Holly is an aspiring author and enthusiastic reader of all genres. When she’s not reading, she’s hosting a podcast about romance books or writing weekly updates to monthly challenges on her website. She’s an unapologetic Slytherin.
Find out more about her at www.hollishilliis.com
I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. Mostly about ways in which I can take back my time from other things and people and make it my own again. Sometimes I come up with really big ideas for this and other times I just think small.
Here’s a small idea that took up more time while I was doing it, but has really shown to have a great payoff.
I was trying to track my phone usage last month and have really clear ‘No Phone Time’ sessions blocked out. Like most people, I start checking my phone within a half hour of waking up. I like to keep my mail app clear of those little red notifications that tell me I have email. That means every time I pick up my phone and see a mail notification I feel compelled to check the email, sort it and in turn remove the notification.
The problem with this is that I was getting a lot of junk mail. Subscriptions I didn’t remember signing up for, discounts for stores I shopped at one time, reminders about sales or points expiring, etc. So when I’d get a text on my phone or even use it to check the time I would end up spending 5-10 minutes more than I wanted to on it going through all the new email subscription junk I would get. Over the course of the day this could end up sucking up an average 30 minutes of my time. Our most precious resource.
So I started unsubscribing. Which at first took up even more time. Some places make it so easy to unsubscribe and others make it a bit of a puzzle. My favorite ones are the ones the iPhone flags and they have just a simple unsubscribe button at the top.
Then there’s the unsubscribe links you have to click, usually found hidden away at the bottom of the email.
That will take you to a website where sometimes you just have to click a button saying ‘opt out of emails’ or you have to reenter your email, or (the worst) individually select which emails you’d like to opt out of.
Here is the good news. I did this for a solid two weeks and it took up more time than I wanted, but now I’ve started to notice a huge decrease in my emails (and the time I spend checking them. Instead of 25 notifications in the morning and five more every half hour I’m getting three in the morning and about 10 total throughout the day. A major improvement in my time, wallet and well being.
A great way to practice digital minimalism as well. Less distractions on our phones means less phone time over all. I’ve still got a few more companies emailing, but I’ve been practicing the unsubscribe method and I wanted to encourage you all to do the same if you’re feeling like too much of your time is spent on email.
Is it seriously August? How did that even happen? I feel like I blinked in May and woke up here and I’ve just barely managed to keep my head above water. Anyone else having that kind of summer?
I had this great moment of clarity at the end of June. I wanted to make more open, honest and simple posts about minimalism and living a slower life. I wanted to help people feel free and empowered to live their own lives, far from the burden of possessions, jobs and societal pressure. That’s my goal with my time on this Earth for myself, and if I can share my journey there and help even just one other person start to think about their own time in a different way then I’ll be happy.
But it’s been so hard to do that when I feel like I can finally breathe for the first time in two months. I looked at my weekend today and I couldn’t believe I had nothing going on. I knew July was going to be busy, but I had no idea work would ramp up around this time too and I would regret having overloaded myself on the things I could control. But some things you just have to roll with and bite your tongue and do them even if you’re exhausted. It’s a choice to say yes and to follow through on commitments even if you made those during a time when you thought you’d have time for them.
Hence my good intentioned July challenge. Doing three things for thirty minutes a day doesn’t sound that hard, but when you add it up that’s an hour and half of time and all that time has to happen after work for me. So if I’m off at 5 and having nothing going on (this usually only happens about 3 days a week), then I come home and make dinner, finishing that up and the eating bit around 6:30. Then I want to shower, throw laundry in, prep for tomorrow with lunch, etc. and that takes until about 7:30. I’m in bed asleep by 10 on a good night so now I have 2.5 hours of free time. If i do 1.5 hours of my 30 minutes a day with little breaks in-between for water or anything else, then it’s 9:30 when I’m done. Then I’ve got the teeth brushing and the face washing and then I have to get to bed.
So that’s on a work day where nothing else is going on but work. I signed up for summer kickball so that’s one night a week. I usually do a happy hour with old coworkers or a friend once a week. The point is, I wasn’t being honest with myself during this challenge about the time I had to complete it. So now I’m being honest with you all about that. Which feels good and I hope you don’t mind too much. It’s hard to write blog posts about the failures instead of the successes, but I’d rather be honest about it than have you read some garbage I wrote up about learning Spanish, writing the next great American novel or beating my mile pace time in 30 days. The last thing I want to be on here is unauthentic because in the end it hurts everyone.
So I’m still writing. With the business trips this month tripling and the exhaustion from trying to ‘do it all’, the writing hasn’t been as frequent, but I’ve been trying to fit it in. The Duolingo app is still my favorite to open up during a Lyft ride or a quick coffee break. And finally, the walking has had to just be fit in when it can. Today I walked over to the park and did laps around it for a few hours just testing out my pace and I haven’t lost any momentum in the past month, but I haven’t gained any either. Overall, I didn’t set out to do what I wanted with July, but July was so unexpected for me, and I think you remember bits of that in your life much more than you’d remember and cherish the slow times.
I spend a weekend in Bend, OR, a week in LA for work, another weekend with my husband’s family, a weekend back in LA with family and then work in LA again and now I”m just catching up and flowing back into my slower life that I love.
Is there anything that you started to do but didn’t follow through with? I’m sure we’ve all done this before. I used to make myself feel so guilty about it. I would even finish books I didn’t like just because I felt like I couldn’t NOT finish. I’ve started to make very deliberate decisions with my time though and instead of forcing myself to follow through on certain things, I’ve just learned to let go more. It feels good and it’s good for me. I hope if you’re a pusher or a perfectionist these stories might help you realize it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go just as you imagined they would. Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and readjust your priorities when you have to.
On that note, monthly challenges are going to get scaled back to when I feel like I can fit one in, and lots more posts will happen on the simple, honest life I’m hoping to start with you all.
It was AMAZON PRIME DAY this week! Which extended into not one day, but two days (they should probably rename it), and a CONCERT (which I watched, because Taylor Swift). All aimed at getting you to CONSUME, CONSUME, CONSUME. They even have PRE-SALE events! Come on! Buy something you didn’t even think about as something you WANTED (never mind NEED) until you saw it on your super convenient app that you open several times a day. As if Black Friday wasn’t bad enough.
Well, I deleted my Amazon Prime app for prime day and haven’t downloaded it again since. I’m a big Amazon shopper for household items. Toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent. The stuff I don’t want to get at the store a haul up three slights of stairs. I figure I can get on a desktop compute from now on to buy those things though. I buy too much stuff on Amazon as it is just for the convenience of having the app at my fingertips and all my payment information saved on there.
When I talk about a simple life in regards to a minimalist mindset I think people tend to think about their physical space. Cleaning closets, downsizing kitchen utensils, donating items etc. I want to share about the last eight months or so where I started minimizing my phone apps and let me tell you – it feels great! I think digital minimalism is super underrated and not talked about as much as our physical spaces.
How many shopping apps do you have on your phone? If you had asked me a year ago I would have had over five, at least. Amazon, Target, Modcloth, Vinted, you name it! And how many apps do you have in general? Don’t count the ones you can’t delete. Go ahead, count. I have 43.
Social and entertainment apps take up the most of my space and those include Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, Unfold, Podcast Preview and Messenger. Then I’ve got an entertainment section and a music section.
And that’s kind of it. The second page over has some financial apps – my bank, credit card and venmo – but I look at those more as necessities than wants.
Cutting down apps isn’t just about the look and feel of your phone though. Yes, it’s true that my phone is now simpler and easier to navigate, but overall it does one really important thing for me that I hope can give you an alternative to your current situation. Not only does having an excess of shopping and game apps on your phone make you waste more money, but it also wastes our most valuable resource: time. At the end of the day time is our ONLY commodity. Can’t shop, play games, or browse cat pics if you’re dead. And (morbid moment) that could happen at any moment. Do we want to spend hours of our day scrolling our feeds, or engaging in conversation with friends? Do we want to half watch a movie while online shopping at our fingertips, or do we want to be fully engaged?
I used to wake up in the mornings and just sit on my phone for two hours before work. Now that my apps are hidden away I tend to just spend about 15-20 minutes looking at my social and entertainment apps when I get home. There’s a glorious time when I get home from work where I’m alone for about 30 minutes. I take that time to do my phone thing. I’ll do a bit of Duolingo, check my Insta, say hi to the family on Facebook and look up recipes on Pintrest. It’s my phone time. That’s not to say I’m not looking at my phone a few times a day at work, in the morning or after dinner. I’m just being more conscious about phone time. I’m not perfect and I’m still learning. But I think the first step of that is to be CONCISION of our phone time.
I even deleted *deep breath* Wizards Unite this week. I was so looking forward to this game. I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to have the same connotations that Pokemon Go had a first. Kids and adults in the parks, running after a freshly spawned Snorlax. The truth is it’s kind of boring, doesn’t make much sense and has started to feel like a chore rather than something I wanted to spend my time on. I deleted it and I have zero regrets about it. In fact it feels like a huge weight off my shoulders.
This is just a small post about the benefits I’ve seen from minimizing my phone apps. I would like to go more in depth into this in the future, but for now here is just a few ideas for your own mental health. I’ve got a whole post in mind for no phone zones: bedroom, bathroom, dinners out, etc. I think I just want to put the idea in your brain for now about considering the minimization of phone apps. Really analyzing what the apps are doing for you and if they’re bringing value to your life or if you just find yourself opening them at random and hoping for some distraction.
I am a planner. It’s one of the things I love about my monthly challenges – the fact that I know what my goals are for the month, I can work towards them and at the end of the month I can be satisfied knowing that I’ve accomplished them.
I will push myself so hard to follow up on what I said I’d do. It’s why I’m never late to anything, and if I say I’m meeting you at 5pm, I’ll be there at 4:45pm. It’s definitely something I take pride in, but I’m also super hard on myself when I can’t follow through.
I started this 3 for 30 with so much optimism and realized very quickly that I had taken on too much. For one, I started this challenge during the fourth of July weekend, which was super fun and didn’t leave a lot of time for focus on my three things. Then I had an unexpected work trip, which really took me for a spin and threw all my planning and self care out of whack.
It is also super hard to start goals during a vacation. I managed to follow through on almost 2/3 of the 3 of 30s this last week, which wasn’t ideal. It was much harder than I thought though to keep up momentum when my daily routine was thrown off by travel.
So I’m going to walk you through my 3 for 30 for the first two weeks of the challenge and be open and honest about my ups and my downs.
This one was easy to step into because we were moving around so much over the long holiday weekend. I hit the 30 minutes of consistent walking every day except the 3rd of July because I spent a lot of that day in the car driving.
I wasn’t able to time myself this week, but I did keep my apple watch on through all of the awesome hiking we got to do during the week.
We spent the 4th in Bend, OR and had a great time just walking around the town and exploring. Bend is really charming and we’d driven through it before and had lunch, but hadn’t really spent a lot of time there. I definitely want to go back.
We had a great drive down and stopped anywhere we felt like it along the way. Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, The Cove Palisades State Park, Peter Skene Ogden State Park and Smith Rock State Park.
We went hiking at this natural rock formation wonder park on Friday. Side note of candor: always remember to bring enough water. We did not and had to turn around before we wanted to because it was hot and I was worried we were going to die (I exaggerate only a little). I made it half way up a trail called ‘Misery Ridge'(that should tell you all you need to know) and the lack of water and the fact that we were only half way up made me turn around right then and there. I believe in pushing yourself, particularly in exercise situations, but I also knew it was hot, I was sweaty and my water was low. Not a good combo. I did bring my water shoes though and as we hiked back down the ridge we found a good spot in the river to swap out shoes and cool down. Heaven.
I ended up in Los Angeles the week after the 4th for work. Surprise trips are not really in me. Like I said, I usually have a plan for the week and this threw me off pretty bad. It was a lot of work, a lot of sitting in fancy buildings in fancy chairs staring at large buildings. The Pacific Ocean was nearly legible through the smog of the city, but I was over it. Southern California is my home and it was weird to be there and be too busy to visit my parents or see any friends. On top of that I didn’t get to walk a lot this week so my 3 for 30 with walking started to slack. We were working 12 hour days with mandatory group dinners after so being active and healthy and outdoors was not going to happen. That’s not to say I didn’t have fun. We snuck in a good time on Wednesday and went to the top of our office building, which apparently is the highest point in LA, and enjoyed the sunset with a glass of wine. Of course several other people did as well so as beautiful as it was, always remember that Instagram isn’t reality.
This one I’ve had some success with. The Duolingo app is honestly amazing, so easy to use and great and reminders that aren’t overbearing.
I’ve had a ton of fun using it. I took Spanish in high school, but never retained anything other than a few simple phrases – my particular favorite “Podria ir al bano”, which was the only way to get out of class.
This screen shot is a little old. I’m already up to level 5 in travel and working my way through it. I’m having a great time with the app. I practiced today at my eye appointment, I practiced in-between meetings in LA and even on our vacation to Bend when I wasn’t driving. I’m feeling confident in keeping this one up even after the month is over. I’m having a great time with it.
I thought writing would be the easiest of my 3 for 30, but it’s been the most difficult so far. I think it’s because I like to be in a certain place and mood when I write. After a long day of hiking or after a day of meetings, I’m not really fond of sitting with my laptop and typing away about nothing. I’ve got too much nature in my head after a hike and after a long meeting I physically don’t have it in me to just go back to staring at a screen.
I think my take on my writing based off these past weeks is to not think of it has something that has to be done so formally. I work best on writing when I’m relaxed I’ve come to realize. So starting this week I’ve been taking my writing where I can get it in. That means on my notepad app in bed, typing away random thoughts when I have a few moments at work, scribbling on a little pad I keep in my bag while I’m waiting for my food somewhere. I work best on writing when I don’t force it. When I can relax with it. That’s the biggest lesson these last two weeks and I’m hoping I can take that with me for the next two.
Well, that was my 30 minutes of writing today and it felt good. My language is right on track and my walking needs to be upped a bit. What are your three things that if you did them for 30 minutes a day, would make a big improvement on your life? Even just one thing is okay! One of the most uniquely human things we do is to constantly better ourselves. I think we just need to take the pressure off ourselves every once in awhile. We’re only human after all.
Last week I got a chance to finally read through The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There wasn’t a lot in the book that stuck with me, but one part stood out and helped me develop this challenge for July.
Author Stephen Covey at one point asks the reader to think of one thing that if they did it every day for 30 minutes how much better they’d be at that thing at the end of a week, a month, a year. I had three things pop into my head immediately: writing, walking and language.
I was thinking about how much better of a writer I’d be, how many more ideas I would have put down on the page if I had spent 30 minutes a day with zero distractions just writing. If I had done that for the past year, where would my writing be today? It’d probably be pretty freaking excellent. When I read Stephen King’s On Writing this was his biggest piece of advice. Force yourself to write. You can only get better by practicing and writing everyday. I’m going to start taking that to heart.
The next thing I thought of was walking. I’m supposed to walk a relay from Portland to the coast in August and I haven’t done any training for. It’s not a long walk in general as it’s part of a relay team, but there is a 7 mile stretch that is labeled as hard and a 4.6 mile stretch about 8 hours after that. The biggest concern for me is making sure I’m practicing on the sidewalk/pavement as the walk takes place on the road. I do plenty of walking on trails, but I think street walking can be different on your body. I easily get shin splints so I figure if I can walk for 30 minutes at a brisk pace every day (which I should be doing anyway), I’ll be in a much better position than if I sporadically do walks throughout the day as I’m doing now.
Finally, I saw this video last week on Reddit about a guy who is self taught in several conversational languages. I’m sure you’ve been asked the question, ‘If you could have one superpower what would it be?’ People tend to pick flying or invisibility but for me it’d be the ability to speak any language. Imagine how free you’d be to travel and explore. To interact with different cultures. I’ve had the Duolingo app rotting on my phone for years and have only really played with it a few times for Spanish and French. I want to take this month to do 30 minutes of Spanish a day.
So how I can measure my three things for 30 minutes a day in July with you all? I’m hoping to share my writing experiences, my slumps and my triumphs. With walking I’d like to share my times and see if they improve. I recorded for Portland to Coast a 20 minute mile so it’d be good to start tracking that and see where I’m at. Finally, with language I’ll share the what level I get to each week on Duolingo and any particular concepts that I’m getting stuck on or find interesting.