Busyness

My Manager called me into his office.

He motioned for me to take a seat opposite him and gave a big sigh as if what he had to say was going to be disappointing for both of us.

“Jon, I don’t think you’re giving this company what we’re paying you to give.”

Me, puzzled. “What do you mean?”

Him, with a strained look on his face, nose screwed up, eyes squinting. “Welllllll … when you’re at work, I can tell your mind is not on the job. Simple tasks seem to take you longer to complete. You forget small but important steps in processes. I think you’re stretching yourself a bit too thin.”

Bam. It was out. . . . And he was right.PocketWatch

I had been working as Assistant Manager in his store and, while I loved my job, my mind was preoccupied with a lot of other interests.

I taught piano part time after work.

I volunteered at a local community radio station and was, at that time, their Senior On-air Coordinator.

I was in a position of leadership in my Church and this involved preparing services, lessons and equipment every weekend.

Oh, and did I mention I was involved in Network Marketing?

Yes, I was stretched.

But I was proud, in a way, that I was so busy. It was a badge of honour I wore—a status symbol. I enjoyed saying “Yes” to all who demanded a piece of my time because this, in my way of thinking, validated how important I was and how necessary I was to so many people and organisations.

“Jon, I think you need to cut back on something. I want to know that, when you’re here in the store, this is the only thing on your mind. Our customers need to know that they will always get 100% value when you serve them. I want to know the salary I pay is giving my business a fair return.”

I caved. I quit teaching piano.

But . . . I increased my church work load.

From my present perspective, I can see that I was addicted to being valued by others. I thought that I could maximise this feeling of being needed by spreading myself across as many positions of responsibility as I could fit into my week.

And, although I never said “No” to anyone or anything, I could easily say “No” to my own ease of mind, my own need for rest and my own health and wellbeing.

As an added bonus, I found joy in complaining to anyone who would listen about how busy I was, how I never got a break, and how tired it all made me feel. It made me seem so . . . well, so . . . superior.

I must have been such a joy to be around!

My biggest problem was this:  I was trying so desperately to prove myself valuable and attempting to impress far too many people.

Pia Edberg, in her excellent book The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of Simple Things through the Danish Concept of Hygge warns about this type of enslaving behaviour when she writes:

“You will never be free until you have no need to impress anyone.”

The key word here, I believe, is need.

I needed to be involved.

I needed to extend myself.

I needed to prove myself.

I needed to be busy.

In truth, I didn’t and I shouldn’t have found myself in such a predicament.

Lucky for me, Network Marketing came with its own Book-of-the-month club and over those years while I was doing everything for everyone, I learned so much not just about my business, but about my busy-ness. Things like:

1. Being busy robs you of the joy of doing one thing well. When your time and energy is divided amongst so many places, none of those is given the attention it needs to help you become the best you can be. Your time is not only stretched, its value is diluted so nobody gets a 100% commitment.

2. Being busy robs you of being fully present to those you love. I was never home. Fortunately, at that time, I was still single. Fortunately, my wife-to-be still married me even though I wasn’t giving her the quality time I should. Fortunately, my parents and siblings saw this as a “stage” I was going through and played along.

3. There is no award for “Busiest Man in the World.” Nor is there one for “Busiest Mum,” “Busiest Friend,” or “Busiest Worker.” Nobody wants to think they are second or third on your list of priorities, be it a family member, colleague or employer. Instead, they are looking for someone who is focused entirely on them—someone who, when in the role, is 100% committed to being the best dad, teacher, board member, volunteer or employee they can be.

There is no way I could have continued down this path. The juggling of my calendar space, head space and energy, had to stop. Someone wisely said, “Nobody is indispensable,” Sometimes the best thing to do is go step down and give someone else an opportunity.

So what did I do?

1. I learned how to say ”No,” even to some things I loved doing or found great pleasure in doing. Harvey McKay, businessman and author of Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive, famously said, “No one ever went broke by saying ‘No’ too often.” Reading books by folks like McKay gave me the vision and confidence that helped me to be able to say ”Yes” to those things that were truly important and those tasks I found immensely rewarding.

2. I adjusted my sense of importance. I gradually began to see myself as not needing the accolades and titles to prove my worth. My value was inherent in me from the first day I breathed on this planet. Having this re imagined sense of self gave me courage to quit the busy-ness treadmill. The world did not stop turning,. The kids found other piano teachers (and some were just as awesome as me). The radio station didn’t close its doors. (The church did fold, but that’s a story for another day.)

3. I got a new job. Although it took some re-education, over several years and a few intermediate lower-paying jobs, I finally found myself in a position in an organisation I can believe in, working reasonable hours, doing something I’m not only good at, but that brings me great satisfaction as well.

There have been moments when I slip back into the vanity of an overflowing calendar, and I have trudged enough down this road to know that going this way only can bring pain, to me and to those close to me. I have discovered that there is a very real joy and satisfaction in being able to say “No” to the unimportant so I can say a very loud “Yes” to all that is dear to me.

Explore Further

8 Ways to Slow Down and De-stress Your Busy Life (Entrepreneur)

The Cult of Busy (Johns Hopkins Health Review)

Enjoying Life in the Slow Lane (Becoming Minimalist)

Busyness: The Sign of an Unhappy Person (QZ)

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Gadgets

I am a gadget geek.

I genuinely look forward to the new iPhone being released, the latest edition of TechLife magazine, a newer and more compact lens for my DSLR camera, or the latest advancement in earbud technology.

I appreciate sleek design, the minimalist styling of any Apple product and the powerhouse of boards, chips and processors ‘under the hood’ of a laptop, phone or SmartTV.

But, the fact is, most gadgets and technology-rich products come with a sense of novelty and are challenging and fun to use for a while. . . . Then they lose their lustre, are not all that the reviewers promised, or don’t make me as happy as I thought they would.

Since jumping into minimalism, I have had a major cleanout and rethink of the gadgets I use and the gear I buy. Here are a few tips that I’ve come up with based on my own rationalisation experience.

Clean out those drawers of cables, spare parts and adaptors. When we first started going through our home and decluttering, this is one of the first problem areas I attacked. I found drawers and boxes full of copper-cored ‘spaghetti’ of various lengths and types that rarely saw the light of day. Most of it fell into the ‘just in case’ category. It took a while but I matched up all adaptors with their relevant tech products and realised I had 3 or 4 of some when I only needed one. I also found a handful of transformers from old gadgets which I had disposed of years ago—out the door. I had 5 HDMI cables and only really used one. I had a box of old VGA, RCA, ¼” and headphone adaptors of various configurations—out they went. I had covers and cases galore which I used for a few weeks and fell out of love with just as quickly. Gone. I realised after I had finished, that I used the greater part of my Saturday on this one area—it clearly had been a problem.

Sell or give away unused or outdated Gear. I had an old iPad (victim of an upgrade) which we thought we could use as a media server attached to our TV. We didn’t use it. Chances are, we would never use it—just maintaining it would take time we didn’t really need, or want, to spend. I sold it. We had several old mobile phones so we erased their data and dropped them in a Mobile Muster bin at a local phone shop. We had an old laminator, a CD collection that was never utilised, numerous USB devices and hard drives. These too were sold. Reclaiming cupboard space never felt so good.

Refuse to buy into the ‘Newest is best’ mindset. Now that the clutter is gone, it’s still a temptation to trade-up, buy new, or give in to the advertising that bombards me every day with the latest and best gadgetry. But ‘new’ isn’t always ‘best.’ My son just traded his old mobile phone for (wait for it!) an iPhone 5s. He did his research and juxtaposed that against his needs as a gardener and chose a tough, well-made phone with just the amount of technology he needed to make his life easier. He gets that rationality from his mum. Unlike him, I am far too easily drawn into new technology and I know this will continue to be a problem for me, so I unsubscribed from Gadget Geek, TechLife, and a raft of other magazines and email lists whose sole purpose was to create a need in my life where there was none. I try to avoid ad-driven websites when I do my work. I stay away from big brand retailers and, when I venture in to the Apple Store, I hum under my breath the theme from The Minimalists podcast:

Every little thing you think that you need . . .
I bet that you’d be fine without it.

When faced with a decision now to buy or upgrade, I do three things:

I ask, “Will this bring me genuine joy?” Being aware of how the feeling of happiness when purchasing a new product passes quicker with every new product I buy, I know better than to mistake that consumer excitedness with lasting joy. The truth is gadgets never bring joy. What you choose to do with them has the potential to bring joy. We need to see these products as tools, not an end in themselves.

I ask, “Will this add value to my life?” Having given away most of my library, my Kindle for iPad bring immense value into my life. My photo collection, scanned from my family’s photo albums can be viewed on my TV, my iPad, or my phone. The value is beyond measure. With my camera, I record beauty which brings me incredible joy. The list isn’t long, but every piece of technology I now own has a purpose and a measurable value attached to its use.

I wait. I usually give such decisions a good week, sometimes more, to settle in my mind. During that time, I read reviews of this and similar products, looking particularly for evidence of value added to the reviewer’s life. I research to see if this is the best use of my money or if there is something that is of better quality—something that does the job I need it to do in a better or more efficient way.

I am currently looking to upgrade my Blitz-n-Go smoothie maker since it is nearing its last ‘blitz.’ I’m now up to this stage, but I have put the decision on hold because I have determined that the best value item isn’t cheap and I need some time to save for what will be the best use of my cash. I’m not willing to splash out for another cheap item that will, like its predecessor, last less than a year.

I continue to look out for confirmation bias in my mind—where my mind find ways to justify why I should have this new item—and rationally think through occurrences of this. A ‘Pro’ and ‘Con’ list often helps as well. If at the end of the predetermined time, I still see this purchase as a good idea, and I have the funds to do so, I go ahead and commit.

Once I buy it, I remove from my life the old version of it or the unit it is replacing by either throwing it in the garbage, selling it, or donating it to someone who can use it.

In the end, I am left with a handful of really useful gadgets that continue to bring joy or add value to my life. I’ll share in a later post those items I have, use and, in some cases, wouldn’t be without.

Explore Further

Best Travel Gadgets from the Man who Owns 70 Things (Forbes Magazine)

Our 21-day Journey into Minimalism (The Minimalists)

How to Recycle Your Electronics and Gadgets (CNET)

Bargains

“We might need it someday.”

“It’s too good a deal to pass up.”

“At that price, I’d better get two.”

How many times have we caught ourselves saying these or similar things? I must admit that I have made such declarations many times, usually at the bargain shop or in the throes of end-of-season sales.

If that’s not enough, we receive reams of unsolicited sales paraphernalia in our letterbox or in the mail, urging us to “Buy now,” and telling us “This offer is for a limited time.” Bring on the mind-insulting rug, furniture or car ads to TV that tell us that these are “never-to-be-repeated prices,” and we can’t believe how quickly the money has flown from our wallet or bank account.

File 1-06-2016, 1 19 40 PMAnd this is how we use our free time. Shopping is the new religion. Malls are the new places of worship. Sales are the worship services. Bargains are the gods. We are fanatics, addicted to the feeling of completeness a full shopping bag seems to bring. As Michelle Castillo writes, “There’s nothing as addicting as a cheap buy.”

Correct that to a “perceived cheap buy,” because, as we are all aware, very few places ever sell everything at Recommended Retail Price (RRP). That’s simply a stated figure that retailers use to show how great a discount they will offer to secure your custom. And we fall for it, spending billions  in shopping centres and mega-malls every year. Then there are online retailers, local and international. Then there are the increasing number of social shopping sites such as Groupon, Zazz, Catch of the Day and Daily Deal and it’s all the easier to be tempted to exchange your hard-earned dollars for things to clutter your home and life.

Someone once told me, “A bargain is only a bargain if you need it.”

But how often do we buy something we think we “need” when, in fact, it’s not necessary and adds no value whatever to our life?

Like the bike I’ve ridden once.

Like the new tool I had to have and used it for the first time in the three years since its purchase.

Like that dozen Krispy Kreme® donuts (I really needed those? All of them?)

It’s time we learn how to say “No” when confronted with the purpose-written advertisements and dazzling billboards. We must learn to question our purchases and to abstain from the “just in case” mentality.

If it doesn’t add real value to your life, regardless of how cheap it is, it’s not a bargain—it’s an unnecessary expense.

Explore Further

Social Buying Motivated by Psychology, Not a Great Deal (Time.com)

Shop ‘til You Drop: Battling Compulsive Shopping (Australian Psychological Society)

Anti-consumerism is the New Democracy (abc.net.au)

Assembly Required (Is shopping the new religion?) (The Guardian)