The Art of Leaving Things Undone

There's something very healthy and relaxing about leaving things undone and not running yourself ragged trying to get to it all. Here are a few ways to help you master the art of leaving things undone.

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Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. -Lin Yutang

When it comes to taking care of our homes, belongings, and families, who doesn’t like to be productive? Paying a stack of bills, deep cleaning a bathroom, or even simply unloading the dishwasher can bring gratification and peace; decluttering a house can help declutter a mind. But ironically, taking the idea of “getting things done” too far can do just the opposite and leave us feeling anxious, guilty, or unhappy.

Let’s challenge the concept of “productivity = good” for a moment. Instead of being proud of what you do, I invite you to consider owning and embracing what you don’t do. There’s something very healthy and relaxing about leaving things undone and not running yourself ragged trying to get to it all. Setting unrealistic expectations can, unfortunately, set you up for failure, whereas having reasonable ones makes your task-list more manageable and can save you from unnecessary guilt trips. Here are a few ways to help you master the art of leaving things undone:

Accept Your Human Limitations

Remember in Harry Potter when Hermione had the time-turner necklace to help her with her busy class schedule? It would be so wonderful to have the ability to stop time like that to get everything done, but that’s just a fantasy. As much as we’d like to be, none of us is Superwoman, and there will always be more things to do than there is energy or time. I’ve observed that some women feel like if they can’t be everything to everyone, they are failing. But the truth is that limitation is not weakness! And it’s certainly not failure. You can have goals and high expectations for yourself while still acknowledging that you have limitations.

I’m grateful for the many career opportunities I’ve had through the years to speak about mental health topics or share my musical gifts with an audience. When I was younger, I thought I had to say “yes” to every request to perform, but eventually became burnt out. I had the realization that I didn’t have to agree to every concert or speaking engagement that came my way. By accepting my own limits, I could continue to present or perform and actually enjoy doing it (instead of feeling exhausted and resentful).

Break Your Own Rules

It may not be pleasant to hear, but a lot of the stress that we women experience is self-imposed. We may feel guilty if we don’t exercise 5 days a week, fold a load of laundry right away, or purchase and wrap Christmas gifts for every extended family member. But these kinds of expectations are self-created! Our relationships, health, careers, and families are probably not in jeopardy if we do not meet them flawlessly. So why not break your own rules once in awhile?

I encourage you to give yourself permission to be imperfect: Permission to wait a week or two until you’re ready to tackle that big home project, permission to leave your bed unmade (especially if you’re running late!), permission to not immediately do whatever it is you that you beat yourself up for not doing. I’m not suggesting that you (regularly) procrastinate or that you avoid difficult things, but don’t be afraid to cut yourself some slack sometimes! After all, you’re only human, and it’s perfectly okay to ditch the rulebook sometimes.

Prioritize What’s Important

We constantly make choices as we plan and execute our day. When you allow things to go undone, it means that we are allowing ourselves the opportunity to do something else that we deem more important. I know a woman who vacuums and deep cleans her car once every two weeks. Recently, her life had gotten very hectic, and she was starting to feel a bit of stress that her vehicle had gone uncleaned. But when she began to feel that familiar sting of guilt, she reminded herself that a few other things in her life were more pressing, her car cleaning routine might have to wait a week or two, and that things would be okay. Her family, hobbies, and career took precedence over her rule. She prioritized what really mattered.

Can you think of things in your life that you could perhaps leave undone for a bit? Maybe you could temporarily defer a task or chore so you can catch up with friends, catch up on sleep, or otherwise take some time for yourself. How can you be a good steward over your time and resources to do what needs to be done and practice self-care? I challenge you to consider (occasionally) practicing the art of leaving things undone to preserve your emotional energy and create more happiness for yourself.

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