Work and play

Late last year, I started trying out a new approach to using my time. My previous working style was to multitask so I might work, eat, work, call a friend, work, watch a show, work, go style my hair, work, check social media and before I knew it a whole day would be gone and the work would not be done and I would not have gotten time off to rest either.

There would always be work to do that I wasn’t doing as productively and when I was playing I couldn’t focus because there was work waiting. This was not very sustainable for me – it is like grazing and not going deep in work or play. Moreover it made the things I started doing out of passion feel like a burden.

There is so much pressure on our time and so many tools to do so many things but they have not really made us happier or more productive or feel more creative or more in charge. Most times we just end up being drawn about in different directions and engaging superficially with many things. We are busy but not working in the essence of the word – fulfilment, impact, achievement, personal growth.

I started experimenting with other ways to use my time. I had always scheduled my weekly activities the previous weekend, but I added something new – estimating the time each task would take. I found that I wasn’t achieving everything I set out to do because I underestimated how long each thing would take me and therefore set unrealistic goals. I would not remember that emails may end up taking an hour and that the quick call may be thirty minutes and lead to correspondence I may have to address. Estimating how long those activities would take allowed me set more realistic goals.

Another thing that has helped me is to psychologically demarcate work from play. Sometimes I do this by dressing up and leaving home for somewhere new – typically a coffee shop. When I don’t go elsewhere, I still try to demarcate this by making it clear that I am working and putting my phone on silent mode so I don’t get interrupted. Sometimes I do this by putting my headphones in and putting an upbeat song that I can dance to while working away. Sometimes, if I need silence then I turn off everything.

It doesn’t mean this is completely rigid of course. If I am making progress I may take a break to check social media or make a quick call. It is really mine to decide how I use my time but this intentionality has been a game changer for me.

It may sound counterintuitive but a structured way of using my time has also allowed me the freedom to not have to be busy all the time. It allows me time and mental freedom to recharge and play! Putting my phone away to focus means that in my play time, I can be as distracted as I want to be or focus on things that feed my curiosity and my happiness and rejuvenate me.

Structured time to focus means that things don’t have to take as much time as they would when I am not fully focusing on them, and that they will be done at a higher level because I’m letting myself get in the zone rather than being distracted every other minute. It gives me a sense of achievement and intellectual fulfilment. When I walk home or close my computer, I actually feel proud of how I spent the day. I actually get to turn off my computer these days!

Ultimately one has to find what works for them in using their time.  I’m still experimenting and who knows what will work for me in five years? Nevertheless I encourage you to think about your time. Time is a limited resource and it goes by so fast but the great thing is that we can use it in ways that reflect the selves, work, and the world that we want. What works for YOU?

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