My friend Anna moved to New York at the turn of the millennium to kick off a high-powered career in finance that capitalized on her MBA and fluency in Spanish. She earned the big bucks, bought a beautiful loft, wined and dined her way around Manhattan — and grew ever more miserable. In 2006, she attended a wedding in Buenos Aires and decided that a calmer, slower life in the capital of café culture sounded considerably more appealing.
So she asked her job for a transfer. They obliged. She landed in Argentina and…worked around the clock. Still in the rat race, she realized that simply changing coordinates wasn’t going to give her the relief she was seeking. On her 35th birthday, she quit her job and began doing a whole lot of nothing. Well, not completely nothing. She drank lattes, spent time with friends and family, and traveled around Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. For eight months, she cruised through her days without an agenda, guided by a single question: What do I really want to do today?
While Anna’s story is extreme, it offers an excellent example of how important it is to slip out of the stream of life from time to time in order to re-evaluate where you’ve been and determine where you’re headed.
As you look to structure your time better, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Non-productive time can be most productive
Never underestimate the restorative power of a personal break, whether it’s five minutes or five months. What may look like idle time from the outside is potentially the most important thing you can do for yourself. When you’re not working or tending to other people’s needs, you’re able to see more of what you truly want. That realization is often the point of no return. Once you’ve made it, you can never go back to a less fulfilling way of life.
Relationships are most important
Dedicating your time and energy to the things that are most important to you generally means making time for the people in your life. However, time to care for yourself occasionally means being alone, nurturing the single most important relationship you have in this lifetime: with yourself!
You only live once
It’s a cliché but so, so true: No one ever sat on their death bed wishing that they’d worked more. On the contrary, people tend to regret the time they didn’t dedicate to themselves. So don’t be shy about taking time away for your own personal pleasure, for the things that you love and the people who love you. You only get one shot at this life.
Now that you’re convinced about the rewards of embracing more personal time, how do you do it? How do you actually incorporate more personal time into a hectic schedule? Consider this: Instead of writing a to-do list, write a fantasy list that details what you want to do, not what you think you should do. This simple paradigm shift can make all the difference.