Sometimes I can’t relax because it makes me feel guilty. I have so much to do and sometimes I can’t manage it all without feeling stressed or inadequate.
Our employers are paying us to work 8 hours a day, so we should be productive virtually every one of those 480 minutes, right?
We’re paying a lot for our tuition so we should be studying or going to class roughly 16 hours per day, 7 days per week, right?
We have so little time with our children, and to be a really good parent, we should devote almost every minute, 24/7, to engaging and stimulating our children, right?
When I line the arguments up like that, it’s fairly easy to say, “well, not exactly.” But this is the modus operandi for many of us.
We have turned into a guilt-ridden society where we equate productivity with personal value, as if by putting our noses down and working as hard and fast as we can, we can prove that we’re somehow worthy or good. Problem is, with our nose to the grindstone it’s difficult to see where we’re going. Working all the time also means we become one-dimensional and fail to tend to ourselves or our relationships. Nor are we providing ourselves the important downtime we need so we can work efficiently and creatively. By definition, you cannot always be working at maximum productivity. Otherwise there is no maximum – or minimum, for that matter.
I am not advocating you slack off and quit trying. I am suggesting that we find a balance between work, play and rest, and do so by using our time wisely and prioritizing what’s really important. Nose to grindstone 24/7 is like driving all day without checking your route. You may get where you were headed in short order, but if you end up in the wrong place, then you’re worse off than if you’d not started out at all.
Translating this approach to our lives means that we may take for granted our major life decisions and tactics. We can only look objectively at our lives when we have the time and equanimity for in depth introspection and reassessment. This level of introspection is not possible when we’re chasing and stressing about minutiae. Honestly and deeply reassessing periodically is important to know whether you’re on the right track or even if you should be on the track at all.
- What am I really doing?
- How am I doing it?
- Why am I doing it?
- Why am I doing it this way?
- Who am I doing it with, and why?
- Who am I? Why do I believe that about myself? (Go back to question 1)
- Am I doing what I love? If not, then why not? (Go back to question 1)
- In what ways are my actions/choices/perspective improving my life? Making my life worse? (Go back to question 1)
- In what ways are my actions/choices/perspective improving the lives of others? Making their lives worse? (Go back to question 1)
- In what ways am I closing my mind to improving my life or the lives of others? (Go back to question 1)
This is not a linear process at all. The answer to one question should raise new questions for further exploration.
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Timethief, commented on The Other Side of Ugly blog, The Issue, 3/20/13
Byron Katie, in her book Who Would You Be Without Your Story, suggests using inquiry to re-examine our assumptions about our life by exploring the assumption in the reverse. So, if I believe that my boss is treating me unfairly, I should turn it around and explore how my boss treats me fairly, or how I treat my boss unfairly. This approach forces one to get way from the grindstone and observe oneself and one’s life from the balcony instead.
So – goofing off, chatting with colleagues, going for a walk, taking a break, reading a trashy novel or watching TV, hugging your kids or dogs or spouse are good for us and our productivity. Even more important is finding time for gratitude, forgiveness, joy, love, and reflection. Unless you stop to get a bird’s eye view of the maze that is our lives, you may not realize you’ve been running in circles, going backwards, or even headed in the wrong direction. What I know now is that if I accept and love myself, I can really happily focus on what is most important to me. And I have all the time in the world to do that.