Category Archives: creative hobby

Making time for what really matters

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Yet some people are more productive than others. They have a high capacity to produce extraordinary work with focus and without burning out. They attend to what brings meaningful impact – whether it’s pursuing a cherished hobby, nurturing fulfilling friendships, creating a happy home, delivering a high-quality work product, or building a better clientele for their business.

Having a joyful life starts with consciously choosing how to use the limited time you have in a day, week, month, and year. If you’re too busy to meet up with a friend, take the pottery class, write your novel, or turn your passion into a profession, they might not be priorities after all; they simply take more effort than you care to invest.

Own your choices, turn down invitations respectfully, and release the fear of missing out or losing what was. But if a relationship, activity, project or long-term goal really matters to you, you can make time for it in the following ways:

Assess how you spend your time

Do an honest assessment of your daily life to determine whether you’ve been neglecting your truly top priorities. They usually fall into one of five categories: work (e.g. profession, career, business); relationships (e.g. spouse, life partner, children, friends, community); health (e.g. rest, exercise, nutrition); spirituality (e.g. meditation, religion, mission); and personal pursuits (e.g. creative hobbies, fun projects, volunteerism).

Keep a time log, maintain a calendar, or take notes documenting how you spend your time, by the hour, each day. Do this for at least three months. Tracking your time raises awareness of how much is spent on the meaningful versus the meaningless. It gives you a visual cue of important areas that need your attention. It motivates you to drop time wasters and energy drainers that steer you away from your preferred path.

There’s no need to strive for a perfectly balanced life. It’s okay for things to get out of whack when you have deadlines, demands and desires pulling you in a certain direction. The more crucial questions are whether your actions are aligned with your priorities, and whether you’re spinning your wheels instead of making real progress.

Stop killing time

During a recent telephone conversation with a friend (I have not seen in several months), we talked about the challenges of maintaining friendships once you enter parenthood. As parents of young children, we agreed there’s a definite shift in priorities and interests. My friend said she had little time for get-togethers with friends, but quickly confessed she spent much of it watching trash tv.

Watching the boob dude is an easy way to unwind. It’s a habit-forming activity that requires little thought or engagement. It’s the most common form of leisure, even though taking a nap, experimenting with a new recipe, making a social call, and playing bongo drums are much more satisfying.

Reduce your screen time to create more time for purposeful things. Here are some examples: Reserve at least one day when there’s no screen time. Limit your leisure screen time to one to two hours a day. And make deliberate choices about the tv shows, movies and other stuff you watch.

Why watch shows that lower your consciousness?  Why sit through a bad movie just because it was on your DVD queue, someone else recommended it, or you paid for the ticket? With no trash tv or bad movies to kill time, you get to read a good book, go for a mindful walk, compose music, or plan out a long-term project.

You can certainly choose to indulge in screen time to relax and destress. But if you want to engage in more productive activities, start with re-allocating your screen time to those things.

Give undivided attention to what is before you

Carve out non-negotiable time for the person, thing or activity that is most important to you. Schedule the date and place on your calendar. When your mind wanders to what you think you should be doing instead, bring your attention back to the present. If you get bored or restless, come back to your breath and notice what is before you.

Minimize interruptions and distractions, like checking social media, reading emails or allowing drop-in visits throughout the day. Set aside time slots for when you will engage in these activities.

Attempting to juggle more than one activity when each requires singular focus lowers your productivity, reduces efficiency, and heightens stress. Because the human brain cannot process more than one thing at time, the best you can do is switch quickly from one task to the next. Multitasking is an unnecessary time waster, not a valuable skill that leads to greater efficiency or effectiveness.

Single-tasking (i.e. focusing on one activity at time and doing each sequentially) results in greater flow and better outcomes. And if you do “multitask,” it’s best to layer or blend activities that draw on different mental faculties. Listen to a podcast while you make dinner. Watch a movie while you work out on the exercise bike. Have your kids play with your friend’s kids while the two of you chat and catch up.

Savor the white space

Because time is limited, you might think maximum productivity means filling white space with activity and action. This mindset leads to overscheduling and plugging gaps with pure busyness.

Take deliberate breaks between activities. Forego external stimuli and simply sit in silence and notice your breath. Observe the thoughts and experience the feelings that arise, while resisting the urge to do anything about them. Savoring the white space produces clarity, sparks creativity and fuels imagination. It helps you to reflect and respond mindfully, rather than rush and react hastily.

Know that you are already whole

When you’re learning, growing, striving, and seeking to move to the next phase, it can be hard to appreciate your present state. Ongoing comparisons can cause you to pursue goals that bring fleeting excitement, but not lasting joy.

Experience the journey of life with deep curiosity and profound wonder. Can you tap back into who you are at the core – before test scores, performance evaluations, college degrees and professional awards became a reflection of your worth?

Operating with a sense of abundance leads to a healthier relationship with accomplishments and external markers. You don’t always have to maintain a pristine home, keep an exciting lifestyle, stay at the top of your game, or be the perfect parent. You can allow laundry to pile up, be boring, take a nap, and make mistakes without criticizing yourself.

Once you let go of seemingly important goals and ideals that don’t make a true difference, you can invest your time in what really matters.

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Photo by: Ferrous Büller

The True Benefits of Play (for Grown-Ups)

sand castle

Play is essential to every child’s mental stimulation, emotional development, and physical well being. But play for grown-ups is often downplayed as secondary to personal responsibilities and professional obligations. It’s a luxury you get to enjoy only after all your work is done. And sometimes your work is never done. So there’s barely any time left for play.

In our work-obsessed society, lack of play is at the heart of many health-related problems. It can leave us feeling drained, bored, stifled and anxious.

When I became a mom two years ago, my priorities shifted. I made career changes, shed energy drainers, and re-evaluated personal goals. One big change involved starting my own law firm in October 2014. Since then, I’ve had the flexibility and freedom to decide when and where I work.

With the right attitude, careful selection of clientele, and a strong support system, I’ve been able to practice law and do productivity coaching – while indulging in lots of play time with my toddler daughter.

Whether it’s digging in the sandbox, making art, kicking a ball, or going down the slides, play time for kids has positive, lasting effects. Play has significant benefits for grown-ups as well.

Play allows you to fully enjoy the moment. 

One summer afternoon, my kid and I hung out together by building a sand castle. (Well…at age two, she dug up and poured sand randomly, while I built the castle.) When we were done, I couldn’t help but admire my creation. I turned around to reach for my camera, but before I had a chance to snap a photo, she had smashed and kicked down everything flat. She giggled with glee and I spontaneously laughed along with her.

We had played together for the sheer joy and with no end goal in mind. But the adult part of me took over when I decided to try and take a photo of the sand castle for posterity’s sake.

Play is a process and an end in itself. The most joyful kind of play is about the experience; it’s not connected to a larger purpose or a desired result.

Play provides a necessary break from your daily responsibilities and ever-growing list of things to do. 

Play sparks your creativity, nurtures your imagination, and opens you up to different experiences. It adds levity to an overly serious and super busy life. When you have duties and responsibilities to meet, you still need to play. It’s an activity you get to do no matter how many things you have to do.

Because free play has no results to measure, it enables you to let go of the roles and responsibilities you take on in your job and community. During play, the demands you place on yourself are dropped, at least temporarily. Instead of fixating on being productive and practical, you can tap into your intuitive wisdom to just be you.

Play serves as a positive reinforcement for good habits. 

For children, time-outs and taking away privileges are sometimes necessary. But using positive reinforcement encourages the desired behavior to become a more established habit.

Play is one of the main ways to reward and reinforce good habits. If a child has waited patiently and played quietly while the parent makes an important telephone call, the parent can take him out to the park to encourage the same behavior next time.

Getting positive reinforcement (rewards) for practicing a good habit is usually more effective than suffering negative consequences for not practicing it. Although I don’t particularly like learning music theory, it enhances my musicality, creativity and ability to improvise when I do play the piano, which is fun. The promised reward of playing piano pieces I enjoy encourages me to learn the language of music.

Play makes a mundane task more bearable (and even fun to do). 

When my toddler became big enough to get her toys out on her own, she also had the physical capabilities to put them back. While the play part was no problem, the cleaning up part was. She would not put her stuff away until after we started attending a toddler class, where we learned to make clean-up into a game and sang a clean-up song while performing the task. Now she likes tidying up after herself and putting stuff back in their place.

Grown-ups, too, can use play to make mundane tasks more tolerable. You can have a blast doing dreaded tasks if you layer it with something you enjoy. Listen to music, make up your own songs, or dance while you vacuum. Although doing expense reports aren’t exactly fun, you can make this into a game by setting a record time to beat.

Play helps you stay sharp without the pressure of getting things right. 

My toddler loves to stack, sort and string blocks, often building very tall towers. Her creative thinking and motor skills are enhanced by this activity. But she’s not especially interested in creating a sturdy structure that won’t fall down. She loves knocking down the towers she built and starting all over again.

Play allows you to let go of story lines, judgments, criticisms and expectations concerning what you think should happen. The social connections, memory skills and other benefits you gain are just an added bonus; they are not the core reason for play. True play does not involve an emphasis on winning or pressure to perform superbly.

If you’ve forgotten how to play, here are a few ideas: 

  • Blow bubbles
  • Go on a bike ride around your neighborhood or on a scenic trail
  • Sort out and assemble a jigsaw puzzle
  • Create your own songs or play improvised music
  • Throw a frisbee in your backyard or at the park
  • Splash in a puddle
  • Build a snowman or make snow angels
  • Play fetch with your dog
  • Try some adult coloring. (Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest are among the most popular adult coloring books.)

Do what you enjoy and what energizes you. When young kids play, they don’t think about how it will make them socially astute, mentally sharp, physically adept or emotionally healthy. A toddler twirls, dances, kicks a ball, and runs for the sheer fun. It’s only until they reach around age 4 they begin to develop a competitive streak. And they become more influenced by societal pressures the older they get. Playing to win is not necessarily a bad thing. But it can make play less playful, which isn’t great.

If you’re a grown-up who has lost your playfulness, start with a fun activity that aligns with your temperament, preference and fitness level. Rediscover how to enjoy simple pleasures. Once play becomes more routine and is not just a guilty pleasure, you can then expand into new territories.

Play is not one more thing you cram into your schedule or do mainly to develop your skills. It’s a voluntary, fun and fluid activity that makes you feel alive in the moment, regardless of the practical and tangible benefits you receive in the long run.

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Photo at Pixaby

Stop trying so hard. Just do what you want to.

About a decade ago, when I began practicing yoga, mastering the headstand was one of
my goals. In a Beginner’s Ashtanga yoga class, I did a headstand for the first time.

I was struggling with it initially. But then my teacher came over to me and whispered, “Stop trying so hard.”

That simple statement made a world of difference for me.

Headstands became, and still are, a regular part of my yoga practice. My relationship with this and other challenging poses has evolved over time. It’s not about physical accomplishments anymore.

I do yoga (including poses or postures, meditation and breath work) because I want to — and not so much because it offers tremendous health benefits, relieves stress, and cultivates mindful living (which it does).

I also play piano because I want to – and not so much because it focuses the mind, improves coordination, and enhances discipline (which it does).

Aligning body, breath and mind when I do yoga or hearing music radiate from my fingers when I play piano puts me in the zone. So I naturally and gladly do these things.

In our busy, day-to-day living, we often don’t do what we want to. We rely on to-do lists to tell us how to invest our time. We prioritize tasks based on deadlines and due dates. We diligently return telephone calls and reply to emails. We even do soul-sucking work to pay the bills.

Sometimes there’s no getting around all of that. Unless you want to live off the grid, there are some things you must do, should do, and have to do.

But there are times when obligations, goal-setting, and the need to please begin to take over your life. And that’s when you have to stop, take stock, and just do what you want to.

A little over a week ago, on May 15th, I celebrated my birthday. On that special day, I took a moment to stop, take stock, and ask myself if I was doing what I want to.  The answer was yes, on many levels.

But then it dawned on me that I hadn’t rolled out my yoga mat or tickled the ivories in several days. So I returned to them for the true joy of the experience.

Then, on a recent coaching call with a client, who I’ll refer to as Sally, I learned that she was struggling to get back into swimming (an activity that brings her true joy). She was scared to start. We talked about her fear.

Sally said she was most afraid of starting the activity and then not following through on it (i.e. not being able to make swimming a lasting habit). I asked her why swimming had become a goal to achieve.

Could she let go of turning it into something to fail or succeed at?  Could she simply swim for the sheer joy of it? Could she swim just because she wants to?

When Sally realized that swimming was more of an activity to enjoy, and less of a task to achieve, a sigh of relief emanated from her.  The sense of freedom and power of choice that come with that realization are invaluable.

The next time you find yourself struggling to start, perform or complete a thing, stop trying so hard. Loosen up. Let go. Do it because you want to. Or just do what you want to.

Slomo: The Man Who Skated Right Off The Grid. (Courtesy of YouTube.)

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Photo by: Ian Sane