Are You Feeling Shackled By “Shoulds”?
When people come to me to help them take control of their time, one of the first things I let them know is that in working with me they are coming into a judgement-free zone. I don’t care HOW they want to spend their time. I just want to help them be more intentional, so they can do more of what they want and less of what they don’t.
And you know what? While, almost universally, the folks I work with are seeking a greater sense of control over their time, including less overwhelm and stress, that’s often where the similarities end. People want very, very different things out of their time. What looks like “balance” to you, might look completely off kilter to someone else. In fact, there’s no “right way” to spend your time. There’s only a right way for you. (And a right way for you, right now. Things may change.)
I remember working with an attorney who told me that she loves working 80 hour weeks; she didn’t want to reduce the amount of time spent at work, she just wanted to be more efficient and make sure that she didn’t feel like she was scrambling. She didn’t want to change the actual hours; she wanted to change the quality of those hours. Me, I prefer a 30–35 hour week. Working 80 hours would make me feel out of control. We’re just different. What I want is no better than what she wants.
Often people tell me that it’s their goal to only work in the evening or on the weekends “if they feel like it”. Because you know what? Sometimes, we feel like it. It’s an issue of control, not an issue of the work itself.
We all have different things we enjoy doing; different ways we want our time to play out.
And that means that it’s about tradeoffs. We all get the same 24 hours per day. But our goals and our values inform how we want to spend that time.
Another thing that comes up a lot when I work with people is the word “should”. People think there’s a way they “should” be spending their time. And that they can’t spend their time how they want because that conflicts with how they should.
And to that end, I wanted to share a few things that I just don’t do at all. Things that you might think are essential, the “have tos”, the “shoulds”. Because maybe, by seeing someone else reject their “shoulds” you might be inspired to do so as well.
I just don’t do them. Never have. Never will. (Much to my mom’s chagrin.) I don’t get a Xmas tree. I gave the xmas ornaments my parents had been saving for me to Goodwill And I’m probably gonna be catching grief about that for awhile. But you know what? I don’t have to store a bunch of stuff I only use once a year. And I don’t have to spend time taking it out or putting it away. And if you’re thinking, “well that doesn’t seem very fun!”, remember that we live different lives. And I celebrate holidays in the way that I love: cooking and baking.
I don’t send these out. I don’t need to arrange a photoshoot, I don’t need to capture all the addresses. It’s just not something I worry about. I am eternally grateful to all the folks who send ME cards every year, despite the fact I never reciprocate. I love receiving them. But I’m never gonna be a person who sends them out.
Clean My Kitchen
This is a daily chore that I’ve delegated to my kids. They’re 11 and 13 now, and they’ve been entirely responsible for cleaning the kitchen daily since, uh, March 2020.
My Kids’ Laundry
They do it themselves. Do they always have clean clothes? Most of the time. My younger son learned the hard way that procrastination of this chore leads to wearing dirty underwear to school. And after that happened once, he’s been much more on top of his laundry.
I do own a small travel iron, who’s primary purpose was to iron-on patches to the knees of my kids’ pants when they were younger. I don’t know how to iron, quite truthfully. So I just don’t buy clothes that need to be ironed. Yes, my husband does have a few shirts that need ironing. But who dresses up anymore? We just send those to the dry cleaner on the rare occasion they’re worn.
My Hair and Makeup
I don’t own makeup. I have never worn it. (Well, expect for my 8th grade school picture, where a friend put lipstick on me and when I filmed my very first online course for Udemy, they provided a hair and makeup person. That was the only time in my adult life I’d ever worn makeup. I had to ask the makeup artist how to take it off. And she kindly told me which makeup remover wipes to buy.)
As for hair, when I get a haircut, I always say “I need a haircut that will work with zero care on my part. I don’t own a blow dryer. I’m not going to put any product on it. And with these instructions, I’ve always managed to get a decent haircut that requires zero styling on my part.
Not doing my hair and makeup saves me, I’m guessing, hours per week. I can be ready in 5 minutes, no matter the occasion. Because getting ready involves only putting on my clothes and brushing my teeth.
Being involved in my kids’ schoolwork.
My general philosophy on school and homework is that that’s my kids’ responsibility. And that someone will call me if there’s a problem. This means that I don’t ask my kids about their homework. I don’t check that it’s been done. Heck, I don’t even know if they have homework until I see them doing it. (Lest you think I’m not involved at all in their school lives, I taught my son’s 2nd grade class to knit, once a week for an entire school year, and I give a workshop about increasing focus and reducing distractions for my kids schools annually.)
Am I worried about my how my kids are doing in school? Nope. They’re doing great. And if they run into trouble. Of course I’ll help. But in the meantime, I prefer for them to learn their own lessons. If they’re gonna fail; better to do it now and learn from it, than for it to happen when they’re on their own in college.
Now, after, hearing about all the things I don’t do, you might be wondering how I actually do spend my time. So, I also want to share a few things I spend my time on that you might think are totally nuts (but make sense to me):
Make my own bread
Yes, I was making sourdough long before it was a pandemic staple activity. I make a solitary loaf once a week, and it takes about a day, if only 10 minutes of hands on time. And I also make Japanese milk bread every week, because my kids like so much. I like bread too, I prefer to eat bread I make than the store-bought kind, and I find the process both meditative and rewarding.
Cook from scratch, every day
I cook dinner every night (well, except Fridays, when my kids cook and my husband and I have date-night). I cook from scratch. I usually make at least 3 dishes per meal. Cooking is one of my most joyous activities, and it’s when I feel most creative and most in-flow. I look forward to cooking every single day. When I’m on vacation, I miss cooking.
A Weekly Family Meeting
Since my kids were 2 and 4, we’ve been doing a weekly family meeting. In it, we discuss the schedule for the upcoming week, we give each other complements and gratitudes, and we ask the questions “what’s going well?” (so we can double down on it) and “what’s not going well?” (so we can come up with solutions as a family). We tend to do this in the car, on a walk, or during a meal, so that we don’t have to make special time to make it happen.
Read, a lot
Another of my favorite activities is reading. I spend many, many hours a week reading. It’s April 9th, as I write this, and I’ve just started my 25th book this year. I read fiction and non-fiction; I love it all.
I love TV. And some portion of my week is definitely spent watching it. Sure, I like the high-brow stuff. But I’m no stranger to trashy TV, either. (“Below Deck”, anyone? ) It’s something I enjoy. And so I make time for it.
Weekly date night
On Fridays, almost without fail, my husband and I have date-night. We don’t spend a ton of money on dates (we have a whole list of “cheap-eats” places that we’re working through or we go to a movie). During the pandemic, a lot of our dates were simply putting a cocktail in a red solo cup and taking a long walk. But it’s time we devote, every week.
So, are you spending time doing things because you think you have to? Or you want to be spending time doing something you think you might be embarrassed by?
Then think about these lists above. What judgements do you have about how I spend my time? And more importantly, what judgements are you making about how you spend YOUR time?
How would you spend your time if you could get rid of the “shoulds” in your brain?
Life is about tradeoffs.
If I did all the things on the first list, things that follow standard social conventions, that seem like “shoulds”, I would definitely not have time for all the things on the 2nd list.
You and me? Our lists might be very different. Our “shoulds” might be very different. Our wants might be very different.
But that’s not what matters.
Do what’s right for you, conventions be damned.
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Originally published at https://www.alexishaselberger.com on April 18, 2022.