Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: November 2009
This article is not for those of you who struggle to be more out in the world or have a vocation that supports living in semi-isolation. It is for those of us who feel that our precious “down time” for processing our experiences is being devoured by dumb stuff and feel almost helpless to do anything about it.
I mentioned the loss of down time in life to a friend and she emphatically agreed, telling me about trying to get some fancy chair repaired that was within warranty. It took hours of phone calls and arranging to get the repair person out to her house. We all have those experiences weekly at least. A customer service person had my husband on hold most of a day trying to sort out some computer problem. It seemed that the service person had to prove that he could fix it, so they were going to continue the next day too. I could see how frustrated my husband was, so I got on the extension and told both of them that, given the value of my husband’s time, we could have bought two new computers with the time they had spent. Of course the worst part is if you buy a new computer, printer, or anything else, the unforeseen problems multiply.
Meanwhile, the dismal economy may mean you have to work longer hours or devote all your time to looking for work. Or you are successful at what you do and more and more in demand, being given more and more opportunities. How do you say no?
Further, being just one among growing billions, we all have to wait longer for things, sit in more traffic jams, and fill out more forms (often online, and then problems occur, so you call and are put on hold, etc.). Email and other technology, far from saving time, takes up more and more of it, or else you ignore it and hopelessly feel out of touch.
Then there is the more and more skillful competition for our attention, not only as attempts to make us buy things but as to entertain us. Everyone wants an audience for their creativity and there are so many ways for us to enjoy what they do. Where’s the time to be the creator rather than the consumer, or simply to be without any stimulation at all, good or bad.
But enough–the subject itself is stressful.
Fight with All Your Might
I have decided that this problem requires a radical attitude. We have to rebel against this thing. If we do that, win or lose, at least we admit to ourselves and proclaim to others that something is drastically wrong, and it is not good for us and probably not good for anyone. For example, as people treat each other’s time as nothing of importance, they become careless, hardened, cynical, and treat even more people as they have been treated. This is not working, especially for us HSPs. We need down time that does not come only as brief breaks, but sometimes as big spacious open plains of time where we can wander around doing nothing, or at least nothing more practical than working a jigsaw puzzle or baking a cake from scratch. We will each have to find our own creative solutions. The ones I am suggesting may be all wrong for you. But I hope they will start you thinking.
Email is my personal enemy. I’m going to start by no longer trying to answer everything right away so I can delete it, or answer it but keep it because I’m not sure I’m done with it. That leaves me constantly feeling I need to go back and do something soon so I can delete these old ones, but the longer the list of them, the longer it is going to take. Eek!
Let them pile up. Several non-HSP friends of mine swear by it. I know we HSPs tend to abhor a long list of any things still undone, but on the other hand, you will not suffer the anxiety of maybe deleting something you may need someday. If you have the capability of searching your email, you can use your in-box as a filing system. This way, emails you might want to refer to are filed under many words–all the words, names, subjects in the email–rather than put into one file folder.
More Tactics to Consider
Here’s an idea: Out-of-office replies that say you answer emails once a day, two days a week, or whatever. Or an out-of-office reply that says you will be away for two days, three, or whatever. Either way, provide a phone number to leave a message if something needs your urgent attention–often people do not bother to write at all, much less call. Then stick to what you say and do not look at email at any other time.
Be careful who has your email address. If you can, have one for work, with an understanding that you will only be looking at it during your working hours. Then have a private address that only a few know and ask people not to give it out without checking with you.
Put a message on your phone that says you screen your calls by not answering until you hear who it is. Also say that of course you may simply not be at home, so callers should not take it personally if you do not pick up.
By the way, you will eventually be told that you are “hard to reach” and “acting like a recluse.” Consider it a sign of your success, as long as those you love are getting through.
“But I’m an Extravert!”
Yes, and you need down time just as much as any other HSP. Face it: Most of us have a raft of nice acquaintances we’d like to know better, but can you be close to all of them? Get tough with yourself. Elevate those you care most about to dear-friend-or-family-member status and decide if the others will survive without having you in their lives quite so much. Maybe you want to see them sometimes, but not so often that your spacious time is gone. Here’s a trick. After having lunch with someone you haven’t seen for awhile and who is not on your Most Special People list, instead of saying, “I hope we get together again soon” or “Let’s not make it so long next time,” say “So glad we’re keeping up these annual lunches.” More honesty, shorter lists of who you feel you ought to see again soon.
Eliminate the Right Stuff
If you can afford it, hire an assistant to do some of the dumb stuff, even just for a few hours a week. Think carefully before you say you can’t afford it. Spacious time is priceless. On the other hand, do not eliminate things that give you some space to just hang loose. Don’t hire someone to do all of your gardening or housework. Cutting off dead roses, raking leaves, sweeping the kitchen so that it’s crumb free again–those can be satisfying, dreamy things if you do them spaciously, not in a hurry. Don’t use appliances to wash all of your dishes or to microwave away the time it takes for soup to warm up and you to develop a nice anticipation of it.
I’m sure you can think of dozens of ways to outsmart the time-gobblers in your life, once you realize you have to get firm, even mad. Push them back out of your time space. Think like a revolutionary plotting to change the entire world, one minute at a time.