Thursday, December 17, 2020

Spending Time: Obligations and Intuition

I did something unusual this week.  I skipped a meeting.  In fact, I didn't even respond to the email that invited me to the meeting, requesting that I also help notify other people of the meeting.  I kept "meaning to" get to it, but I didn't.  The truth is that I just didn't feel like it.  On a weekly basis, I go to plenty of meetings that I don't really want to attend, ones required of me for my job.  But this one was different.  This one was purely elective, a self-imposed obligation. I have been participating on a committee that relates to Covid and education.  It is not at all required of me for my job.  I'm participating voluntarily.  I have been trying to do what I can to stay informed within an ever-changing situation, especially since this directly impacts my work, my partner's work, and many people we care about.  All week, I kept trying to rally the enthusiasm to respond to the email.  The enthusiasm never came.  So, I never responded.  Typically, this sort of behavior would have made me feel like a flake, but it isn't really striking me that way.  

I jokingly refer to myself as a person with an "over-inflated sense of duty."  I'm incredibly reliable, and pretty much always do what I perceive to be the right thing.  These are qualities that I truly love about myself.  I've also always said that our best qualities are oftentimes also our worst qualities.  The flip-side of this wonderful thing about me is that I allow myself to feel a sense of obligation to things unnecessarily.  This committee is the perfect example.  Since I joined it, I would obligate myself to attend every, single meeting, even the ones that were mostly social.  As soon as I received an email from one of them I would immediately respond.  If something was asked of me, I'd do it.  I would easily burn a couple of hours contacting people and attending meetings.  Some weeks, that's fine.  This week, I just didn't feel like it.  So, you know what I did instead?  I read a book and ate a cookie.  You know what's strange about that?  I didn't even finish a full chapter (but I did finish the cookie).  I'm so pleased with myself.  You know why?  I followed my intuition.  I did what I felt like doing, but only for as long as I felt like doing it. I've been doing that a lot lately.  The results have been remarkable.  

In the book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown writes "An editor is not merely someone who says no to things.  A three-year-old can do that.  Nor does an editor simply eliminate; in fact, in a way, an editor actually adds.  What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life to the ideas, setting, plot, and characters." I really enjoy framing this elimination of nonessential, undesired tasks as "editing." As a result of recent editing, I feel like my life has been more enjoyable; in a sense, more balanced.  I also feel like I've gotten a lot done, but on my terms rather than the constant strain of white-knuckling tasks for who knows what reason.  By editing my day, I actually add value.

Skipping a meeting isn't the only editing, I've been doing recently.  Teaching remotely has been a bit of an experiment for me (in a lot of ways).  One unintended result is a realization that my life is hugely impacted by my commute.  Working virtually has allowed me to eliminate my commute.  This has added approximately 8-10 hours of time back into my week.  What's truly amazing is that when we give ourselves the gift of time, we turn right back around and fill it up.  The manner in which we do so can be as deliberate or as random as we like.  I'm choosing to be very thoughtful about it with a preference for letting my intuition drive.  As previously stated, I am trying to fill my time doing that which I really feel like doing for as long as I feel inspired to do it.  Using this intuitive strategy I've re-evaluated my retirement accounts, researched some potential investments, read two books, exercised consistently, prepared my business to open in January, and spent more time connecting with people I care about.  These are all things I've done in the past month as a direct result of eliminating some things that I didn't care to do in favor of things I really felt like doing.  

Do you suffer from a case of the somedays?  Someday, I will research those companies I want to invest in.  Someday, I will deal with my retirement accounts, check up on my insurance coverage, start that business of my dreams.  Why are you putting it off?  Is it time-related?  Do you consistently feel like you don't have time to even get started on doing some of these things?  In the past, I have frequently found myself feeling that way.  I wanted to do all of these things but felt like there wasn't enough time to do them.  Meanwhile, I would fill my plate with obligations that I didn't even want.  Why am I spending two hours on a meeting that I don't even have to go to but not sitting down and fleshing out something for my future business?  I don't even want to go to the meeting (nor do I have to), but I do want to flesh out this little piece of my business.  I get excited and energized at the idea of sitting and working on the business, but feel tired and drained at the prospect of attending this meeting.  If I poke at this idea a little further to investigate the gains, I have to admit that not much would have come from the meeting.  This one wasn't very essential.  It was just about connecting, and I would have gotten that.  But how great would the quality of my connections be if I'm not really even that into it?  On the other hand, if I spend two hours working on something for my business that IS opening in January, the gains are tremendous.  The business will literally make me money and is a transition I am working on making for the long term.  It's work I'm really excited about.  So, working on this for two hours feels like a lot of fun to me.  

Maybe your "someday" is smaller than starting a business.  I have several books on my shelf that I promised myself I'd read someday.  Now, I tend to like reading books that you might loosely categorize as "self-improvement" books.  So, the gains of that kind of reading are obvious.  I'm also an actor and English teacher, and just enjoy reading novels, plays, the like.  If I decline this meeting and instead decide to sit and read one of them, the gain is in my quality of life, fueling my creativity.  What's the point of earning, saving, and investing all of this money if all I get in return is a life filled with obligations that I don't even want?  I suspect that there are plenty of members of the personal finance community that are like me in that some part of their motivation to gain financial independence is to buy their own freedom.  Many of us long for freedom of time.  It's one currency that we can't really get back once it's been spent.  So, I ask you: Are you obligating yourself to be in places you don't really want to be?  If you actually do have a choice, maybe you would be well served to do that which inspires you.  Maybe you should just do what I did: read a book and eat a cookie.

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