Are there too many things to do, or is it just that we (or I, at least) have an overriding need to do ALL THE THINGS and – here’s the real problem – do them ALL AT ONCE, NOW?
Everything we do, we do in stages. Even something as simple as making a cup of tea involves a whole series of steps, from getting up off the chair to filling the kettle, switching it on, and so on.
So when we’re starting a new venture, or simply trying to get done all the things that we’re committed to doing, let’s remember that we can’t do them all at once. We can only do them one step at a time.
No prizes for guessing who this post is written for. You, my reader, of course, but mostly as a reminder to myself that I can’t do all the things all at once!
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!
“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?
- Spending the days in a place where you truly belong.
- 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.
- No dress code, no need to wear uncomfortable shoes all day. (But always get dressed. The postman will thank you.)
- When a job’s done, it’s done. No need to “look busy” until 5pm.
- A hot jacket potato instead of a cold sandwich for lunch.
- The comfort of being at home.
- Being able to visit a shop during the working day instead of on Saturday with everyone else.
- 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.
It’s 8:45 am. I’m at my desk, fresh cup of tea to hand and fingers at the ready. But I’m 45 minutes too early.
The boy had to be at school early this morning, so our morning routine was brought forward by 45 minutes and that gave me this gift of extra working time. But it’s also a glimpse into the future. Come September, the boy will be on a bus at 8am without me even needing to get dressed, let alone leave the house.
And so things will change again. A working day of 8am to 4pm starts to line up with the ‘normal’ routine of the outside world. l don’t want to sleepwalk into this change and, without thinking about it, find myself working (almost) nine to five. (As a wise woman once sang, “What a way to make a living!“)
I came into this live and work at home life so that I could build work around life instead of the other way round, so I could be present for my family and have time for myself. Until now, my work time has been boundaried by someone else’s needs (nap time was the only work time for a good while) and by the outside world (school hours, clubs and activities). That’s not going to end completely, but slowly the potential work time is increasing and I need to make some conscious decisions about how much work I can take on and still be true to myself.
I chose this live and work at home life. I choose it again now. I choose to mix work and home, work and play, responsibilities and freedom. The challenge is in finding a new way to make it work, for everyone.
I know I’ve lost the rhythm of my days when I discover the house plants dying and the tomato plants in their pots in the greenhouse limp and drooping, a pale grey tinge to their once-green leaves. These are un-missable clues that I’ve temporarily lost the balance. Another clue is food: the family eat leftovers and I’m reduced to a nasty ready meal picked up in a service station on the last leg of a long journey.
I crave a slow day of setting things to rights: a day of pottering, tidying, nurturing and coming back to myself. But that will have to wait. Today I’ve committed to a writing day with a fellow writer. I ignore the whispers that I can’t afford the time, and I even postpone the longed-for day of slowness, and begin to write myself back to balance instead.
There are many ways of balancing ourselves. Last night’s discovery of the perilous state of my tomato plants came about because of a desperate need to feel the grass beneath my feet and the fresh outdoor air on my face after a long indoor day. My garden, a pen and paper, a good book: these are some of the things that nurture me and bring me back to myself. I need them today.
What brings you back? Do you need nurturing today? (If you think you can’t afford the time, or don’t know what you truly need, those are also unmissable clues that now is the time for rebalancing.)
There’s a moment every spring when I think I’ve cracked it. All the spring seeds are sown. The beds are neat, and the weeds so small that I can kid myself I’ve pulled them all out. I’ve even emptied the compost bins of their ‘black gold’ and there’s room to dispose of our veg peelings in them again.
And then it happens.
There’s an explosion of growth and the weeds are suddenly towering over my previous seedlings. Or a mysterious mildew appears in the greenhouse, or a late frost destroys the lush new leaves of the potato crop. There’s always something. You’d think that I’d have learned this much earlier but now, after many years of repeated lessons, I finally realise that gardening is never finished, not even temporarily.
Neither is a business, or a way of life. There’s always something. We suddenly have more work than we can cope with – or none. A new opportunity or idea raises its head and we’re thrown into a crisis of indecision or a whirl of frantic activity. The family routine changes and everything must adjust to follow suit – or the work routine changes and the family has to somehow fall into line. (This always happens the day after you find yourself thinking, “Now we’ve got the balance just right.”)
But here, in this moment of stillness as I look over the vegetable beds, I find a moment of clarity. Change is constant. We never find balance and stay there. Like riding a bike, we make constant tiny adjustments in order to stay upright.
So I’ll enjoy this time of looking over my almost-tidy, spring-poised garden, knowing it won’t last. If it did, there would be no flowers and no harvest.