A few years ago, a friend of mine said to me, “I don’t know how you take on so much. I just don’t have time for anything.”
I remember looking at her in complete puzzlement. She was single. She had no kids. “What takes up most of your time?” I asked, trying to look benign. “It’s work,” she said as if it were obvious. “It takes up so much of my time I have none left.”
Her honest confusion over my honest confusion left us both unable to move the conversation ahead any further. I tried to imagine what she did each evening that left her feeling like her time was consumed by work. It took a few years before a different friend offered me some insight. This other friend had been pushing her husband to stop coming in from work and going straight to the couch to watch TV until bedtime, then getting up and starting the cycle over. “It’s exhausting to him,” she said. “He feels like he spends his whole evening getting mentally ready for work.”
I wasn’t sure if this new insight was what consumed the evenings of my first friend, but I began to get an understanding of what happens when quiet time is spent in idleness and not productivity. The idle time of my friend’s husband meant that the complaints of his day could never be put aside. Every negative interaction fuelled his inner dialogue. Every heavy work demand caused him to believe he needed to rest like a prizefighter between rounds. I’m sure this is not universally true. I’m equally sure that when quiet time doesn’t include something distracting, pleasurable, or productive, a person’s brain does not get the chance to rest.
I have heard it frequently said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” It’s true. Let me start by saying the reason I get so much done is because I am committed to being busy with something productive. If you know me in real life, you know that my vacations look like an over scheduled itinerary. That’s not an accident.
I rely on my personal time to provide me with a bank of memories I can draw from. Last summer as I drove up and down our island, taking walks on deserted beaches and taking photos of deserted towns (we are a tourist destination that was visually different during the pandemic summer of 2020), I was stocking my brain with memories I would need when work demands – and pandemic demands – were taking their toll. I ate salads on the tailgate of my van and had lattes in the rain. I hiked miles of second growth forest. I was alone much of the time, something that might bother me in normal times, but allowed me to not carry other people’s stress when mental health issues were stretching us all to our limits. My vacation was busy. It is also filled with memories.
What does not give me memories is when I sit on the couch and watch Netflix. I do that too. But my life isn’t punctuated with memories that make each day different from the other. Instead, my life becomes a blur of really good programs that were entertaining, but not productive.
I crave productivity. I can say that with complete sincerity because I am sitting here on my own time writing this blog post. Writing is both a productive and a creative need for me. Which begs the question: how do I get so much done? I get teased by how many committees and how many volunteer hours I complete each month. HEU members call me at all hours because they know I will answer. I get so much accomplished because it feels important and good to never have a wasted day or a wasted hour that wasn’t strategically allotted in my schedule. I chunk my time like a pro. I set goals. I have a big picture vision that I commit to each day.
If you are reading this article, my assumption is that you are looking for a roadmap on how to get more done. I will tell you this incredibly unsatisfying tip: you get more done by doing more.
Yep. That’s what I’m saying. If you want to get more done, add a project into your life. Plant flowers. Hold a fundraiser. Write a book. Put it into your life, build your schedule around that single focus, and watch your productivity rise. You don’t get more done by coming home and watching TV each night and then hoping your weekend will be the time you rise like a phoenix from the ashes of your week.
Protect your calendar. You only get twenty-four hours in your day. If someone asks what you’re doing and you say, “nothing,” figure out whether you are willing to invite them into that time block or if you had a plan to do “nothing” on purpose. Then protect that time with the decision you made. I get a lot accomplished because I do a lot. I get a lot done because the pinging of my phone is not the priority. It’s a distraction from my priorities.
That’s a choice. Sometimes I make that choice every day. Sometimes I have to make it in the moment. It’s always a choice. It can be yours too.