Certain activities must be done. You need to feed yourself and anyone who is physically dependent on you. The consequences of other choices — say, not going to work for 2 weeks with no explanation — are probably worth avoiding as well.
But a lot of what fills people’s time is more negotiable. We develop stories of the way things “should” be done or what “everybody knows” or what you simply “can’t” do. The funny part is that these stories vary a lot between people.
When I first started writing about time, I did a lot of time makeovers. I remember one time diary from these early years where the woman in question was bathing her children nightly. She mentioned desperately wanting more down time in the evening, so I suggested skipping the baths a few nights a week. This seemed pretty straightforward to me, because my kids have never taken a nightly bath. She laughed and dismissed this out of hand. I think she honestly thought I was making a joke.
Or there was the company where a number of people worked remotely. One person’s schedule featured zero breaks. She even mentioned that she’d hired a dog walker to come because she didn’t think she could get out for 15 minutes twice a day. Her colleagues did not subscribe to the same philosophy of their company culture. There were plenty of breaks on their logs. Maybe her job was completely different from theirs, but maybe not.
Sometimes stories are preferences, and that’s fine. It is reasonable to decide, perhaps after experimentation, that “I know my kid, and I know that bedtime goes better when she has a bath to wind her down, and we do the exact same thing as many nights as possible. Since I’m tiring of this routine, I will request that my co-parent take this on twice a week” [or grandma, or a sitter, etc.] But it is a different thing to tell the story that “everyone knows children need to be bathed nightly” and complain of martyrdom when one’s co-parent doesn’t subscribe to the same philosophy.
Anyway, this brings me to a strategy for freeing up time. First, you figure out what tasks are major pain points. Then you ask “what would happen if I stopped doing this, at least for a while?” If the answer doesn’t appear to be complete catastrophe, you can then give it a whirl. You can, to quote the song, “let it go.”
So, maybe your family thinks that the laundry fairy simply puts their clothes away neatly in the drawers. You can stop doing that. Put the clean clothes in a basket and people can come take what they want. Or, if you have older children, you could just stop doing laundry and casually mention that you’re happy to teach people how to do their own.
Or maybe you seem to always be the one emptying the dishwasher. Maybe it’s because the four other people who live with you are heartless rubes. Maybe it’s because you notice the dishwasher is clean before everyone else and always empty it before they do. They’re not exactly going to fight you for the privilege, but if you stop doing it, eventually someone’s going to want dishes. You can let the dirty ones stack up in the sink and just walk away and read a book after dinner. See what happens. Who knows? It will be an interesting experiment.
You can do this on the work front too. Everyone is wrapped up in his or her own little world. Very few people are going to notice if you take a 15-minute break. Your boss is too worried about pleasing her boss to wonder if a generally productive employee is in the bathroom or has slipped out for some fresh air (perish the thought). Why not give it a try?
To be sure, sometimes there will be consequences, which is why it might be wise to start small. But a lot in life can be let go of. If a task is making you particularly unhappy or resentful, it might be worth a shot.
Have you ever decided to borrow a phrase from Elsa and “let it go?”
Photo: Let it go…