Where did my time and energy go? Now that I’m a father of two kids, free time and a surplus of energy have become rare commodities.
A few nights a week my wife and I will get on the couch or in bed to watch at most a 45 minute TV show on demand. I can’t even recall the last time I stayed awake for an entire movie. Many of my hobbies have been reduced or eliminated. Time and energy are now consumed in mass to keep up with the household chores, the demands from the day job, and in feeding and caring for the little ones.
This new reality has actually led me to have a much higher standard for inputs that I let into my life. Inputs can really be anything: food, people, jobs, activities, entertainment, and media.
Most of us have too many inputs into our life. Anything that we let into our lives is something that we need to manage and prioritize which consumes our time and energy. The noise of it all can be a tremendous distraction that drains us from creating and fulfilling our full potential.
And now, more than ever before, we have so many options in life. For example, we have so many incredible options on what to eat. We have restaurants of all different ethnicities and price points. At the grocery store we have everything we want and it’s accessible pretty much all year round.
With the internet we have endless options on what to learn or on what we want to be entertained by. We pretty much have every TV show, movie, and sporting event on demand at our fingertips. Throw in social media, eBooks, and YouTube and we all could spend the rest of our lives consuming on-line media and barely scratch the surface of what’s out there.
Our attention and resources are constantly under attack from every angle in today’s society. “Don’t miss out on this life changing opportunity!”, “This is a one-time sale, come on in now”, and probably the most tantalizing new temptation is subliminal message of anything viral, “Click here to see what everyone else in the world has seen except you.” The rabbit hole has no bottom.
Therefore, we need to limit and control what we let into our body, mind, house, and life. We must be extremely selective of what we let in. The quantity of what we let in needs to be appropriate for what we can handle and we should only accept what is of the highest possible quality.
“We need to minimize our inputs so we can maximize our outputs.” – Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning
Many of us, myself included, have fallen prey to the idea that the more we let into our life’s, the more we learn, the more we read, the more stuff we acquire, the better. But this is false. Everything we let in consumes us in some capacity.
Even that piece of furniture your friend was giving away that you don’t have a place for takes up your time and thoughts. You put in the basement and walk past it once a week thinking, where shall it go? Would it look good painted? Then once a month or so it needs to be dusted and then you start storing boxes on top of it. So every year, this piece of furniture consumes precious minutes of your thoughts and more minutes of your time to clean, yet it adds no value to your life. We do this with books, clothes, activities, and projects at work.
Therefore, we need to keep most stuff out of our lives. We need to be scrupulous at what we allow to consume our time and energy because anything that comes in is something that we’ll need to manage.
We need to learn to say no and get good at it. One of the most powerful things I’ve learned in the past few years at the office is how to selectively say no. Say not to the tasks I can delegate or are not best for my skills.
An example of this is cable TV. My wife and I got rid of cable about 6 years and have not yet looked back. About once a year there is a program I miss, and usually it’s some sporting event on ESPN. But the benefits of not having that extra input in my life definitely outweighs the downside of missing a game or two here and there. I used to spend 15 minutes a week programming the DVR and at least 5 minutes more every time we sat down to watch TV scrolling through the endless options.
When we do choose to let something into our lives, it should be of the highest quality. The term garbage in, garbage out applies to our life. If we only consume and watch trash TV we have to acknowledge that it will influence us, even a little bit. If we only eat junk food, it’s going to negatively impact our health. If we only read sensational online news stories, it’s going to influence our perception on current affairs in an unbalanced perspective.
Then we need to the have the proper systems to manage what we do have in life. This year I started learning and adopting the incredible Getting Things Done system by David Allen. It has increased my capacity to achieve and reduced my stress at the same time.
And lastly we need to regularly prune. As Todd Henry puts it in his book The Accidental Creative, “Sometimes the biggest evil of great is good. We need to get rid of some good so that we can have more great.”
In addition to limiting and controlling inputs into our own lives, we also need to make sure we’re helping our children do the same. Many of us are conscious about the media content our young children watch on TV and the internet, but we need to help with the rest of their lives as well.
When they’re young, we have direct control over most things in their lives, what they eat, watch, the activities they’re in, and who they spend time with. But as they grow older, our control diminishes and that is when our coaching and leadership become important. We need to lead by example, and also give them actionable ways to help put practices in their life to limit and control inputs in their life.
I’ve been on the wrong side of this balance sheet many times in life. I let too many things into my life, have too many options, struggle to manage them, and my productivity and quality of creation has been dramatically suppressed because of it.
A recent example of this has been in how I have approached my eBook lending with my local library. I keep a digital list of books that I would like to read and then aim to have one or two checked out on my Kindle from the local library at a time. More often than not the books I want to read have a wait list. So I end up requesting 10 or 15 books hoping that I always have one or two to read. The reality is I often end up with 8 or 10 to read at a time, frantically switch between them hoping to read them all before the rental period expires.
Unfortunately I end up finishing none and have been distracted the whole time. If I would have just focused on say 2 or 3 at a time and committed to them, I would have probably read more books and retained more useful information from them all.
Go out and set some new standards for what you let into your life, develop or apply some systems to manage it, and don’t be afraid to get rid of anything that isn’t allowing you to flourish to your greatest potential. Help your children by limiting the inputs in their life so they can flourish as well.
Ask yourself in your self-evaluation, what are some things that are a distraction more than a benefit? What are some ways you can prevent new distractions from entering your lives all together?