated by your activities.
One way we explore those connections is by redefining work.
Exercise: Redefining Work
Many years ago I read a magazine article about work/life balance, and the author made the compelling argument that dividing your life into these two halves and weighing the one against the other was the wrong way to go about achieving what we like to call “balance.” Our lives are much more like interdependent ecosystems, he said, with each person’s individual “habitat” being quite unique. The combination of activities one person needs to feel satisfied can be very different from another. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution and trying to conform to this 50/50 concept only leads to problems.
Or as Molly Gordon later pointed out more succinctly: we don’t want to be balanced so much as we want to feel whole.
A healthy, sustainable life is an ecosystem in which all the elements are interconnected and interdependent, each part contributing to and supporting the others in some way.
To further explore this interconnectedness, in this exercise you’ll redefine what counts as “work.”
We associate various qualities with the word work: activities that require significant effort, that which is the opposite of play or leisure, what one has to do v. what one wants to, and so on.
In this instance, I want you to redefine work in its sense of what counts as a legitimate activity.
For the most part, we tend to think of work as the activities an employer would pay us to do or what would be considered “billable” time. Anything an employer would discourage or prohibit in the workplace, isn’t work – a definition that can cause us to devalue many significant aspects of our lives.
That devaluation can seriously erode our sense of satisfaction with the way we move through our days and lead us to dismiss certain essential activities altogether.
So let’s redefine what counts as work by first defining work.
For myself, I define work as anything that directly brings money into my household or makes that effort possible.
Which means nearly all of my activities count as work. They are all legitimate uses of my time and energy.
For instance, writing the words you are reading at this very moment is clearly one element of my livelihood – what I’m doing right now is work. But so was preparing and eating the lunch I enjoyed when taking a break from this writing because I cannot write without fueling my body. In fact, anything involving food – from grocery shopping to cleaning the kitchen – counts as work.
Same goes for sleep. I cannot be sustainably productive without getting consistent and sufficient rest. So does that make sleeping part of my job? Hmmm…
Similarly, if I get my best ideas in the shower, digging in the garden, or when taking a walk through my neighborhood, then those activities are work.
And while ironing my sweetheart’s work shirts is probably the most prosaic thing I do in my week, it does fulfill a requirement of his job. It helps to bring money into our household, so it also counts as work.
I could even make the argument that participating in trivia night at my neighborhood pub is work because, as a contrasting activity, it refreshes my abilities to engage in other activities. And the same reasoning could apply to any social engagement, vacation or form of R&R.
And so on.
Play with this exercise long enough and you may find yourself challenged to come up with something that doesn’t contribute to making your livelihood possible and isn’t work.
The point of this exercise isn’t to turn every aspect of your life into a job or to only choose activities that directly contribute to your financial bottom line. And distinguishing between your professional and personal life likely will remain useful in many ways.
Rather, the point is to notice how everything you do is connected and supports everything else, has value and helps you to feel whole.
• • • • •
To discover this for yourself, start by choosing how you want to define work. (You can use my definition or something of your own invention.)
Then mind-map all the areas of your life that you want or need to give your time and energy to. You can group or organize your activities any way you like.
Once you’ve completed your brain-dump, ask yourself how each activity and each area of your life contributes to your livelihood. If you stopped doing something, what would be the effect on your professional life? On other areas of your life? Conversely, what would happen if you devoted more time and energy to an area?
Use lines, arrows and circles to illustrate the relationships you discover. Observe what falls outside that web of connections. Consider removing such tangents from your life. They are draining rather than contributing to the whole.
When you are finished, check in with yourself. How has giving yourself an objective picture of the interconnectedness and interdependence of the activities that make up the ecosystem of your life shifted that internal conflict between what you have to do and what you want to do, that tension between creation and maintenance, and that sense that whenever you’re doing one thing, you’re robbing yourself of something else?
On Decluttering: What I Know About Space & Time
There is a plethora of advice out there about how to organize everything from your closets to your inbox, purge your unwanted stuff, and keep your house clean. I am not an expert in such things and this is not that kind of how-to manual.
What this 9-page mini-guide does cover is what often gets discussed when students bring decluttering tasks to our co-working parties. These are my observations and experience of what happens at the intersection of Space and Time: how your belongings relate to change, how your possessions affect your energy, how your stuff is connected to your calendar, and how your worldly goods shape your experience and perception of time.
If you’re already subscribed to the Aerogramme, On Decluttering is probably already waiting for you in your inbox. If not, you can become a subscriber by entering your contact info below the airmail envelope in the top right of this page, then clicking “sign me up.”
Missed last week’s giveaways?
You can read last week’s Aerogramme and learn how to download last week’s gift, Never on a Sunday, here.
And for those of you who have been playing along, what happened when you spent a day away from mechanical time? How are you taking back your weekends? Share your insights here on the blog. I’d love to hear from you.
Featured Self-Study – To Hold in the Hand:
Ten Ways to Make Peace with the Ordinary Work of Everyday Life
The tensions between creation and maintenance can seriously erode your sense that your life is a healthy ecosystem in which all its parts contribute to the whole. And they can definitely lead to clutter! In To Hold in the Hand, I share ten ways to erase that sense of conflict and show you how to craft systems to stay current with the routine tasks of your daily life, rather than repeat endless and stressful cycles of catch-up.
And this week, in honor of my second foundational system-crafting task, changing my shopping cart service, To Hold in the Hand is pay-what-you-want through this Friday (7/25) at noon Pacific. If a lack of funds has stood between you and peace, please seize this opportunity!
“There has been something deeply healing for me about making peace with maintenance, especially understanding it as essential to the rest of my goals, and part of achieving those goals. What a relief to know that maintenance is important and urgent and that it’s okay for me to spend time on it. I have been feeling so much more loved by simply taking the time to care for myself through cooking, putting laundry away, changing the sheets & bath linens, and balancing my checkbook. So thank you for this ebook. It has made and is making a huge difference in my life.” – P.P.
Next: The Role of Fun & Games in Time Management
Next week I’ll share what I’ve learned from my favorite games about how to better manage my time, along with a mini-guide that shows you how to do the same.
Because “fun” probably isn’t what you think it is. And the ball is happening all the time, not something you get to go to until after you’ve finished an impossible list of chores.
Hope your summertime livin’ is easy…
Peace and love,