Growing into my own advice

One of the most gratifying parts of writing self-help books is that I hear from people who’ve made big life changes — or had massive productivity boosts — as a result. Occasionally I read these emails and think “wow, I should read my own books.”

Because, you see, my 168 hours could use a tune-up right now. I know there are big life goals I’d like to accomplish, and while I hope I have many years ahead of me, it has not escaped my notice that there are fewer years now than there were in years past. In that space after a big project is kind of done (see All the Money in the World) I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels with these non-renewable hours.

A few thoughts for my own time makeover:

I need to get more serious about exercise. I’ve been running for stress relief, but I don’t push myself or go very far. I was good about using the weight set in the basement for the first two months…then I let it go. The baby is almost 6 months old. It’s time to be back to my old weight.

I want to write morning pages. Blogs are kind of like “morning pages,” Julia Cameron’s phrase for writing three pages of unedited words to get yourself thinking. They’re self-directed, and regular, but I am still writing for an audience, indulgent as you all are. I should crank up the volume of sheer practice writing.

I want to enjoy and be mindful of family time. Now that it’s light out after dinner and warmer, it will be possible to be outside more in the evenings. Last night the kids and I hung out on the back porch for a while, enjoying the early spring air. But it’s easy after a day of work to just put on the cartoons for them.

I want to take good vacations. Travel is full of peak experiences. I realized the other day that I had not been on an airplane in a year. Given what other years of my life have looked like, this seems incredible. But it’s true. I was paging through a catalog of trips sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, and I realized there were all kinds of things I’d like to do, like travel the old Silk Road, see China, etc. I do realize that this may get easier later in life. Since I had my kids relatively young, they’ll be out of the house by the time I’m in my early 50s, which is when I intend to make up for the travel I didn’t do in my 20s. I’ll likely have more disposable cash in my 50s than I did after college. But nothing in life is guaranteed, and I’d also like to travel with my kids some too. So I plan to work on this.

Of course, as I ponder my own advice for making my hours more productive, I also remember something else I always say: being busy does not mean one is doing anything of importance. If I spent three months doing nothing else professionally except pondering my next book idea, and at the end of those three months I had a fabulously marketable one, that would be a good use of time. But in the midst of those three months it would look like I was doing nothing. I could schedule 6 conference calls a day and look quite busy — jumping from one to the next and arguing that I just can’t take my baby to her next doctor’s appointment because can’t you see I have all these calls! — but if I didn’t need to speak to those people for my life goals, the first scenario would be much more productive.

I’m also realizing that I should let myself enjoy productivity dividends from other decisions. This week, I enrolled Jasper in kindergarten. Since we moved to suburban PA and into a good school district, this involved making an appointment with the district headquarters, and bringing in his birth certificate and evidence of immunization. If we still lived in NYC, I would have spent hours applying to different schools. At the end of all this busy bustling about, my son would be enrolled in kindergarten somewhere decent. Just as he is now. So since the outcome is the same, with fewer hours, I shouldn’t feel bad that I don’t feel like I did that much this week. I did play hide and seek outside on a lovely spring afternoon, which was time well spent.

Have you ever mistook busyness for getting things done? What would you change about how you spend your time now?

photo courtesy flickr user JarZe

7 thoughts on “Growing into my own advice

  1. On being outside- get a swing set. If necessary, fence your yard. This way your kids can play unsupervised, now or soon. Our used wooden swing set was nearly the best $100 I’ve spent…

    On travel- plan to spend money traveling while your kids are college/grad school age. I’ve watched some colleagues do this and I think the relational benefits are amazing. It’s unlikely, given my career trajectory, that I’ll be in a position to do this, but the closeness of traveling with your single adult children looks awesome.

    1. @Twin mom- the oldest two feel almost there. I think I could sit on the porch with the baby or read while she’s napping while they play and they’d do OK. I already let them go into the basement by themselves, and since the backyard is fenced in (previous owners had a dog) it’s not too different.

  2. In the last few years, before I really started trying to better identify my goals, I was busy a lot of the time, without much to show for it. Now, I’m excited to get up in the morning. I’m much more organized and I get a lot more done now that I have kids than in the days before that.

    Your thoughts about taking three months to ponder a book idea reminds me of the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown. As productive as I try to be, this book is proof for me that downtime, even doing what feels like wasting time, is anything but!

    1. @Heather – sounds like a good book. I do try to let my mind go fallow for a while – often while running. But it’s hard to sit and think. It doesn’t feel as productive as writing something, doing an interview, or (a temptation for the at-home worker) playing with my kids. One of the reasons I like going to concerts is the ability to really not be doing anything, but have to sit still.

    2. I’m a huge believer in downtime, too. Also in recognizing that sometimes what it takes to solve a problem is to stop trying to solve it. I hate the way that the corporate world fights against this.

      Sometimes (OK, a lot of the time) my job forces a certain amount of busy work on me, and I chafe against that. I recognize that someone has to do this crap to keep a company working, but I hate that because I’m good at it, so much of it lands on me. I’d rather be doing the work I like- creating things, solving problems. I think this is one reason I’m drawn to the idea of starting my own company. Anytime I start a new job, I am lured in by the promise of getting to build things, but then, before I know it, I end up spending more time on organizing work for other people (because I’m actually really good at that) and less time on creating my own things (which I may or may not be as good at- but which makes me happier). So I either need to go out on my own or learn to embrace the very real and necessary work of creating the environment that allows all the other people on my team to get their work done. I haven’t figured out the ideal solution to that yet, because obviously, if I go out on my own, there will still be a lot of organizational work to be done! Also, it turns out that people will pay me a lot of money to organize their work for them, and that is nice.

  3. Oh, I resonate with this. We’re at similar life stages, Laura, and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to eek the most out of my time. I want to devote my hours to meaningful work and not just busy-ness. Thanks for thoughtfully calling my attention to the bigger picture.

    I’m sharing this with my readers today.

  4. In my case, deciding what to do with my time is the hardest part Time may be the penultimate resource, but trying to extract as much productivity as possible strikes me as missing the point. (Enjoyment and humanitarianism being the ideas I wish to pursue).

    But further: trying to optimize my level of enjoyment tends to make me feel anxious. Since reading The Paradox of Choice, I’ve been asking myself: “How rich does my life need to be, and when does the pursuit of happiness become a burden?”

    All the best,


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