We all want to do so much: take on every request that people email us, complete our neverending list of tasks and projects, help everyone, travel everywhere, learn a ton of new skills, read every book and watch every good film, be the perfect partner and parent and friend … And yet, we can’t possibly do it all.
There isn’t enough time in the day, nor do we have the attention bandwidth to devote to everything. Even if we were perfectly disciplined, we couldn’t possibly get to even half of what we want to do. Just as with eating, where our eyes are bigger than our stomachs … our hopes are bigger than our actual bandwidths.
So I say, give up on trying to do it all. Simplify. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t try to have the most perfect life you can create.
Instead, make your days count.
How do you do that? Here are some ideas:
• Pay attention. When you eat a good meal, it’s wasted if you don’t actually pay attention to it and are reading on your phone instead. It’s an amazing meal only if you really savor it. In this way, if we savor each moment, they really matter.
• Curate your days. Put only the best things in each day — don’t just let any junk into it. If you are going to read, be choosy, don’t just click on things because you run across them. When you’re going to choose your tasks, choose the important ones, not just the little busywork tasks. If you’re going to say yes to someone, make sure it’s worthy of being in your life. Would you pay $100 to say yes to this request? Would you pay $20 to read the things on your reading list for an hour? If not, it’s probably not worth it.
• Be ruthless. You need to filter out the things trying to overwhelm your life. More things try to get into your attention bandwidth than you can possibly handle. So filter them out: say no to most requests, don’t make it your job to respond to everything, don’t just read everything possible, don’t have the firehose of social media always on, turn off your phone for awhile. Each day, take a step back and think about what you want to fit in it.
• Be satisfied. We always want to do more, be more, experience more. And so, we’re never satisfied with the little we actually can do and experience. Instead, we can learn to be happy with what we’ve chosen to do, knowing that we let go of the rest for a reason. We can be grateful for what’s actually in front of us, for the experience we are given, rather than always wanting the greener grass that someone else is experiencing.
• Be OK with imperfection. Even if you filter and curate, you’ll never create the “perfect” day or the “perfect” life. You’ll never be “perfect.” Those ideals don’t exist in reality. In this messy life, the reality is that what we experience will never fit with an ideal, and will always be imperfect. We can either accept that, or be dissatisfied. I suggest we accept imperfection, and be OK with what we are, and the messiness that finds its way into our lives.
• Realize that we’re not really in control. The first few items on this list might give you the idea that you can control your life by simplifying … but the reality is that your day will never go as planned. You can try, but there will always be the unexpected, the unplanned. That’s just how things go. If we want to be in control, and things don’t go our way, it’s frustrating. If instead we realize we’re not really in control, but just experiencing what comes at us, we can learn to appreciate that experience as it comes, whatever it is.
I realize that some of the things on this list seem contradictory. And they are. That’s because these ideas are meant to remind us to be mindful of what we’re holding on to, and practice letting go.
Each idea can be practiced at different times, and we’ll see that we’ve been holding onto something: our distractions, our ideas of perfection, our desire to be more, our desire to say yes to everyone, our hope that we’ll get to the end of our task list or email inbox, our desire for control or simplicity or doing everything. None of these things is essential to life — they can all be let go of, and we can accept the reality that is exposed when we let go.