The people who look like they have everything they want are actually the people who are most clear on what they are willing to give up. Do you ever feel sad that you have never visited the moon? Probably not. Because you just accept that you will not be doing that in your lifetime. We inadvertently start to think of other, less far-out things this way in an effort to make ourselves feel like we are living our best life.
For example, you can put trips to Thailand in the same category as trips to the moon and then you stop feeling disappointed that you will never get to Thailand.
You can feel like you have time for everything when you clearly define what everything is.
1. Keep a list of big things you give up to encourage yourself to do it more.
Once you realize you have to give up almost everything to get what matters most then life becomes maybe manageable. The trick is to experiment constantly with giving something up, and trying to make everything else work. Then give up something else and try again. You’ll be amazed at what you will try to give up: many things you thought were non-negotiable. Like, having friends, reading books, or even living in a major city.
I have pretty much given up all those things. And in fact, I’ve given up more (which ironically creates an illusion that I’ve given up very little.) I try to celebrate each time I give something up, because then I know I’m a little closer to meeting my goals.
2. Remember the big things you get come with the big things you give up.
I dated so many men who saw a wife as a support system for their career. The new trophy wife is someone who is brilliant and accomplished and gives up a big chunk of her career for the guy. (Watch: Amal Alamuddin is about to do this for George Clooney. She didn’t invite Anna Wintour to her wedding to further her legal career.)
My husband is someone who worked really really hard his whole life and is a millionaire, but it’s in land. So I got a farm and a house, but I still have to work for the cash we spend. I chose this, so I know it’s what I’m comfortable with. But I could only do it with a supportive spouse. And plenty of research supports that people who are successful in their careers have a supportive spouse–like, in the home, actually doing stuff for the family.
The photo up top is why I can leave the house for a day and work. It’s a picture of the day I went to the library in town to have peace and quiet. (When you live on a farm, there is no coffee shop, no shared working space, no cushy hotel room for an escape.) While I was at the library, my husband took care of the kids, and their friends.
It was one of the last hot days of summer. The kids asked to swim in the pig mud and my husband said okay.
3. Blend work and life instead of balancing them.
Quick reality check: my husband is in close proximity, working on our farm all day, and he’s a very willing caregiver, but I still do the majority of childcare and household chores. And I am the statistical norm, according to Brigid Schulte, author of the book Overwhelmed, a compendium of recent data showing how men and women divide work at the office and at home.
For both men and women we already know the idea of work-life balance is a farce. There is no balance. Which means you need to make it all work together. The highest functioning people I know have a list that includes personal and work. For people who are high-level workaholics with a stay-at-home spouse, there’s only one or two tasks per month that are personal, but they are right there on the list (for the assistant) to do during the work day.
The people I know who work from home have a list that is A’s, B’s and C’s. Everything is ranked and some days it’s a task for home that’s on top and some days it’s a task for work. The to do list is for life, not for one part of life. It’s a nice way to feel integrated, as a person, but it’s also a good way to make time larger because you only have one list.
4. Think of time as either full focus or partial focus.
One of the smartest things I’ve done is think of tasks in terms of alone-time tasks and multitasking tasks. We are not good at doing stuff when we are not focused. But there’s a very finite amount of time you have when you can focus, compared to a large amount of time when you can have partial attention. So you naturally have more time to get mindless stuff done.
The obvious response to this is to delegate like crazy. Literally, like delegate stuff people would say you are crazy for delegating. Because that gets everything off your plate.
But you can’t delegate everything, so you have to start moving stuff that cannot be delegated into the “do it anywhere” bin. For example, people with kids hate using their alone time for exercise because they have so little , so they just try to squeeze it in.
Olympic hopeful Sasha Pachev started running with his kids so that he didn’t have to carve out alone time to do it. Now he runs in Crocs because it was so fast to get his five kids into running shoes if their running shoes were Crocs.
I was staying at the same hotel as a mom with a daughter practicing violin, next to a treadmill in the workout room so the mom could get in a run. At first I thought the mom was crazy, and then I thought she just an incredible problem solver, trying to make sure everyone gets what they need.
These parents came up with ways to move something that used to be in their alone-time list into their do-it-with-kids list. Every time I can shift something from my alone-time list I am so happy. Because the best way for me to make time for things that don’t get done is to make time to be alone.
5. Admit that you worry what other people think. It’s the first step to stopping.
There’s a disturbing peer pressure when it comes to productivity. Karen Ho writes in her book, Liquidated, that “on Wall Street, hard work is always overwork.” And I see that ethos creeping into my own entrepreneurial life. I track my hours with despondence, trying to figure out how to get anywhere near the 80-hour weeks I used to work before I moved to the farm.
I have to keep telling myself that I can be successful in my career without working insane hours. I think a lot of the pressure I put on myself is because I want to be taken seriously by the very people Karen Ho studies. James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker, “Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.” Which explains why I feel like I look like a failure if I’m not working long hours even though he also writes that productivity of most knowledge workers is much harder to quantify than that of a workforce from the time of 9-5 time cards, which is really the foundation for our obsession with hours.
And another thing: I almost didn’t use these photos on the blog because I wasn’t there. I want you to think I spend a lot of time with my kids, but there’s a lot of stuff I miss. I know, you’ll say, “It’s okay. No one is there all the time for everything their kid does.” But you never see people posting photos of their kids with the caption: This is what they did while I was working.
The internet is full of people telling you how great their life is. Either they are doing great things at work. Or they are being the best parent in the world. And some complete morons are saying they are great at both.
I am trying to figure out what it looks like to be the ideal nothing. And I’m trying to frame that in a way that makes me feel great about everything. After all, I’m the one who makes the choices. And I can pretty much choose anything, just not everything.
So I am great at time management, I think, because here’s another picture from that day I went to the library to work. I got home right in time to see everyone washing the pig mud off in the yard. Which was a lovely scene with none of the mess.