In my corporate avatar, may he rest in peace, I could never honor my commitment to the arts because there were way too many things that demanded my attention all the time. I was perpetually busy and all my personal aspiration inevitably found themselves on my "some day" list. I did not realize then that a lot of what I was "attending to" were really very temporal and superficial tasks that did not add true value to my being. However, I am thankful to have those days behind me since they have made me who I am today.
One of the places where I learned a lot about how to be meaningfully productive and pursue my passion was through the writing of +Shankari Sundaram. Shankari is an aspiring novelist and a productivity blogger who I had the good fortune of connecting with at our first Hyderabad Bloggers' Meet in 2012. She juggles homemaking and two young kids and still manages to stay on top of her writing targets. Not surprisingly, her blog is called Oh! I Juggle. It is my honor to share with you this extremely useful guest post that she wrote for Subho's Jejune Diet.
The New Year came and went and is not so new anymore. But, many of us are still thinking about the year gone by. Of dreams that were fulfilled, those that were born and some that had to be buried. In between endings and beginnings is a wonderful time to reflect, rejoice and renew. As soon as reflections are done, thoughts immediately move to the coming year. The future is very interesting that way. There is so much flexibility in it. Since it has not yet happened, the future is spontaneously hopeful. Anything seems possible. Most of us capture that wonderful feeling of promise by immediately drawing up plans, creating a blueprint for our dreams. That is all good. I truly believe in goal setting and targeted action for creating desired results.
I also believe that New Year resolutions are not just a whimsical list of things you think you want to do. After all, the purpose of life is not to clutter our days with incoherent busyness. It is also not to manufacture yardsticks and milestones of performance that we can touch and then show off to the world. Success is such a personal measure of value. It can rarely be defined in universal terms. True, business success is usually measured in financial terms. It is certainly simpler that way. Numbers are a clear measure and it is easy to fall into the trap of measuring success only that way. We instinctively follow similar guidelines to measure success in our professional and personal lives too. There is nothing wrong in wanting to achieve more, pushing ourselves to do that little extra which might make all the difference. Wisdom is to recognize where to put in the extra and where to pull back. Extending and stretching in all directions is not a recipe for contentment.
In order that we don’t just keep adding to our lists of things to do and achieve in the coming year, we must pause and reflect on the various dimensions to our life. Do the things we wish to include into our worlds really contribute to our greater purpose? Activities are of two kinds. Ones which take us closer to our goals, in any area of life, and those that help us recharge and rejuvenate. If activities that we are currently used to doing or those that we plan to engage in don’t do either, a clear hard decision has to be taken on whether they should be given our precious time and energies.
It is like a sculptor who takes a raw block of stone and visualizes the shape that he wants to create. He then goes about breaking off tiny pieces of the stone with his chisel and hammer to release that shape which is trapped in the seemingly formless chunk of stone. He chisels away even the tiniest remnants of what is not a part of the shape of his dreams. For him, the taking away is the most important action for creation.
Culling the unimportant is imperative for creating time and energy for what is truly important. There are activities which become so much a part of our lives that we continue performing them without much thought. They may be contributing very little value to our purpose. They may be draining our physical, emotional or spiritual energies. What a waste of our reserves it would be if we were burdening our to-achieve lists with things that we need not do at all. Things we should not do at all.
As we go about the day’s activities, our physical, emotional and spiritual reserves get depleted. Goal oriented action should be interspersed with energy replenishing action in order for balance to be maintained. Imbalance leaves us feeling ‘something is missing’ or “I want ‘something more’”. Success in action is not just doing more and more. It is doing focused less to achieve greater effectiveness. It is always being grounded in the Self as the fulcrum for our lever.
Here are four kinds of activities to be on the lookout for:
They can be identified by keeping a time log to keep track of daily activities for a period of time. This is an easy way to get a bird’s eye view of where time went. Major time wasters can be identified. These are so well disguised that we don’t easily recognize them. They may be in bits and pieces, but when added up, amount to a lot of wasted time. A time log can be a much needed knock on the head.
These can be activities that we perform, relationships that we are involved in or our own mental attitudes which are fencing us in. If they leave us feeling drained and tired, they may not be serving us. It may be time to cut back on our involvement or exclude these completely from our schedules.
Laziness could be the reason why some work that needs to be done does not give joy. Once we get past that laziness bit, though, it will not be difficult to find activities which rob our days of joy. Strike these off your to-dos. All the joy in our hearts needs to be reserved for those activities that contribute the most to our well-being and that of those around us.
In fiction writing we are told that anything that does not help move the plot forward must not be included in a scene. Repeated daily action too works like that to propel us towards our goals. Why engage in action that moves us in directions we don’t want to go?
Identifying low value activities and taking a firm decision to exclude them from our daily schedules is the first step to creating space for more effective action. The slimmer to-do list will have more energy and be more flexible in uncertain and changing times. Yes, the New Year is not so new anymore. We have made loads of resolutions and broken a few already. It may be time to let go of some of the things that are weighing us down. It is easier to scale greater heights with lighter loads to carry on our backs.