Post soundtrack: Hazy Shade of Winter
For a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get the most use from my time. Because I have so much I want to do, and so many demands on my time. I create schedules and to-do lists. I automate online purchases of necessities. I multitask most of my waking moments. And I still don’t get it all done.
I was amused to reread the post I linked above, which I wrote in 2014. I wrote this post before I read that one, only to find that the two posts match pretty much point by point. So I’ve made some headway in the past four years, whether it feels like I have or not.
It also means that I’ve spent the past several years dancing around the same theme. What I keep coming back to is that there is simply a limit to how much I can push myself. I can work 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. for one day, maybe two, but then I’m burned out. I work slower. Think slower. Get cranky faster. I can do 12-hour days for 3-4 days, and then I crash. I find myself shoving food and caffeine in my face in an effort to stay awake; naps are a thing of the past, and I find myself awake in the middle of the night most nights, so sleep deprivation takes its toll fairly quickly.
I obviously do better when I pace myself — 6- to 8-hour work days, plenty of exercise, healthy food, some down time. But that’s not always possible. An alternative to pacing myself: Pushing myself for a few days, then slacking off. Again, not always possible.
Pre-kids, I used to compensate for the lack of down time with bad habits: cigarettes, beer, junk food, Netflix binges. But I’m pretty well viceless now. (Unless you count green tea.) And desperately in need of an indulgence.
Here are some ways I am maximizing my available hours without losing my sanity.
- As much as possible, keep the house clean. Mop up spills as they happen. Tidy the common areas once a day: put things away, wipe counters, do dishes, empty trash cans, sort laundry. Do the maintenance cleaning frequently and regularly so little messes don’t become big ones. Insist that the whole family manages clutter so I don’t spend most of my cleaning time picking up piles. Put laundry away the day it’s washed. (Take this one with a grain of salt; I am writing this from a kitchen table piled high with kid toys, homework, and dirty dishes, and the floor around me is awash in crumbs, markers, and sticker fragments. I’m getting better at staying on top of things, but we occasionally slide into squalor.)
- Have better hobbies. Social media is a huge time suck. I’ll scroll through FB or Insta while I’m taking a break (rocking Kai, for instance) or right before I turn my phone off for the night, but I don’t make a point to stay on top of it. If I start to feel overwhelmed by social media, I unfollow people; that usually helps. Likewise, I love video games, but they leave you with nothing to show for your time. Now I only play games I can learn something from (Duolingo, for instance) or games that net me some real-world benefit (Pokemon Go has gotten my family to be more active). Mostly I choose to spend my leisure time playing with my kids, exercising, or engaging in an activity with some sort of usefulness (cooking, writing, crocheting).
- Disengage from drama. I do not read the comments sections. Stay out of contentious Twitter threads. Avoid gossip. Remove people from my life who cause more pain than joy, and those who are not as invested in me as I am in them. Walk away from discussions in which my words are falling on deaf ears. (Sometimes even when it’s my kids who are ignoring me.)
- Have clear-cut goals, and know the reasons behind those goals. (My deja vu is justified. I have been here before.) I’ve been trying to get into a regular exercise habit for years now. Literally my entire adult life. Why do I bother? To be healthy. Why is that so important? For both short- and long-term reasons: So I feel well enough to do the things I want and need to do, and so I live a longer, healthier life and thus have more time to enjoy my family. I used to exercise so I’d have a more attractive body. Only apparently I didn’t care that much about it, because I’d always quit before I got results. I’m far more motivated these days because my reasons are better. Though I still struggle to fit exercise in.
- Prioritize self care. For years, self care was the first thing to go in times of crisis. I felt noble, dedicated, hard-working if I set aside my needs in favor of the workload, the deadline, the test. And after a while, I crumbled under the pressure and my world came crashing down. Now I take the time. I’ve come to realize that if I don’t take care of myself, nothing else gets done. It’s the same argument behind the advice to pay yourself first; who cares if your credit card is paid off if you don’t have money to eat? If I don’t attend to my own needs, I am not effective in anything I do.
- Don’t forget the bait. I’m doing exactly what I dreamed I would do, all the way back in the career counselor’s office at the age of 20: Working from my home, making enough money to support my family, while also taking care of my children. I love my job(s). I love the companies I work for. And obviously I love my children. But I still have to bribe myself to do what needs doing some days. So I make sure I have a never-ending list of fun outings and treats to look forward to, for those days when my son dumps his cereal bowl in the dirty clothes hamper, my daughter argues that up is down and the sky is green today, and my clients nitpick every little thing I do. Having something fun coming up helps get me through rough patches.
- Do nothing. This has been a hard habit for me to cultivate. As a child, I had ample nothing time; as an adult, nothing rarely visits, and that goes double for my parental years. But you occasionally have to do nothing if you want to grow. You need time to sit, to read, to daydream, to meditate, to study the pollen on a bee’s legs. I’ve been guilty of not taking nothing time until I get sick, which means my nothing time is wasted feeling like crap. So I’m scheduling it. Once a month, I do nothing for a day. It’s been difficult, getting back into the habit, but I’m improving each month. Even reading a few books these days. While we’re on the topic, here’s a fantastic poem on doing nothing.
Looking back in this blog, I found another post from 2014 on this topic. So I’ve been working on this issue at length for a while. I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress.
I have loftier goals than these, sure. Consider these the foundation of those goals. If I take care of the roots, the tree will thrive.