Making Room for What Really Matters to You

September 2019

fall river in la pine state park, oregon

Photo from La Pine State Park in central Oregon taken when the author was practicing what she preaches.

The warning signs usually start with missed deadlines and neglected emails or ignored phone calls or texts. The mail stacks up. Vacation days go unused. Plans with friends get canceled. If it seems there’s no longer enough time to do what you love most, here are some ways you can reclaim it and stop living in a state of perpetual overwhelm.

Clear out your space

Sometimes the best place to start is to clear out physical clutter. Doing so helps you calm down and pick up your productivity.

Psychologists have long told us that decluttering will reduce stress and help us face issues we’ve long avoided. Many of us don’t even realize our physical surroundings drive our anxiety until we go through the painful-yet-releasing process of a purge. By donating or throwing away unused personal belongings, we liberate ourselves from our pasts and move forward with more vigor.

Calendar time to weekly clean out your work space (or, if neat is your nature, reward yourself for keeping clutter at bay). Clear off your desk, re-examine your filing system and properly store anything you know you’ll need in the near future. Everything else, you put into storage or toss. Store dormant, necessary electronic files and other essential data assets in the cloud and reconsider all the apps crowding your screens.

Digitally downsize

Digital minimalism has gotten more attention lately thanks to the latest book by computer scientist and author Cal Newport, who argues that if we want to be better, we need more offline time.

Studies are showing the emotional toll life online can take. In researching his latest book, Newport talked to college counselors about the sharp rise in depression, anxiety and eating disorders. When asked for a possible reason, without hesitation they individually responded, “Smartphones.” Today’s high school and college/post-grad students are the first generation to grow up in a world where they are constantly connected–to their parents and to their peers. We’re now witnessing unintended consequences from doing so.

Re-evaluate how much time you now spend online. Some of it can’t be avoided, especially if you have demanding clients or work remotely and need to be available. But you can decide how you wish to engage with everyone else, and it should include more hours interacting in the real world, not a virtual one. Again, there are plenty of people saying quality of life improves with more face-to-face interactions.

Give your brain more breathing room

Most of you reading this are considered knowledge workers, which means you are essentially paid to use your brain. That means it needs to be properly nourished and exercised like any other organ. It also needs to rest. Usually this comes from quality sleep, which can be elusive during stressful periods. But we also need to give our minds downtime by doing … nothing.

When’s the last time you took 30 minutes to just sit and be alone with your thoughts? This won’t be easy, but embed blocks of time daily to completely detach from everyone and everything. Make that time sacred and block it out on your calendar and hide your phone. You’ll be amazed how quickly you become re-dedicated to everyone and everything important.

All of these suggestions require you to remove something in order to make room for something else. Remember: Saying “no” more often also allows you to say “yes” to more things you do want to do.

–Anne Saita