The big reward: Focusing on what’s important reduces distractions

A few months ago, I went to a program at the Bartholomew County Public Library about becoming a minimalist. Joshua Becker defined minimalism as the intentional promotion of what we value most and getting rid of what distracts us from that.

Becker mainly focused on possessions and shared his experience of reducing the number of things his family owned. He realized that with less stuff to take care of he had more time to spend on activities he valued such as spending time with his children and wife.

Over the summer when two of my sons visited I had them go through their closets and decide what items they wanted to keep. I also started going through all the things I have accumulated over the years. After filling a few trash bags, overflowing the recycling bins and taking several car loads to San Souci, we had more space and fewer things. We took pictures of items we wanted to remember, but didn’t want to keep. This process left me feeling rather invigorated.

I was ready to keep going through all the rooms in my house, but then I had to help my youngest son prepare to start college and prepare the classes I would be teaching this semester. In other words, life got busy and it has stayed busy even though my son is now at college. I thought I would have more time to focus on activities I enjoy once he went to college, so where did my time go?

Well, I added a volunteer position and a couple of classes to my schedule shortly before the semester started. And, as is usual, unexpected situations popped up that required my time and attention. I have begun to realize that if I want to have time for the activities I value, I need to take the minimalist approach to my commitments. I must decide what I value and eliminate what distracts me from what I really want to be doing. This could be as small as not playing a game on my phone so I have time to read a book or as large as saying no to participating in an activity I don’t really enjoy.

A teaching blog I recently read gave me another idea of how I could be more intentional in my life. Gerard Dawson discusses how decision fatigue affects teachers. When teachers have to make multiple “important sequential decisions or judgments” throughout the day, they get tired and can find it harder to make good decisions. Teachers may lose patience with their students or the willpower to grade that stack of papers.

Dawson suggests establishing regular routines to eliminate unnecessary choices. He follows a set pattern of activities in the morning as he prepares for the day. He eats the same breakfast and lunch during the work week and has simplified his wardrobe. Additionally, Dawson has created a teaching toolbox of strategies that work to pick from instead of constantly looking for new teaching tools. By implementing these routines, Dawson found he had more energy to focus on the things he valued: planning lessons, engaging with students and responding to students’ work.

I have always liked routines. I feel less harried if I have regular times to do things like laundry and grocery shopping. I don’t have to try and decide when to fit these tasks into my schedule which allows me to plan time for my other activities or to deal with those unexpected events.

I am finally getting my school routine figured out and most days I play fewer games on my phone, so I can read or go to events like Chaotic Tuesdays at The Commons or programs at the library. Getting back to sorting through all my stuff has also found its way back into my schedule thanks to being more intentional in my choices. This shifting of my focus to the things I care about makes me happier.

Reducing our possessions, evaluating our time commitments and adding useful routines can help us eliminate those things that distract us from what we think is important. Use some of these suggestions to simplify your life in your quest to pursue the things you value and you may find you are happier, too.

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at editorial@therepublic.com.