When Time is an Investment in Personal Happiness

08 Jun
by Jenny, posted in Consumerism/Minimalism   |  18 Comments

Time Flies

There is a feeling of discomfort that often follows free time. Many times, we’ll try to fill our free time with activities, and then later resent the busy schedule we’ve created for ourselves. What if we made it a point to create some unscheduled time to just breathe?

And I’m not necessarily talking about using the time to practice breathing techniques — although that would be a fantastic use of our time. I’m talking about scheduling the padding into our lives that allows us to linger over our morning coffee or tea a little longer. Time to go for a walk or simply sit and look out the window.

How many times have you come to the end of a hurried day and felt that everything you experienced was a total blur? How present can we really be when we’re rushing from one activity to the next from sun up to sun down?

Like the pants I wear, I’ve found that I’m happiest and most content when my life has some breathing room built in. On the days when it is necessary that I go, go, go all day, I feel more anxious then on the days where my time isn’t as pinched. When I prioritize my free time, I’m actually prioritizing my own happiness.

Today was one of those crazy busy days. It was my son’s last day of first grade and I volunteered to help with the party that spanned the entire second half of the day. It was a memorable, wonderful day, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow being a low-key day.

And life is like that. Some days will be busier than others — and that’s all part of the fun. It becomes a problem when you’re constantly feeling overextended and tapped out.

I’ve felt overwhelmed by all of my commitments several times throughout my life. Especially since two kids have entered my day-to-day world.

When I overcommit, I try to remain true to my commitments, and then scale back as soon as possibile. This goes for my personal commitments, as well as commitments that my oldest son may be involved in. After all, a seven-year old isn’t exactly taking himself to baseball practice.

And even though I know that I don’t like my commitments to match near the number of waking hours I have in my day, at times I overcommit and have to revisit how I’m prioritizing my time.

Here are some questions I try to ask myself before deciding whether to take on a new time commitment:

  1. How much time will this commitment truly take? For example, if it’s a committee that meets once per month, how much time is spent planning and preparing for the monthly meeting? What about traveling to and from the meeting?
  2. How much do I want to participate in this commitment? Am I considering it because I feel obligated, or because I care about the commitment and value the outcome or the cause?
  3. What is the opportunity cost of trading my time to fulfill his commitment? In other words, what will I be giving up by taking on this new commitment?

I’ve found that by taking the time to answer the above three questions, I’ll usually be able to fully commit, or politely decline new commitment requests that come my way.

We only have a certain number of hours to spend on this planet and it’s our responsibility to choose how we spend those hours. We can waste our time on things we feel we should be doing but don’t really care about. Or we can choose to spend our time in ways that align with our values and goals, while realizing that keeping a chunk of that time for doing absolutely nothing is an investment in our own happiness.

What about you? How do you handle the ever growing demands on your time?

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18 Responses to When Time is an Investment in Personal Happiness

  1. This is one that I definitely struggle with. Sometimes, it takes something like bad weather or a power outage or a long line — something that’s out of my control — to force me to stop and just be in the moment. I’ve tried scheduling “free” time but when I do that I worry I’ll get SO relaxed that I won’t have the pep to get the rest of my day done. It’s silly, I know. I recognize that I’ve become a “human doing” rather than a “human being,” and I have to be grateful for the rare times when I allow myself to relax. Lately it’s been getting easier, though. :)

    • I know exactly what you mean Bethany. As a fellow Type-Aer, I can easily get caught up in being a human doing rather than a human being (I love that!). When I do get stuck in that mode of existence, I can feel my level of contentment and happiness quickly dissipating. It’s usually after the resentment sinks in that I start to scale back and reevaluate how I’m spending my time.

    • Bethany,

      I have had the same problem in the past. I fretted that going from workaholic to normal levels of output would drop me like a lead weight.

      Uh, it actually did and I lost all motivation for a short period of time. But then a beautiful balancing effect emerged. Cutting back my work was the best thing I ever did. Give it a chance Bethany and see what happens!

  2. Jenny,
    I think it is so awesome how the universe works, lol! An earlier post this week addressed the same subject as one of my other fave blogs did on the same day (the Happy Fisherman post) and then today, you and I basically write about the same thing as well! I so believe it is important to weigh out how we decide which activities to participate in, and how they fit into our lives.
    I also love having the white space in my life. And if I have a busy day, I like to have a lighter day afterward. If I attend a conference (which I am in 2 weeks! Yay!) I have to schedule some down time after I return to debrief what I learned and to unwind slowly. Going non-stop is not good for us mentally or physically!
    Great topic!

    • How funny Bernice! I’ll have to pop over and check out your like-minded post. ;)

      I hope you have a great time at the conference! It’s nice to have the exciting times, as long as they’re balanced out by the slower times. Otherwise we never have the chance to recharge!

  3. Always a tricky one this Jenny. What I find though is that there is always enough time for that which is important – so if that means time to linger over your coffee, you’ll find it. Where time appears to run out, is when we get lost in the ‘busyness’ of things we think we ‘should’ do. Steve

    • This is a great perspective Steve. As long as we don’t get sucked into the busywork, we’ll always find a way to make time for that which is most important. I’m still learning how to do this, especially with my full-time job.

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  5. Another question I ask when considering adding a commitment is, “does this allow me to spend time with my children?” If the answer is YES, it automatically gets bonus points. One day activities like field trips are an easy “Yes.” But I’m gun shy big time of any longer term commitments like coaching or being the leader of anything. This typically means I spend more time with other kids than my own…which is totally not the point!

    • This is a great addition Travis. I’ve taken on a commitment where I actually end up spending less time with my kids as well. Going into the commitment, I expected that I would be spending more time with my oldest son — but I didn’t anticipate all of the adult-only meetings that would be involved in the role I volunteered to take on.

      Needless to say, I’ve decided to pass on this commitment next year!

  6. I’m cutting back on some of my commitments currently. I’m finding the more time I have and the less cluttered my life, the more space I need. I’m also trying to kill the Todo List and ensure only critical things get put back on.

    • Good for you Jo! How interesting that the more space ou create, the more you desire. It will be fun to see how far you go with this until it becomes uncomfortable. :)

      I like the idea of killing the To-do list all together. You’re right, if something is that important it will scream to be completed.

  7. Beautiful post Jenny and very timely for me! Ever since January I’ve been really working towards balancing out my commitments and the way I choose to spend my time. It’s been a wonderful change for me.

    I love how you say it is our responsibility to map out our time. Responsibility is a concept that doesn’t often appear in time management, but it is very empowering. Another incredible post Jenny!

    • Hi Tanja – I know you’ve mentioned that you’ve spent the better part of this year finding a more sustainable work-life balance. I’m so glad you feel like things are starting settle into a more comfortable rhythm.

      It’s so hard to come down off of that workaholic high once it starts — I’ve been there. It always eventually leads to burnout, so it would be great if we could pull back a little before full out burnout sets in!

      • Aria

        OOOO! I overworked myself in Jr. High, High School, and part time jobs. I burned out big time and I am just now after 3 years of pretty much doing nothing except resting and eating and spending time with people I love am starting to feel more energetic again. It really has taken 3 years for me to heal from my burnout(well there were other issues as well), but I’m glad I took the time I feel so much better now. :D

        • Wow Aria. It sounds like you had a super high pressure time period. It’s great to hear that you’re feeling more healed from overextending yourself — even if it did take three years. Hopefully you’ll have a better idea of how much you can comfortably take on going forward. I know I’m still trying to figure that out how much I can comfortably handle myself. ;)

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