“We must do it,” he said as I popped open a beer.
The meeting with a potential client (who, incidentally, was a friend) had been stressful. He held high expectations from us on a project, but was unwilling to cooperate. “Why should I pay you if I have to work on it,” he argued. I tried explaining his significance in the larger scheme of things, but he turned more indignant.
“We’ll get back to you tomorrow,” I said purely to end the meeting.
When my friend and I sat for lunch (and beer), he suggested that we should accept the project. I opposed. It wasn’t our area of expertise, nor was it something that we wanted to foray into. It would waste our time. “Nahi yaar, wo dost hai. Karte hein (he's a friend. Let's do it for him).” he said. So we discussed what to do. I was to email some people and he would get in touch with one of his contacts.
Three days passed and I heard nothing. So I called him and asked if he spoke to his contact. “Nahi yaar, I didn’t find the time. Plus, it is not something that I want to get into.” I went into the kitchen, stopped the maid from washing the frying pan, took it, and whacked myself on the head.
My friend’s U-turns are nothing new. He would joke that nobody does U-turns like him. Then Arvind Kejriwal took away the only thing he could brag about. The man just can’t let anyone be happy.
But this post is not about U-turns. It is about our eternal shortage of time. A shortage which is self-induced.
In the Four-Hour Workweek (a bloody awesome book), Tim Ferriss wrote:
A lack of time is a lack of priorities.
It is undoubtedly the most insightful productivity or life-hacking advice we can receive. But I believe that a deeper layer exists.
Our ability to prioritize (or lack thereof) stems from the fear of missing out (FOMO).
A JWT survey reported that FOMO affects 70% adults. I am one of them. I have said no to party invites and felt deep urges to call my friends at the party and ask what they are doing. I see Instagram and Facebook photos and feel pangs of jealousy. While my friends are busy biking, eating and boozing, getting married and probably enjoying sex, I sit in front of a computer, or read a book.
Despite that, I have little to complain about. I don’t feel bogged down by Monday Blues (quite the contrary), I am not hounded on phone by someone if I’m out late at night, I don’t feel stressed by pending work… Life is good despite experiencing FOMO.
Why? Because I say “No”. And if you want to make time to do what you truly love, you also must use this dreaded word.
So, to the important question: for whom and what should you utter the word, sending those around you into a frenzy?
“We often do what others expect us to do and end up feeling resentful”, wrote Purba Ray in response to a comment in this post. Succinct and poignant. You nodded, right? But………
We would rather be strapped to a chair while someone claws their nails on a blackboard than say “no” to others. According to Vanessa Bohns, this is because “it feels threatening to our relationships and feeling of connectedness. As a result, we bend over backwards to accommodate last-minute demands of people, and feel pained if they do not reciprocate.”
So, I request you to do something drastic - say “no” to everyone. A “No” does not hurt feelings. Most people don’t take it as badly as we think they will. “Chances are, the consequences of saying ‘no’ are much worse in our heads than in reality," Bohns says.
The effect is two-fold. One, you free up time for yourself and can focus on what your heart truly desires. Two, you will identify people who deserve to be in your life. People who want to be with you won’t mind you denying their requests. And those who are offended don’t deserve your time or effort. (Discretion in the professional space is recommended though.)
2. Your mobile phone
Rand Fishkin tweeted that the “mobile isn't killing desktop (sic), it's killing all our free time.” We can’t stop checking our mobile phones because something awesome may happen. Whatever occurs will barely impact our lives. But FOMO is ingrained in us, remember? The only thing clutter-free thing today is the Notifications tab in our phones.
Turn the internet on your phone off. Put your phone on silent at a restaurant, café, or theatre. Play this game at such places. Use your hands to applaud the performance of a band or exquisite presentation of a dish instead of clicking a photo. Reach out for a glass of water instead of your mobile phone in the morning. And give yourself some time before you check for network as soon as an airplane lands.
It will be weird, not only for you but for others also. Not checking your phone will mean that you will notice things around you. If someone looks up from his phone and spots you doing so, he may think that you are a terrorist. Maybe he will make you feel like one too. But that’s okay. Just say “no” to your phone and within a few days, you will feel human again. Plus you will have a lot of free time to do what you want to.
I came across this remarkable insight by Alex Vermeer. Instead of rephrasing, I’ll just let him say it again:
‘Problems with busyness arise when we feel like victims. “Gawd, if only I wasn’t so busy I would do xyz instead.” But, if it’s actually more important, why not do that instead. And if it’s not as important, stop stressing over not doing it!’
It’s a surprisingly simple idea. It’s also incredibly difficult to practice.
We wear busyness like a badge. We fear being labeled as lazy if we are not busy. Scrambling to tick boxes off our checklist so that we can complain (in a humblebragging sort of way) about how busy we are… it gives us a rush. But guess what - it’s not being busy that counts. It’s what you do while being busy that does.
The pathetic corporate culture has seeped into every aspect of our lives. Everything feels urgent today, creating anxiety and making it further difficult to focus on a task (as if smartphones weren’t enough). Regard for self goes out the window and is replaced by ‘getting more done’ and ‘fire-fighting’.
There is the urgent, and there is the important. Unfortunately, we have switched the meanings. To realize the difference, leave lots of white space in your calendar. Warren Buffet recommends that you list out the five most important goals of your life. Then, don’t put the others on the back burner, ignore them completely. Gradually, your time will be filled doing things and meeting people that matter. Slowly but steadily, you will focus on aspects which are important and trash those which are not.
This sounds frightening in the beginning. But if you truly feel stressed because of lack of time, all I ask of you is to try these steps for 21 days. And then enjoy the relief of being able to disconnect from inconsequential tasks, and the joy of indulging in those you truly love. After all, you deserve happiness in your life as much as everyone, don’t you?
How do you make time for what you like to do?