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Time Wasters

Before I had kids, I used to be obsessed with being productive. Like, really productive, with daily To Do lists, long-term and short-term projects, and totally goal oriented. I was also overly preoccupied with my appearance, had anxiety over what other people thought of me, and spent WAY too much time trying to be perfect.

Before I had kids, I used to be obsessed with being productive. Like, really productive, with daily To Do lists, long-term and short-term projects, and totally goal oriented. I was also overly preoccupied with my appearance, had anxiety over what other people thought of me, and spent WAY too much time trying to be perfect.

Now, with a 2-year-old, and another baby just arrived, I’ve distilled my expectations on productivity down to the essentials and, in doing so, found things I no longer need to waste my time and energy worrying about. Here’s a rundown of some big time-wasters that I’ve been able to let go of, for the better.

First up, spending time on things that are important to other people. I used to drive myself crazy making sure other people’s needs were being met. Whether it was at work, in my friend group, or for my in-laws. I thought it was my duty to be flawless as a manager, friend, daughter-in-law, and wife. And while I’m not advocating that you blow off the needs of others, you can recognize that you really have no control over other people’s expectations. Focus on your needs, your goals, and doing right by yourself. As for your children, of course, they take priority, and co-workers, friends, and mothers-in-law will just have to wait.

Trying to do everything at once. I used to be a multitasking wizard, with various projects and agendas all spinning simultaneously. And, I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep up that frantic pace. Now, I’m just too exhausted to multitask beyond driving home and singing along to the radio, with my toddler in the back yelling at me that she’s the only one allowed to sing in the car. Instead of squandering my energy and attention trying to do everything all at once, I focus on the task at hand and accomplish it to the best of my abilities. I keep my list of To-Dos focused on what NEEDS to get done. If I have to step away and take a break, I take a break. FYI, breaks aren’t time-wasters. They give you the energy and clarity to do a better job, one job at a time.

Being available to everyone. This goes hand-in-hand with worrying about what’s important to other people. I used to stop whatever I was doing if a friend (even a casual friend) called asking for help, advice, to go out, to commiserate, you name it; I jumped right on up there to give it. I don’t regret being kind to those in need, but, as I’ve gotten older and my emotional wellspring ain’t what it used to be, I’ve set boundaries on my availability and resources. Even with my daughter, because Mommy only has so much to give before she needs to refill and recharge.

Lastly, and this one is still a struggle, I spend a lot of mental energy worrying about my physical appearance and how others perceive it. Of course, you want to put a bit of effort into looking your best, especially in work/business setting, but obsessing over things like a blemish, a chipped nail, a gray hair, are a waste of time. I used to mistakenly think that these kinds of details were signs of self-worth, or lack thereof, as in people will think I don’t value myself if I don’t look my very, very best. Well, turns out, no one is paying that close attention to how my makeup is done, or if my dress pulls a bit in the back. Instead of focusing on looking perfect, I aim for presentable and have found myself much happier and less stressed.

Everyone has their own personal time-wasters. On the surface, they may seem harmless, or even ridiculous. Is all that fanatical checking in on social media really about seeing what your network of acquaintances are up to, or are you consistently comparing yourself to others? Is saying “yes” to every committee or working group a sign that you’re an involved member of your community, or does it mean that you have trouble saying “no” and people are taking advantage of that? Is binge-watching the latest Netflix original series your way of unwinding, or is it an excuse to not tackle a project or activity you’ve been putting off? Regardless of your personal time-wasting hang-ups, it’s never a bad idea to take a step back and evaluate their effect on your life.

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