Episode #13: The Easy Button
While it is true that there may not be an “Easy Button” for life as a whole, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t easy buttons available throughout each day or each week or each year. And sometimes, I think we forget to press the easy button. This podcast explores learning to find and press the easy buttons that are available to us so that we can reserve our energy for the things that really matter in our lives.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
Today, I want to talk about finding, and pressing, the Easy Button in our lives.
While it is true that there may not be an “Easy Button” for life as a whole, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t easy buttons available throughout each day or each week or each year. And sometimes, I think we forget to press the easy button. Actually, we forget to even look for an easy button; particularly those of us who are accustomed to “pushing through” obstacles and have found reward in our lives and career for just pushing through.
But part of managing our energy for resilience (and avoiding burnout) is to manage where we spend our energy. Do we exhaust ourselves worrying about things we cannot control? Do we waste precious time by beating ourselves up when we make a mistake? What about all those “little” nagging annoyances that we tolerate in our day-to-day lives . . . like over-full cabinets, or a messy desk or whatever it might be that takes up some of our brain (and energetic space)? Add up a bunch of tiny things, and suddenly, you have a big snowball of energetic distraction.
In contrast to what many of us want to believe about ourselves, and what I used to fiercely deny in my own life, we only have a limited amount of energy (and time) to expend each day. No one gets more time. And while we can invest in and develop our energetic capacity, energy, by its very nature, is expendable and limited (see how I just tapped into that 12th grade Physics class)?!?!
One of the great challenges and opportunities to be intentional about how we spend the limited resource is using our energy wisely. How many of us have stared listlessly at a computer, clicking from open tab to open tab, not really seeing or processing anything, but sitting there anyway because we have some construct of time or productivity that we are trying to satisfy?
There have been times in my life when I might have spent an hour or more trying to force myself to generate something that just wasn’t there in that moment--likely due the fact that I was exhausted. In contrast, I have now learned that when I reach that point, when I am just clicking the buttons but not really seeing anything, it’s time to walk away.
And it is almost certain that when I return to that task or that project, after a walk, or rest, or food or all of the above, I will once again have the energy to engage the task at hand, and I will be much more efficient and effective than I would have been if I just sat and stared at the computer for hours on end. Which also means, I will have more energy available to tackle the next task or priority. The easy button in this scenario, is just giving ourselves permission to walk away, replenish our energy, and come back later.
For years, I was propelled forward by my inbox. It is easy to believe that the world will come apart if we don’t complete the urgent (and even possibly important) tasks that are piling up in our inbox. But the truth is, that that fear or belief is an anxiety-inducing and exhausting fallacy. What is true is that a task, if truly important and necessary, will still be there waiting for us whenever we get back to it. And the world will not end if we are not at inbox zero.
I think I learned this lesson in two stages. From time to time in my first career I would decide that I couldn’t take it anymore, and that I was going to tackle EVERYTHING on my “to do” list. What this meant is that I would pull an all-nighter at the office, and I wouldn’t leave until EVERYTHING was out of both my physical and electronic inboxes. I would walk out feeling like I had conquered the world.
But guess what I learned after going through this exercise 3 or 4 times over the course of a few years . . . I was so exhausted by the effort and energy it took to empty out my inbox, that by the time I fully recovered . . . usually 2 or 3 or 4 days later . . . all my inboxes were full again. So, you empty out all of your “to dos” and they flood back in, hmmm, okay. My mother used to say that “the universe abhors a vacuum.” If space is created, the space will be filled. So, that was my first “ah-ha.”
The second phase of truly internalizing this lesson was when I got put on bedrest with my second child. Working from home, without the regular onslaught of people coming into my office to ask me if I had read their email, it became much clearer to me that the majority of things that came across my email with a sense of urgency, were not, in fact, that urgent. If I didn’t get to them that minute, or hour or day, guess what?! The work would still be there tomorrow. And 99.9% of the time, no one’s lives would be any worse for the wear.
When my children started school and I was working as a CEO, it didn’t take me very long to realize the number of things that would resolve themselves just with the passage of time. See, I missed the memo about the folder that would come home from school, full of papers and announcements and forms that needed to be filled out that night, or the next day. And at first, I did have some true Mommy guilt for being the one who didn’t turn the forms in on time. And, there were two kids in school bringing home two folders full of forms. . .!!!
But what I also learned through this process is that there a number of things that feel urgent or important (and truly, sometimes when we get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle and blur of trying to do all the things and be all the things and manage all the things) it becomes really hard to distinguish between the important and the STUFF. STUFF that we may or may not really need or have time for or need to do.
So, do you know what I learned? There are so many things that just resolve themselves with the passage of time. Like, give it a week, and the deadline has passed or the date has passed, and no one really noticed anyway.
And the important stuff? The truly important stuff . . . well, that has a way of coming back around--back onto your radar screen--as something that actually needs to be taken care of. Now, I am not necessarily suggesting that you just blow off everything and wait and see if it comes back around. Although depending on the area of your life, this could be an interesting exercise.
What I AM saying is that we have the opportunity to let ourselves off the hook sometimes, and not put so much pressure on ourselves, and to start to observe which of the demands that people might place on our time, or which pieces of information that are available to us, or opportunities or activities that are available to us, really belong there, or really stick because they truly are material to our lives, or beliefs, values or priorities. Easy button!
Have you ever tried to force something that didn’t need to be forced? I know I have. Have you ever assembled a piece of IKEA furniture? If you have, you know that the furniture is engineered to the 9th degree. What I mean by this is that every piece and part fits seamlessly and easily together--IF you are doing it correctly. If you have to force the screw into the hole in a piece of IKEA furniture, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
The easy button in this scenario is found in backing up and re-evaluating whatever you are trying to force. And often the answer or solution lies in applying less speed or less pressure or seeing if there is another way to accomplish the objective.
So here is one more story for a case in point . . . one of the businesses where I am working on-site right now is in a renovated building. The amazing floors are built of repurposed wood. It just so happens, that where my desk (and chair on wheels sit) is right on top of an uneven place in the floor, such that my chair rolls slightly to the right while my computer sits slightly to the left. For the last several months, off and on, I have noticed that I am having to exert a fair amount of effort to keep my spine in alignment while I sit at this location. I may be particularly sensitive and aware because my pelvis likes to shift out of alignment.
ONLY LAST WEEK did it occur to me that I had a different option. As opposed to fighting the slope (and gravity) of the wood floor in my chair on wheels . . . wait for it . . . I could move my laptop computer 3 inches to the right, so that the screen is in alignment with the spot in the floor where my chair naturally rests!!! Rocket science, right?
This experience served as a simple reminder that sometimes, often in fact, we don’t have to strive and push so hard to get the results we want and need in our lives. Sometimes, we have the option to push the easy button. And each time we find and push an easy button, we get the added benefit of reserving our energy for other, perhaps more important, things.
Sometimes hitting the “easy button” is realizing that there is a simple solution to a problem. Sometimes the “easy button” is carving out the time to take care of something that bugs us on a regular basis, but never seems “urgent.” Sometimes the “easy button” is recognizing that not everything has the same amount of urgency or importance and that some things resolve (or expire) with the passage of time. Sometimes the “easy button” is walking away, resting and taking care of ourselves, and coming back later. Sometimes the “easy button” is letting go of things that we cannot control. And, sometimes the “easy button” is accepting when the universe hands us a gift of more time, a canceled meeting, or a weather change, instead of just getting frustrated that our plans didn’t go the way we thought or wanted them to go.
Where are the “easy buttons” in your life? Where are the places that you can reclaim or manage or energy differently so that you have energy in reserve to do the things that matter the most? I encourage you to seek out the “easy buttons” in your life, and I give you permission to press them!
You are not less than, or weak, or less committed, dedicated, or driven if you use easy buttons well. You are simply more intentional, and will often find that using easy buttons well will make you more energized and effective in other areas of your life or when tackling your true priorities.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!