On Doing Nothing

This sentence popped into my head yesterday:

Seek out places where it feels easier to do nothing.

I was at my mom’s house in the woods this weekend when this idea occurred to me. I had spent the day doing the following: reading a book, eating a snack, playing with the dog, talking to my mom, making dinner, and going for a walk. All I did, all day long, was some combination of those activities, and that’s it.

Do Nothing to Do Something >> Life In Limbo

What made the day especially magical was that I didn’t feel that guilty push/pull I normally do when I’m at home on a sunny Saturday in the city. On those days, it’s as if I’m afraid of “doing nothing”. I feel like I have to be productive somehow, even when I’m relaxing. (No, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but it’s true. Can anyone relate?)

But that day at my mom’s, like all days at my mom’s, I didn’t feel guilty for sitting in a deck chair reading a beachy summer novel. I didn’t feel like I “should” have been going for a run, or exploring a new part of the city, or checking something off my to-do list. I didn’t feel depressed that I felt like having a nap or that I wanted to sit on the couch for awhile to decompress. All day long, I never once noticed the time. Things felt simple and easy. I was perfectly content. 

Do Nothing to Do Something >> Life In Limbo

This is why one single day at my mom’s house can feel like a weeklong vacation: it’s a place where it is actually easier to do nothing than it is to run around trying to do “something”. The internet connection is unreliable, so it’s not easy to watch TV. The house is down a long windy road, so it doesn’t feel convenient to run errands or really go out at all. The driveway is hard to find, so you can’t exactly order a pizza if you feel lazy. It’s quieter than most places. It’s more peaceful than most places. There are a handful of simple activities that you can do, and those are your options. You don’t feel overwhelmed by all the choices available to you, because some things are easily ruled out. You don’t feel guilty for “doing nothing” because you don’t have much of a choice.

I’m reminded here of Gretchen Rubin’s Strategy of Convenience: “To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.”

At my mom’s house, it is far more convenient to do “nothing”. But of course, “nothing” is not the right word for what I’m describing. Here, “doing nothing” refers to what remains when we stop rushing, stop hustling, stop worrying, stop fussing, and just slow down. Here, “nothing” is what’s left over when we turn off our screens and stop making so much noise. In the space that remains, we end up laughing more. We play more. We talk to each other. We linger over meals. We move slowly. We’re more present.

Do Nothing to Do Something >> Life In Limbo

Rob Bell writes, “What seem like the small things are actually the big things”. He’s absolutely right. And similarly, by doing “nothing”, we actually make room for what is meaningful, important, and precious:

Quiet. Groundedness. Peace. Connection. Stillness. Grace. Rest. Satisfaction. Joy. Presence.

So let me amend my original thought:

Seek out places where it feels easier to focus on what is meaningful, important, and precious.

For me, that’s reading, writing, being with the people I love, and spending time outdoors. I tend to get pulled away from these things by unimportant things like movies, social media, busywork, distractions, or a fear of missing out if I choose to opt out of things in order to “do nothing”.

I’m still in the process of figuring out ways to exploit the Strategy of Convenience in my daily life (without being at the cottage in the woods) by making it less convenient to get sucked into bad habits and easier to get pulled into good ones: keeping my phone plugged in outside my bedroom, logging out of Facebook on my computer, having a stack of library books on the table to make them easier to grab. The intentionality is helping, as is the thought that “doing nothing” makes room for the most important of “somethings”. 

How do you remember to focus on what’s important? What are the ways that you help yourself carve out time to do “nothing”?

PS. I also like this post from my friends over at Mindshift Ninja which has some similar ideas & strategies.

5 Ways to Make Life Quieter

Ever since getting back from New York, I’ve been making more of a conscious effort to slow down, get quiet, and find more peace throughout the day. I definitely believe in staying informed, but I also think it’s important to choose when to go in search of information, as opposed to getting bombarded with it all day long. Too much stimulation and information can wreak havoc on your productivity and focus, especially if you’re an introvert like me. Not to mention that it can take an obscene length of time to get back on task after distractions. In both my work life and my personal life, the quieter the better. Here are a few of the ways I consciously create more peace for myself each day.

5 Ways to Make Life Quieter >> Life In Limbo

1. Learn to Love Do Not Disturb

I cannot stand phone notifications. I have kept mine off or on vibrate mode for years now, and my social life has, amazingly, not suffered all that much. I highly recommend doing this (and so does Wired). I love that I don’t get pinged all day, and as a result of doing this I have suffered literally zero major consequences. I probably miss about 1-2 calls per month, but I just call people back! It’s amazing!

Even if you’re not in a position where you can turn all your phone notifications off, I’d encourage you to play around with them. On my iPhone I can set all kinds of combinations for notifications – for example, I have set it up so that I get iMessage notifications on my lock screen, but not Facebook Messenger ones, and Snapchat notifications just appear as a little number on the app itself. Rather than just choosing the default, play around with selecting the ones you actually want to see.

I also love using Do Not Disturb mode while I’m working and don’t want any interruptions, on both my phone and my computer (which I only recently learned how to do). I cannot overstate how much this has increased my productivity, so much so that I sometimes leave it on all day long for both devices. Boomerang, my favourite Gmail extension, recently released a new “Pause” feature for your email inbox that allows you to stop emails from coming in for a certain period of time, in case you need to keep your email open to access other information or files, but don’t want to be pulled away into new work.

5 Ways to Make Life Quieter >> Life In Limbo

2. Be Woke Without Waking Up to the News

I got this wonderful turn-of-phrase from Austin Kleon, who describes this point so eloquently in his blog post on the topic. The gist is that we do not need to read the news (or our Facebook feeds, or our emails, or check our social media feeds) first thing in the morning before we’ve had a chance to even start the day.

The way I handle this is by putting my phone on Airplane mode every night before I go to bed and leaving it that way overnight, only turning it off once I have written in my journal, meditated, and gotten ready for the day ahead. This suggestion has been controversial when I’ve brought it up to friends (ie. what if someone needs to reach you urgently?) but for now I am taking the chance. As an alternative, you could just turn off all home screen notifications or keep your phone in another room so that you don’t pick it up until it’s time to leave the house.

5 Ways to Make Life Quieter >> Life In Limbo

3. Unfollow & Unfriend

I love Instagram, and I love watching Instagram stories – they’re so fun and it’s interesting to see what people are up to! Know what I don’t like? Endless scrolling on my phone, or sitting through looooong Instagram stories that I don’t find interesting. But I find that the way that stories and newsfeeds are set up means that I want to watch everything that’s in front of me, and keep scrolling until I’ve “seen it all”. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to limit what “it all” consists of.

You can mute any Instagram story by pressing & holding the story and choosing “Mute”. I have muted many of the people I follow and have not missed their stories one bit. Some I love and am happy to watch every time, but these days I usually only have about 5 waiting for me, which feels much more manageable. I also routinely unfollow people whose posts I don’t enjoy or that I just scroll past without even really looking or reading the captions. This also goes for Facebook friends – unfriending or “hiding” people’s updates can save you a lot of time and cut down on the noise.

5 Ways to Make Life Quieter >> Life In Limbo

4. Limit How People Can Reach You

Who you follow online is one thing, but being selective about the ways information can reach you goes even beyond that. For instance, I have an email address devoted to signing up for email newsletters so that all the junk doesn’t come anywhere near my main email inbox. My regular email account is only for personal and business emails, and everything else gets unsubscribed from.

When I give out my business contact information, I never include my phone number, and as a result am able to field inquiries more easily (for me!) over email. For some people, the opposite might be true – you might prefer to only give out your phone number instead of your email address to new contacts. Whichever way you decide, stick to it, and things will quiet down as people learn they can only contact you in a limited number of ways. This is one of the ways we set expectations!

If you use Slack, set it up to automatically Snooze Notifications overnight once your work hours are over each day. Set yourself a personal rule that you don’t check email in the evenings after a certain time of night. Let all calls from unknown numbers go to voicemail. Wherever you can, protect your time and your energy as much as possible. 

5. Have Leisure Time Without Screens

Last but not least, try to find ways to relax, rest, and restore without looking at screens. Trust me, my default setting is to “relax” by surfing the internet or watching a show online, but I always feel more rested if I go longer periods of time without using screens. Having periods of time when I don’t look at my phone literally feels like a mental vacation.

For me, these kinds of screen-free leisure activities include going outside, reading books from the library, listening to podcasts, knitting, napping with my phone in the other room, cooking while listening to music or an audiobook, doing yoga, going for a run, and writing.

***

Has life felt noisy for you lately? What are some ways you make your own life quieter and more peaceful?

 

On Setting Expectations

On Setting Expectations >> Life In Limbo

I’ve been working full-time as a creative freelancer for more than a year now. Working from home and setting my own schedule is pretty great, but believe it or not, there are some downsides to not having a boss to tell you what to do. There’s no rulebook when it comes to working for yourself, so you spend a lot of time wondering, Am I doing this right? Is there a better way to do this? Hello? Anyone?

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve found an amazing creative community here in Toronto, and that I am now able to work exclusively for incredible companies and individuals. Both of these groups of people teach me something new almost every single day and continually challenge my thinking on so many ideas around work, productivity, balance, and happiness.

That said, a lot of my work habits and routines are a weird mishmash of tidbits I’ve found on podcasts, a whole lot of trial and error, and asking myself good, thoughtful questions.

One of my favourite questions to ask lately is:

Is this the expectation I want to be setting?

Put differently: Is the action I’m taking right now what I want to teach people to expect from me going forward?

It’s amazing how much this one little question clarifies things for me and helps me set boundaries without needing to have a “tough conversation” with someone, either in a professional or personal context. Whether or not you work for yourself, this question can be helpful in all kinds of different settings.

On Setting Expectations >> Life In Limbo

Here are some examples where I’ve recently let this question inform my choices:

At work

I try to never answer a work email after  “quitting time”. Whether or not I’m working that night on other projects or at my computer, I don’t want to set the expectation that you can expect a response from me outside of work hours. I also turn off Slack notifications after work, and close the app entirely during periods of the work day when I want to get down to business and not be distracted. Responding more slowly means that people won’t constantly expect you to respond right away! It’s like magic. It goes without saying that you can’t totally drop the ball and expect to keep your job, but pacing your responses is something we can all do, within reason. I’d go so far as to say it’s something that we all have to do, in order to keep our sanity.

Over Text

For a few months, there were days when I’d find myself having long text conversations with friends and family during my work hours. Yes, I set my own schedule, but the truth is that I know what my productive hours are and messages pinging in all day makes it really hard to stick to them! I now try to respond later in the day, for example on my lunch break, to avoid the “instant-messaging” type of conversations during hours that are crucial to my productivity. Putting my phone and computer on Do Not Disturb mode helps with this immensely so that I don’t have to resist temptation: I don’t even know the messages are coming in until I’m in a better place to respond to them.

With Friends

When I first moved to the city, I was so desperate to hang out with my friends that I would always offer to come to their homes or locations that were convenient to them. This would sometimes mean that I was going an hour and a half out of my way for a short visit. Of course, I don’t regret any of these meet ups – I love my friends and have been so happy to live in a city where I’m nearby so many of them. What I do regret is setting the expectation that it will always be me who will travel out of my way to meet up. Balance is important in any relationship, and it is up to me to communicate my expectations by suggesting places closer to a halfway point or in my own neighbourhood.

***

In all of these cases my choices reflect my own values and are specific to my life. That’s why the question is so open-ended! Maybe you want to set different expectations from me, and that’s great too: the point is to be intentional about your actions. For you, maybe it’s about re-assessing how often you organize events for your friends, or how much money you’re charging clients, or how often you’re cleaning up after your roommate. How we speak, act, and respond to people teaches them how to treat us in ways both big and small. Clarifying what we desire or require from others in any given situation, and then acting accordingly, is a way of being more proactive about our lives.

Let me know some ways you try to be mindful about the expectations you set for others in the comments! I’m always hoping to be inspired to put great ideas into action in my own life.

On Growing Pains

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

Remember when I wrote that moving to Toronto would be my next big adventure? At the time, I thought I was being kinda cute or kinda funny or something: I was moving back home after a few years of living abroad. I knew that this chapter would bring its own challenges, but how hard could it be? I’d navigated Korean grocery stores and learned to ride a motorcycle in Thailand and held my own at a massive Ecuadorian family reunion speaking only rudimentary Spanish, for heaven’s sake. Forgive me if I kind of thought, “I got this.”

Are you guys laughing? Because I’m laughing. Because I’m naive and young and I always seem to think, “I got this”, until I get some serious knowledge dropped on my head and it turns into a question: “Do I got this?” (Hint: no.)

I can safely say that the last six months have been some of the best of my life. They have been so rich with life, with love, with this beautiful feeling of community that I’ve craved for so long. I’ve gone home (way) more times in the last 6 months than I did for the past 6 years, which is such a blessing. I’ve spent time with my sisters, and my parents, and my grandparents. I’ve made friends with fellow entrepreneurs, with my baristas, with my colleagues, with strangers. I’ve gotten to work with so many amazing people, doing things that I am really passionate about. I’ve gained the kind of confidence that I didn’t know I was capable of. I have friends who feel like family to me. I’ve gotten so many incredible opportunities handed to me on what feels like a silver platter. So much so that one day a couple weeks ago I went to the park in the middle of the afternoon on a beautifully sunny day and I actually cried: I am so lucky. I am so lucky. I am so lucky.

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

Here’s the thing though. The last few months have also pushed me, hard. Would you like some examples? There was the time my rent e-transfer got deposited into the wrong account and for two months I thought I’d lost a huge chunk of cash that I didn’t exactly have lying around. There was the time that my landlords sold the house I live in and I didn’t know whether I would have to move out. There were weeks of work days when I felt frantic and tired and over-caffeinated and hangry because I didn’t stop to eat properly. There were a lot of nights, especially in the winter, when I felt incredibly lonely because I realized that my friends in the city had their own busy lives and mine felt, by contrast, very empty. There were a handful of times that I got news that sent me reeling for hours or days. There was the frustration of trying – for nearly a year – to get some of my most precious items sent back to me from another country. There has been heartbreak. There have been a lot of tears. There has been a lot of growth.

My dear friend Sonja helped me reframe this once recently by saying:

“The pain and heartbreak you are feeling? these are growing pains.

Growing pains! The pain we go through as we grow. What we experience when we shed what we don’t want, to make room for what we do: the best version of ourselves and the best version of our lives. What I love about this idea is that it reminds us that it can hurt to grow. It can hurt like hell. It can push all our buttons and emotionally punch us in the gut and make us need to rage-walk around the neighbourhood listening to rage-y music. (Not to be confused with rave-y music, although to each their own.) In fact, as I’ve come to learn, the best kind of growth hurts us exactly like this, because it’s the kind that actually changes us, shakes us up, and improves our lives for the better.

There’s a piece of writing advice that I love which says that to be a good writer, you have to “kill your darlings”. In the context of writing, this means that you often have to cut out the sentences or characters that are the literary equivalent of My Precious: you love them maybe a little too much, and they’re ultimately not serving the story as a whole. They’ve got to go.

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

I’m learning that in the context of life, killing your darlings means cutting out the people and the limiting beliefs about yourself or the world that are somehow Precious to your identity, in order to make room for the good stuff. Here’s the thing though: at the time you do so, killing your darlings REALLY does not feel like you’re making room for the good stuff. It feels – pardon my French – like shit. If you’re like me, you may have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the idea of killing said darlings, and you will not enjoy even one single minute of it.

This is what I think is so important to remember, and why I resonate so much with the idea that these are growing pains: big, important life lessons are often about both growth and pain. But if we forget this fact, we aren’t going to ever want to do the work. We won’t kill our darlings or break our patterns or do the thing that’s scary. We’ll think: this hurts, I don’t like it, make it stop, and go back to the way we’ve been doing things all along. Staying still is way easier than moving forward. Or, as I joked earlier tonight: “Oh, so this is what not settling feels like – it totally sucks. No wonder so many people avoid it by just..settling.”

The fact is that it hurts to stretch, it hurts to shed your skin, it hurts to get two inches taller overnight. We have to remember that it hurts for a reason, it hurts because better things are coming, it hurts because we are being remade.