Tips for when you can’t be bothered: one small useful thing

We all have days when we’d rather be at the beach.  Or even at the local landfill site.  Anywhere but where we’re supposed to be, doing what we’re supposed to be doing.  And although, on occasion, I’m all for giving up and going out on my bike, we can’t do that every time we hit a motivation slump.  We wouldn’t be in business very long.

So if you’re stick in can’t-be-bothered-land today, what’s the smallest useful thing you could do to move forward with the thing you don’t want to do?  Do that.  Even if you manage nothing else and go and eat a cream cake to celebrate, at least you’ll have achieved something.  And some days, that’s all that matters.

Today I am supposed to be analysing a huge amount of information and writing something sensible about it.  It feels like trying to climb to the top of the rubbish mountain at that landfill site I mentioned earlier.  But I know there are a few questions I need to go back and ask about all this information.  That only involves writing an email.  I can probably summon up the motivation I need to send one email.  And then I’ll have moved things forward just a tiny bit.

That email might be all I do today.  At least it would be progress.  Or it might be enough to get me into the right frame of mind to do another small thing, or even a bigger one.  That would be even more progress.  “One step at a time”, and all that.

If you think you’re in danger of wasting today, what one small useful thing could you do?

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The catapult effect

Crash.

Ah, that will be real life arriving.

There’s been a funny time of working (and writing) limbo in these parts recently: plenty to do, but nothing big or urgent. A little here, a little there, some gentle marketing… And then the marketing takes effect and there are client calls and visits to make, and commitments to large and sometimes challenging pieces of work, and long days of discussion and thinking and planning and all the things that I enjoy but have somehow forgotten how to deal with and it feels like suddenly catapulted forward into bright light and noise and frantic activity.

This, too, is just another part of the freelance cycle. I suppose that the shock and blinking surprise I feel every single time, and the readjustment needed, are also part of the same cycle.

How do you deal with suddenly being flung forward into a new cycle of activity after a slower period?

Losing and finding rhythm

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.)

Oooh look!

Writing is only part of the work I do from home, but (sshhh) it’s the most fun part!

And, as I’ve said elsewhere this morning, nothing quite compares to seeing my own words in the pages of a book, or magazine, or in this case, the Earth Pathways Diary 2016.  I try not to repeat myself, but today I make an exception because I’ve loved using my 2015 diary and am delighted to have my writing in next year’s.  I’ve just received my advance copy this morning and it’s beautiful.

Can’t wait until the week of 29th September 2016 when I will be ‘casually’ showing everyone my words in print on the page.

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.

The most important job

Yesterday I said something to the boy that I shouldn’t have said and didn’t mean.

What it was doesn’t matter.  What matters is that I said it because I was distracted from my most important job – Being Mum – and I messed up.

Life is full of good things at the moment: interesting work; exciting writing; fascinating learning (about coaching: I’ll tell you about it some time); fun exercise; time with friends; even rollerskating!

I had been congratulating myself on doing it all, but the truth is that something always gives.

It’s not just about how you spend your time, but where you put your mental, physical and emotional energy.  Of course I need to put energy into my career, my hopes and dreams, my health and fitness – but I also need to save some (a lot) for conscious parenting.  The boy needs attention – and he generally gets plenty of that – but he also needs guidance and discipline, and those weighty things have to be thought through and followed through by us, his parents.  Plus, there must be energy left over for fun and silliness!

Going through life is like riding a bike: a constant balancing act.  Sometimes you lean one way, sometimes another.  You’ve got to keep pedalling, and you’re constantly making adjustments to the handlebars, the gears, and looking out for obstacles in the road.  Sometimes you wobble or fall, but you have to get back in the saddle.  And you need to remember where you’re going – and why.

This Live and Work at Home life is for me – but it’s also for my family.  Being Mum is my most important job.  What’s yours?

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.