When thinking about my new goal to become more efficient in every aspect of my life, I was taken by a sudden realization: my new iPhone is the center of my universe. Completely plugged into the world 24/7, thanks to this invention, I do ridiculous things in the name of multi-tasking. Exhibit A: I e-mail while running on the elliptical. That’s right, with one hand waving wildly to my side and the other pressed onto my phone as I punch in numbers, I press send with the least sweaty hand. I usually experience a sweeping sense of accomplishment when I manage to do that. After all, I did do two things at the same time, right?

So, why then, in retrospect, do I feel less suave and more silly than anything else? I really didn’t save time at all; I simply slowed both exercising and e-mailing down! It turns out that true time management, like habitual environmental sustainability, requires a change in the way I think. I started thinking about other aspects of my life and realized that I do many things in the name of saving “time” or “money” or “resources” — and they actually accomplish none of those things.

What, then, am I really getting out of complicated habits that simply aren’t doing what they are supposed to? Sometimes it takes a different perspective to shed some light on the way I am really living my life — and what I can do to consciously live the best one I can. That is why I am so glad that when I searched “environmentally conscious ideas” on Google the other day, I got so much more than I asked for.

Simply titled “No Impact Man,” the site made my eyes pop as I read about a family who did a year long experiment of living a zero waste lifestyle in New York City! Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, did a blog, book, and film following his families’ attempts to stop mindless habits and to start enjoying the world in a mindful way. Naturally, I started to think that this was all some publicity stunt. Call me jaded, but as I delve deeper into environmental sustainability practices (from recycling, to composting, to walking instead of driving), I realize that I am a hypocrite, too. So I had to hand it to Beavan with his book title practically proclaiming that, until this project, he had been living differently than his ideals:

“No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process.”

The book doesn’t set out to change the world, but documents the way that one husband, one wife, one toddler and one pet all lived life without waste. The concept blows my mind, especially since they did it in steps that make a lot of sense when setting out to achieve a goal.

“Stage one was figuring out how to live without making garbage: no disposable products, no packaging, etc. Stage two was figuring out how to cause the least environmental impact with our food choices,” Beavan explains. “Stage three is figuring out how to reduce our consumption to only what is necessary and how to do that sustainably. The whole thing gets harder and harder as we add each stage.”

Laid out that simply, these stages to ultimate sustainability are actually something that I feel I could try someday as a curious citizen. As an environmental writer, I should implement it today. Luckily, I’ve found a happy middle ground. For a week in the middle of November, I am going to join the one week nation-wide carbon cleanse. Inspired by the No Impact Man, the challenge includes a day each of changing the way we think about consumption, trash, food, and more. It ends in an “ego-sabbath,” just read the how-to manual here (after you sign up): noimpactman.typepad.com.

According to EPA Municipal Solid Waste Data for 2006, the U.S. produced more than 251 million tons of trash — 4.6 pounds per person per day. When I did the math and saw that I will be saving landfills from 32.2 pounds of trash in the middle of November, right before the holidays, I knew I had to give myself (and others) the gift of mindfulness this year. Maybe this mindfulness of my impact and my time will stretch to other things, which brings me back to my treadmill e-mailing on my iPhone. I am seeing the scenario quite differently now.

Even more so than at the onset of my discovery, I see that this is a bad habit. Beyond being a scary spectacle to anyone observing my gravity defiance while pounding hard on two different machines, I am tiring myself out more than saving time. Instead of managing to do two things well all at once, I do a mediocre job at a grammatically incorrectly e-mail reading “sent by my iPhone” and I complete a run clocking in at a much shorter distance. I have come to the conclusion that what I do makes its own mark on the world and is observed, so I better do everything as honestly as completely as possible. Because, as I am realizing whole-heartedly, it isn’t the quantity of things we get or get done that makes our lives fulfilled, it is the quality of the one life we lead.

Megan Reilly is a freelance writer, specializing in documenting the lives of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things; as a creative writer, she can’t be stopped, with entries appearing regularly on www.1800recycling.com. Attempting a best-seller, she has signed up to write a novel in a month with www.NaNoWriMo.org. When she’s not writing, she’s probably either singing or trying to make it as the next Kirsten Dunst.

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