Secret of Adulthood: Focus Not on Doing Less, or Doing More, but on Doing What You Value.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


I never think about “balance,” because that suggests that there’s room for everything, if I could just juggle it correctly. Now I tell myself, “I have plenty of time for the things I love to do”–which means dropping things that I don’t love to do. This mantra has really helped me make better decisions about how to spend my time.

How about you? Do you have any strategies for making sure that you spend your time doing what you value?

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  • peninith1

    Did you post this just ‘for me’? I have been bothered the past three weeks because I’ve been allowing myself to be distracted by the NY Times crossword puzzle. I have so many things I WANT to do, a weight loss and exercise program that is using up a lot of my focus and willpower, a constant tug on my good temper and equanimity because I’m a caregiver, a quilting hobby that is crying out to sustain my soul. WHAT am I doing wasting my time on a crossword puzzle??? Honestly! Thanks for jogging my mind and helping me to put the WHOLE paper in recycling as soon as I have hit the highlights!

    • Berit

      Peninith1, in reading your entry I’m just thinking once more that you are just one of the sweetest persons in the world as your posts are always so likeable! And Gretchen, big thanks for your site,I’m visiting regularly and I’m loving it! Big hello from Germany 🙂

      • peninith1

        Thanks! (-:

    • HEHink

      So interesting to me that you mention the crossword puzzle! I do enjoy them, and used to sit down with my book of them just about every night before bed. I looked at this activity as something to either empty out or tire out my spinning brain before falling asleep. Recently, I realized that I haven’t felt the need to do this in a long time. Reading your post made me realize it was something I did at a time when I was in effect “spinning my wheels” – feeling that I needed to do everything in such a hurry that I was too paralyzed to do anything, except the crossword. I won’t take up space here explaining why that changed, but I will say thanks for helping me make that one more little connection to help me recognize a way I’ve grown. 🙂

  • kayseduffy

    I am 3/4 through the happiness project book and am definitely getting ideas on how to make more time for the things I love to do. Time management makes a huge difference and learning to be more aware with what I’m doing with my time has helped. I now wake up about an hour early so I can read your book and work on my happiness project. Whereas before I would have just watched TV or sat on pinterest. Thank you for your suggestions and insights on how to be a happier person!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that my work strikes a chord with you.

  • John Ellis

    My wife sent me a link to this post, and I’m glad she did. I like the mantra “I have plenty of time for the things I love to do.” I do have a question, what if you believe your values are being changed? In other words, what if the one thing that you loved to do the most may not be “right” for you anymore? First, have you experienced that? And, secondly, if so, how did you or are you working that out through your “mantra?”
    I ask because I have recently had to confront the reality that something that I love to do more than most things is being removed from my life – my work as a theatre artist. Listening to the advice of friends, and evaluating options around me, I’ve turned to writing. Well, learning to write is better description. Any advice or anecdotes in regards to “changing loves” is most appreciated.

  • tika

    I tend to focus on all the tasks that need to get done or else nothing will get accomplished! Cleaning, organizing things, errands, laundry, house yard & car maintenance, groceries, errands… Eat the Frog First Principle. True, I never get time to do what I enjoy the most. Then I tried scheduling Fridays as my creative day (If there aren’t any unfinished tasks leftover during the week to get done) obviously that hasn’t worked out too well either. Gretchen please explain, while the kids are at school and you’re doing only what you enjoy first, who does all those other tasks no one wants to do?

    • peninith1

      I’m a big fan of using a kitchen timer. I would suggest that you allow yourself to work on the ‘what I enjoy most’ say, for at least a half hour a day. Set the timer and do ONLY that for a half hour. I get huge amounts of ‘want to’ and ‘hate to but have to’ tasks by alternating half hours–first I do what I want, then I do a necessary task, then I do what I want, etc. The trick is to refuse all distractions from what you are focused on for whatever chunk of time you’ve set aside. Sounds like you might need to get the family to carry a little more of their share of the workload too.

      • gretchenrubin

        SUCH a great idea.

      • PS

        I also use the timer-even the one on my phone. It even helps when I know I have to catch the bus in 20 minutes. That means I have to be ready to walk out the door in 10 minutes and it keeps me focused with an objective goal. I also use a list of “must-do’s” and then there is the rest of the stuff that I need to prioritize. But I think the real trick is identifying what you can live with and live without. Also scheduling time for yourself is important. I started a new job recently, and I let it be known the first week that there are 2 days a week when I leave the office early to go to Pilates. That, in turn, has caused a chain reaction in the office. Others are attempting to schedule that exercise time into their calendar. I know it seems silly to feel like you need to schedule time for yourself, and then MAKE yourself do it. But nobody else is going to do that for you. I also use one day a week to try and work on the to-do list. And no, I never get everything done, and I don’t beat myself up over it. But it feels good to cross something off the list and I give myself credit for at least trying.

    • penny

      Gretchen didn’t really say to only do those things you enjoy. She said to do what you VALUE. If you value a clean and organized home, then you should rest assured you are already focused on doing what’s best for you and your family right now.

  • Molly

    This may be your best one yet! It’s perfect. So yes, I agree:)

  • peninith1

    This post really IS a great one, Gretchen. It has led me to think about how many activities we engage in that really are not what we or anyone else would call ‘high value’ ways of passing the time, except perhaps as distractions in a doctor’s waiting room or ER waiting room. All give us the illusion that we are doing something, when in fact we are an in addictive manner chewing our way through precious time.
    Some from my own experience include:
    * smoking (the very worst)
    * playing solitaire
    * mindless net or channel surfing
    * playing games on the computer
    * crosswords, sudoku and the like
    I even heard a story years ago from a young Congressional staffer of discovering her boss in his Capitol Hill office with paper towels covering his desk–he was washing and drying paper clips.
    Who can think of other monumental wastes of time that give the illusion of work, pursuit, or accomplishment?

    • Jo Vandermey

      I agree for the most part with the above but sometimes our brain needs to rest. We can also fool ourselves that we have to be accomplishing something every minute of every day. This does not always lead to good mental health.
      Sometimes it is good to kick back and watch the clouds like when we were kids or engage in a mind puzzle. I need time to dream in order to create my art. I need discipline to get the work done I need. I would say balance is what I need. Maybe washing the paper clips was a way for someone who had constant demands on his time to relax and do something they can control. I tend to go into cleaning mode when I no longer can just focus on a need task I need to do or don’t want to do.
      I do think our society does spend an enormous amount of time in mindless activity.
      Maybe this is a good topic for another book for Gretchen. Balance at Work and Home. The science behind what is healthy work and play.
      Monumental waste of time to me is complaining you are so busy and not doing anything about it. I watch to much tv even though I am usually working on something as I do it and to much time on the computer either reading blogs or surfing for how to do things. Hours can go by doing these activities while I should be walking my dog, cleaning my house, or actually advancing my skills.
      There was a song my grandma had on a old 78…
      I am busy doing nothing, working the whole day through, trying not to find lots of things not to do.
      I am busy going no where, Hoping not to find. I’d like to be unhappy but I haven’t got the time.
      this is how many of us lead our lives.

      • peninith1

        Yes I admit that the mind has to rest and play. However, I am trying to spend more time being present to the present moment and not lost in multitasking distractions. Agree totally that complaining about being busy, but not analyzing and breaking down your ‘busy-ness’ is often a smokescreen that we hide behind, when we are just procrastinating about the real work that we need or deeply desire to do. Sometimes this time-wasting stuff seems like a mysterious form of self sabotage! And NOW I’m going to the sewing room!! (-:

  • Lee Davy

    You will always find time for the things you have to get done, but not always the time for the things that you value. So the simplicity is really staring us all in the face.

    We should schedule the tasks that we value first and the things we must do last. This sounds counter intuitive but think about this for a second. Imagine you have to get a piece of writing done for an important client. Do you ever NOT get it done? You would stay up until the early hours to get that done right? How many times are you still awake in the early hours doing what you value?