So after spending a good chunk of my time identifying “5 Things I Enjoy Doing” back in Post #4, I reversed my thought process and turned my mind to thinking of the things in life that I do strictly out of a sense of expectation or obligation. The types of things from which I get no enjoyment, but are actually a source of negative feelings or emotion.

My thought was that by simply cutting out the time I spend doing the things that are a negative source of emotion, and transferring that time to any one of the five (5) things I truly enjoy doing, I would see a huge swing in my level of contentment.

Decrease the negative, increase the positive. Seems pretty simple, but not something I had put much thought into previously.

So I went back to my Websters dictionary and looked up the word “expect”, which of course has a variety of definitions, but I found two that were applicable to my train of thought:

ex • pect

  • To consider reasonable, due, or necessary; and
  • To consider bound in duty or obligated.

Helpful, but not entirely clarifying. I felt the key here was identifying the things that had the illusion of being “necessary” but in reality weren’t necessary at all. Things I felt obligated to do, for which there would be no real negative consequence if they weren’t actually completed. More specifically, what things had I created a FALSE sense of expectation or obligation towards. After that, my first item jumped readily to mind.

#1 Checking my work phone during off hours/weekends:

This is a big one for a lot of people. My work phone is a blackberry, better known as a “crackberry” by my co-workers. It has the innate ability to make you want to check it hundreds of times a day, lest you be missing some earth shattering development. Even worse, the group chats that are generated consist of information that is completely irrelevant about 99% of the time (anybody want coffee, I’m going here or there, I’m going to be a bit late to the office, does anybody have XYZ). But, because they occasionally contain that 1% of something important, everyone feels an obligation to stay on top of them. I hate group chats.

Checking my work phone also has the ability to negatively impact my husband, who gets annoyed when he see’s me constantly checking back into work when I’m supposed to be at home, and my son, who is disappointed when my work constantly interrupts dinner/activities etc.

I know I am by no means alone in this area. There are vast amounts of articles and research documenting the percentage of workers who feel obligated to answer e-mails, text messages and phone calls when they are off the clock (Recent North American surveys peg it at around 84%……it’s basically an epidemic!). It is an unwritten, often unspoken expectation that many companies are taking advantage of, raking in thousands of free work hours each year. And, it is having huge impacts on employee’s mental well being. We know people need a separation from their work in order to lead healthy lives, yet the constant intrusions and increasing accessibility results in people never “turning it off”, and always being engaged with their work to some degree. Not exactly in line with the “work/life balance” torch most companies are pretending to carry these days.

I often get hundreds of work e-mails, text messages and group chat notifications per day, and every time the red light on my blackberry starts blinking, I have an overwhelming urge to check it. It was like I was one of Pavlov’s dogs hearing the bell chime. What if it is urgent? Requires my immediate response? But! Along with that overwhelming I noticed that I started to build an ever-increasing response of annoyance and resentment. What do they want?! Why can’t they leave me alone!? That resentment has now reached the point where a single message has the ability to sour my mood for a solid 15-30 minutes after I “have” to check my berry.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I asked myself “What would happen if I stopped checking?”. Well, probably nothing. It might irritate my co-workers and my boss at first, they are used to me being available 24/7. But, a few weeks of retraining would probably set a pretty clear tone. Plus, if it really is urgent, truly urgent, people can just call me. So, if I turned off the sound notifications for e-mails, text messages, and group chats, and put my phone into a drawer when I got home from work, I would only know if someone was trying to reach me if I heard the phone ringing. Out of sight, out of mind. The rest could wait for when I was actually on the clock.

That seemed doable, and would probably reclaim at least thirty (30) minutes of time EVERY DAY (and reduce a lot of irritation!). Also, I would no longer take my work phone on vacation with me. That was just plain silly.

#2 Be on Social Media

I don’t have a huge online presence, but I do have a personal Facebook account. I don’t enjoy having a Facebook account. In fact I rarely post anything on there. Most days I feel like it is just a forum for other people to “pretend” how great their life is. If life is so great, why aren’t you out there living it, why are you endlessly posting on Facebook looking for other people’s approval? (This makes me sound old, doesn’t it?). Nevertheless, I am one of those people who fall into the trap of browsing through Facebook whenever I am bored and have my device in hand. Such a waste of time.

The one thing I do like about it, however, is that it keeps me up to date with what other people in my family are up to, particularly those I don’t see frequently. I probably wouldn’t feel as connected to them if I wasn’t on Facebook. I have contemplated removing everyone from my Facebook account that isn’t family or a very close friend, so that it serves as more of a “family page”, but doing that feels as though it is going to offend a lot of people in a way that I don’t intend too!

I think I just have to make a choice here, get rid of it entirely, pare it down to the people who I really want to update and interact with in my family and close network of friends, or so I don’t offend anyone, just go offline from my old account and start a new one strictly for my family and close friends? I’m not entirely sure on this one, but I should probably just pick one and be done with it. Removing it would probably reclaim a couple hours of time each week.

#3 Always Being Available

This is a very strange obligation. One that is entirely self-imposed. I have this very strange sense of always needing to “be around” when my husband and son are home. I feel guilty booking appointments, making plans with friends, or even going to a yoga class. So generally this means I don’t do a lot of those things. It’s certainly not from anything they have said to me, I just have this strange sense that I need to be around.

If I stopped doing this, absolutely nothing bad would happen. In fact, they would probably have a few more pizza and video game nights, which frankly I’m sure they would be ecstatic about (I don’t really like pizza or video games, so this would be an ideal time for them to have it!). Plus, we would all get to do a few more things we individually enjoy, which would make us appreciate each others company that much more when we are together. I would probably feel more balanced, less irritated, and overall much more content. This one is definitely a “me issue” that I will have to work on, and getting over it will open up a huge window of time to schedule more things I enjoy!

#4 Going to Baseball Practice

My son, who is fortunate enough to be athletically gifted, has somehow gravitated towards my least favourite sport. Baseball. I can’t stand watching baseball, it’s boring, it’s way too long (seriously people, they are seven (7), why does their game need to be three (3) hours long?) I’ve tried to go to MLB games, where I promptly fell asleep through almost an entire game. So Murphy’s Law, what sport became one of his favourites, yup, baseball. Ugh……just my luck. So, last season I went and sat through a bunch of practices and games, hating every minute of it other than when he was up to bat, or catching a ball (which is about five (5) -ten (10) minutes of the total three (3) hours). But, I also felt badly at the prospect of not going, I did after all want to support him, even if I wasn’t a big fan of the sport.

As the pre-season practices started rolling around again this year, I was quickly reminded of how much I DON’T enjoy going, not even my usual Starbucks coffee makes this enjoyable for me.

So rather than feeling guilty about it, and taking my cue from Point #3 “Always being available”, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t actually need to attend every event to be a supportive parent. Instead, I can take those three (3) hours each week and do something I enjoy, maybe schedule a yoga class. Afterwards I can give my son my undivided attention and he can tell me all about how things went at baseball (which he quite enjoys doing). A win/win for both of us.

#5 Ironing

Some people love ironing, they find it relaxing or something. I don’t get those people. I hate ironing. And, it’s not even because I’m bad at it, I’m actually pretty good at it, but I’m never happy with how my clothes look afterwards. They just don’t get that “off the rack” look after ironing. I even bought a steamer several years ago thinking it would solve my ironing woes. Clearly I didn’t buy a good enough steamer. It took FOREVER to get the wrinkles out of pretty much anything, and didn’t achieve that perfect look I was going for.

Sadly I do know that ironing my clothes in an actual obligation; so I don’t look like a tool at work. I also knew this was not something I could just stop doing without anyone noticing. However, it was a problem I could solve, I had just been to cheap to do it previously. It was time to start taking my work clothes (and my husband’s) to the dry cleaner. Frankly, it was costing me more not too, I kept wrecking pants and blouses! Even though I wash and hang all of my clothes, I was destroying nice items by putting them in the wash in the first place. So, I would find a nearby dry cleaner, stop ironing, and save money by not having to replace my clothes so frequently. Although I would have to drop off and pick up my dry cleaning, I could easily work that into my regular errands (OR something I could ask my husband to do – he doesn’t like ironing either!). Realistically I would save myself and my husband about an hour each week.

So all in, just making these small changes reclaimed about 8 hours of time each week (and an hour for my husband – you’re welcome honey)! Wow – that was a huge amount of time that I could now re-allocate to doing things I actually enjoy! And thanks to point #3, I would now have a much larger window in which to schedule those things.

Lesson learned: I need to continuously evaluate where I’m spending my time. It will prevent time theft by the negative and avoidable things, and ensure that “extra” time is re-allocated to areas that increase my overall contentment. Out with the bad – in with the good.