May 16

The Power of Less — A Book, but also a Lifestyle?

by in All Travels

There’s a little independent book shop in Sydney we love.  It’s in the Rocks, and we happened upon it our first time to Australia, when everything seemed so exotic and foreign and new.   It was our first year roadschooling, and Emmi discovered the magic of literature from that store. Those few books, Australian classics but new to us, still sit prominently on our shelves at home, a bit worn, tattered and loved.

Ariel’s Books, I believe it’s called. We can never remember the name, but we know exactly where it is, and always seem to make our way there on our first day in town. Small, quirky and decidedly independent, it somehow always manages to surprise and inspire us. This time was no exception.

“The Power of Less.” It spoke to me from the table in front, one of those hard cover self-help books that, for me, are like the gossip mags by the check-out in the supermarket.  I flip through them as I wait, never thinking I’ll actually buy one, nor really want to be caught reading it. But still, I’m curious, and it’s there, so I thumb through it.  But this one, I can’t put down.

“I’ve read it, and it’s actually quite good,” the proprietor says as she straightens another table.  She’s been there every time we’ve come.  Maybe the owner, she’s the one who first recommended the classics for Emmi back several years ago. She doesn’t remember us, and I’ve never drawn the connection. We always chat, and I always like her.  “It’s mostly stuff we know of course, but it makes so much sense, and is so well written.”

“Really?” I ask.  “I’m reading the part about managing emails and technology, the black hole of my existence,”  I tell her. I’m a compulsive email checker, and feel the need to respond to each and every one, then file it away somewhere.  But I hate it. My gut clenches every time there’s one from a needy client, from a business I quit loving years ago but just recently had the courage to walk away from. Or from others where distance is just better.  It’s all fear-driven, I realize, and I hate it. But still, I do it.  And somehow, this little book seems to have a few good tips that might help shift the tide.  God knows it’s time.

The proprietor and I continue to chat. Turns out she’s a writer as well, so we swap grammar and writer and funny wording stories.  She tells me about a medical piece she’s currently editing, something about women’s health, where the writer continues to write “sanity napkins,” despite the editor’s corrections.  We both laugh.  “Sanity napkins. How I could’ve used those,” I remark.

I’m too cheap to drop $25 for a hard-cover self-help book, so after too long thumbing without buying, I return it to the pile.  Emmi and Austin, likewise, haven’t found a must-have, so we wander on, without a prized purchase from our favorite store.

But I can’t stop thinking about that book, and our conversation.  The e-book version is much cheaper – only $10 – and it adds no weight to my already too heavy pack. I buy it.

She’s right of course. It’s all stuff we all know already. Time management, priorities, focus, etc, but somehow, this time it’s resonating.  I committed to one habit change – just as the book recommends – and am held accountable by my kids. (In case you don’t have kids and so don’t understand this, there is no tougher prison-master than an empowered off-spring waiting to catch you in the act.) I promised to check email no more than three times/day, and to process the in-box to empty each time.

So far, it’s been working.  The fact that we’re now in rural, isolated Australia with only one wifi spot in town makes the commitment a bit easier, but still, I take credit for change.

But like all tech junkies, I find work-arounds.  I have an international data plan, and periodically, the cell signal is just strong enough to set up a hotspot.  And of course, I can always pull mail on my phone. I just try to limit it to three times/day.  And again, so far it has worked. And I’ve felt really, really good about it.

Until today, when I slipped mightily off the wagon.

“Don’t do email first thing in the morning,” is one of the #1 rules to the book. “Use that time for your priorities, the things that are important to your personal success,” it counsels. I’ve been doing that everyday, getting up and writing – some of my best work I think – leaving emails for late morning.

Until today. For reasons passing all understanding, I picked up the phone off the nightstand (checking the time I said), and before I could stop myself, I downloaded the emails, “just to see what’s there.”  The sun wasn’t even peaking over the horizon, and I was cuddled under the blankets fingering my phone like a meth addict with a new score.  And just like the familiar villians in a made-for-TV-movie, they were all there: a couple of needy clients still wanting a bit more of me, attachments that couldn’t be opened because the signal wasn’t quite strong enough, along with an assortment of other meddlesome, time-sucking things demanding my attention.

The sun is now beating down on the ocean out my window, and I’m still consumed by these messages.  (I’ve tried to open the attachments four times as I’ve written this piece).  I’ve got a raging headache; I’ve used a huge chunk of my monthly data allotment trying to retrieve info that doesn’t want to be retrieved, and my morning productivity has been shot to hell.

And I still can’t open the damned attachments.

We fall off the wagon, I know. And if we can, we get back up and try again, hopefully a bit wiser from the fall. As for me today, I’ve finally turned the phone off, and once this piece is written, I plan to curl up under the blankets again, take some Advil for the headache, and finish reading the book. Or maybe I’ll start from the beginning again, just to be sure I really get the concept.

Oh, and I’ve already made plans to have dinner at the little café with free wifi. I’ll open the attachments then. Surely they can wait that long. Question is, can I?


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