Where Are You Now?

by Stephen Mills on July 13, 2009


“Cages are cages whether constructed of steel and concrete or from the fabric of the mind.” — Gerry Spence

Most people continue routine activities in their lives long after they have lost their value.  You have also likely taken on commitments and obligations that, had you been deciding today, you would not have accepted.  It’s great to find your true self, but you need time to live it.

It’s time for you to take an inventory of the activities that fill your time  and evaluate them.  Don’t accept them by default any longer.  If you want to be free to pursue positive decisions you have to free up your time by breaking out of the prison of the routine.

“Once enslaved, few want to burst out from under the leaking roof of the slave hut to freedom…  Better that we rage until we are palsied, point and squall and wail at fate, shake our fists at God, blame the politicians, blame anybody, everything, because to become free demands that we take responsibility for our bondage.”  — Gerry Spence

Track Your Activities

One of the best ways to inventory your activities is simply to list all of them for say a week.  You can pre-fill in what you know you do regularly (work 50 hours for example), but also track your activities throughout the week.  Put them all down, no matter how minor, automatic, or routine.  It’s important you figure out how you are spending your time.  There are 168 hours in a week so you need to account for that much time.

Label Your Activities

I learned this label exercise from Harry Browne and I think it is great although I’ve changed the labels up a bit.  Next to each activity you are going to apply up to four different labels.  They represent four different perspectives from which you can analyze your activities.

Some of your long lasting activities may need to be broken down further.  For example, your job may consume many hours a week but there may be some activities within that job that you want to label separately.  If so, break down your job into sub-activities.

Being honest is absolutely critical.  Don’t label something a certain way because you think you should feel a certain way about it.  Don’t label it the way it ought to be.  Nobody will see this but you.  If you don’t enjoy chauffeuring your kids around 4 hours a week, then don’t label it as something good just because you think you have some parental obligation to enjoy child rearing activities.  Don’t lie to yourself.  The truth will set you free.  Don’t be afraid.  The labels you apply don’t hold you to some action later.  Use this as a discovery activity, a way to get to know yourself and your activities better.  If you don’t enjoy going to the opera with your partner, then don’t label it as good because it makes her or him happy.

Finally, when you are applying these labels, apply them as if you aren’t using some technique such as being present to enhance your experience.  For example maybe you are really into being in the moment and you get simple satisfaction out of doing laundry.  You need to step back from that a bit and look at it from a perspective that allows you to ask whether you really enjoy doing laundry.  I suspect it is a very rare person who, if they could snap their fingers and have the laundry magically all done and folded, would not choose some other positive activity to utilize the time available.  If you would choose to spend your time doing laundry then all power to you, but don’t label it as good just because you have some way of making it not so bad.

When you are done, you will end up with activities that have multiple labels and that’s the point.  You are trying to get a look at your activities from as many perspectives as possible.

Good / Not-Good / Indifferent

You are going to apply the labels of “good”, “not-good”, and “indifferent” depending upon how the activity makes you feel and whether or not it is contributing to your happiness and well-being.  For this label concentrate on how your activities make you feel.  Whether you are forced to do them or chose to do them will be evaluated by other labels.

Label activities as “good” if they make you feel good or happy.  Label them as “not-good” if they make you feel bored, stressed, uncomfortable, miserable, time-wasted, or any other negative feeling.  Label them as “indifferent” if they are some survival activity such as sleeping, brushing your teeth, eating, etc. that must be done and there is no point in evaluating it.

Now look over your list and ask yourself why are you doing any of the activities labeled “not-good”?  If you think you have to do it, then really dig in and question it deeply.  Be hard on yourself.  Figure out a way to pay a price and get out of the activity if at all possible.  If it’s a compromise with a spouse or family member, I would just stop it.  Pay someone to do it if it needs to be done.  Get an older child to do it and pay them.  Collaborate and rotate the duty (carpools for example)  if possible.  The point is work hard at figuring out a way to stop.

“You may be intelligent enough to see a practical solution.  Have you the nerve to follow it?  If not, you might as well be stupid.” – David Seabury

If you absolutely have to keep doing it then figure out a better way to do it that takes less time.  Don’t just accept it as if you have no choice. If you have nothing else then just just be present and enjoy it more, but only do this as a last resort.  Your first choice should be to stop the activity.

For your “indifferent” activities make sure they are really necessary.  If they are just time fillers, then eliminate them.  If they really are necessary to survive, then get in the moment and be present.

Positive / Negative

This is the Positive vs. Negative Decisions article I wrote a few days ago.  If the activity is something you choose to do to increase your happiness, then it is a positive activity.  If it is something you do to avoid pain or unhappiness then it is a negative activity.  See the linked article for more detail.

Once again look over your list for everything that is labeled “negative”.  Everything I said above around the “not-good” activities apply to negative activities.  Work hard at figuring out ways to eliminate as many negatives as possible.  Get creative.  If we spent as much time figuring out creative ways to reduce negative activities as we do complaining about them we might not have many left.  To be honest, for many of them you could probably just choose to stop doing them.  You are likely just afraid to stop.  Try it.  I think you will like it.

Active / Passive

If you initiated the activity for whatever reason, then label it “active”.  If someone else initiated it, then label it “passive”.  If you do it just because someone else wants you to do it, then it is passive.  If you listen to boring conversation then you are being passive.

This labeling exercise will give you a good idea how much of your time is reactive as opposed to you actively choosing what you want and need to do.  I hope by now it is obvious what you should do.  If you are spending a lot of time at passive activities, then you are not leading the life you want to lead.  You are reacting to what other people want.  Eliminate as much passive activity as you possibly can.  Apply the same difficult challenge to yourself as you did with previous labels.

Enjoy / Mistake / Productive

Apply the label “enjoy” to anything that gives you immediate happiness.  Apply the label “mistake” to anything you started doing with the hope of a future payoff, but which is now just continuing to cost you after realizing it was a mistake.  Apply the label “productive short-term” to any activity you are doing to bring very short-term happiness or pleasure.  Working to have spending money is an example.  Apply the label “productive long-term” to longer term projects that you are hoping will pay off in the much longer future – say a period of one year or more.  Finally apply the label “productive never” to activities which were once promising but have just petered out and become irrelevant.  For example you continue to contribute articles once in a while to a blog that has died, but you know it is never going to amount to much.

Obviously you need to do whatever you can to eliminate the activities labeled “mistake” and “productive never”.  Aside from those however, you need to seriously consider long-term projects.  It’s ok to have them but the world changes so much and so fast, don’t give your present away in the hope of a future that may never come.  You can work on long-term initiatives until you die.  There will always be something. Give those “productive long-term” activities a serious second look.

“Don’t be too anxious to justify your activities as being necessary to long-term goals.  The future has an annoying habit of forgetting its appointments – or arriving too late for them.

I’ve always found it hard to understand why so many people live so much for the future – especially when the present is such a lovely place.”  — Harry Browne

Finally give those “enjoy” activities a thorough review as well.  It’s great if you have some of these activities; the more the better.  But make sure you really really enjoy them and even if you do, whether there might be something even better out there waiting for you.  Think about whether you can replace some of your enjoyable activities with something you would like even better!

There is really no limit to what you can do with this.  You can break down your job or your income generating activities with this technique.  You can come up with your own labels that represent a new perspective.


How many hours in your day, your week, or your month are you genuinely happy?  This technique can tell you a great deal about your life.  Don’t just gut feel it.  Gut feel may give you an indication, but every single minute of your life is precious.  Analyze them in a little more detail and make sure you are living every one of them to the max!

“For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been!” – John Greenleaf Whittier

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


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Edit Your Life — The Rat Race Trap
July 17, 2009 at 10:07 am

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Diggy - Upgradereality.com July 14, 2009 at 5:49 am


Wow I like this post.
It’s something im good at, wasting time doing pointless things like sitting on facebook or checking emails while I could be constructive and working on something real:)

I especially like the quotes you added, can see you put a lot of time into this:)

.-= Diggy – Upgradereality.com´s last blog ..Successful people make decisions! =-.


Positively Present July 14, 2009 at 9:55 am

I love this post! It’s a great reminder to live in the moment and to keep track of the moments we’re living. This question is so thought-provoking: “How many hours in your day, your week, or your month are you genuinely happy?” I bet most people would be surprised by their own answers. You’ve identified ways to keep track of where we are now and I think that’s such an important way to stay focused and present.
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..the purpose of a wish =-.


Vin - NaturalBias July 14, 2009 at 9:58 am

Another great way to implement the concept of positive vs. negative decisions! This article is a great reminder of why we need to assess the direction of our lives on a regular basis. Just as we let unneeded material items collect in our homes and cause clutter, we let avoidable and unnecessary responsibilities accumulate as well. Keeping a log of activities sounds like an easy way to gain the awareness needed to avoid it.


Deb Owen July 14, 2009 at 11:23 am

During my 13-week course, we come upon the exercise of ‘reading deprivation’ — for one week, no reading.

People always balk at the exercise in the beginning. And they have a million reasons why the things they read are important and why they can’t give them up. And then they talk about how hard it is. And then they notice — that Twitter didn’t explode, the outcome of the President’s visit to Moscow didn’t change, people are *still* reporting on Michael Jackson’s death……

In the meantime, they end up taking action in areas they’d been putting off for weeks, months, and sometimes years.

It is absolutely amazing the pockets of time we can find if we truly spend our time where it’s most valuable. Someone recently posted that most millionaires don’t know who got voted off the island (or who won American Idol, for that matter) — but we do. And then we lament that we have no time for the things we say we truly want in our lives.

Those small pockets of time that can be found, used in a different way, can add up to serious changes in our lives.

All the best!
P.S. No. I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with American Idol. I have my guilty pleasure too. (It’s Grey’s Anatomy, in case you were wondering. But ya know? I *plan* for that to be my downtime. 😉 )
.-= Deb Owen´s last blog ..anything is possible (but there’s a catch) =-.


Jodi at Joy Discovered July 14, 2009 at 11:25 am

I have done this exercise and it works wonders! Now I always think twice before making commitments. Anything I do is what I want to do and I can be present and grateful for the activity. It has been revolutionary! Thanks for sharing the details!
.-= Jodi at Joy Discovered´s last blog ..An Elephant, a Rope, and Programmed Beliefs =-.


zencontrol.net July 14, 2009 at 12:20 pm

This is really wonderful. I liked the simplicity of the labels… this one is surely going to work for most of the people.
.-= zencontrol.net´s last blog ..Enjoy Happy Relationships – Avoid These 10 Things =-.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills July 14, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Stephen, I gotta tell you that this is an outstanding piece of work my friend. I’d like to pull out one element to focus on as a favorite, but I really can’t. There is a whole process here and all the parts are synergistic. What can I say except “extremely well done.”
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Is Your Life Satisfying or Disappointing? =-.


Robin Easton July 14, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Stephen this is very well done. I can’t imagine someone following this and not coming away with a strong sense of who they are. I so relate to the deadening of routine. I continually challenge myself to break free of routine in both little ways and big ways. I think it goes back to that old adage about not falling asleep at the wheel. If I even sense I am doing that I have to do something to shake off the dust and clear my head and the air and get myself thinking and feeling in new ways. Without this I am not free.
.-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Is Nature Real? =-.


Stephen Mills July 14, 2009 at 7:45 pm

@Diggy, thanks and I appreciate it. I love quotes. Most of my tweets on Twitter are quotes.

@Positively Present, I think you are absolutely correct. Most people will be shocked when they see the results, if they are honest in the evaluation. Thanks for stopping in!

@Vin, hello again and thanks for your comments!

@Deb, it’s amazing what you can know when you find out you don’t know the winner of American idol or a million other irrelevant facts that we are bombarded with daily. I have a sweet deal. My wife watches the crap and likes it and she just fills me in on interesting tidbits. I know what is going on in the world of the trivial without having to watch. 🙂

@Jodi, I’m so glad you found freedom. I checked out your blog article and I will be commenting on it. Thanks!

@zencontrol.net, thanks for stopping in to comment. Welcome! 🙂

@Jonathan, as always THANK YOU!

@Robin, hi! I love your zest for life. It is contagious. Keep spreading it my friend 🙂


Giovanna Garcia July 15, 2009 at 2:34 am

Great post! I think it is eye opening for a lot of people to see where they spend their time on. I really like the labeling skill, easy for anyone to use.
Thanks for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action


Oscar - freestyle mind July 15, 2009 at 4:48 am

Great article Stephen. I like that you advise to track an entire week for this because a week in neither too short nor too long for tracking routines. I also use a week when I manage the things I have to do.
.-= Oscar – freestyle mind´s last blog ..Interview with Brian of cheersupnation =-.


Mike King July 16, 2009 at 7:11 pm

This is a great method to understand where in the world all our time goes. I’ve used a similar technique in business (by Peter Drucker) called the Drucker analysis and it’s vital to find the stuff that does and doesn’t matter. Putting this in place outside of work for every day activities is also helpful and you’ve got great outline and tips here to do that.

The trick is then doing something about it to ensure you spend more time in what is important to you.
.-= Mike King´s last blog ..Maintain Your Resume =-.


Davina July 16, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Hi Stephen. This is exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve been caught in a trap of my own design and have been spinning my wheels for the last while. It was fun at first… enjoying the momentum and all, but most of my hours have been spent working and much of what I do lately is all routine. Funny how routine can swing between being comfortable anduncomfortable.
.-= Davina´s last blog ..To Smile A Smile =-.


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