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Maximizing Your Potential: How to Organize Your Life Beyond Obligations

First, are you busy enough yet?


Are you busy, crazy busy, insanely busy or so busy you don’t even have time to answer the question?


Not sure exactly when or why being busy became a badge of honor, but we are back to an age of let’s measure our value by how very busy we all are.


Sure you’re busy, but Is your busy as important as my busy?


Listen, I know EVERYONE thinks what they are doing is important, but just how much of it is useful or additive to your life?


Coming from the advertising/marketing industry that lives off of time sheets and billable hours, we are taught and teach others to think that your time quite literally equates to money you could be earning for your agency or company.  So if you think that there is another answer beyond, “Yes, I am very busy”, you would be sorely mistaken.


And if you aren’t busy, you should be proactively looking for more work and therefore never not busy.


Digital agency life spawned the term “bandwidth” to explain just how busy you are because everyone was busy, so people instead asked, “What’s your bandwidth?”


(This means, “Is your schedule really packed or do you still have plenty of time for bathroom breaks and therefore enough time to take on a new account/project?”)


So up and down the halls, you’d hear managers asking for people’s bandwidth and nervous workers dashing off just how busy they are in hopes that they won’t be stuck on another late crazy pitch.


Although this may have been simply a product of NY work culture, it seemed to seep into the cultural milieu and permeate all of the spaces that I traveled to until the pandemic hit and everyone’s busy or not so busy became abundantly clear.


You see, the problem with being raised and by most measures thriving in a culture of a go-getter is that you can easily get stuck in thinking that the only way to gauge whether you are a valued member of society is by how much you are doing.  Not who you are.  Not how you treat people. Not by how much you give back. Not by the kinds of relationships you nurture, but truly what you are producing day to day.


You walk around thinking that you are only as good as your last assignment, your last project, your last client win, and your last pat on the back to the point that even “downtime” is just viewed as a ramp-up to something bigger.


And yet, in this new hybrid world of remote work, schedules are blurred and it’s no longer clear to many what schedules should hold and how much is too much. (I’m also guilty of doing this on vacation too - le sigh!)


So you have to ask, what’s my goal?  Is life about checking all the boxes, making an impact, building relationships, learning, creating something joyous, just relaxing, or all of the above? Is my busy the right mix?



I realized I’ve become too much even by my own standards.


Being born and bred in NY is like being in a thunderstorm that never ceases to end.  There is a constant flurry of activity, noise, unexpected motion, lights, and a sense that you need to be constantly alert.   It’s the big city energy that’s part of why I loved living in NY.


It’s something that I know is a part of my DNA and that I take with me wherever I go, as I never seem to be one of those people who are ok with just having a relaxing day by the pool.


I am that person that is juggling several projects, reading 3-4 books, listening to at least 4 different podcasts, saving a list of articles, skimming 2 newspapers, and taking quite a few online classes. 😬


At first, I didn’t see this as much of a problem. So what?  I’m a sponge for new and interesting info with a deep need to keep up with the latest celebrity gossip…


The problem is that while I’m a great person to sit down next to for a fun conversation, the person that I’m ignoring in all of this is myself.


When I inundate myself with so much noise, I feel like I start to lose my voice and find it harder to do many of the things that I love like writing, connecting, or just sitting in peace.


And I found that this only gets harder when you become a parent. Suddenly, you are not only filled with the noises you hear but also all the noise that surrounds your children.


I used to almost joke that I was incapable of sitting home alone by myself, but now I see how much I need that solitude and silence to hear my voice & direction.


The last time I had this sense of pure quiet was when I was on vacation and would get up early to do yoga outside.  It was a simple act of nothingness as I stepped onto a mat, the satisfaction of the stretches before anyone was up or asking anything from me, and the peace I was chasing through this exercise.


It felt like such a unique experience because of the lack of constant noise that I had simply become accustomed to.



You vs. Your Calendar


Ooh, that yoga thing sounds nice.  How do I get there?


The first step is to take a look at who’s dictating your schedule…you or Outlook?


If you are anything like me, it can become second nature to allow your calendar to rule your life.  At first, you do this to make sure you can fit in every meeting, action item, or obligation.


Then you start playing Minecraft with your calendar trying to make all your worlds fit, until the goal is to just fit it all into your day, not to make your day fit your needs.


That’s when you start to introduce late nights, weekend work, and early morning meetings to an already-packed calendar just to stay on track.


After doing this for 20 years, you start to slowly sink under the burden of living life this way.


Stepping into the role of the self-employed, you start to evaluate your week with a different set of metrics:


  1. What are you doing that’s moving the needle or making you proud?

  2. What do you still need to learn?

  3. Who are you spending the most time with and connecting with meaningfully?   



Changing how I looked at my day…


When life hands you a drink that’s shaken not just stirred, it’s a pretty good time to change your outlook from being about the speed to quality.


At first, this seems to make little sense.  You still have the same amount of time in your day, why dial down the amount of things that you can accomplish?


In fact, without a crazy commute, endless calls, and too many work trips getting in the way, you would be able to accomplish twice the amount of work.


But before you crank up the conveyor belt and start the production line frenzy,  first you need to ask yourself one simple question.



What do I want to get out of my time?


The true cost of being in an age of busy is that you get lost in things that simply take up time, but don’t add to your life.


Is there any pride or sense of accomplishment in delivering more or do I want better, richer, and deeper experiences?


Once I began to organize my schedule based on my needs vs everyone else’s needs, I started to look at my week with an eye on a few things.


This doesn’t mean I suddenly was able to do these things in equal time increments but understanding what was needed helped me fit these things in, even if for only a few minutes.


  • Stuff that must get done

  • People I want to spend time with & how much time I ideally need with each

  • Activities that add enrichment (culture, arts, music, sports, etc)

  • Ways in which I can or want to give

  • Maintenance & Repair (this is a new one for me!!!)



Picking up life lessons from physical workouts


One of the many things that I jumped into when I began life as an expat was getting serious about my physical health. It was the one thing I felt like I had some semblance of control over when everything else seemed to be out of my hands.


It’s not like I completely ignored my health before.  I’ve always been one of those people who works out fairly regularly but it was never something I would brag about.


I tried to make it to the gym a few times a week, eat vegetables here and there, and meditate when I was feeling loopy.  But I wasn’t running any marathons here.


Let’s just say, no one was running to me to follow my health regime…


I knew how I could improve, but there was always a fantastic excuse right at my fingertips.


The gym was so costly! My commute cut into my gym time!  The salads were so expensive in the city!  My hair took too long to do after the gym!   Rice & beans are part of my cultural heritage!  And on and on and on.


But now most of those excuses were no longer there.  I had no reason not to focus on my health so I went forward with the same “in it to win it” attitude that I took on everything else.


And yet, the body keeps the score.


It’s impossible to go full speed every day with one workout after another and not feel the toll of it by the end of the week or worse injure yourself.


Almost every trainer/coach will tell you the same thing.  If you aren’t willing to take rest days, you aren’t committed to growth and improvement.  You will always stay at the same mediocre level to keep up with a daily assault on your muscles without resting them. Our bodies aren’t meant to sustain that level of constant pressure without release and rejuvenation.


So I had to start reworking my whole way of working out and taking rest.  And this wasn’t the case of only resting when I was injured but resting so that I wouldn’t get injured.  Taking a true day off so that my muscles can have a chance to reset.


When I went back to lift, run, or play tennis, I was refreshed and ready for the next challenge, instead of pushing through despite the aches and pain.


Why do we understand that you need rest days to get better, faster, and stronger physically, but are unwilling to do the same for the rest of your life?



When doing less gives you more:


So you finally have a lull in your schedule.  This is what you prayed for!  Yes!!   All the hard work was worth it just to have a little downtime to fix your wig, get your life together, and start to plan the next batch of work.


Wait…is that what you should be doing with your downtime…planning more work?  NO!


It’s time to repair. Like seriously girl, step away from planning and rest.


Repair time has become the biggest advantage that I didn’t know I needed or wanted.


For someone who thinks she thrives in the noise, it perhaps was only helping me succeed in one kind of way, one kind of success, and to a very specific way of being.


But that’s not life.  None of us stay the same, even if we continue to do everything the exact way we did things for a decade or more.  We all change, pivot, and evolve.


The real problem with over-scheduling your time is that you leave no room to ask yourself the necessary questions.  Questions that challenge the status quo.  Questions that make you think and rethink.  The questions that hold you accountable to yourself instead of comparing yourself to everyone else’s standards.


I’ve fought the good fight against going into the quiet but it’s there that I’ve found the most forgiveness, understanding, and direction.



My week now:


So the best thing that I’ve discovered lately is just how to create the right recipe of items that I need each week.


Each of us is driven by different things and most of us believe a lot of those aspects that drive us are somehow tied to our careers or titles.  But it’s not the job but the parts of yourself where you thrive the most which you need to make sure are carried with you no matter where you go.


Instead of attempting to tick off a ton of important items from my to-do list, I’ve stuck to the list that I created above but simplified to:


REACH ME


  • Repair

  • Enrichment

  • Added Value

  • Community

  • Health


  • Must Haves

  • Elevation


All of these aspects were part of the essential mix of fulfillment for me.  Every person has a different mix, but I noticed that when I was going too hard in any one direction, my life started to feel like I was beholden to the calendar instead of using my time to work for me. This is either because I was actively ignoring things that replenished my life or didn’t focus enough on the elements where I was building connection, community, and making a difference.


Every week this mix can look very different.  It’s not ruled simply by work or kids or fun or learning.  It’s the act of building a full life instead of letting the needs of each day pull you apart.


When you quiet the noise…


Moving abroad has been one giant reset button for me, as I couldn’t just plug and play my old life into this new one.


I had to stand back and figure out what made me feel fulfilled.  Beyond the carefully planned life, I had set out for myself, what else was there?  Was that the only life plan that made sense to me?


What are those aspects of my life that I need present to feel whole and what is simply just noise?


Finding that has not only been a great relief but it’s also released me from the ties that have bound me to a life that no longer fits and may perhaps never fit again.


What I have learned is that I know myself a lot better than I thought before. I’m a lot more resilient than I gave myself credit.  And that this knowing is independent of any one institution, title, country, or function.


I have a distinct voice and point of view that knows exactly what’s right for me now…if only I give myself the room to silence the noise and hear what I know to be true for me.




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