Good news . . . as of yesterday, I have in my possession a completed third revision of my novel manuscript. Well, technically it’s not totally finished. I had been working from a printed version and still need to type my changes and additions into my digital document, BUT I am nonetheless celebrating the progress. And as a purposeful WIP myself, I can tell you that this tangible progress is due in large part to learning how to Embrace the Essentials.
This is a tall order anymore as our lives have become increasingly busy. In fact, a trend I’ve noticed of late is when I run into friends or acquaintances while running errands and I ask how they’re doing, the standard reply seems to be, “I’m busy.” I, myself, have given similar responses. The funny thing is, though, that the label of busy often carries with it a badge of honor, yet when we mention our busyness, our words are rarely ones of joy. We don’t talk about how excited we are to be constantly on the go with little time for rest or our families. Instead, discussions about our busyness are often accompanied by a certain level of weariness.
But if most of us aren’t thrilled with our constantly packed schedules, then why are we continuing to be busy? I think it has a lot to do with the number of choices available to us. Our lives are bursting with so many opportunities to do just about anything—activities and entertainment and experiences and even just everyday responsibilities—that running ourselves ragged in order to not miss out has become the new norm. But we can get so distracted and caught up in chasing these other nonessential things that we lose sight of the essential. We get derailed from our goals, our progress stops in its tracks, and we get stuck.
So, how do we get back to the basics? How do we determine those things that are priorities in our lives? One of the simplest ways to do this is to pay attention to how we’re spending our time. It’s easy to claim that certain things are important to us, but our schedules will actually show the truth. It might sound burdensome and time-consuming in and of itself, but take a week or two to literally track where you are devoting your hours and minutes. Trust me, it is eye-opening. If I had done so about a year ago, I would have seen that, although I called myself a writer, the majority of my days did not revolve around writing. Working on my manuscript was not a priority for me, therefore my progress was at a standstill.
Once you have a clear, honest picture of the largest time consumers in your life, it’s a good idea to think about and even write down, your ideal set of priorities and then compare the two—how you want to spend your time and how you actually do spend it. If the two don’t align, then you know it’s time to make some changes and in what areas those changes need to be made. Easier said than done, right? I couldn’t agree more, so I’ve put together a handful of truths that I remind myself of often:
- We cannot and do not need to do it all. This is one of the hardest things for me to remember. I am a doer. If there is something to be done—which is always—I feel like I should be doing it. But when I started shifting my schedule around, I realized that in order to fully embrace the essentials, some of the other things to which I was devoting more time would have to give. For example, I don’t function well in the midst of chaos, so I love a clean and organized house. But there are only twenty-four hours in a day. When I decided to take my writing more seriously, many other things had to give. As a result, over the last year while I’ve been completing my first and second and now third novel drafts, my house hasn’t been near as clean as normal. And you know what? It’s okay.
- We are allowed to say no. We are all constantly bombarded with invites and gatherings and requests that we feel obligated to say yes to. This does not include things like work, laundry, childcare, etc. These are responsibilities we obviously can’t say no to. But there are those things that we grudgingly agree to, those places where we spend our precious time even when we don’t want to. These are the areas that need to be considered and reconsidered. If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, it should probably be a no.
- Busyness is not a requirement. We don’t have to be doing something 24/7, working ourselves to complete exhaustion. It is not lazy to take some time to breathe or just unplug for a while. This misconception has become even more prevalent because of social media. We are always tuned into what other people are doing. Which brings us to number four.
- Stop comparing. We need to remember to run our own race, keep our eyes on our own paper. Even if we are on a similar path, our journey will not be the same as someone else’s and neither will our priorities be the same as theirs. We have to stop worrying about what other people are doing. We have to stop worrying about keeping up and instead keep on doing what is right and essential for us.
- Focus. By being fully present in the current moment, we can accomplish more in less time and are thereby rewarded with extra space for the essentials. And with focused attention on our essentials, we create a more fulfilling life experience.
- If we don’t intentionally set our own priorities, our life will take on a life of its own and set them for us. It’s easy to get stuck on autopilot if we aren’t intentionally keeping our life centered on those things that are most important. But this isn’t just a once and done proposition. Life happens and our priorities change, so they need to be revisited on a regular basis.
I encourage you to take a good look at your priorities. Think about that area of your life that you’ve been wanting to grow and develop. Is it one of your priorities? Is it something that you have been making time for? If it’s not, what adjustments can you make in order to start embracing your essentials?
*If you’d like more information on the topic of essentials, check out the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.