If you’re anything like me, the idea of a slower, simpler, more meaningful life conjures up images of relaxing with family and friends and doing more of the things that bring you joy. Whether that be travel, gardening, dancing or playing board games by a fire, it probably involves having more leisure time than you currently do.
You’ve probably already thought about how to find more leisure time – and it probably goes something like this “I need to work less, but I need the money to pay the mortgage. I could get a cheaper house, but that would mean moving a long way from work, and losing 2 hours a day commuting to the office. Then I’d have to move the kids to a new school, uproot our life, disconnect from our community and lose so many of the things that currently bring us joy.“ Naturally you end up thinking ‘Ahh stuff it – what’s the point??’
When large scale change seems impossible, we look for other solutions. Most of us try to create additional time using clever cheats, cutting corners where we can to steal back a few minutes. We buy and eat heavily packaged, processed foods or pick up crappy take-aways to save time on cooking. We make phone calls while we walk or travel on public transport. We use Facebook to catch up with friends and multi-task on our smartphones while we talk to people, eat dinner or play with our kids. All of this scrambling might earn us a few more minutes, but it leaves us mentally exhausted, scattered and unhappy. We crash in front of the TV at the end of the day with nothing left to give. We don’t find joy in those saved minutes, and we’ve lost the joy from all the simple daily tasks because we’re too busy multi-tasking.
But how do you get the joy back? How do you slow down and live more simply when there’s no available spare time? It’s something of a paradox, but I think you have to start with the end goal, and work back from there. It may seem counter-intuitive, but to create more time, you have to spend more time doing some of the things you used to rush through. Of course it all comes down to identifying the right things to spend more time on.
Here’s my list of things that humans should prioritise and spend more time on:
- Being present for family and friends
- Preparing and eating real food
- Moving our bodies
- Sitting quietly, reflecting and sleeping
- Doing more of what brings us joy
I’ve thought long and hard about this and I actually feel pretty strongly that these are the essentials. I think the human body needs to eat nutritious food, move a lot more, and get more rest; and I think the human spirit needs joy and connection and stillness. I don’t think there’s anything more important. I imagine the list looks a little different for everyone though. Your real food might be kale soup, mine slow cooked lamb. Your stillness might be gardening, mine reading. Your joy might be adventure travel, mine writing. Have a think about your list of essentials. Keep it short – no more than five or six items. And then, when you’ve identified what bring you joy and meaning, simply find time to give those things your full attention. That’s it. Just start doing those things.
So what happens when you start spending more time on things that used to take less time, when you don’t actually have any spare time left?? You’re probably thinking “ahhh… not likely, unless you want to find me rocking in a corner at the supermarket in my active wear and a tutu.” But bear with me!
I’m not suggesting you can create time out of thin air. If you decide to focus on five things that don’t already get much airplay in your life, obviously something else needs to give. But I think we all have something in our life that we can afford to let go of. I’m talking about the habits, comforts and all those little routines that do little or nothing to bring us joy. What’s ready to give in your life? Is it that morning coffee with colleagues, browsing Facebook before bed or staying late at the office? Is it reality TV, social gatherings that wear you out, checking emails after hours, or tidying the house? Whatever it is, if it’s not a priority, perhaps it’s OK to let it go?
If five things at once feels like too much, just choose one. Start with the easiest and make that a part of your life. It’s true that while some changes just require your commitment, others need a bit of planning. Eating real food when you’re time poor probably requires a weekly meal plan. Sitting quietly when you have young children at home might call for a little imagination – or the help of a friend. Doing what brings you joy might start with some creative exploration and baby steps. It’s not impossible though, it just requires you to take the first step.
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