All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you – Gandalf.
I have a limited amount of time now to do things beyond explicitly caring for an infant. I always *knew* this going in, but the reality of parenthood still packs a punch. If I thought that it was hard to keep track of the date during the COVID-19 pandemic, the passage of time has truly become inconceivable as my sleep-deprived days, weeks, and months of maternity leave bleed together.
From a glass-half-full perspective, parenthood has forced me to adopt habit-changing behaviors like a New Years Resolution on steroids. I dawdle less. I listen to audio books while folding laundry and nursing. I am able to pull out of the infinite-scroll nose dive sooner. All because the time that I have to do things for myself, both frivolous and important, is a finite resource. Parenthood has caused me to closely examine how I spend my time.
One of those audiobooks was Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It is from that book that this post gets its title.
At any previous stage of my life I don’t believe I would have been as receptive to this book as I am now. Like many others in my generation, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do the most, for various reasons, and burning out because of it. Now, as a new parent I am ready to really think about what things were ESSENTIAL and worthy of my limited time.
I am not going to rehash the book because I believe it is worth reading or listening to yourself. Instead, I’ll leave you with two of the concepts that have stuck with me.
Choice matters. Specifically, if you don’t actively choose how you spend your time, something else will choose for you. To use an example from earlier, when I fall into the infinite scroll of social media, until I make the active conscious decision to stop and spend my time doing something else, then I am letting social media make that choice for me. But I also like to think that the essential/non-essential choice is not necessarily set in stone. There may be a day when I feel so isolated as a new parent, that I choose to reconnect with friends on social media and in that moment it is essential. What matters is that I CHOSE. Choosing what I consider essential has to be an active effort. It also means that I have to choose what is non-essential, and that means learning to say “no”.
Done, not perfect. This one really resonated with me, as self-identified and hopefully-recovering perfectionist. How much extra time have I spent on past projects or even small mundane things like emails to coworkers? What essential projects or tasks did I neglect in doing so? I’m currently working on a hand-embroidered quilt that I started over 2 years ago. For a long time, I was striving to make every stitch perfect so that the embroidery would look good from the front and back of the quilt. But in doing so, it has dragged on and I’ve missed opportunities to work on other creative projects. This quilt is no longer a gift for my husband, it is going to be a gift for my son and it is still important to me to finish it. However, I’ve embraced the “done, not perfect” mentality. It still looks good from the front, but I’m not losing time to repositioning the needle perfectly or fretting about the stitch length consistency. What matters is the love behind each stitch. I regularly say “done, not perfect” to myself as I stitch to keep me focused while the baby naps.
I am applying both of these concepts to a lot of things every day. Sure I have a long list of things I’d like to do, but every day I’m assessing what do I HAVE to do today? Things like calling insurance companies to get my child’s coverage set up take precedent over polishing leather boots. Laundry might not be essential today, but in 4 days it might be the most essential task. I’m starting to evaluate my sewing project list and choose which things I want to work on after I finish the quilt. It is essential that I don’t lose connection to my sewing, but I know I cannot SEW ALL THE THINGS anymore. I’m looking forward to the few projects I will pursue this year, because I know they will be garments that I really want and that I’ll put into heavy rotation.
I read Essentialsm this book after reading The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith, Brave, Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani, and The Likability Trap by Alicia Menendez. Taken together, I’ve been thinking A LOT about how I show up and make choices in my life as a mom, as a manager, and as a friend.