Procrastination and getting things done

So, you have a beautiful List of Things To Do.  Or just one big Thing To Do.  Everything is organised; the only thing left is to actually do the things.

So you make a cup of tea, feed the rabbit, get distracted and end up doing something which never even made it onto the list.  It’s not just me, is it?

The conventional advice often seems to be to jump in and do the hard thing first – get the worst of it over with.  (Rather like eating your beetroot first and saving the yummy buttery mashed potato until last.  Or maybe that’s just me too?)  Then everything else will seem easy.

Except it doesn’t always work.  When the boy and I were discussing homework yesterday (before it escalated into a shouting match – that’s a story for another day), we agreed that we both work with a different strategy, one that works better for us.

It’s this: do the easiest thing first, or the thing that you most like the look of, or the thing that will take the shortest time.  That way, you’re on a roll and are more likely to continue onto the next thing and the next, rather than heaving a huge sigh of relief after the hard thing and going and making yet another cup of tea in celebration.  (You may eventually end up with a pile of ‘nasty’ things to do once you’ve picked off the best ones.  But somehow they look less daunting when you’ve already proved to yourself that you can get things done.

I reckon it often doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something.  Action begets action, and eventually you’ll get to the thing you’ve been putting off – and I bet it won’t seem half as bad by then.

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Harmonious lists

Sometimes it’s the simplest things which have the most profound impact.  Yesterday I made a chart of all the projects in my head, work or otherwise, and listed the things I knew needed to be done on each.  Result: a clear head, and a sense of relief that I didn’t have to keep thinking about them all, because they were written down, all together, in an orderly fashion.  I could even start to prioritise and plan.

It’s part of the drive for an integrated life, which I wrote about yesterday. Bringing everything together, acknowledging that it’s all part of the same life, can be really helpful.  It doesn’t mean that everything gets mushed together in a big mess and you have to do laundry and tax returns and business planning and all the other stuff all at the same time.  It’s not about juggling, and certainly not about multi-tasking.  (Now that’s another thing I don’t believe in, like work/life balance.)

Bringing all the parts of your life together like this makes is much easier to see which are the most pressing things, which are the biggest things, and which are the things that you simply don’t have time or mental space to do just at the moment.  (Yes, it shows jut how realistic or otherwise your plans really are!)  And whether you work at home, or outside of the home, it enables you to be very clear about boundaries between tasks.  Because if it’s all written down in the same place, it won’t be forgotten, so you can afford to focus on just one thing at a time, knowing that the others will be taken care of in their turn.

Of course, it’s one thing to write all the things down, and quite another to actually get them done.  Procrastination comes to us all.  But, in the spirit of true procrastination, I’ll post about that – tomorrow!

I don’t believe in work-life balance

“Work/life balance”.  What does the phrase mean to you?  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a helpful one.  It implies that work is not part of life and, as we all know, work is very much a part of our lives.  It implies that there is work (over there), and there is life (over here), and that they are at opposite ends of a metaphorical seesaw.  Only when the seesaw is perfectly horizontal can we possibly be happy.

What if we there was only life?  Our life, which is made up of many parts, one of which is this thing we call work.  What if we didn’t need to keep work and life separate but could integrate them into one harmonious whole?

You may wear many hats, but you wear the same head under each of them.  You are always you, and everything you do is part of your life, wherever you are and whoever you are with.  How would your life be different if you began to perceive everything in it as part of the same thing?

Manifesting a Dream

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It may look like part of a historical display, or just a place to shelter from the rain.  But it’s also a dream.

Soon there will be an old-style wooden gypsy caravan in my garden. There is no logical reason for this. Nobody will be living in it or travelling in it. It has no shafts, anyway, so it can no longer be drawn by a horse. Getting it into the garden is causing many logistical challenges. (There is mud. A lot of mud. There is hedge removal – hedge consisting mainly of things with very sharp thorns. There is a narrow lane and there is an electric fence.)

But this is not just a caravan. It is a dream come true. It’s a ride to future possibility. It’s creativity on wheels. It’s a huge, believe-in-yourself gift to my creative heart-led self.

Maybe that seems a lot to expect from a wooden shed on wheels. But squint carefully through the fog of time and, at a distance of about thirty years, you’ll see a little blonde girl gazing up at that shed on wheels with joy and wonder and a visible sparkle all around her. She imagines living a life of adventure under that canvas roof. She’s fascinated by its tiny cupboards and drawers and windows. She wants to snuggle up in the built-in bed and drift away. She writes a story with herself as the heroine and the wooden caravan as the place where magic happens. In the story-within-a-story in her mind, she imagines her writer-self scribbling her stories perched in its open doorway.  To see this wood, iron and canvas dream become real in front of her seems like a miracle.

We don’t all share the same dreams. One person’s deepest longing may be another person’s biggest folly. But dreams are important and it’s vital to support our own and those of others. My husband sees no need at all for a wooden gypsy caravan in our back garden and yet – and I bless him for it – he’s willing to acknowledge and accept that it matters deeply to me and to that little blonde girl I once was (and perhaps still am).

Dreams may be ethereal and mystical, but manifesting them is a strangely practical activity involving a lot of hard work. In this case I’ve sweated for hours removing bramble, hawthorn and blackthorn, suffered injury from all those thorns, carried out complex negotiations with neighbours over access, and been at the mercy of the rain that’s causing the mud that’s preventing final delivery. (My dream would be in danger of sinking into the neighbour’s field if we tried to bring it into the garden now. There is probably some meaningful metaphor here, but I don’t want to over-stretch the point!)

If a dream is going to come true, at some point we have to make the switch from dreamer to do-er. And there always comes a point when you wonder if it’s worth the effort. (A bramble whipping across your face and drawing blood will do that.) But it is. Even if no-one shares your dream, you can make it happen and it will be worth it.

When the field dries out and my caravan comes home, I can’t wait to go out and meet it and my little-girl self again.

A place to work

The beauty of this laptop age is that, in theory, we can work anywhere.

Of course, it’s not true. Not for everyone. I met a woman recently who runs a business making personalised towels. Her sewing machine, iron and pile of stock are somewhat less portable than my digital documents and paper notebook. And for anyone who works in training, coaching or anything else involving personal contact, there’s a need for a private space.

And for those of us who can work anywhere, some places are easier to work in than others. I know a lot of people work on trains, but I find the stuffiness and the cramped seats and the busyness (and the short duration of most of my train journeys) mean I get very little done and usually end up sleeping or staring out of the window instead. Or eating junk. Sometimes all three.  Cafes can be good, depending on the noise level, but then there’s the eating thing again.

Mostly, I stay home. Until the recent house move, I was lucky enough to have the fabled Room of One’s Own, and it’s only since we moved and I don’t even have a desk that I’ve realised what a luxury that is.  To be able to leave things on the desk and have them still be there in the morning, instead of having to pack everything away so we can use the kitchen table for its intended purpose. (Yes, that would be eating. Again.) To have a phone that’s mine instead of having to hunt down one of the wandering handsets elsewhere in the house. To know where the stapler belongs.

Mostly, though, it’s an emotional thing rather than a practical thing. I find myself yearning for a little space that’s mine. Am I greedy?

Are irritations less or more irritating when you work alone?

I will only offer a brief answer to this question, for reasons that will become abundantly clear.

When the document you’ve spent all morning writing suddenly, for no discernable reason, turns from reasonable English prose to gibberish and strange characters, some of which may be Chinese, how do you react?  If I was working in an office with others, I’m sure I’d be fuming and enlisting help and sympathy from everyone around me.  I could probably build an hour-long conversation and moan-fest around it, and someone would offer me tea and biscuits.

But when the only living being around is a rabbit, and he’s out in an uninviting rain-soaked and windswept garden, what do you do?

  1. Sigh loudly (although even that’s unsatisfying when there’s nobody to hear you).
  2. Fiddle around ineptly for a few minutes trying to fix it, without success.
  3. Give up and eat lunch. (Not the healthy one you were planning but leftover spaghetti followed by toast because it’s quick and easy and annoyance has made you hungry.)
  4. Return bottom to chair and begin the whole document again, saving every thirty seconds just in case.  Because there aren’t any other options.

Would it have been cathartic to share the irritation with other people, or does working alone make you more stoic, more likely to shrug and get on with things?  And which is better?

I shall mull this over while repeating a whole morning’s work.

Reasons to love living and working at home

  1. Spending the days in a place where you truly belong.
  2. A walk during the day: exercise, fresh air, and a chance to actually meet some of the neighbours rather than driving past them in the dark mornings and evenings and never speaking.
  3. No dress code, no need to wear uncomfortable shoes all day.  (But always get dressed. The postman will thank you.)
  4. When a job’s done, it’s done.  No need to “look busy” until 5pm.
  5. A hot jacket potato instead of a cold sandwich for lunch.
  6. The comfort of being at home.
  7. Being able to visit a shop during the working day instead of on Saturday with everyone else.
  8. Building connections: with a place, with the people around you, with yourself.

It’s about having roots, belonging, being able to be a whole person. Who I am at work is who I am at home, because I don’t have to carve myself into different-shaped pieces.  I can shape my home and my life to fit me and my family.