DO ALL THE THINGS

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!

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!

How often do you stop?

Can you ever stop when you work from home?  When clients rely on you for your work and your family relies on you for food and clean underwear, can you really stop?

And if you did stop, what would you do?  Could you actually do nothing?  What does “stopping” look like?

I’ve been trying to stop.  It’s taken me a week to work out how.

Lessons learnt from a minor ailment:

Working from your bed isn’t the thing to do, despite what I tried to tell youSleeping in your bed is a much better idea.  It’s actually not possible to do decent work when you feel inhuman, and as well as potentially making yourself worse, you’re simply wasting time that you could be spending recovering.  And quite possibly making stupid mistakes that you’ll have to fix later.  (Of course I would never do this.  Ahem.)

If someone offers to help, say yes.  Whether it’s the school run, making dinner, doing the shopping – if someone else is able do it, and is volunteering to do it, say yes even if you think you could probably manage.  Don’t even think about saying to yourself, “but I should be able to cope”.  Says who?

If they don’t volunteer, ask.  They’re only not volunteering because they don’t realise you need the help, because you always manage.  Don’t be a martyr.

Giving yourself time off is hard.  That’s why you need to take more of it than you think.  I promised myself I’d take at least four days off to recover and spent two of them working the whole time because I just couldn’t switch off.  Now I’ve got that out of my system, though, I’m beginning to work out what “stopping” involves.  I just spent a whole day pottering: walking, writing, reading, trying to sleep (this one still needs practice) and a good helping of staring at the sky.  I saw a fox on my travels and did a lot of not thinking.

Perhaps you can’t do as much work as you think you can.  Not forever, anyway.  Or maybe just not now.  Not if you want to be well and to notice and enjoy the spring that’s just beginning.  Perhaps it’s time to stop, just for a while, until you work out how much work is enough work.

Um, this is real life

“When things get back to normal…”

When things are normal, everything will go as planned, everyone will be where they should be at the allotted time, and there will be  no unusual happenings forcing changes of plan.  We just need to get past this impossible deadline, or that thing that we weren’t expecting, then things will be different.

Not so.

Hot water boilers break.  Children are ill.  Events are cancelled.  Trains are late.  New opportunities, or things that need to be done, arise suddenly.  Children are ill again.  (They are so generous, sharing their germs with one another constantly.)  Clients or colleagues don’t keep their end of the bargain.  Friends invite you out on the one day when you had other plans.  Children have school holidays.  Food you’d planned to cook with goes off.  (Or you realise you forgot to buy it in the first place.)  People have birthdays.  It rains.  Or snows.

These aren’t the things that get in the way of real life.  They are real life.

I’m writing this while trying to ignore the film that the boy is watching on yet another sick day from school.  (Without ignoring him or his requests for drinks and crackers – a fine balance!)  It’s one of the many skills a home worker needs to cultivate.

I’ve decided to stop waiting for things to get back to normal.  Normal is what happens every day.  This is normal: the swings and roundabouts, the changing plans on the fly, the multi-tasking.  We may not be able to plan for every eventuality but we can accept what comes and work with it.  We can build in extra time when we estimate how long a job will take, to allow for illness and mishap.  And we can keep the phone number of a good plumber to hand.

Do what you can

Some days feel like a mountain you just can’t climb.  Do what you can.

When you look at something and think, “I can’t” – just do what you can.

If you meet the deadline but it’s toast for dinner – you did what you could.

If you miss the deadline and it’s toast for dinner – you did what you could.

 

I noticed a poster on the wall of the boy’s school today:

“Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”

 

(It’s from a Mary Anne Radmacher art poster. I’ve discovered she’s written the book too.)

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.

It is enough

How easily we tell ourselves that we haven’t done enough, that we aren’t enough.  But stop and count it up, and you are enough.  Even if all you did today was get from one end of the day to the other, you are enough.

Take one of my recent days, for example:

A poorly boy was tended, nurtured and loved.  He was brought soothing drinks and cuddles, and tucked up tight at the end of the day.

A family was fed healthy meals.  (The ones who were able to eat!)

Writing obligations were kept, and new opportunities were followed up.

A week’s worth of laundry was washed, dried and put away.  (And the remainder piled up for the husband to iron. No need for us to carry all the burden ourselves, remember.)

Clients were responded to, meetings arranged and more obligations kept.

Body and soul were held together for another day.

It is enough. It is more than enough. Living and working: together they make a rounded whole.