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!

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Boundaries and butterflies

I’m still thinking about boundaries.  A day with structure and boundaries feels productive; is productive.  If this is work time and I’m only working on one job (and not reading email about another, answering calls about a third, thinking about a fourth and popping downstairs to empty the dishwasher), the job is likely to be done quickly and effectively.  If this is ‘home’ time and I’m only chopping carrots then I can listen properly to the boy’s chatter, as well as being less likely to lose a finger or two.

But what about when an idea for my company website strikes when I’m chopping those carrots?  Or I think of a great blog post in the middle of writing a funding application?  How rigid do the boundaries need to be?

We need to allow for a bit of permeability.  I don’t want to lose these creative ideas, or forget the important thing I’ve suddenly remembered, but I don’t want to let it sidetrack me either.  (For all my commitment to keeping the boundaries, I am still extremely easy to sidetrack some days.)  I need to capture the idea and keep it until it’s time to deal with it.  So I make a quick note and go back to the task at hand.

It’s like collecting butterflies and keeping them in a jar to admire later.

In fact, I’m finding that focusing on one thing at a time actually allows the parts of my brain that aren’t needed now to wander off, admire the scenery and come back with some interesting butterflies, in the shape of ideas about often unrelated things.  Cross-fertilisation between the separate compartments of our lives can be very useful.  That’s why I love living and working at home.  It means that the boundaries are flexible.

All this, of course, is excellent justification for my ever-growing and ever-changing collection of notebooks of all shapes and sizes.  There is one by the cooker (stained and bent and accompanied by a very blunt but still functional pencil).  There are several on my desk, one in my handbag, one by the kitchen table, a pile of scrap paper by the back door and post-its absolutely everywhere.  As long as I remember to collect up the day’s (or the week’s) pile of notes, I’ve captured all the butterflies and can hold them and nurture them until it’s time to set them free and see where they’ll take me.

Focus, but watch for butterflies.

Keeping the boundaries actually works

I always prided myself on being able to balance home and work without being rigid.  I’d congratulate myself for getting the laundry done or the dinner made between work tasks.

Then it all got too much.  Work was bleeding into the evenings and I wasn’t getting going on paid jobs until mid-morning because I was finishing up home admin or emptying the dishwasher.  I told myself home always came first – but somehow, everything was becoming a blurry, unsatisfying mess.

So, on the advice of a wise friend, I tried boundaries.  Working – and only working – between fixed hours.  Doing home-related tasks – and only home tasks – in set times too.  I know, you’ve heard this suggestion before.  It’s hardly rocket science.  Call me slow, but I finally realised that this time-honoured advice actually works.  I was flying, clear-headed and amazingly productive.

For a whole week.

Then the boy was home from school for a few days and I went back to an endless mixed-up mash of emails sandwiched between story-reading and working in front of kids’ TV to keep him company and lessen the Mummy-guilt.  And I knew that, for that week, that’s the way circumstances meant it had to be.

But I also knew that, once we were back to normal again, the boundaries were definitely coming back into force again.  They help me to think clearly.  They comfort me by saying, “this task you are doing now is exactly what you should be doing at this moment.  This is home time. (Or work time.)”

I can recommend it.  Boundary your time.  Don’t do laundry at work or check email at home.  It seems so simplistic and obvious – perhaps too simplistic and obvious to work – but it works wonders.