Monday, December 7, 2015

On Schedules and "Shouldless" Days

The holiday season is upon us, which means that for many of us, our schedules are jam-packed with social occasion, shopping and other holiday preparations.  Take this week for example.  Tonight I am babysitting nephews, tomorrow night I am hosting my friends and their kids for our annual Gingerbread decorating party, Wednesday night I have my work holiday party, and then on Thursday I fly to Chicago to attend the Chicago holiday party.  I'm staying in Chicago until Saturday so that I can spend some time in the office on Friday and hopefully meet my friend Nilsa for a post-work coffee on Friday afternoon, and then I will head out to my brother's, who lives about an hour outside of Chicago, so I can spend some time with them and celebrate an early Christmas with my niece and nephew.  I fly back on Saturday evening so that I can spend some time with Phil on Sunday and do things like grocery shopping, meal prep, and laundry. 

Here's the thing.  My week is filled with things I want to do, but some weeks my days are filled with things I feel I should do.  And I've come to realize that sometimes when I say yes to too many things in a week, the things I wanted to do when I say yes start to feel like things I have to do or should do, and I struggle to live in the moment and enjoy the things I've committed to doing.  I realize this is a total first world problem, but I've been over-filling my schedule for months upon months (or really for years).  Instead of talking about how I really should find a way to plan less, lately I have felt motivated to shift from talking about it to doing something about it.

If you ask Phil, he'll tell you that these days I will commonly start a conversation by saying, "So I was listening to this podcast and..."  But it applies to my current conundrum.  Earlier this year, I was listening to the episode of Death, Sex and Money where Anna Sale interviews the actress Ellen Burstyn.  I embedded the podcast below for those who are interested in listening to it (which I highly recommend as it's filled with all sorts of wisdom). One particular part of the podcast that stuck with me was Ellen Burstyn's explanation of "shouldless" days.  Rather than trying to paraphrase what she said, here is Ellen's explanation of what she means by "shouldless" days.

"I’m very lazy. I have what I called should-less days. Today is a day where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV, and eat ice cream, I get to do it … Should-less days, I recommend them. Because, what I figured out is we have wiring. I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy, if I’m not doing something. God you’re so lazy—can’t imagine whose voice that is? And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring, I can put in should-less days, so when that voice goes off and says you’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want."

This is something that I really want to try to implement into my life because I struggle with feelings of guilt when I have a "lazy" day and I want to try work on reversing the hard wiring in my brain that tells me that I should always be doing something. Because the reality is that we live in a world that absolutely glorifies the idea of being busy.  Think about how many times a day or week you hear someone talk about how busy they are.  Don't get me wrong - I think it is great to fill our lives with things that we enjoy doing and 80% of the time, that's the kind of life I want to live.  But the other 20% of the time when I feel overwhelmed and exhausted, I want to be able to give myself the gift of a "shouldless" and commitment-free day without feeling guilty or feeling that I am being lazy.

So if the extremely successful actress Ellen Burnstyn can do this, so can I.  And so can you.  For me, "shouldless" days will be filled with things like reading in a local coffee shop, listening to podcasts, going for a walk in my neighborhood, attending a yoga class, or watching Gilmore Girls on Netflix. For me, "shouldless" days will likely contain mostly solo activities as I am an introvert that needs her alone time to recharge my battery, but "shouldless" days may look completely different for someone else.

As we move into a new year, I'll be setting some goals as I always do, and one of those goals will center around "shouldless" days.  Hopefully by putting some structure around having a goal of carving out more time for myself, I'll get better at naturally doing it and not feel guilty about it.  

Do you struggle with over-planning and over-committing?  If not, do you have any suggestions for someone like me who struggles to say no to things?


Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

Oh, man do I struggle with this. Might have to listen to this podcast later.

Honestly, having a kid has made this infinitely better because it's infinitely harder to say yes to things so I won't put in the effort unless I really, really want to (and even then, sometimes I can't). That being said, I really wish I had figured this out better BEFORE I had Max because now I have so many more I actually really have tos and therefore way less opportunity to have a shouldless day.

It's still applicable though, because there is a whole new list of things I "should" do now.

Life :)

Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

Also 2 more things I thought of ha ha-

#1- I TOTALLY start all my conversations with Eric with "I was listening to a podcast..." hahaha

and #2- I find it ironic that in the podcast you referenced she starts with "I am really lazy." NOOOO you are not lazy. THat is the problem with all of us. We think we are lazy when we have 1 "lazy" day that's not even lazy!!!

katielookingforward said...

I definitely over schedule, but my problem is that I am doing what I want! My "should"s don't quite happen. Which is why my room is a mess, but the dishes in my sink got washed. Hopefully one day this week I tackle the pile at the end of my bed, but it was there all last week and I didn't do anything about it. so....we'll see what happens.

As for saying no...a friend and I were talking about how we give ourselves permission to cancel plans. If its a group event where we know our presence won't be missed, but we already said we would meet up.....if we're not feeling it, we just call and cancel. you can't do it all the time, but occasionally its good to cancel and do what needs to be done/what you want to get done.

Nora said...

I love this, as you know.
I attended an Advent Brunch with my friend Melissa this past weekend and the speaker spoke of ways that we can take better care of ourselves during the holidays (and beyond). One of her recommendations was taking a look at what we RSVP yes to: if we want to go, then do. If we feel obligated to go, then take a closer look at why and then decide if you can have fun and will want to go, or not. I was invited to something over the weekend (for a future date) and I realized in the past I've felt obligated to go... and so, I RSVP'd no. Kind of freeing, I have to say :)

I hope that my Christmas vacation will be filled with some should-less days. And yes, we (both me and D) struggle with overcommitting ourselves. It's exhausting!

Vanessa Meads said...

I struggle so hard with this. I sat down just yesterday to try to plot out some kind of a reasonable work week schedule for myself and it really opened my eyes to just how much I've been trying to fit into my days. No wonder I'm so tired all the time...haha.

Sometimes I find that the things I thought were relaxing/fun are actually just adding to my feelings of busyness. I deactivated my Twitter account last week because I realized that I had a habit of opening tab after tab of links that just lingered on my browser until I guiltily closed them without reading. Removing that one social media network from my life has freed up tons of time and mental energy for me.

suki said...

I definitely struggle with this. I've learned to get over my FOMO, but still manage to try to do too many things. My calendar these days are full, but I try to fill them with commitments that I truly want to be at.

suki said...

Also, what a great podcast. What a great interview with Ellen Burstyn. I loved everything about it. And at 81 during the interview, she had so much wisdom to share about the life that she has lived. :)

Stephany said...

I remember listening to this episode and nodding along with Burstyn’s words because I loved the idea of “shouldless” days. I am not someone who struggles with overcommitting. If anything, I struggle with saying yes because my default setting is always no. It’s part being an introvert and part being highly sensitive and not wanting to be in situations where I might be uncomfortable (which is, like, every social setting known to man). I have been getting better at saying yes, but I try to keep my weeknights free because I really, really value coming home and having alone time after a day at work.

Even if you are doing things you want to do with your time, you don’t always have to say yes. I guess that’s the plainest truth I can say. Your time is valuable and if you want to spend a day or two vegging at home, that’s perfectly okay. For me, busy is not something I want as a moniker. It’s not something I strive for. I was listening to another podcast where they were talking about minimalism and how minimalism isn’t only about STUFF, but also about LIFE. True minimalism is slowing down and doing less. Doing what only makes us happy and fulfilled – not stressed out or overwhelmed. So, even though you say you are doing things you love and want to do, if it makes you feel stressed out by having such a full schedule, are you really doing something you love? Truly, it should make you feel fulfilled and that’s that. I’m saying this all out of love because I know this has been an area of struggle for your life and even though it’s a good struggle to have, it’s still something that causes overwhelm in your life.

I’d suggest reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I haven’t read this book yet, but it seems to be recommended a LOT lately. Might be a good kick start to figuring out how to include more “shouldless” days into your routine. You can do it!

Jeanie said...

I have literally spent decades dealing with that whole issue of overscheduling. Most of my work career was connected with this and now I find I'm behind in my holiday stuff because I've taken on things I want to do -- and maybe should have said no to. (Lack of good organization isn't helping either, I might add.)

When I retired I remember the first time I went out of town on a work day. I felt really guilty. Naughty. Like "this isn't right!" I'm over that now -- and maybe I shouldn't be over it as much as I am. I'm looking at my calendar and seeing a week filled with friend lunches, a retirement party, book club (at my house), a former employee gathering next week (at my house), early Christmas with the kids -- oh. We don't have presents for that little gig yet.

Yes, I think I'll be having a listen to Ellen. I really should!

Abby said...

You have always had one of the fullest schedules of anyone I know! I don't know how you do it. Amazing!

But you're right, taking a step back and having "shouldless days" are very important for mental AND physical health!

I am really good at saying no to social occasions - but not to work projects, workouts, home projects etc. I have a really hard time sitting down and relaxing.

I did make a big change and have been doing some yoga classes lately - and I have to admit Shavasana pose gives me anxiety. I start panicking thinking, "I'm just laying here! I could be in my car and driving home and that would buy me 10 more minutes of productivity!" -- I don't think that's the purpose of Shavasana ;)

Hope you have some "shouldless days" in your future, my dear!!

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

Oh man, don't even get me started! I love this post. I think part of the problem is that you are an upholder. So if you commit to something, even in the tiniest way, you have to give it your all. Right? On top of that, you are a "yes" man, so you say yes and then you can't turn around and change your mind, because you are an upholder!!

My Dad said to me the other day that, "since I was organized", I must schedule myself a day with no plans every couple of weekends, or month. I giggled at the time, because yes, I do that, but then someone local who I haven't seen in weeks/months is available and I feel like I should go and see them because it's been so long and that "free" weekend quickly gets filled up. Even if I don't make plans with someone, I still have stuff to do in the yard, that closet to finally go through, things to do around the house and shopping. Time's a wasting!

Last weekend on Sunday I cancelled on a run that I was going to do with friends. It was with friends that I see about twice or three times a month, and I had just seen them on Friday. It was raining and the run was in the city, so it would entail driving a half an hour each way to get there. I cancelled and I did not go grocery shopping and I read my book most of the day. It was great. However, I did feel lazy and ashamed of cancelling, so it was not as enjoyable as it should have been. However, it did me a world of good, since this week for me is going to be PACKED with stuff.

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I feel like I have the opposite problem. I'm way too lazy. So when I have like a normal amount of plans in one weekend I feel insane. Last weekend I had a baby shower, a holiday party and an 85th birthday. All manageable but to my lazy self I was like waaaaaah. I like one event per day ha. I feel like I need to do MORE things with my daughter but I like snuggling on the couch way more than doing some stupid craft or going outside in the cold. ;P

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

I used to struggle a lot with over-planning and over-committing. It was bad. I took on waaaaaay too much, and said "yes" to everyone, and offered to help with everything, and barely had time for myself. I wore myself out for sure.

It took time, but I'm now in a place where I am able to say "no". I am able to pass on social engagements without feeling bad. I'm able to say no to taking on more work, etc.. I was so busy during my 20s, that now, I don't want to be busy at all (unless it's things I choose, and want to do, and enjoy).

Jenny said...

I met with a career transition consultant yesterday and I was talking about how over committed I feel and she helped me to see where I need to find balance. Its going to be hard because it means saying no to fun things but the reality, like you said, is that they end up becoming chores instead of fun things and that's not fair on anyone.

megabrooke said...

I have struggled with over-yessing and over-committing at times. I think planning a shouldless day is a great idea. Sometimes those days happen upon us- like a couple weekends ago, Matt and I got up on a Saturday and he asked me if there was anything we HAD to do. And with a huge sigh of relief we realized we had nothing we needed to do or felt like we even should do. So it was a lot of Netflix, a walk with the pup, making a yummy lunch, and takeout for dinner. And I think bed by like, 830pm because we are wild like that!

Amber said...

Ohhhh yes! All of this is so so true for me too! I am not as busy as you with the social activities but my work blends work/social pretty heavily and I definitely need to be better about not calling myself "lazy" when I have relaxing days. I definitely find that even though this is an incredibly busy season I do feel better about relaxing or hibernating in the winter months. My biggest thing is I will often feel really "lazy" if I don't work out every single day. Like today for example! I was totally thinking about how lazy I was this morning because I slept in and didn't get up and workout. So that is one train of thought I really need to work on changing for myself!

I think Saturday this weekend will be a should-less day for me as I have Christmas parties the next two nights in a row and Sunday we are having Christmas brunch with friends so Saturday will be the perfect should-less day :)

Raquelita said...

Yes! This past summer I was so burnt out by the time I submitted my initial book manuscript to my editor that I couldn't even articulate any non-work related goals. After I sent off the book, for the first time since the 6 day drive from Minnesota to Alaska, I took a full week off from doing any work. This fall I tried to preserve Saturdays as my day off when I didn't grade or work on class prep or try to write so that I could recharge and keep some semblance of work-life balance. I think I managed to take them off all but 3 times during that semester. Having a shouldless day really helped me to get back to all those shoulds with more energy and efficiency than if I'd just tried to power through for weeks on end.

San said...

I don't struggle with overcommitting to social events (because if I am honest, there hardly are any social events in my life - all my friends and family live far away, ha!), but I do struggle with the thought of "you should be doing something" Usually, I just have a mile-long list of things I WANT to do and still don't find time to do during a normal every weekend, when all the chores are done, I am still trying to fit in stuff. I do allow myself the "should-less" days though, because sometimes that's the only thing that you need.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of a should-less day -- because I am just like you and never, ever take one. We could manage one per month in 2016, couldn't we? That's only 12!