I've always loved August. When done right, August has represented that I had already powered through the first half of the summer, and still had a month to go before a new school year kicked in. Whether it was for me as the student, or years later for my children, I have always loved that juxtaposition of balancing a few weeks left of sun and fun with the anticipation of a new school year. Aside from the geeky delight that comes with the purchase of crisp new notebooks and spotless new sneakers, it's the fresh start to a new year that really appeals to me. Forget January 1st; New Year really falls on the first day of school for me. It's the fresh start and new beginning I always thrive on.
I entered 2016 with a commitment to learning one significant each month. So far, I've held myself accountable, and I've been excited about my new knowledge in a few areas. And yet, as August approached, I wanted to challenge myself with something totally foreign to me. I wanted to learn to chill out.
I have a house at the Cape. I've enjoyed being down there nearly every weekend since Memorial Day, and it has become a small oasis for enjoying friends and family away from the daily reality of our lives. And yet, I never once showed up there without my computer and bag of work in tow, ready to crank through something if there was downtime. August, I decided, would be the month I would change this dynamic.
When I was married, E and I would sit on the couch at night, after a long day of work and tending to two young kids, and flip on the tv. He used to make fun of me for not being able to just relax; I could not sit still on a couch without either checking email, picking up some knitting needles (yup, I knit) or something else to keep me feeling productive. As anyone who has to sit with me in a meeting can attest to, I still find it near impossible to just focus on one thing at once. And yes, I appreciate how annoying that is for people around me.
So in August, I decided to make an attempt to knock it off.
Candidly, I wasn't very good at it. For example, I've always been good with my kids about "no technology at the table" to maximize our opportunity to catch up and connect with each other. However, once post dinner time hits, they will bury their heads in their phones and catch up with friends. In turn, I would reach for my phone and computer and start catching up on email or finishing up work I hadn't finished during the day. So I decided to start plugging my phone in on the counter when I got home, and then leaving it there. Of course, I'd check it quickly once or twice, but it rarely came with me into the family room. I instead tied to focus on whatever I was doing - playing a game with the kids, watching a tv show with them, or even just folding laundry while chatting. As a result, I noticed my daughters began to put their phones away a little more. As much as they live on Snapchat, a simple, "Hey, anyone want to play a game?" resulted in more time spent together. That's a big win.
We kayaked every weekend, and I read a number of books. I signed up to take a screenwriting class, as well as enrolled in a coaching program. I began to help another company as a side project just to learn more about scaling my own company. In other words, I actually got a lot done this past month. The biggest change - and ultimately biggest learning - was the approach. I ditched the "I need to finish this book tonight" or "I will draft this by 7 am tomorrow morning" pressures that are almost always self imposed and rather attempted to just immerse myself in the activity itself. If it gets finished, fantastic. If it doesn't, it will be there tomorrow. I know me. It will always get done. I just learned to take some of the pressure off.
Guess what? It works.