Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 5

Widen your horizons, and you’ll find a diverse array of strategies and tactics for taming the dragon of daily life, all enumerated here. Also not to be overlooked is the “mental game” where one begins to employ the less-is-more “jujitsu” underlying it all.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The elephant in the room: our jobs

Our world is schizophrenic. Most people dislike their jobs yet fear losing them. But when people trust you enough to tell the truth, most will admit they would really rather not work — at least not at the jobs available — but do so anyway because they have little choice in today’s world.

On the other hand, when people are doing something they like, they aren’t lazy. They are enthused and put significant energy into it, though in such situations they tend not to overwork, instead finding an unforced rhythm of uptime and downtime. This is what natural activity looks like, not the scheduled-to-death lives so many of us live these days.

Best of all worlds: self-employment, flextime, or working from home

In the best of all worlds, this more natural rhythm of uptime and downtime would apply to our working hours as well. However, it’s usually only possible if you’re either self-employed or are employed by a company that allows you to work from home with compensation based on work performed rather than hours clocked. Carving out a niche for yourself in the business world as a self-employed individual, or landing a job with a work-from-home arrangement, though, is beyond the scope of this series of postings. But I highly recommend it if you have the personality, discipline, and motivation for it, and there are a few things I want to point out here.

Self-employment does potentially carry the trade-off of “feast or famine” periods where you alternately work more than you would like, but get unplanned periods of extended time off too. This pattern is well-known by many who make their living working for themselves. It all depends on the type of business you’re in.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 5

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 4

Adding to our overbusyness today is the mirage of multitasking, which studies show actually doesn’t save any time at all. Far from promoting the practice, we consider how to tame its prime enabler — the smartphone beast, plus cover a few other tips. Multitasking by its very nature also helps breed and compound that gnawing emptiness inside you may feel. True satisfaction comes from a different direction.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Doing one thing at a time

The illusion of multitasking

By now, enough studies have shown so-called multitasking actually increases the time it takes to get things done that it should be beyond dispute. We fool only ourselves when we believe doing multiple things at once increases efficiency.

And truthfully, don’t you often find it just plain annoying to feel forced to multitask? Wouldn’t it feel great not to? Wouldn’t you enjoy bucking a damnable trend like this — giving such a frustrating habit ye ole heave-ho?

Multitasking isn’t really doing things simultaneously anyway — it’s constantly alternating between more than one activity, and interrupting yourself each time you switch. Multitasking thus comes with numerous costs, has been shown to increase unhappiness, and can be harmful to your health due to increasing chronic stress. The work-related costs include up to a 40% loss in productivity and making more errors, the number of which increases with the complexity of the tasks involved.

Even simpler multitasking combinations such as smartphone use while walking can incur costs — nearly 20% of teens aged 13 to 17 and 10% of adults hit by cars while walking reported being distracted by their mobile devices at the time. Chronic “media multitasking” also negatively affects memory recall. Multitasking during cognitive tasks lowers IQ by about 10 points while so engaged. Also, studies show we are happiest when focusing on a single activity over shorter time periods of approximately an hour or less, while introducing variety of tasks over longer time spans of perhaps a day or longer.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 4

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2, we documented America’s descent into a maelstrom of overwork and overbusyness, how unnatural it all is, and how unhealthy and unhappy we are compared to other developed nations. Here, in Part 3, we get down to the business, er, make that pleasure, of actually doing less.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

As I began putting together strategies, tactics, and tips for pulling back from the rat race, it became clear to me that many people would experience emotional resistance to them, despite the desire to do less. Reactions such as, “Oh, I could never give that up,” “I don’t have enough discipline,” “I don’t want to make that tradeoff,” “My friends’ feelings will be hurt if I don’t do such-and-such,” etc.

Which highlights the fact that the approach of doing less — scaling back — in order to reclaim a portion of your life from society’s excessive demands is not just a question of making changes to what you do during the week. Or changing the level of your involvement with certain habits or pursuits, or the pace of your daily activities. It is a psychological or spiritual journey as well. And in large part, that’s because we have internalized society’s demands on us and do not thoroughly question them.

Rather than cover that in this post, though, and delay getting into what it actually takes to do less in your life while still accomplishing what’s truly essential, we’ll hold off on the psychological and spiritual side of things for now. By first delving into strategies and tactics, and experiencing any psychological resistance that may arise along the way, we’ll be in a better position later to appreciate why “inner work” is so critical to the process.

I wanted to give a bit of a heads-up about that here first. Something to be aware of while we’re going through practical suggestions, so you’ll be ready for what might surface emotionally in response, and so you know what’s coming later. Ready? Let’s dive in.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 3

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 2

America prides itself on its work ethic and role as the global epicenter of innovation and high technology. Yet it is at the same time the unhealthiest and least happy of the major developed nations. By contrast, primitive hunter-gatherer tribes that have been studied work the least, have the most leisure, and are much healthier. What’s wrong with this picture?
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

How we got here, or… Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into, Stanley

The age of too much to do in too little time we Americans are living in is not solely the product of something that has only become established recently, though it might well seem like it. Its ultimate roots extend deep into our past. The culture of overbusyness we find ourselves snared by is itself held in place by a worldview bound into place inside us largely by the unseen tendrils of Western religion that have grown up through the cracks of society everywhere. Or at least by religion’s darker side. (What? You thought it was all light and goodness?!)

Recall, for example, one of religion’s timeworn sayings whose job is to instill a collective “work ethic” disparaging downtime. The dictum “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” goes back at least several centuries under different variants and is tightly tied to religious admonitions to stay busy at all times, in fear of some kind of unseen boogeyman.

Those outside the church walls may chuckle at such sayings, but nonetheless still cling strongly to the idea of the work ethic, probably viewing it as so self-evident it does not require debate. Nonetheless, the arguments for it are strongly morally tinged — the emotional baggage that goes along with it, and the guilt experienced if one shirks from it, have largely religious roots.

There are a number of other such strictures in Western religion against enjoying oneself too much without sufficient justification. Fortunately they have not been able to stamp out all unbidden leisure, but they do induce a significant amount of guilt over it for many. And that is perhaps the strongest mark it leaves on us, psychologically. Even when we do relax, we may feel we should somehow be using that time to “make something of ourselves.”

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 2

Gaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 1

To disengage from America’s culture of excess so you can begin doing less, first you have to feel good about it. So to start with, Part 1 cuts loose with a rant flogging the nation’s collective psychosis of overwork, overconsumption, and overbusyness to help make it easy to jettison the guilt.
Go to: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Where the nation is now: looking into the funhouse mirror

In America today, we are living in an age of extreme excess and imbalance. Most do not see it, of course. We cannot see it, because nearly everyone has “drunk the well water” and regards it as normal. Even those of us who do consider this excess warped or perverse may still feel a certain amount of it to be unavoidable or inevitable: “Go along to get along,” in so many words.

But this excess and imbalance is not simply a matter of the country’s unbridled consumerism. Fueling our excessive purchases and collective philosophy of “living large” — otherwise known as “the American way of life” and famously termed “not negotiable” by President George Bush Sr. — is the other side of the coin of modern excess: working slavishly hard and feeling we need to keep busy all the time. For without these twin talismans of ambition, we could not pay for nor would we feel compelled to indulge in the overbusy, overconsumeristic lifestyle so many of us believe we should have.

Even with them, we still cannot afford some of our unrestrained purchases, and so with the addition of debt-fueled spending we can add “overextended” to the description of our outsize appetites. Below is a representative roundup of the most typical items in the nation’s lifestyle that keep us indebted to what we could call the four “O”s of overwork, overconsumption, overbusyness, and overextendedness.

Read moreGaining the luxury of time by doing less, Part 1

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