There are a lot of productivity techniques out there. A lot of rules for living. A lot of methods. If you’re anything like me, you can get hung up on trying to follow all the rules. ‘If I can just get this perfect,’ I think, ‘then I’ll have a perfect life. Everything perfectly in order. Peaceful. Calm. Quiet.’
However, life is not like an Excel spreadsheet. Life is more like a work of art.
Bill Bernbach was a big man in advertising in the mid-20th century. As he moved through his early career, he became concerned about the industry. He could see that there were amazing technicians working in advertising – they knew how long a sentence should be, or that the body of the text should be broken up for easier reading. But he could also see that perfect technique wasn’t enough.
In a letter to agency management he wrote:
‘… look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.’ – Bill Bernbach (Letters of Note)
It’s a temptation, isn’t it? To find books or blogs or podcasts that give us rules for living, and then to remember the rules, but forget the living part. When we do that, we find our lives become filled with sameness, mental weariness, and yes, mediocrity.
So what do we do about it?
Firstly, take the time to check in with yourself. Spend time in silence. Or go for a long walk. Or wash the dishes by yourself. Ask yourself how you’re doing. Listen to the answer.
Be imperfect. Get it wrong. Make incorrect choices. Eat cake. Spend a day in your PJs. Leave the washing up on the sink. Double book an appointment. Not all the time, obviously. But when it happens, treat it as a special accent in the work of art that is your life.
Sometimes it is not you that doesn’t follow the rules, but life happens around you. Happens to you. You get stuck in traffic or someone cancels your appointment or suddenly you’re babysitting a two-year-old and your whole day has to be rearranged. Instead of mourning the loss of your perfect (but slightly dull) routine, treat this as a plot twist in your life story and, after taking time to check in with yourself (yes, in the traffic jam), adjust and move forward.
Some plot twists are bigger than others. You lose your job. Or you find you have cancer. Or a loved one dies. I’m not really talking to these situations because in these big ones it seems that most people learn the hard lessons about what is important as they grieve and keep going. I guess what I’m saying is, can we apply this really hard and horrible lesson to our smaller life inconsistencies? Can we figure out what’s important even without the grief and tragedy? I think we can.
Let’s try to keep the trend in the right direction. Let’s keep on using our to do lists and organising our activities using a calendar. Let’s make time budgets and use reward charts and think before we give an answer to every request on our time. Let’s use the tools that people have discovered and created that help us to keep our lives peaceful and organised.
But let’s remember that they are tools. That the aim is not to live a robotic monotonous life. The aim is to live a life that is a beautiful work of art. The aim is to LIVE.
is there a topic you would like me to write about? Please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter or Ruth Amos Author on Facebook.
And if you’d like to hear the chat I had with Scottie, you can listen at A Quiet Life on any podcatcher or find the whole podcast on on my website.