I always used to put immense pressure on myself to ensure I was making the most of my time.
I suppose it’s better than intentionally wasting it, but trying to achieve a utopian choice in every moment can be exhausting. And it comes with its own set of problems.
For starters, it's confusing: what does it even mean to optimally spend one’s time?
Is it spent reading, doing something selfless, exercising, connecting with friends, meditating, working on a side project, creating art?
Of course, there is no right answer.
As if that wasn’t enough, once I finally did choose something I thought was the best use of my time, I added an extra layer of pressure by holding myself to the unreasonable standard that I should always optimally perform in that activity.
Otherwise, I’d be 'wasting my time’ because it wasn’t done efficiently enough.
In hindsight, it feels silly. But for years I put this pressure upon myself. Or perhaps the pressure was produced from my environment.
Regardless, I wasn’t optimizing anything. In fact, I was wasting far more time than I was being productive.
And at the same time, I entirely missed the quality of the moments I could have been experiencing.
How many times have you read a book and the author says something you know but needed to hear?
As if by them saying it, you suddenly have the permission to act on the thoughts and feelings you’ve had about something.
This happened to me with Essentialismby Greg Mckeown, and Deep Work by Cal Newport.
In short, Essentialism forced me to really ask myself what was most important for my highest good, while Deep Work encouraged me to focus on only one thing at a time – no matter how much I thought I could handle.
To truly focus on what was most important to me, it meant cutting away a lot of things that weren’t. And it turns out that in my previous quest to optimize time, I was constantly doing things that weren’t aligned with what I truly wanted.
Instead, I made choices out of obligation, habit, or even spontaneously. In each situation, I wasn’t consciously choosing. I was reacting.
Deep Work crushed my hopes in dreams — in the best way possible.
I always thought I could handle doing multiple things at once. In fact, I held myself in a delusional high self-esteem thinking I was good at multitasking. As it turns out, nobody is.
I was simply diffusing my performance across many different things and then performing worse because of the amount of energy required to switch between tasks.
Further, because I would constantly spread myself too thin, I couldn’t dig deep into one thing and really do it well. Most things were left half finished: my bed, my side projects, workouts – even my relationships.
How you do the small things is how you do the big things
The gravity of this must not be overlooked. The small choices you make many times per day influence the state of your brain, your disposition, and your habits.
By doing two things (or more) at once, you half your output for each.
As a result, you move through life halfway living — never fully engaged in moments and never fully at rest.
It’s an efficient purgatory providing just enough for life, while robbing us of living.
The one thing
I decided to set aside one hour per day solely dedicated to my wellbeing.
The intention was for it to be the same activity so I could dive deeper into it and wouldn’t have to waste any time or energy deciding what I shouldbe doing.
The only problem was, I had no idea what that looked like.
So I made a list of all the things that were essential to me at the time: exercise, meditation, creative thinking time, spending time with friends, activities that evoked happiness, etc.
Then I tried to think of one activity I could do every day that incorporated the most of what was essential to me.
I picked yoga because it checked the most boxes: exercise, meditation, thinking time — it even evokes joy and the local studio encouraged community.
Every day for 30 days I attended a 1 hour class. It was the only thing I held myself accountable to — which wasn’t easy.
So I gave myself permission to cut corners in other areas. I wasn’t going to try to have the perfect diet while doing yoga every day, while working on my side project, while reading 3 books, while still finding time to go to the gym…
Just the one thing.
Within a week, I noticed a significant difference. I began to feel the yoga in my everyday life.
I was breathing deeper at work and paying extra attention to my posture. I was calmer, more present. I was responding more instead of reacting.
Keeping my energy focused, I showed up to class curious, energized, and willing. I let myself go deeper.
I went to workshops I’d normally never attend. I talked to strangers practicing next to me. Present, and authentically engaged.
By week two, I had more energy than I knew what to do with. Inspired, I worked on my side project. Feeling healthy, I craved nutritious, unprocessed food. Feeling present and relaxed, I reached for a book more often than Instagram.
I soon realized by choosing one thing that contributed to my highest good, I was also choosing the highest good for my life.
'How you do the small things is how you do the big things' never rang so true.