All In A Day
Think about this for a moment: Can you name everything you’ve done in the past 12 hours?
(If you just woke up after a good night’s sleep, try to recall your afternoon / evening yesterday.)
Go ahead and include the big things (“went to work”, “slept”, “ate a meal”), but then I want you to try to get more and more detailed. Did you have to stop and get gas on the way to work? Did you use the microwave or stove top for your meal? In between those things, did you have a 2 minute conversation with your child or a quick gossip session with a co-worker? (Or 20 2-minute conversations with your child?)
Really - pause for a moment and try to think about this.
For most people, this would be quite difficult. You know generally where you’ve been, but the multitude of “little things” done along the way kind of get squished together or forgotten.
Now, try to think about all of the thoughts you had over the past 12 hours. And all of the physical sensations you experienced (hunger pains, an ache in your back, a beautiful breeze across your cheek, the scent of freshly-mowed grass, …).
Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.
The point is that in the short time span of 12 hours, you have experienced a tremendous amount - more than you probably realize. You’ve done more than you can account for, and thought / felt more than you can possibly recall.
All of those little, unrecognized things add up quickly, pulling your attention and energy here and there. All of those little, unrecognized things create a life. Your life.
“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
Most of us think about the bigger things alone and consider ourselves busy. But / And most of us don’t realize the true depth of our busyness - behind the meetings and meal prep and bedtime stories.
I certainly didn’t.
As a mom of two pre-teen/teenage kids, I considered myself rather fortunate to have a largely self-sufficient family. They could make their own meals if needed, take their own showers, and get themselves dressed in the morning. I couldn’t understand why I still felt so busy all of the time.
So I tried a little experiment.
30 days ago, I created a spreadsheet (* high five * to all my fellow geeky spreadsheet-lovers). I included the date, a column for “desired” (where I wrote down what I wanted to get accomplished that day), then several columns where I would record my actual activities each day : “world work”, “home creation”, “relationship building”, “well-being”, and “other”.
Every night, I’d type out what I wanted to get accomplished the next day - including things that were on the schedule and things I thought would be nice to do. The next day, starting first thing in the morning, I tried to record every single activity I did throughout the day as the day progressed.
It only took me 2 days to realize why I felt so busy.
Under “home creation”, the cells quickly grew larger than I ever thought they would. I knew that I did stuff during the day, but the hundreds of little things that I mentally filed under “stuff” were more than I realized.
20 minutes of folding laundry and delivering it to separate rooms, 5 minutes to unload and reload the dishwasher, 4 minutes of wiping the kitchen counter (once after breakfast and again after dinner), 10 minutes of texting back and forth to arrange after-school pick-up plans, 5 minutes to clean the coffee maker, 30 minutes combined for eating breakfast and lunch, 10 minutes of vacuuming dog hair, 20 minutes of walking the dog, 20 minutes for basic meal prep, 5 minutes to pick up the stuff left out around the house and toss in bedroom, 10 minutes for waiting at the bus stop, 25 minutes for pick-up from tennis … you get the idea. And these were the basic, every single day tasks.
This didn’t include the days where the bedding had to be washed and put back on, the days where grocery shopping needed done, the days where meal prep was closer to an hour.
And that was just for the “home creation” column.
Your day might look completely different, but I’m willing to bet that your columns would be just as surprisingly full as mine are.
We simply don’t realize all of the invisible tasks that we do throughout the day - the things that get quickly done and then forgotten (and often, repeated the next day).
Add to this the IMMENSE mental and emotional energy that we process moment-by-moment, and it’s a wonder that any of us have the time and energy to do anything else.
Once I started becoming aware of just how much I was doing in a day, I could make the choice of what I wanted to do about that. Once I started becoming aware of just how skewed my columns were (the world work items in the “desired” category never seemed to get checked off, continuously getting bumped until the next day….), I could make the choice of what I wanted to do about that.
First I had to be aware of it all. Then I could creatively engage with it.
Everything begins with awareness, right?
35 days into the practice, and I’ll admit: I’m definitely not getting everything recorded. But here are a few things I’ve learned (about the process and about what to do):
I delegate far more tasks, without guilt. Knowing that I actually do spend 2 - 3 hours on cleaning chores each day and don’t get much world work done because of that, I’m cool with saving the dishes for the kids to unload when they get home.
Early on, my columns were heavily skewed. Even though I imagined I had time for writing - in reality, my day quickly filled with “home creation” and “other” tasks. I had to consciously reallocate my time.
I’ve started to see patterns. On days where my columns are more balanced, I actually get more accomplished as a whole AND the next day tends to flow a bit better.
Days where I have at least 3 items in the “well-being” column also flow better and help me accomplish more as a whole.
I do more and procrastinate less now. I recognize the importance (and multitude) of the little tasks and thoughts. I feel accomplished when I move the dishes out of the sink and spend 5 minutes writing out that deep thought I just had. No longer are these chores to put off - they are small but essential parts of a well-lived day.
I encourage you to try a mini-experiment of tracking your day - even if you do it for just 3-4 days. It’s eye-opening to recognize just how much you actually do. More importantly, it is empowering to be able to take that awareness and use it to shape your days closer to a reality that you want to be living.
Here’s to your practice, whatever it may look like….