I Create My Busy

Have you ever heard of time affluence?  I learned this term last week and thought it succinctly described my dream life - being rich with free time - how awesome would that be?  In our over-scheduled, rushed world, I can only imagine the peaceful relaxation that must accompany tons of unplanned, unstructured, do-whatever-you-feel-like time.  After reflecting on this, however, I admitted that I honestly have difficulty handling free time.  My calendar and to-do list are packed, usually far in advance, and it’s by design - both intentional and unconscious.  On the rare occasion that I have a totally open day, I struggle with the vastness of possibilities, the tyranny of choice.

The typical chain of events:

  • Wake up with excitement… Freedom!!  Today’s going to be the best day EVER.

  • Make coffee, start thinking… I’ve been so busy lately, I really deserve to relax, I could just ignore my to-do list.  Although - this is a great opportunity to do some bigger house things, or get some errands done, or work on one of my business ideas, or catch up with a friend I haven’t talked to in a while, or any of the things I swear I want to do but hardly ever have time to do, like crafting.  Or stick to my actual list, the shit I thought was so important I wrote it down, just for today.  I end up standing in the kitchen paralyzed with indecision for awhile.

  • I decide what to start with (it’s never relaxation) and hours begin passing… somehow it becomes early afternoon and I realize I need to switch gears if I’m going to get more than one thing accomplished and still get to relax… I freak out a little bit and spend some time completely scattered, ineffectively trying to multitask… more hours pass and I slowly realize I’ve deluded myself into Magical Time thinking - this free day doesn’t have 40 hours in it and my ‘quick’ tasks are taking way longer than they did in my imagination.  

  • Suddenly it’s nighttime, I haven’t relaxed yet, and well, now there isn’t time - I need to get my stuff ready for tomorrow.  Disappointment and sadness settle in… my free day is over. I didn’t get to 75% of what I wanted to do

I say all I want is sweet sweet freedom, but I’m actually pretty uncomfortable with wide open windows of time.  It's almost like I operate better when I don't have a choice.  It’s not boredom, but… uncertainty… there’s something uneasy about it.  The nagging feeling that I should be doing something.  For this reason, I almost always feel like I mishandle or fail to optimize a free day.  So I fill up my time, pack the calendar full, and then feel exasperated that I never relax, never get it all done, and constantly push myself to exhaustion and overwhelm.  I create the illusion for myself that I don't have a choice.  I very conveniently ‘run out of time’ to do the things I don’t really want to do (mow the grass) or am hesitant to do (date).  On that note, I get to say no a lot, without feeling guilty about not having an excuse - I have an excuse, I already have plans!  This is absurd.  For one thing, no is a complete sentence; the idea that I owe an explanation for turning something down is an inaccurate but habitual thought.  For another thing, there’s no reason my time must be filled up.  Learning to really embrace boundary setting has been a wonderful work in progress.

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Meditation has helped me slow down a little on the daily scale, but not yet on the life scale; I’m full steam ahead, in a bunch of different directions, and it’s tiring.  And I take full responsibility for it; I’m doing this to myself.  I sign up for 30 different things, because I have a hard time with stillness - it feels a little like defeat or apathy… everything’s not perfect, so if you’re not working to change it, you’re being lazy… self-talk like this never helps me realize goals.  I would call this a shadow side to time affluence.  In reality, I accomplish more and feel much happier when I’ve given myself the opportunity to recharge and when I'm treating myself with kindness and compassion.

This has been a major area of personal development and I’ve actually come a long way.  I learned when I decided to get sober, that you can basically put your entire life on hold for a pretty long time.  I canceled all my plans and said no to everything for the better part of a year.  I sheltered in and worked on myself, and everyone understood.  I didn’t miss out on anything - I was busy - doing very important, very quiet, life-changing work; on myself, for myself.  I’ve learned that what I put my attention and energy on blossoms in my life, and that everything else can wait.  It really can.

It seems to be an odd thing to be working on improving - how to relax, how to be still.  I suspect I’m not the only one (I never am), and I suspect it’s one of the reasons running works so well for me.  You can cancel your plans and start saying no; you can literally drop almost everything, people do it when they need to; would you drop everything for a friend who’s in need?  Why can’t that friend be yourself? What are the really important things you want to be doing with your time?  Everything else can wait.