Psychology Blog
2 Feb, 2020

Living life off the side of our desks

Many people are familiar with the phrase “off the side of my desk” to refer to work we need to do but don’t have scheduled time or perhaps permission to complete. Often we have too much to do and promise ourselves that we can get to it eventually if it is “off the side of our desks”. In my experience, these are the interesting projects that we would rather do instead of the routine activities that must be done and feel like chores, or drain our energy because we don’t want to do them.

I recently realized that I was living my life “off the side of my desk”. I was prioritizing the must do’s and believed they had to get done when I thought they needed to get done and interests, hobbies, self-care, fun, learning, etc. could get done when I had an unexpected amount of time that surely would arrive one day if I worked diligently to get things done. Of course you see the problem in that there is always more things that must get done.

When items “off to the side” are the activities we would rather do, then we need to look at our busyness, how we are priorizing ourselves, and what or who is in charge of our schedules. Do we really want to put what we enjoy, or need for self-care or health or happiness “off to the side” to get our attention when other projects are completed and when there is finally enough time?

I was off on vacation for a week and I didn’t go anywhere. I would usually tackle a list of things to do and then as an afterthought, I might plan a fun activity, usually with family because they need time and care too. This vacation, I napped almost every day and surprisingly, I got the most of the items on my list done with much less efforting.

I have been pondering whose schedules and agendas am I trying to meet and how does it matter when things don’t get done as soon as they “should” or when they are late?  What if everything we had to do and wanted to do had to be scheduled – how many things do we try to do now without planning the time and energy for them? How often do we not get it done and then feel behind and late, disorganized and guilty, when we simply have not had enough time. If we had to schedule everything we would realize that we don’t have enough time. So what do we want to put to “the side of our lives” and what do we want to put in front of us to get done? Can you imagine your life if chores and obligations, caring for others, paid work and other activities you don’t want to do could go to the “side of your desk”? Can you imagine if everything you wanted to do became the priority you had to do, instead of only when everything else was done, if that could ever happen? What if naps, baking, visiting friends, unhurried time with children, exercise, walks in nature, creativity, yoga, movies, quite time, etc., became the “must get done” items on our lists? How would you feel or think differently, how would you behave differently? How would you approach your life and what you had on your list of things to do each day?

Realistically we can’t a lot of what we do but consider this experiment – move some items to the “side of your desk” in your life and give yourself permission to get them done only when they become both a priority and easier to do. Decide for yourself what acceptable deadlines are for things that you would usually scramble to finish for someone else’s timeline. Put some activities you want to do in front of you and prioritize those as needing to get done before you can get to the other items.

Try this experiment for a couple of weeks and notice what happens? Be patient with the voice that says you can’t do it, that you will let people down, that you procrastinate too much, that you can’t decide properly what a priority is or that you don’t have time to be frivolous.

  • What will you discover?
  • What will you learn about more rest and less effort?
  • Will you look forward to your day to day life more when what you want and need is right in front of you to be prioritize every day?
  • Consider this quote and if the outcome of your experiments support it: “Real rest feels like every cell is thanking you for taking care of you. It’s calm, not full of checklists and chores.

It’s simple: not multitasking; not fixing broken things.” ~ Jennifer Williamson

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