Like many people, I was simultaneously horrified and energized by a recent essay in The New York Times entitled, “How Covid Stole Our Time and How We Can Get it Back.” Its basic point was as follows: Most of us have eaten up hundreds of thousands of hours in our lives we can never get back. (Yes, he actually counts them for you.)
That’s the bad news. The good news, according to the article’s author, Tim Urban, is that: “The time we have left with family and friends is not a law of nature like the weeks we have left to live. It’s a function of priorities and decisions.” In other words, we have it within our own power to fully enjoy whatever time we have left.
As someone who’s struggled throughout my life with how to be happy, here’s what I’ve learned during the first quarter of 2022:
Quite possibly the single best piece of work/life advice I got last year was from author, podcaster and productivity guru Tim Ferriss. In a blog post he ran towards the end of 2021, he explained why he no longer makes a list of New Year’s Resolutions; instead, he does a Past Year Review.
A Past Year Review entails sitting down and going through your entire calendar from the previous year, both work and personal. As you examine how you spent your time, you identify all those things that gave you the most joy – and the most displeasure – in a given month. You then insert those items in two columns respectively.
Next, you identify the top 20% of the negatives and the top 20% of the positives. Ferris then counsels you to place the top 20% of negatives into a “Not to Do list,” which you literally look at every day for the first few weeks of the year to remind yourself NOT to do them.
Oh my goodness how the Not To Do List has changed my life! I let go of one client where my effort didn’t justify the pay, eliminated all-but-essential business development for my company, and dramatically reduced all social engagements that feel obligatory.
Just doing those three things has left me feeling 10 times lighter and less stressed out.
So much for the negatives in my life. How about the positives? Here, Ferriss’s advice is to identify those top 20% “fun leaders” and put them into your calendar immediately. Because if it ain’t in the calendar, it ain’t real.
I’m one of those people who plans her work way in advance, but always leaves the fun stuff until the last minute. That’s because I’ve always put work first, and life second.
But as soon as I read Ferriss’ words, I immediately grabbed the phone and called a friend of mine who, like me, also loves live theatre. We booked in not one, not two, but three dates over the next six months to see shows together. Then I made a list of all of the films I wanted to see from 2021 but hadn’t been able to because of the Omicron variant. I started booking tickets to go to the cinema and see them live.
Best of all, I grabbed a complicated but absorbing game called Dialect. I’d purchased it a year earlier for my daughter, but it was still sitting in its box. I promptly wrote to four highly verbal friends whom I thought might enjoy playing a game about language. We blocked out an afternoon in February and spent four hours playing this game. It was the most fun I’d had in ages.
As Laura Van Der Kamp, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done puts it, creating memories – like the time I spent four hours inventing a language with a group of friends – takes work. But when you put energy into “scheduling fun,” rather than just sitting in your bedroom watching yet another series on Netflix, you are literally building your own happiness. Because those are memories you can return to, day in and day out, and they will bring you joy.
Which is possibly why I spent much of last weekend planning a trip to Paris with my husband and daughter. It’s a trip we had to postpone twice during the pandemic. And frankly, figuring out how to best utilize all of the different vouchers we’d accrued and where to stay and where to eat took up at least one full day of our time.
But I’m already so glad that we made the effort. Because I know that once I stroll along the Seine in a little over two weeks from now and sip my first Kir Royale, I will be so incredibly happy.
What’s in your calendar this year? Have you planned fun activities? What’s on your Not To Do list – or should be there?
Tags Finding Happiness