How did you spend the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend last month? I am a big advocate of “work hard, play hard” and I hope you had a good time without feeling guilty for not doing things you feel you ought to do.
Do you go about your day trying to focus on a task at hand or even a relaxing hangout with family and friends, yet find yourself distracted by that long mental to-do list? An example of one’s inner thoughts could be, “It’s lovely spending time with my parents in the garden right now, but what about that assignment that’s due soon? Which reminds me, I need to plan my best friend’s birthday party, but I also have to take the dog to the vet. And don’t even get me started on where I am up to in my ten-year plan to become financially independent and travel the world! Gosh, why can’t I just relax and have a good time with the family right now?”
Whether you are a student, a working adult or a stay-at-home parent, it does not come without its own challenges. Most of the time, we have a lot on our plates, and it is very easy to become overwhelmed. I remember struggling with this as I entered medical school. I was faced with lectures, tutorials, assessments, exams, and placements to juggle as I learnt to navigate a busy social life and the independence of living away from home. I slowly came to the realisation that my brain could not hold the sheer amount of important information required of me without becoming oversaturated to the point of burnout. Cue the noise of a malfunctioning fax machine.
I thought about the role models in my life who seemed to be able to manage well with the hundreds of things they had on their plates. My mum was one such example. I hardly ever saw her rushing to meet a deadline. I would never hear her say things like, “Don’t disturb me, I have a lot to do!” She always did the right things at the right time. She was always in control. The one thing she used to plan her days was a paper organiser. As a child, I remember watching her jot down her tasks on the organiser. She would choose different days of the week, month, or year depending on how urgent or important the task was. It was a brilliant planning system! It guaranteed an important task or one with a strict deadline would not slip her mind as she had already chosen a specific day in the future to do it. This puts her mind at ease for the day’s manageable tasks, as well as other nourishing activities like being fully present when spending quality time with her family. I adopted this practice in the form of an app on my mobile phone, and it has made all the difference to my adult life.
I went to a Chinese primary school where I learnt traditional idioms. There is an idiom that goes, “今日事，今日畢” which means “never put off till tomorrow what can be done today.”. It seems to make a lot of sense at face value, but when you truly examine it in our day and age, it is not quite feasible.
Not everything that could be done today should be done today. We are not merely robots with a task list. Human beings are programmed to enjoy rest, a sense of belonging, community, a feeling of accomplishment and reaching one’s full potential. This is not possible if our minds are constantly bombarded by endless tasks. It is essential to make time to rest and recharge, not just in our physical but also in our mental well-being.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States and a man with a long list of accomplishments to his name. He divided what needed to be done into the urgent and the important. This has been repackaged as the Eisenhower Matrix, which looks like this.
If you are looking to lead a less chaotic life where you are in control of how you spend your time and energy, yet also wishing to be fully present for important moments in life, the Eisenhower matrix could help you do just that!