In today’s climate, time can seem both abundant and scarce simultaneously. And even though we’re taught that time is one of the most precious gifts we have, within this current, fast-paced culture, the time we feel we have gets all twisted.
We all wished for “more time”, with our families, our partners, for work, or just to relax, and guess what? Now we have it, but it’s not the same. Today, with quarantining and working remotely, it feels harder than ever to separate home life from work life. It’s actually an interesting concept if you think about it; because we are stuck at home, the time we used to spend commuting or going out and being social is mostly “free time” now, so why do we FEEL like we still don’t have any time?
TIME IN TODAY’S CULTURE
In today’s culture (now, and pre-COVID) it’s almost a badge of honor to be “busy”. If you’re not always busy, it seems like you don’t have anything going on, right? Thanks to social media, ads, and even the news, we have this belief that if we aren’t busy, we aren’t doing enough, but there is a difference between being “busy” and being “productive”.
What’s the difference, you might ask? Well, the biggest difference between productivity and just “staying busy” is stress. People who stay perpetually busy tend to have more stress and anxiety because they feel the pressure of time, but where does that pressure come from? Thanks to patterns we learned in our upbringing and internal messages we send ourselves, we impose it on ourselves habitually, meaning it’s so ingrained in us, we don’t even recognize when we do it.
BEING BUSY VS. BEING PRODUCTIVE
Productive people operate a little differently. People who are productive tend to be more “awake”, or, they don’t simply rely on living on autopilot. Now, what does that mean? That means that these productive people don’t automatically give in to the internal pressure they feel; instead they question it to understand where the pressure is coming from.
Productive people have a clear mission, whereas busy people like to appear as if they have a mission.
People who are productive focus on clarity before action, looking at the situation and taking time to plan, whereas busy people just act. We can all agree that our first reaction isn’t always our strongest. We’ve all reacted to a stressor too quickly and regretted it, right? But when we give in to this internal pressure to act immediately, we are just making our lives harder. You end up feeling pressured and stressed and sometimes regretting your actions. What consequence would a minute or two of thought really pose on the overall outcome? It wouldn’t, you’d still accomplish whatever the task may be. The difference is you don’t feel pressured or stressed, just accomplished.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT
One major difference between being busy and being productive involves how it affects our nervous system. Most of us would agree that when we are stressed, the work we produce isn’t as good as the work we present when we’re feeling a little calmer. It seems like such a radical idea that we can be calm AND productive at the same time, but that’s just because of how we are programmed. But staying calm is the key. And the good news is, focusing our awareness on the difference between being busy and being productive is the first step to change.
A common issue we all share is finding a work-life balance., especially now that our work and life happen in the same place. But take a moment to think about this: Have you ever wondered what about going into work makes it feel separate? It seems like an obvious question on the surface; you see different people, and you’re in a different location. What else? Each of us will find unique differences between work and home, but the change in people and surroundings are the two main differences we all share. So, how do you build the same separation between work and homelife while you’re stuck at home?
Well, it’s important to understand a few concepts: First, your experience will not be the same as when you were going into work. The best approach is to accept that fact and open your mind to what your “new” work-life setup is. Re-define what work looks like.
Second, getting frustrated about the circumstances is normal, but how much time you spend feeling that frustration is up to you. The longer you dwell, the longer you feel the burden of that stress. At the end of the day you can’t change how COVID is affecting your life. Getting trapped in the frustration that it’s happening or that you have no control won’t change your reality. You make the situation more frustrating and more stressful when you focus on that. Instead, accept it’s out of your control and that it sucks.
You can’t control the situation, but you can control your response to it.
Third, you know that internal voice inside your head talking to you constantly throughout the day? That voice influences your state of mind without you even knowing it. But how intelligent is that voice? Does it ever tell you your spouse is an idiot simply because they didn’t do something the way you wanted them to? Do you really think your spouse is an idiot, OR are you frustrated, and that internal voice is justifying that? (Typically, people don’t marry people they think are idiots.) The point is, this voice isn’t always accurate - actually, it rarely is. It’s simply a reflection of your emotional state.
If you can understand these three concepts, you can begin to build a better work-life balance. Now, let’s apply them to today’s current climate. Here’s how: Accept this pandemic situation to give your mind the freedom to move forward with zero expectations. Because let’s face it, NONE of us have ever been through a global pandemic, so how could we have expectations? Accepting where you are and what’s going on around you allows you to consider new ways to create a healthier work-life balance. Because this way, you aren’t spending your valuable time fighting with the reality of the situation any more.
Think about it, when has getting frustrated ever really helped? It’s natural to feel frustration, we’re not suggesting you ignore your emotions. However, we are encouraging you to draw more awareness to them, meaning when you notice your frustration don’t try to push it down. Greet it. Acknowledge it, give it a couple of minutes to understand why you feel frustrated. Validate those feelings and ask yourself, Now that I understand, how would I like to move forward? Doing this will cut your Dwelling Time dramatically which will give you more mental energy - and more time!
I know that voice in your head is a loud one. It’s been talking to you every day of your conscious life. It’s not going to stop because you start recognizing it, but how much credibility you give it is the key. You can’t stop it from talking, but how much attention you choose to give it will affect your daily life. Whether it be a work frustration or family squabble, that voice is going to talk to you throughout, and won’t always give you the best, most positive feedback. You end up wasting valuable time and energy listening to it, and the result will be an even worse mental state. Instead turn up the volume on your awareness and make more conscious choices when you hear that voice narrating your storyline.
PUTTING IN ACTION
The goal here is to help you understand the difference between being busy and productive, to find ways to create a better work-life balance, and to help you SLOW DOWN so you can release some stress. There is no sense in wasting time and energy being angry or frustrated about the things you can’t control. The only person you’re making it harder for is yourself. Your time is so much better spent focusing on what you can control, and guess what? You can control your mind and LET GO to create room to make the most of the precious time you have with your family, friends, and even yourself.
So now that you understand the psychological challenge, what can you do physically? You now know that the two main differences between going into work and COVID life are 1. different people and 2. a different location. So, here’s something you can try to create more of a separation: Try to keep all of your work in one room. Make a mental rule that when you leave that room, the work version of yourself stays in there. For those who find that challenging, consider creating an end-of-the-workday ritual. It could be going for a walk, having a solo dance party, doing a quick little workout, or listening to a podcast. Your goal is to carve out a separate location for work and life in your home. For example: go for a walk WITHOUT your phone. You’ll be somewhere else and see different people, plus we all had to walk somewhere after work so it should feel familiar.. This will truly give you the time your mind and body crave to decompress from work.
There’s a saying that goes, “Small hinges swing big doors.” That means, you don’t have to figure it all out at once, that’s just setting yourself up for failure. What you can do is take small actions daily that help you regain control, not feel overwhelmed, and allow you to make the most of the time you have. Focus on one single action you can take each day to help you create the best work-life balance you can during this unprecedented global pandemic. Feeling overwhelmed feels like you’re trying to climb a mountain, but keep in mind, the only way to the top of the mountain is one step at a time. You got this!