How to make a time budget

A computer screen with a calendar on it, a cup of coffee and a notebook. Sticky notes saying 'Don't forget!'.

I was talking with my friend Sarah one evening about how difficult it was to say no to worthwhile activities and she gave me a very good piece of advice.

“Time is like money,” she said.

Now we’ve all heard “Time is money” – that we need to make sure that we’re using our time to make money, or that the use of our time is worth money, but that’s not what she was saying. Instead, she was saying that just like we need to budget our money, we also need to budget our time.

The first step with a money budget is to figure out where your money is going. Not where you think it’s going, but where it’s actually going. To do this, you need to keep a record of every cent you spend. It’s the same with time. Before you start to figure out how to divvy it up or how much to give to each activity, you need to know what you’re actually doing. You can do this in a couple of ways. There are many apps that you can use. I use Toggl Track (I’m pretty sure it’s the free version). If you sign up to my newsletter on ruthamos.com.au you will receive a pdf of a more manual version of the same thing with half-hour segments to fill in as you go. 

The important thing is to do the tracking as you go as much as possible. We are notoriously bad at remembering how long something took and right now you want to get a clear picture of how you spend your time. This may be eye opening or even confronting.

If you are tempted to say, ‘But this week was a one-off difficult week. Other weeks are better.’ Then keep measuring until you find out what an average week is like. 

Now we get to allocate our time into different categories.

First, you need to figure out how much time you are prepared to give away to other people’s important activities. The amount of time you are committed to unavoidable things like work and family will limit the amount of time you are able to give, in the same way that the mortgage repayment cuts a chunk out of the money budget.

Once you’ve figured out how much time you have to give – it might be two activities a fortnight, or three a month – then you can say yes to those activities. But once you’ve used up that time, then you need to say no

Saving money is really hard. I mean really saving money – for the future. Not for a holiday or for next week or for the next time that we run out and need to buy something, but for the long term future. It’s hard. I find it hard. But it’s necessary. It’s a good thing to do. It’s good stewardship, delayed gratification, healthy and wise.

When I talk about ‘saving time’ I’m talking about putting aside time to rejuvenate yourself. This is time where you have nothing booked, time just to be. Time to invest in yourself and your energy for the future. This can be just as hard as saving money.

It is difficult to block out time for this because it doesn’t have a label attached to it. It’s not exercise, or doing something for someone, or cleaning the house, or working. It’s rest time. Just rest.

It’s easy to eat into it. “Yes, I can do that – there’s nothing booked into my calendar.” Maybe there should be “Nothing” booked into your calendar so that you don’t book anything else in. Plan to do nothing. Just to be. To read, to think, to go for a nice walk, to sleep.

It is investing in your future.

You can’t always do that, of course. Sometimes life circumstances just do not allow the space that you need. But sometimes we bring it on ourselves – the busy-ness. We don’t value rest highly enough. Is there something in your schedule that you can cut out to allow yourself some time just to be? Is there some time-savings that you need to make for your future?

Good money management means living within your means, making sure you have enough money to cover your expenses and a little left over for when things don’t go according to plan. Richard Swenson (author of Margin) takes this idea and applies it to time management. He suggests we budget our time with margin built in – time to do what we need to do, and some time left over. Then the margin in our time can be used to reach out to others, to connect with our families, to give us space to be able to give of ourselves.

I really like the idea of having margin around appointments. There is always something you can do should you be actually running on time and need to wait somewhere for ten minutes before the next appointment starts. You can bring a book to read. You can think. You can pray. Any of these are better than the stress of running from appointment to appointment praying that there are no traffic issues and that you’ll find a park directly outside. Or texting embarrassing apologies for lateness.

When you allocate time to your activities, allocate a margin around them. That is just good time management. 

I encourage you to do your own time budget. What can you cut out? What can you double up on? (For example, you can combine a walk for exercise with time spent with a friend.) What can you limit to once a fortnight, or once a month? How can you build margin so that you are living within your time and energy limits? Let me know what you think by writing to me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, or tweet me @aquietlifeblog, or find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author. I’d love to hear what you think.

The beauty of limits

La gerbe
Henri Matisse

Don’t you just love being limited? Being told, ‘No, you can’t go there.’ ‘No, you can’t do that.’ I don’t think many of us like being told that that there are things we can’t do. But let’s look at our limitations creatively.

The thing that makes a Haiku special is the limitations placed on the lines. Like this one, which is so widely known now that I don’t know who to give credit to:

Five syllables here

Seven more syllables here

Are you happy now?

It’s not just Haiku, other poems have different rules. Have you listened to some of the older hymns? The scansion is perfect and the rhyming schemes are interesting and beautiful. They are written creatively using restrictions to make them better.

Austin Kleon used the restriction of copyright to create a novel class of poetry. He creates poetry from newspaper articles, blacking out words on the newspaper page until only one or two are left. The method is consistent with copyright rules and restricted by fair use. And the resulting poems are both beautiful and meaningful.

I was working with a friend on her academic paper. She’d written the abstract –  a short description of the paper and about 330 words long. However, the journal had a 250-word limit on the abstract so many words just had to go. We cut and cut and cut. A word from a sentence here, a change of tense there so that we could turn two words into one. The abstract became a thing of beauty as we worked creatively to meet the constraints.

When Matisse could no longer use oil paints due to ill health and hardship, he created a whole new art form by covering large sheets of paper with a colourful gouache paint and then cutting the paper into shapes with scissors. These incredibly vibrant artworks adorn walls at modern art museums such as Tate Modern and MoMA.

My friend Angie posted on Instagram, ‘When your garden gives you fennel, you cook Otolenghi roast chicken.’ She had used the limitation of what was in her garden to make her dinner much more creative. I find that I enjoy dinner decisions more when I’m working from the constraints of what’s in my pantry and fridge, rather than the wide open options of the supermarket.

I think we can look at the constraints and limitations thrown at us by life and use them as prods for our creativity, rather than handcuffs on our freedom. And maybe we can place constraints on our own lives to increase our quality of life, rather than just going with a free-for-all.

We can limit:

  • Our work hours to 9-5 and use evenings for rest and rejuvenation
  • Our work days to just Monday to Friday; no bringing work home for the weekend
  • Checking email to only three times a day
  • Special treats – what if ice cream was only for birthdays? That would make birthdays so special!
  • Screen time to just a couple of hours in the evenings so that we go to bed at a reasonable time
  • Meals – Michael Moseley suggests we cut back to three meals a day rather than eating all day long
  • Buying for ourselves. Then our friends can actually give us meaningful and useful gifts
  • Our activities so that they fit in the time we have available to us

These are just some ideas. What other limits can you think of that might add to quality of life? Let me know. Email ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or tweet me @aquietlifeblog.

Simplify

A picture of the state of Tasmania on the front page of the Mercury Newspaper, caption "We've got a moat and we're not afraid to use it"
Our newspaper loved the line

In Tasmania, we had a really different experience of the first two years of the pandemic from a lot of the world. We live on an island. We had a moat, and we used it. We shut ourselves off from the rest of the world and went about our business.

But we couldn’t keep the virus out forever, and one Friday night, a Covid-positive person got off a plane, lied about his status, and visited a few friends and acquaintances before being caught by police and put into isolation. But we didn’t know where he’d gone or what he’d done and to make sure that we didn’t all get sick, we all went into lockdown for a three-day weekend.

It was a delightful weekend for me. I slept, worked on a puzzle, wrote a bit, hung out with Moz. There was nothing else I could do. Life had become simple. Completely simple. What was the plan for the weekend? Stay home. See no-one. Do nothing.

I’ve been reminded about that time lately. First, when I got Covid and had to isolate for my seven days, and secondly, just recently when my parents came down with it and I went down to help them out (fortunately being immune from my own dose).

I hated being sick, and I hated that my parents were sick too, I would never recommend that anyone try to get sick with anything, let alone Covid, but one good thing about the seven-day isolation period is that you know exactly what you’re going to be doing for the next seven days. And that is nothing. No parties, no church, no work meetings, no walks on the beach, no grocery shopping. Nothing.

And it’s quite nice. It’s nice to look at a completely simple week. All decisions made. All plans cancelled. No guilt. No concern about what others will think. You are required, by law, to stay home and do nothing.

But if it’s that nice, why don’t we do it more for ourselves? Not get sick, but just take time out.

I’ve heard it several times, people wishing that they could have knee surgery so that their life would then be simple, confined to the hospital bed for a while. Or people wishing they could come down with Covid so that everything could stop for a while.

People! You should not be feeling this way! If this whole conversation is resonating with you, that’s a sign that your regular, everyday life needs to change. You are doing too much. It is time to simplify.

“But no,” you say. “I’ll feel so guilty! I’ll be letting people down.”

Maybe you will let people down. But trying to please all the people all the time is a recipe for disaster. 

We want an outside authority to take away the choice so that we don’t feel the guilt for saying no. But what we need is an inside authority, an authority within us that has come from our own life choices that allows us to say yes and no with clarity.

This is really difficult. I’ve written a whole book on it, and I’m writing another, and I’m still finding it hard to know exactly where the boundaries lie. But I believe that being able to say no without guilt is foundational to mental health.

And to do that, we need to know what we’re saying yes to. 

We need to know what our purpose is, what our priorities are, and then say no to what gets in the way.

It’s so much more complex than that, I know. But I wonder, as I speak to you today, whether there is a niggling in your mind drawing your attention to some activities that you know you could do without. If there is a place you can see where cutting down, or cutting out, would leave you with more simplicity and peace.

Skye Jathani, of The Holy Post, said that in Jesus’ parable of the sower, the soil that was good was good because it was just soil. It didn’t have anything added to it – no rocks, no weeds, no birds. Just soil. Taking things away and simplifying can make our lives good soil where good things can flourish.

Is your life feeling over complicated and over full? What are three things that you could say no to in the next week? Or are you feeling like you have a good balance of work and rest in your life? Let me know. Email ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or tweet me @aquietlifeblog.

Can you help me?

Sign saying HELP in white chalk on black background

Moz was chatting to a couple of his high school students yesterday. They were picking on his fashion sense. ‘You’re wearing a LOT of colours,’ one of them said. He was not concerned. The student ducked into his office and brought out the tie hanger that he keeps there. The two girls sorted through his collection to find a tie that would better match his shirt, jacket and trousers.

Good on them!

The thing is, we don’t all have all the skills that are needed to be brilliant in all the different areas of life. It’s just impossible. And that is why it is important to know when to ask for help.

Sometimes you need accountability help. You need someone to ask you if you are keeping that commitment that you said you would. I have a friend who is trying to keep to a diet, so his friend texts him at about 11 o’clock each morning, the time of day when he is tempted to buy himself some fried chicken, and just checks in. It helps him stay on track.

Sometimes you need help that isn’t just accountability.

I know a mum of primary school aged children who just can’t keep on top of the different school activities that are planned. She can’t keep track of whether today is free dress, or whether it’s the day to order lunch, or whether her child was supposed to bring in two dollars for this term’s charity. She just knows that she can’t do it. So she asked for help. Another mother with a child in the same class made a commitment to ring her in the morning when it was something easy, or the night before, if it was a more difficult task. She got the help she needed and her kids suffered far less embarrassment.

I am helping someone at the moment who knows that she struggles with online forms. She’s super-intelligent, she has a PhD in medical sciences. But when she sees an online form, a cloud comes over her brain and she can’t remember what her name is, let alone her date of birth. So she asked for help. I sat with her and read out the questions on the form and we got through it together.

Moz and I would like to meet for dinner with new friends. I was a little scared about making the overture to the friends. Moz was sure he couldn’t do the organising of time and place and what foods to contribute. So we paired up. He made the first overture and got it started. Then I liaised with the other people to make the calendar date and work out dietary requirements.

If you know that executive function is not your thing, then some of what I say on my blog must really get up your nose. But I don’t want you to feel guilt or anything. Talking with teenagers is really not my thing but that’s ok. If I am in a situation where it’s going to be asked of me, I ask for help. 

We are not meant to live in a vacuum and community makes life so much easier. Sometimes you might pay people to help you. Sometimes a friend might help out of the goodness of their heart. Together we can get the jobs done.

I want to encourage anyone reading this that asking for help is not a weakness, it’s a strength. Know yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses, and then ask for help where necessary.

Where have you asked for help? Where have you used your strengths to help others? Tell me about it. Write to me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or on Twitter @aquietlifeblog.

What’s your morning like?

Let’s talk mornings.

Yes, they are hard. Especially in Tasmania right now, when it’s absolutely freezing and dark and hard to get out of bed. They are probably difficult in the northern hemisphere too, when it’s so incredibly hot that you can’t sleep at night. 

OK, so I’m not a morning person.

But I do have a morning routine. It’s quite a complex one, made possible by the fact that I work for myself from home. I’ll tell you about it soon but I want to explore the concept first.

The thing is, we human beings like routine. And if we don’t make an intentional routine, then we tend to fall into unintentional grooves – doing the same thing each day. Very often, that routine seems to consist of turning to our phones first thing in the morning and taking a heady dose of social media to start the day. I’m not immune to that, but I am pretty sure that comparisonitis and outrage are two of the worst feelings to have first thing in the morning.

So what to do instead?

Eat That Frog is a book by Brian Tracy. Great title, hey? Tracy suggests that we start the day (the work day) by doing the worst thing first. The hardest thing. Then you have the satisfaction of knowing that the rest of the day will get better. It can’t possibly get worse.

I like this idea. I often find that I’m more alert and have much more willpower in the mornings. There are activities, such as washing clothes or cleaning the house, that I can do first thing. However, if I put them off until after lunch, even with the best of intentions, I have actually put them off until the next day. They will not get done in the afternoon.

In I Didn’t Do the Thing Today Madeleine Dore pushes back against this idea. She suggests starting the day with something delightful, like farmer and chef Matthew Evans who begins the day with porridge, brown sugar and clotted cream. A delight. She says that starting the day with joy might lift the mood of the rest of the day, setting us up for a day that improves because we bring our good mood to it.

Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, suggests writing three pages freehand in a journal to start the day. She calls these ‘morning pages’. They are intended to clear your head and unlock your creativity. You write whatever comes to mind. Even if it is, ‘I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write.’ Many people have found this morning routine to give great insight into their state of mind. I even know of one person who discovered she was an alcoholic by doing this activity. She is now sober, and her life much better as a result.

A friend read The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan and, from that, started a new routine of going for a walk first thing each day. She said that no matter what the day brought, she would then know that she had done her ‘one thing’ and feel a sense of satisfaction and movement towards her goal.

I’ve talked before about how I eat the same thing for breakfast each day in order to combat decision fatigue, and how Moz likes to eat something different every day and for every meal. 

All this to say that your morning routine needs to suit you. You might try a few different things and see what works best. But I think that it’s still good to be intentional about it, whether it’s a locked down routine like mine, or a more fluid combination of ideas that set you up for a good day.

For what it’s worth, here’s my morning routine:

Moz brings me a coffee in bed (now that’s a delight and I’m very grateful)

We do the Wordle and the Heardle together and post our results to a family chat

Then we shower and get dressed

I write three pages in my journal – my morning pages

I do ten minutes of housework – vacuum one room or clean the bathroom

I listen to a Bible podcast, either while I’m cleaning, or later, when I’m eating breakfast

I spend 15 minutes in silence with God

Then I eat breakfast (pears, oats and yoghurt), make another coffee, take it to my office and get on with my work.

So that’s me. What’s your morning routine? Are you intentional about it? Are there routines that you have slipped into that you now realise you need to change? Tell me about it. Write to me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or on Twitter @aquietlifeblog.

Just Plodding Along

A quiet beach scene
Beautiful Kingston Beach. The place I go first for a walk.

This morning I went for a walk along the beach. No biggie, you might say, but it’s the first time I have set foot outside our house (apart from checking the mailbox) for 10 days. 

No prizes for guessing why I have been stuck inside for 10 days.

It was a delight to be out in the sunshine, sipping a flat white and strolling along the beach. However, I soon became aware of a number of pensioners who seemed to be speed walking as they overtook me (on the way up the beach and on the way back). In fact, I’m pretty sure that every single person on the beach, including the toddler playing in the sand, could have beaten me in a 50-m sprint. I was S L O W…

That’s OK. I am recovering from COVID, I haven’t done any exercise at all for over a week, and I’m doing very well to be out there at all. I know this. And I don’t really mind what other people think. They don’t know my history. They don’t need to know. I know I’ve done well to get out. That’s all that matters.

It made me think about life. About what a waste of time it is to compare ourselves to others.

You’ve all heard this. You all know it. How we curate our lives to look good on social media. How we share the happy bits and hide the sad. 

I think I’ve been more aware as I watch the news and hear the flood of stories of people who were abused as children. For some of us, just getting up in the morning takes a monumental effort. But often no-one else knows the amount of energy it takes to do the most basic of things. Just like none of those pensioners knew that I was recovering from COVID.

We need to remember that we are doing our best. Your best is no-one else’s best. It is yours, based on your background, your mental health, your learning, your energy levels. Your best is enough. My best is enough.

I’m here, trying to build an online business. Trying to sell books and promote a blog and podcast. And often I feel just like I did on the beach this morning – plodding along while others zoom past. I can get quite down about it. 

But I don’t need to. I just need to keep doing my best. I just need to keep plodding.

My books and things may never take off. They may never reach more than a few people. That’s ok too. The important thing is to be faithful to what I’m called to do. The important thing is to keep plodding and doing my best.

“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ 1 Sam 16:17b

There is only one who can ultimately judge us. He knows your background, your energy levels, your mental health, your physical health, everything. God knows it all. So he can accurately judge. 

Fortunately, he also loves us enough to die for us, so that when we don’t do our best, when we don’t measure up, when we don’t try hard enough, we can be forgiven and given a clean slate. Immediately. We just have to turn around and ask.

So whether we’re looking at ourselves or at others, comparison is useless, judging is useless, we just need to keep loving others and keep trying our best. And when we fall, we can immediately run back into the arms of the one who loves us enough to die for us, and then we can keep going. Plodding along the beach until we heal enough to be able to run.

If you think this can help someone else, please feel free to pass it on. And if you would like a chat, you can email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or on Twitter @aquietlifeblog.

Three methods for getting things done

This is my family the last time we were all together

Mum and Dad moved into their house a while back. It’s a lovely house that Dad has done a brilliant job of renovating (with the help of amazing friends). However, as always with house renovations, the house it isn’t quite finished. 

Finishing the spare room has always been something Mum and Dad were going to do, and something they were actively working on. The shelves were ready to go into the closet, as was the hanging bar. And the toilet paper holder was under the house ready to put next to the toilet. The boxes sitting on the bed were slowly being sorted through. But as of a couple of weeks ago these things hadn’t been finished off and the spare room was more of a storage space. 

It’s a family month for us this month. My brother and my sister are both visiting. And when my brother told us the dates that he was coming, Dad and Mum sprang into action. I said that my brother could stay at my place (to lower the stress levels), but no, that was not an option. Mum sorted through boxes, Dad put up shelves, found the toilet roll holder and mounted it on the wall, and together the room was transformed from a storage space to a comfortable spare room. They even hung pictures on the wall.

And this, folks, is the power of a deadline. For some of us.

We know a job needs doing. We plan to do it. It will happen. But until there’s a deadline and a consequence, that job will not get done. The very presence of a deadline and consequence gets us going on that job, instead of all the others that need to get done. It helps us prioritise.

A deadline helps me on a fortnightly basis to get this blog written. I need to write it before I go and talk with Scottie on the radio, so that I know what to say. This week, I’m writing on a Monday, but some weeks I’ll be writing on Wednesday afternoon, frantically scribbling notes so that I can go in on Thursday and say something sensible. The deadline makes it happen.

For some people deadlines aren’t so helpful. Douglas Adams said, ‘I love deadlines. I love the sound they make when they go whooshing by.’ For some personality types, deadlines just add to the stress. They don’t make the work happen. They raise the anxiety levels instead.

That’s ok. We’re all made differently. Here are some other ideas that might help you get those jobs done that you’ve been procrastinating on:

For some people, an accountability group works well. I read an article this week (that I’ve since lost) inviting me to be part of a Zoom meeting with the purpose of helping people get things done that they just don’t want to do. Apparently the participants open Zoom and then sit and do their taxes, or sort their filing or whatever the horrible job is that they have been putting off, knowing that on the other end of Zoom, someone else is doing a similar horrible thing. They make a commitment to the others in the group and then they do the thing.

I have used this method for my writing. You’ve probably heard me talk about NaNoWriMo, the national novel writing month. In this activity, writers at every stage in their career decide to write a small 50,000 word novel in the month of November. It is an international thing (despite the name) and a lot of fun, if you’re that way inclined. I have done this twice, and each time I won (which means I managed the 50,000 words – it’s really not a competition). I enjoyed taking part in writer meetups and having daily accountability chats to other writers. It’s an exhausting month, but I think I might do it again this year.

This idea has taken off and been applied to other things too. I have just heard about NaKniSweMo – National Knit a Sweater Month. This is a bridge too far for me, but I guess it’s fun for those involved. There are also much lower level knit along events happening all the time where individuals all over the world decide to all knit the same sweater, or shawl, or knit with the same colours or whatever. 

I have also just become aware of this thing called ‘body doubling’. This is where people live-stream themselves doing boring jobs and others join them so that it becomes a group activity. You can do it on TikTok or you can find a business that will match you with someone doing a similar job. 

You can find a friend who will sit with you while you clean out your storage spaces. Or someone you can text when you’ve done your homework for the day. Or someone to meet you at the gym so that you actually go in and do the exercise.

Accountability to others, or just knowing you’re not alone when you’re trying to get things done, can be so helpful to get you past the procrastination barrier and onto doing the job.

Or here’s another idea: Scheduling. I have a good friend who wanted to do some training, but she is also a mum, runs a business and works part time. She doesn’t have a lot of time to spare, and the training always got pushed to the side. Eventually she realised that if she really was serious about doing the training she would have to schedule it into her calendar, and then take that appointment with herself seriously. By scheduling, she has now been able to do the training for several weeks in a row.

Joanna Penn, Stephen King, and many other writers credit a serious writing schedule with their ability to get the work done. King states that ‘your muse’ will start showing up at the scheduled time if you make it a priority every day.

Make an appointment with yourself, and then keep the appointment. Value yourself enough to keep it. And if someone asks if you are free at that time, just tell them you’re sorry, but you have an appointment. You do. And it’s worth keeping.

So there you go, there are three tools to help you get things done. It will depend on your personality and style of working of course, but there must be one idea in the three that will help you get there. Set yourself a deadline and consequence, or find an accountability partner (either in person or online), or just schedule it into your calendar and make that appointment serious. Or try a combination of methods – make an appointment with an accountability buddy, or schedule in your job with a deadline and a consequence. 

Whatever way you choose to motivate yourself, I wish you all the best for getting those pesky jobs done. Write and let me know what works best for you. You can find me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, at Ruth Amos Author on Facebook, or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter. I hope to hear from you soon.

Can I have ten minutes?

Photo by Stas Knop: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-clock-reading-at-2-12-1537268/

Once upon a time, we employed a house cleaner. She would come for a couple of hours each fortnight and do her magic and the house would be spotless, at least for a little while. 

Things change, and our wonderful cleaner moved on to other work, and I wished her well and decided that as I have the almighty privilege of working from home, I would clean my house myself.

Like, it’s not hard, right? I have this labour saving vacuum cleaner and hot water and cloths and everything. I have a body that’s reasonably fit and will do most things I ask it to. It should be easy.

But I found myself putting off the cleaning.  I was resentful of the time that the cleaning was taking away from other, more enjoyable activities. I was never feeling energetic enough to just get off my backside and put some energy into the housework.

I would leave it until the house felt disgusting and then, grumpy with myself, I would drag myself out of my chair and plug in the vacuum cleaner. A short while later, there were clean floors and sparkling sinks and I’d wonder, ‘Why am I making this so hard?’

This week I came up with a solution. I decided that instead of doing the whole thing in one hit, I would just do a little each day. Ten minutes will get a bathroom clean. In ten minutes I can vacuum a couple of rooms.

Ten minutes is a really low bar. And it feels like I’m not using up any of the time that I should be spending on writing or editing. It’s just ten minutes. 

I do the cleaning first thing. Before breakfast, even. Because it doesn’t need a lot of energy to do ten minutes of vacuuming. And then it’s done for the day. Finished.

I start in the study, down one end of the house, and gradually I make my way around the house, cleaning, dusting and vacuuming as I go. When I get to the other end of the house, I go back to the study again. If it takes me a week or ten days to get through everything, that’s ok. Eventually I will have done it all, and then the process will start all over again.

This is not the most efficient way to work, sure. But the thing is, now the cleaning is getting done.

Sometimes we make jobs bigger than they need to be. We look at the whole of the job and think that there’s no way that we can accomplish it. It takes too much energy. It takes too much time. Sometimes we tell ourselves that it’s not worth starting because we’ll never get finished.

If you’re stuck in that mindset then can I suggest that you break the job down into smaller parts and attack each part separately.

Fifteen minutes of writing each day will eventually result in a book.

Ten minutes of cleaning each day will mean that each part of the house gets cleaned regularly.

Ten minutes of practice each day will enable you to play your favourite songs on the piano.

Small, achievable goals that you can mark off as being done will leave you with a feeling of having made progress and will get you closer to your goal.

We often aim for achievements that are so large that there is no way they can be achieved all at once – write a book, run a marathon, be promoted to CEO, be completely self-sufficient using vegetables from our garden. But these huge goals cannot be achieved in one day or one week or even one year. We need to break those goals down to smaller, bite-sized chunks.

James Clear talks in Atomic Habits about how each small action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become. Each time you go to the gym you are behaving as an active person. Each day that you write a to-do list you are voting for that identity as an organised person. Decide who you want to be, and then each small action can be a vote for that identity. You don’t have to wait to have written a whole book to call yourself a writer – you are a writer every time you sit down and write. You are studious every time you watch part of an online lecture. You are financially responsible every time you add $5 to your savings account. Every small action counts.

Tsh Oxenreider, in her book Notes from a Blue Bike, shares that we can’t always do the whole thing, but a partial solution is better than nothing. Are you desperate to travel and visit a loved one? Well, that may not be possible right now, but a partial solution might be a regular video chat. 

Or are you longing for a weekend away alone but can’t do that due to family commitments? A partial solution might be a commitment from your partner or a friend to give you an afternoon of unwind time without the kids once a week or once a fortnight.

Would you like to start a large practical project but don’t have a garage to put it in? A partial solution might be to join a men’s shed or ladies’ shed and use their space and equipment.

 My ideal situation with my house is that once a week it is sparkling clean all over. All surfaces dusted. All floors cleaned. Beautiful. That is not going to happen with my new way of doing things. But the house will still get cleaned over the course of a week or so. Just not all at once. For now, I am embracing my partial solution, I am casting votes every day for a clean house, I am breaking down the work into bite-sized pieces and I am getting it done.

I wish you all the best for your own projects and goals. Please write to me and let me know what you’ve done to break your task down or what partial solution you have embraced. You can find me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, at Ruth Amos Author on Facebook, or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter. I hope to hear from you soon.

I just wanted to ask you …

Photo by Olya Kobruseva: https://www.pexels.com/photo/question-marks-on-paper-crafts-5428836/

This week I’m thinking about two big questions: 

Where am I?

And

What do I want?

These questions are based on two questions that God asks in the Bible. One from Genesis, and one from the Gospels. 

Very close to the very beginning God asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:9). 

It’s a good place to start. What are you feeling? What are you worried about? What does your life look like right now? What’s joyful in your life right now? What’s stressful? What’s your health like?

Where are you?

After you’ve got that clear, you can move to the next one. 

What do you want?

In Mark’s gospel, a blind man calls out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Even when he’s told to shut up, he calls out even louder. And Jesus takes notice. He asks the man, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Mark 10:51)

Reading that I’ve always thought that it was obvious what the blind man wanted. It makes sense that he wants to see. Wouldn’t Jesus just go ahead and fix the obvious problem? But Jesus doesn’t just jump in. I find it interesting that Jesus still asks the question. That he doesn’t take the obvious answer for granted. 

If someone asks you what you want, what’s your immediate answer? Sleep? A holiday in the tropics? A large whiskey? A million dollars?

These are surface answers. Obvious solutions. But if we dig deeper, we might find a different answer. 

A couple of days ago, I sat in my silent time asking myself this question. What do you want, Ruth?

First response: A large coffee.

However, I knew that this would be a quick fix. And not necessarily the best fix, either.

Our wants and needs are deeper than just the surface. A surface longing for a holiday in the tropics may be an outworking of a deep need for peace.

A surface longing for coffee might be an outworking of a deeper need to feel organised and under control.

A surface longing for a million dollars might be an outworking of a deeper need to work in a job that suits your personality better, and that sits well with your values.

When you can see what you really want, then you can start taking baby steps towards getting there. You can sort the massive pile of washing and clear your sofa so that you can sit in peace.

You can investigate what sort of job you would enjoy working in, and do a night class to become qualified to do it.

You can write an Everything List and start to bring the whirling in your mind under control.

These two questions: ‘Where are you?’ and ‘What do you want?’ have come to me from a training session I did with the Christian Coaching Institute

A life coach can help you take the time to answer these questions. They can help you sort the surface answers from the deeper ones. And they can help you to organise your life so that you can meet that deep, and possibly not obvious, need that you have unearthed. If you feel like you can’t answer these questions yourself, then make an appointment with a life coach or a counsellor to talk them through.

I encourage you to look for the answers yourself too. Where are you now? Where would you like to be? How can you take steps to get there?

As I asked myself these two questions I realised that one of the things I wanted was to walk in silence on the beach. And when I went walking in silence I understood two things: 1) I’m very happy with where I am – I’ve worked hard to be here and it’s coming together well, and 2) I need to go on retreat – I know I need this regularly, and it feels very much like I need this now. So I’m working with my calendar and to-do list to make a time where I can get away alone for a few days.

Answering these questions doesn’t have to lead to a big scary life change. It could lead to a life change, or it could lead to smaller adjustments; it depends really on what you want. I think it’s worth checking in and working that out.

is there a topic you would like me to write about? Please let me know at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter or Ruth Amos Author on Facebook. 

And if you’d like to hear the chat I had with Scottie, you can listen at A Quiet Life on any podcatcher or find the whole podcast on on my website.

A Work of Art

Photo by Daian Gan: https://www.pexels.com/photo/shallow-focus-photography-of-paintbrush-102127/

There are a lot of productivity techniques out there. A lot of rules for living. A lot of methods. If you’re anything like me, you can get hung up on trying to follow all the rules. ‘If I can just get this perfect,’ I think, ‘then I’ll have a perfect life. Everything perfectly in order. Peaceful. Calm. Quiet.’

However, life is not like an Excel spreadsheet. Life is more like a work of art.

Bill Bernbach was a big man in advertising in the mid-20th century. As he moved through his early career, he became concerned about the industry. He could see that there were amazing technicians working in advertising – they knew how long a sentence should be, or that the body of the text should be broken up for easier reading. But he could also see that perfect technique wasn’t enough.

In a letter to agency management he wrote:

 ‘… look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.’ – Bill Bernbach (Letters of Note)

It’s a temptation, isn’t it? To find books or blogs or podcasts that give us rules for living, and then to remember the rules, but forget the living part. When we do that, we find our lives become filled with sameness, mental weariness, and yes, mediocrity.

So what do we do about it?

Firstly, take the time to check in with yourself. Spend time in silence. Or go for a long walk. Or wash the dishes by yourself. Ask yourself how you’re doing. Listen to the answer. 

Be imperfect. Get it wrong. Make incorrect choices. Eat cake. Spend a day in your PJs. Leave the washing up on the sink. Double book an appointment. Not all the time, obviously. But when it happens, treat it as a special accent in the work of art that is your life. 

Sometimes it is not you that doesn’t follow the rules, but life happens around you. Happens to you. You get stuck in traffic or someone cancels your appointment or suddenly you’re babysitting a two-year-old and your whole day has to be rearranged. Instead of mourning the loss of your perfect (but slightly dull) routine, treat this as a plot twist in your life story and, after taking time to check in with yourself (yes, in the traffic jam), adjust and move forward.

Some plot twists are bigger than others. You lose your job. Or you find you have cancer. Or a loved one dies. I’m not really talking to these situations because in these big ones it seems that most people learn the hard lessons about what is important as they grieve and keep going. I guess what I’m saying is, can we apply this really hard and horrible lesson to our smaller life inconsistencies? Can we figure out what’s important even without the grief and tragedy? I think we can.

Let’s try to keep the trend in the right direction. Let’s keep on using our to do lists and organising our activities using a calendar. Let’s make time budgets and use reward charts and think before we give an answer to every request on our time. Let’s use the tools that people have discovered and created that help us to keep our lives peaceful and organised. 

But let’s remember that they are tools. That the aim is not to live a robotic monotonous life. The aim is to live a life that is a beautiful work of art. The aim is to LIVE.

is there a topic you would like me to write about? Please let me know at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter or Ruth Amos Author on Facebook. 

And if you’d like to hear the chat I had with Scottie, you can listen at A Quiet Life on any podcatcher or find the whole podcast on on my website.