Sometimes it’s just good to do nothing. I’m talking about turning the mental motor completely off. Just kicking back.
These days with work, outside writing activities, family, friends, church, time needed for home and yard improvements and chores—it seems there’s always something pulling at me, demanding my time and attention.
I got to hit the “off button” a couple of years ago, following a long-overdue surgery on my sinuses. During the time off that I was recovering, I realized there were a few things that I had been neglecting in my life. It was an epiphany, and I’ve tried to pay attention ever since.
After the operation, my wife, Laura, drove me home. My nose was packed with gauze and I had thin, plastic strips sutured inside to hold everything in place. I was a wreck for several days.
I had no idea how tightly wound and tense I was from work. By the end of that afternoon, I was sitting on the couch trying to get some rest and popping pain pills, but all the time I kept angsting and worrying. I was thinking about all the things I should have done at work before the surgery—and all that somehow still needed to get done.
Of course, it was totally ridiculous. I was in no shape to do anything. Instead, I eased my conscience by putting together a “to-do list” that evening, which included 19 things from work—along with about a half dozen items from my personal life.
Realizing I had to get over the hump from this surgery, I committed myself to total rest. I sat around the whole weekend, mostly watching TV and having a series of short naps.
That Monday morning, the packing came out of the nose but there was still occasional bleeding and headaches. The plastic strips were to remain inside my nose for a few more days. I still suffered from headaches and uncomfortableness and decided to take another day off from work.
Monday afternoon, I looked at the “to-do list” again and a funny thing happened.
Rather than trying to get a head start on work, I began working instead on every single personal item I had written down.
I wrote a heartfelt and long overdue sympathy card to my recently departed uncle’s girlfriend. I also gave my stepmother, whom I hadn’t talked to in months, a call and caught up with her world.
Following up on a promise I made to myself earlier in the year, I called my brother and arranged for weekend camping/fishing getaway with him in the Adirondacks. I also sent in a check for another upcoming fishing weekend with several friends.
Finally, a made a call to try and arrange a speaker for an upcoming Men’s Group breakfast at church—something I had promised to do the week before but had failed to act on.
As for the work items, I ignored them.
I felt a great deal of satisfaction in accomplishing these simple, personal tasks. The fact that they were so important to me drove home the point about how often I place work-related duties above all else – and end up letting other things go by the wayside.
The sympathy card to my uncle’s girlfriend, for example, had sat on my dresser for three weeks. I kept talking about it, felt guilty about it, but kept failing to act.
I had also nearly missed the deadline for sending in my money for that fishing trip with my friends. The Men’s Club at church was without a speaker—until I arranged for one at the last minute.
I got back to work that Tuesday. Guess what? I had a little catching up to do, but it was like I never left.
Don’t get me wrong. Work is important. You have to pay the bills. But so is time and activities for yourself, your family, friends and your social/religious commitments. It’s what makes for a well-rounded, balanced happy life.
We’ve all heard the expressions: “Work to live, don’t live to work,” or “Nobody is indispensable.” Both expressions are true and middle age guys need to keep them in mind.
I once had a newspaper editor who was noticing that I was putting in excessively long hours, often at my own choosing. He pointed out I was showing the strain and my overall work performance was beginning to be affected.
“You know,” he said. “They don’t hand out medals if they find you dead on the side of the hill one day from a heart attack for working too much.”
Do yourself a favor today. Begin a week by making a “to-do” list of the 10 most important things that need to get done at work. Do the same thing with your personal life. See how you fare at the end of the week.
What’s that? Can’t manage to make the time for that all-important second list?
Maybe you need to turn off your motor, sit back for a day or two and do nothing and do some thinking about what your life has become—and what you’d like it to be.
Hopefully, it’s just not living to work.
Photo: Getty Images