This past weekend I spent a lot of time teaching. On Sunday late afternoon I was fresh from the lake, still covered in sunscreen and wet swim clothes, trying to decide how to spend my evening. Some friends were gathered for a barbecue, including a friend with a new baby, but I was tired and gross and had a lot on my to do list that had gone neglected all weekend long. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do.
Since the beginning of the year I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I spend my time and whether or not I’m spending it doing things that make my life better. It started when I read this old Wait But Why essay on what a person’s life, in days, weeks and months, looks like visualized. (There is also a follow-up here about relationships.) Then I read an interview with NPR’s amazing book reviewer Maureen Corrigan about how strictly she regulates her media intake in order to be able to read as many books as she needs to read for her job.
Meanwhile, my Goodreads to-read list currently has more than 600 books on it, yet I spend 90% of my day surfing Facebook and Twitter.
I tend to be a dilettante. I am endlessly fascinated by the world and feel anxiety at the number of things I want to learn or try compared to the amount of time I have to do them. I spent all of 2016 basically teaching yoga full-time in Amsterdam, to the detriment of my writing career. At the beginning of 2017 I decided to dedicate the year to getting back into freelance. But it’s easy to get distracted. It is so, so easy.
A few months ago I was having coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, who mentioned she had just completed Seth Godin’s altMBA program. “That’s cool,” I thought to myself. “I should do that program too.” Never mind that I’ve never once previously been interested in getting an MBA nor starting or running a business. It was just the next shiny new thing to come along and pique my curiosity.
Since that coffee date I’ve been thinking constantly about the projects that capture my interest and whether or not they actually serve the goals I’m working towards. Instead of the altMBA, for example, I’m currently doing an online course on pitch writing. Instead of trying 10 different gyms or workouts, I am trying to minimize my fitness regimen so that I can give the programs I’m in time to actually work before moving on to the next thing.
I’ve become hyper-aware lately of the limited nature of time, and am constantly checking and rechecking with myself whether the things I’m putting my energy into are serving towards my goals, or distracting me from them. I am in no way perfect at this, but I am getting better at noticing it.
It’s not all about checking things off the to do list though either. Back to my Sunday afternoon. I eventually decided to spend the evening with friends, and that my to do list could wait. I ended up having one of those perfect Houston summer evenings surrounded by loving, smart people. By the end of this week I probably won’t even remember what was on my to do list, but I know I’ll remember that evening for years to come.