I find joy in beginning each day with a walk, a routine that proved challenging to uphold during the winter and holidays, particularly while caring for my dad. However, I’m currently in such a beautiful area, I’m happily returning to this daily practice. While I occasionally relish the silence and the ambient sounds of nature during my walks, more often, I opt to wear headphones and immerse myself in a book. This morning, I was tuned into ‘Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals’ by Oliver Burkeman. This is not your typical book on productivity. In fact, it takes a rather unconventional approach, prompting moments of contemplation, much like this morning.
I left off on listening at the end of a recent walk with the author talking about from the time we are quite young it’s all about what comes next. A child graduates from preschool, but they’re not done, the focus is on kindergarten. Elementary school graduation is about being a future middle schooler, etc. Even when we graduate from university, our focus often shifts immediately to future plans, whether contemplating grad school or strategizing for career advancement in the corporate world.
The theme continued when I went for a walk this morning as the author talked about something I noticed as a therapist during Covid. It’s so hard for people to slow down. Whether it’s trying to read more than a few sentences in a book or looking at a piece of art, we can become uncomfortable. During the pandemic, many of my clients experienced the challenge of slowing down and staying at home. This lack of distraction forced them to confront feelings of anxiety, depression, trauma, or whatever thoughts had initially driven them to seek distractions. It’s also likely why alcohol sales increased during Covid. Alcohol helped to distract them or blunted their difficult emotions.
As I continued to walk through the neighborhood, the author spoke of patience and this resonated with me and it reminded me of wanting to focus on enjoying the journey instead of focusing on what I wanted to complete. Like most people, I have a long list of things to do and I’m often focused on productivity and getting as much done each hour, each day, each week. But as I check things off of my list, I also add things. I will always have a to-do list. But I don’t need to have the anxiety that often goes along with focusing on productivity. I’ve recently transitioned to maintaining a to-do list in a Google document, focusing on the 3-4 top priority items that I jot down in my notebook each day. And at the same time I can shift my perspective from productivity to enjoying the journey. Instead of having in the back of my mind which task I will do next, I can focus single-mindedly on the task at hand.