Sunday, January 6, 2013

Pencil Me In

Ah, man, you clever creature. You created the measurement of time passing, instantly devising a way to plan, schedule and otherwise put pressure on yourself. Expanded to calendars, you can now start every "new year" with a feeling of urgency to get your act together, life in order and long back-burnered projects into the forefront of your to-do list.


Is this calendar-oriented calculating we do every year (lose weight after the holidays; honor Mom and Dad on their designated days of each year, send that someone special flowers because it's mid-February) really helpful? Or does it instead just give us license to stop thinking about the things and people of true importance in our lives until a little reminder pops up on our screens?

I know from personal experience that the more gadgets and apps I have to keep me organized, the less time I seem to spend with my children, my husband, my books and myself. Look at how efficient I've become! I can schedule in dozens of things this week, and then race around ticking them off my list as I do them!

At the end of the day, though, I feel exhausted instead of energized, and empty instead of productive. Sure, I got my kids to all of their clubs and made sure they did all their school assignments. Yes, I did my banking and shopping and helped out friends with things here and there, went to the drugstore and changed the oil in the car. But when I finally climb into bed and see the stack of books I want to read on my nightstand, I groan with disappointment at the realization that I'm too tired to open any of them. And heaven forbid a kid or pet should get sick! Then all planning goes out the window as I tend to these unforeseen 'emergencies' and I end the day feeling resentful and overwhelmed at all the catching-up I'll have to do tomorrow.

Like most people, when I turned 21 and could drink legally, I was thrilled. I could go out with friends, colleagues and to parties and drink whenever and however much I wanted. Before I was 22, this turned out to be a great lesson. Once the novelty wore off, I realized that just because you *can* do something as much as you want, it doesn't mean you *should*.

When I applied this lesson to my current dilemma, it came down to a simple question. Which is more important: productivity or presence? Since I only get one shot at this, I'm going to do my best to choose wisely.

I've decided that, except in the areas of schoolwork and meals, planning is highly overrated. Personally, I'm much happier going with the flow of the day--doing what needs doing when it needs to be done, and having flexibility to handle any surprises that might come along. Just because I *can* schedule in more things to my day doesn't mean I *should* overtax myself. Reflection has made me realize that setting my schedule according to my own priorities, rather than filling in all those empty time slots on my organizer, is what makes me most present in my own and my family's life. And my being present makes us all feel better.

True, if it wasn't for man's decision to measure time passing, we'd probably be a lot less 'productive' than we are today. But I also think that if it hadn't happened, we'd probably all be a lot happier, more self-aware and more present in our own lives.