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Where’s Your Candle Burning?

by Ian Doescher


You’ve heard the expression “I’m burning my candle at both ends,” which means a person is too busy/stressed/tired/whatever. They are like a candle that, instead of being consumed at just one end, is being consumed at both.

Most people I know don’t just feel like they are burning their candle at both ends — they feel like their candle has been tossed into the incinerator and is being consumed at an alarming rate. Soon, there will be no candle.

Being busy is almost a badge of honor in our society. It has become an expectation. When we ask, “How are you doing?”, it seems like there’s something wrong if the other person doesn’t talk about how busy they are. I’ve heard people make excuses for why they are not busy, excuses for why they are relaxing, which seems totally backward to me. Who told us our lives had to be so busy? What craziness is that?!

Those are questions I can’t answer. I don’t have the silver bullet that will make our lives less busy. And, in fact, this seems like an ongoing issue in our culture. I’ve been amused, in the past few years, to discover the resonances between Robert Frost’s poem from the early 1900s:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

And the lyrics from the Daft Punk song:

Work it harder
Make it better
Do it faster
Makes us stronger
More than ever
Hour after hour
Work is never over

It seems this feeling of too much to do and not enough time to do it in is not a new thing. The modern world didn’t invent busy-ness, even if we have perfected it.

Here, then, are a few thoughts — not on how to make yourself less busy (sorry, no answers there), but on how to keep yourself a little bit saner and a little more rested in the midst of the busy-ness:

  1. Remember to take time for yourself. Every morning, I spend about an hour and a half to two hours awake before the rest of my family gets up. This is my time to read and work out, and I guard it carefully. Does it mean I’m sacrificing sleep? Of course. But my me-time helps set up my mental frame of mind for the day. I think taking time for yourself, whenever you do it and however long it is, is crucial in the midst of a busy schedule.
  2. Figure out what your minimum amount of sleep is, and get at least that. If I don’t get more than 6 hours of sleep each night, I will not function well. I will be irritable, woozy, and sullen throughout the day. 7 hours is even better. (8 hours is heaven, but I’ve given up on the 8-hour sleep schedule these days.) The point is that I know my minimum amount of sleep, and I make sure I get it every single night. Sleep is your friend. Don’t let yourself go below the minimum.
  3. Wake at (or near) the same time every day. Speaking of sleep, I think it’s just as important that, whatever time you wake up, you keep it fairly consistent. Your body gets confused if you are waking up at different times each morning, which makes it harder to sleep on the mornings you sleep in later. I’ve found that, if I want to get more sleep, it’s better to go to bed earlier than try sleeping in later. (Many of us, once we reach a certain age, have a hard time sleeping in anyway. Our bodies are ready to go at the usual time whether we want them to be or not.)
  4. Try to avoid screens for the last waking hour. This is definitely one of those do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do categories. If I am working on a project before bed (or in bed!), or particularly if I am checking email or Facebook just before bed, I have a much harder time falling asleep. My brain is still working on the project, answering the email, etc. Even watching TV before bed probably isn’t a great idea, though I think that’s better than working on something. The point is: the more you can reduce screen time before you sleep, the better you’ll sleep (and the faster you’ll fall asleep).

The busy-ness of life isn’t going to end anytime soon. Our candles are being burned from every possible angle. Hopefully, though, we can find ways to keep ourselves sane and happy in the midst of it. What are your personal methods?

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