Looking Back, Looking Forward

As I write this, it’s the end of November. Already. And that means that the new year (yes, 2022) is just around the corner.

This makes it the ideal time to start thinking about the year theme for the year to come.

What is a year theme? I explore the topic more in this blog, but as a refresher, a year theme is an idea or direction for the year ahead. It can be a word or a phrase. It is something that indicates where you want your year to go.

For 2021, my theme was ‘the year of order’. I wanted to put systems in place for my life and my business and to feel calmer and more peaceful by the end of the year. I wanted, if it was at all possible, to feel a little more under control.

That’s been a really good direction for this year. I’ve experimented with various ways of organising things and put a few new things into practice. And yes, I think that I feel just a little more under control now than I did in January. 

Now you may be wondering why I’m bringing this up now, rather than in the new year when everyone is making resolutions. 

The thing is, I think that a year theme requires a little thought. A little mulling over.

I mean, it’s something you are aiming to hang on to and work towards for a whole year (mostly – sometimes more, sometimes less). You don’t want to make that decision on January 1, when you’re exhausted from the party and fireworks the night before. You want to have a theme that actually relates to your life and the direction you’re going.

So today I thought I’d give you a couple of tools to help you look over the year that’s been, and think about what direction you’d like for the year ahead.

One tool is something I’ve pulled from Daniel Sih’s book Space Maker and the same idea got sent to me by a friend. It’s an activity I did while I was recently away on my retreat and it involves post-it notes.

Post it notes, coloured pens and highlighters
Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels

To start with, you take your post-its and you brainstorm, writing down the significant people, places and events in your life from the past few years (or even over your whole life). You write one idea on each sticky note. These are things that have happened to you, or things you have done. Good things and bad things. Things that have shaped you. I wrote down events like the publication of my books, jobs gained and lost, my thyroid illness, moving house. Just write anything that you see as significant.

You then arrange these sticky notes in a logical sequence – a chronological sequence, or maybe in life stages, or any order or set of segments that seems right to you. I arranged mine in clumps according to approximately when they happened.

You can use a different colour of sticky note for the painful or bad things that have happened so that the good happenings stand out a bit from the bad ones.

When you look at this sequence, you can start to see patterns. You can see how your life has been tracking. You can see how God has been transforming you, and how he has used different situations in your life to bring you to who you are now.

From there, you can dream about the future more effectively. Sih recommends that you write your dreams and ideas for the future on more sticky notes. Once again, just brainstorm. There are no wrong answers here. 

This will give you direction, and from that direction you can put together some goals, and maybe even a year theme for next year.

Another activity you can do with these sticky notes is to write a story – your story. You don’t have to worry about getting the chronology correct in this story, or even to have all the details in there. But you can write about the significant times in your life. You can think of yourself as the main character and write how these times changed your direction, or helped you to grow. How you made key decisions or gained key insights. 

Again, this gives you some idea of where you’ve been and where you are going. It helps you to see the next step on your journey.

Alternatively you can review or reflect on specific areas of life. The areas I’ve noted below were shared with me by a friend who does this mapping exercise once a year. She says that it helps her to discern what’s next in the Lord’s plan for her future. And I think these are excellent questions to ask ourselves. I’ll be spending some time with them in the next month too.

Broadly we want to review:

Relationships. Are there specific relationships that are life-giving right now? Are there relationships that are draining? Is there something you can do to change or help with those relationships? (For example, visiting a particularly draining person with a friend.)

Serving opportunities. What serving positions is it time to let go of? What positions would you like to take up? Is it time to take up a position on a committee or a board? Is it time to stop helping out on a particular roster or being part of a particular group?

Significant projects. How many projects are too many? Are there projects you’ve been hanging on to that really need to be dropped in the coming year? Is there something you’ve been thinking about that you’d like to take up?

Self-care. Now is the time to book in holidays for the coming year. To book in intentional time with God, with family, with yourself, or with a significant other. This doesn’t have to be expensive. You can have a retreat at home or negotiate to use a friend’s place. And remember those Sabbath days once a week too.

And finally, is there something  new you want to take up. Is this year the year to branch out to a new idea or hobby or ministry?

Another podcast on this kind of thing used these six categories. (I wish I could tell you which podcast, but at the time of listening, I just noted the categories on a sticky note and kept moving.)

The categories are:

  • Work/vocation
  • Health and wellness
  • Relationships
  • Community 
  • Money 
  • Home

Some of these categories overlap with those above, which makes sense. Our lives are made up of these things. I’m not really coming up with some stunning new way to look at life. I’m just suggesting that we be a bit intentional about actually doing it. Whatever the categories you use, I suggest that you brainstorm what you have in each category now, and then really look at those things and see if they fit into what you want your life to be in the future.

As we look into the future, it can be helpful to look beyond just the next year. I guess this is why all interviewers ask you to tell them your five-year plan. Michael Lindsay in his book Hinge Moments quotes Dave Evans, the EA of Design Thinking at Stanford. He says that you should have not one, but three five-year plans.

The first is a plan for where you’ll be in five years if you keep following the path you’re on now.

The second, is a plan for if you take a sharp right turn – a job that’s related to what you’re doing now, but in a different direction.

And the third, is for if you do something wild. If time and money were no object and you knew you wouldn’t fail. What would your five year plan be then?

Having these three in your mind will help you to make decisions as opportunities present themselves. They’ll help you see opportunities that you didn’t know were there before.

So you can see that there’s lots to think about and mull over. I hope that you can make time to stay intentional about your life, even as the Christmas rush starts. And if you can’t even think about things like this right now, I hope that this blog will give you a head start on your January thinking. I hope and pray that it is helpful to you. And if you think it will be helpful for someone else, feel free to share this blog (or, if they prefer listening, let them know about the podcast).

The Great Milk Palava

Child drinking a full glass of milk
Nothing like a nice glass of milk
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

This week we’re doing something slightly different. I was reminded of this story when searching through old blog posts, so I thought I’d take it out, polish it up, and share it with you again.

The story takes place in 2015 when I worked at the university of Tasmania. I worked in the chemistry department, but three times a week I would traipse up the hill, over the road, past the agricultural sciences building (holding zoology, botany and microbiology) and further up the steep slope to the old medical sciences building (OMSB) where medicine used to be taught (yes, I know, the name ‘old medical sciences’ is like ‘turn left at the new roundabout where the big tree used to be’) . 

I worked for the Foundation Studies Program (FSP), teaching chemistry to international students as part of the English Language Centre (ELC). The base of the ELC was not in the OMSB (acronyms galore) but it was on the next hill over, in a place called Hytten Hall.

My story starts with an email, sent to all ELC staff, asking  for someone to please pick up their milk from agricultural sciences, as the new milk delivery truck could not turn around at OMSB (due to the tiny carpark) and could only deliver the milk to the stop further down the hill. (I am very sad now, because as I write this post, I cannot find the original email.)

This email about the milk was a big surprise to me. The staff get milk delivered? Doesn’t happen in the chemistry department. It’s a luxury that I am denied, and these people aren’t even bothering to pick it up? It’s a two minute walk down the hill, people! Pick up your milk!

Anyway, it looked like the people weren’t listening:

Good morning

Another email about the milk, so I apologise.

I have just had a call from our milk suppliers that the milk delivered on Mondays hasn’t been collected by the Wednesday for the last couple of weeks and they have said that collection is sporadic.

Could somebody please get back to me to confirm who usually collects it on the Monday? I’d like to make sure it is in fact our staff collecting it and perhaps consider another method for the order. I also am aware that there are teachers who teach later in the week who would miss out if I were to cancel the order over there and have it delivered here instead. But that would mean somebody coming over to Hytten Hall. Currently the order is 1 full cream and 1 lite.

Several points here: is someone from another department picking up our milk?! That would not be good. Milk rustling in the zoology department! Call the milk police!

Then, point two: it’s important for everyone to know what the order is. Perhaps we have only picked up the full cream milk, not the lite milk. And one what? 1 litre of milk? 1 two litre bottle? It’s all too confusing! Perhaps the milk is not picked up because it’s too confusing!

And as for the Hytten Hall suggestion – no chance! If they can’t get down to zoology, there’s no way someone could walk down the bush path through the jack-jumper infested bbq area and then back up to Hytten Hall. Not going to happen.

A staff member responds:

I can only answer for myself but as a casual and not being present on Wednesday, I cannot collect it.  

I suggest that we order in long life milk once a semester to be delivered to our floor. Office works for example could do this with the photocopy paper, or we could order from Coles or Woolworths.  The milk could be stored in the staff room. There is often no milk here on the rare occasions that I want one at break on Thursday.

best wishes

Now here’s a problem solver. We could use long-life milk. There wouldn’t be a weekly issue then, just a once a semester delivery. There are even stores that do this – stores that have trucks that can make it to the OMSB. Let’s do that. Then the poor girl could have her cuppa tea on Thursday after her teaching.

But there’s a complication, and the reason for the tardiness may be discovered in the following email:

Hi 

Between Foundation Studies staff and the other people working on Level 3 we usually manage to get hold of a carton of milk each week from else where in the building (OMSB).

 I know that Level 1 still have a crate of milk delivered here (OMSB) each week (mixture of full cream and lite). They must have a different supplier.

I suggest we use the same supplier as Level 1 and have 1 carton of full cream and 1 carton of lite milk delivered with them and then we can just pick it up from the foyer as we did before.

Cheers

It is not the staff’s fault! The truck should be able to go to the OMSB – another truck does. And it gives both full cream and light milk. The supplier is just slack. 

And as the staff can go and raid the supply from level 1, there is no need to traipse down and back up the hill. Now that the lift is working, you can get milk without putting in much effort at all. (There is no mention of whether the level 1 staff are happy to lose their milk to level 3 staff. We may never know their true feelings – I don’t think they have the email address list).

Our secretary responds:

Good afternoon

I have just cancelled the milk order for FSP. We will be placing an order for long life milk capsules, which was something we were considering earlier this morning.

I believe there is still some milk at the Ag. Science building, if somebody would like to collect it for this week?

Long life milk has been ordered. The whole situation has been neatly resolved. Or has it?

Hi 

I’m not sure whether you have already proceeded with the new milk order, but I just wanted to mention that I think Erika meant for us to order cartons rather than capsules of UHT; I’m quite concerned about the waste generated by capsules and how this reflects the university’s commitment to being sustainable…

If it isn’t too late, I would really like to echo Michael’s suggestion that we incorporate our milk order into the SLIMS/SM order for level 1 – I’m not sure how many others would agree with me but I personally would prefer to not be drinking UHT milk on a regular basis.

I know that this isn’t an easy situation for you either so I do appreciate your help.

Nope, not resolved. 

This difficult situation remains ongoing. It’s a hard situation for everybody. We may need counselling – at least the secretary probably will. I wonder if her job description includes the arduous task of herding cats. 

UHT milk is not good, capsules are not sustainable and we are never going to get this situation sorted out. I am wondering how much paperwork will be required to order milk with a different department – it would be crossing departmental budget lines. I’m sure that comes under the heading of ‘impossible’. I am also wondering how much milk these people need? How regularly do they drink the milk? Is this a meal replacement, protein shake kind of situation? 

Some answers were forthcoming in a much more formal email:

Good morning everyone

Further to my email in relation to the milk order dated Monday, 18 May – the reason we are ordering the UHT milk is because the milk was not being collected from the drop off point and therefore going to waste.   The UHT capsules are recyclable which will mean you will be compliant with the universities sustainability commitment.  We chose the capsules over the cartons as the capsules can be used per drink without having to open a carton and it going to waste if not used.

The milk supplier advised that they deliver milk to all the departments at UTAS (except to the restaurants).  They also advised that they do not deliver milk to the OMSB any longer.  All orders for SLIMS ceased at the beginning of the year and the only deliveries that are being made in that vicinity are to Agricultural/Plant Science and to Zoology and they are very large orders. Perhaps somebody who is located  within the OMSB is collecting their milk and bringing it back to the building from this drop off point. If you would like the milk order to be reinstated and to go with the other deliveries, then it would mean going over to the other building and collecting it again.  We should not rely on other department’s staff to collect our milk for us.  

Please advise if you would like the milk delivery reinstated.   Could you also confirm who will collect the milk each Monday morning  – we can trial this for 1 month and if the milk is not being collected each week then the capsules will be the only option.

This appears to be the simplest and most sensible solution.

And so it does. Simple, sensible, and, in my opinion, this email has a slight ’slap on the wrist’ tone to it. Which had the desired effect:

Hi

I am happy to go with the capsules.

We’re not even going to try for a month to pick up our milk from Ag Science. We will just make do with capsules. Seeing as they are sustainable and all. However, there was a little hiccup even now: 

Thanks,

you will need to institute a recycling bin system in our area as we do not currently have one.

best wishes

And even this little problem was overcome in time:

All you will need is a box with a plastic bag in it, that’s what we do over here and the cleaners empty it. Maybe write on it that it’s for recycling only.

So that was that. The Great Milk Palava was sorted. All over. Almost.

One final email came just a little too late:

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you; I was waiting to hear back from my husband, who works for Student Systems (formerly SLIMS) on Level 1 of the OMSB. Here are the contact details for Betta, who deliver their milk to the OMSB.

Betta misses out on the milk delivery. Capsules it is. 

And for me? I continued to use the little carton of milk that I bought myself from the corner store and kept cool in the tiny camping fridge I kept in my office.

****

So that was a bit of fun. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, you might enjoy the murder mysteries I have written that are set in the university environment. You can find the Deadly Miss series at rjamos.com.

We will go back to talking about organised and peaceful living next time. Chat to you then.

The app that (almost) does everything.

A computer screen with a calendar on it.
Photo by picjumbo.com from Pexels

Yesterday morning at 8am my phone went ‘ping’. This happens every second Wednesday at 8am. This particular ping is to remind me that I’m going on Ultra106.5 with Scottie the next morning and that I really need to prepare something that I can talk with him about.

I find this incredibly helpful. In fact, my Google calendar is one of the tools that I really would not like to be without. I’m sure I could manage using a paper calendar, but I’m also sure it would be a lot more work. My online calendar, that’s safe ‘in the cloud’ and appears on my phone simplifies my life and gives me peace, it keeps my house tidier and helps me with my relationships. In fact, there is a lot of life riding on the shoulders of my calendar. It’s the app that (almost) does everything!

Here are some ways I use my calendar:

Medical appointments – as soon as they are made they are put in the calendar. No more little business cards with dates and times floating around in my purse. 

Bills – just last week I found a note I had written to myself about various annual bills for my business and when they were due. That note was only helpful as long as it was in my sight, and once you pin a few of those notes on the pin board, the important ones become somewhat invisible. But putting the bills in the calendar with a reminder seven days earlier will mean that I will make sure there is enough in my account to cover the bills when they come.

Invitations – yes, a beautiful wedding invitation looks great on the fridge, and I keep them there, but I also block out the day in my calendar. Who likes being double booked? And if I’m not sure that I want to go to that particular party, I can put in a RSVP reminder as well, to give myself time to think about it.

Birthday and wedding anniversary reminders – Facebook is great and all, but I want to make sure that I don’t accidentally miss the special people in my life. I put the dates in my calendar with an annual repeat and I know we’re all good. I can also put a reminder in a week or so beforehand so I have time to buy a card or a present.

Church roster – our roster used to come out on an A3 piece of paper. I would go through and highlight where my name appeared. But who wants to store huge pieces of paper? No, straight on to the calendar. It clears up my office, and it clears up my head.

Public holidays – always good to know when you’re planning ahead.

Appointments with myself – some things you do as a matter of routine. But some days, those routine things don’t work. An example is that every morning I spend 15 minutes in silence with God. But on the Thursdays when I go into Ultra, I don’t have time for those 15 minutes and they need to happen later in the day. As the day can get hectic very quickly, those precious minutes can easily get lost. I now have a repeating appointment with myself on Thursdays at lunch time to spend 15 minutes in silence. I take that just as seriously as an appointment with a friend or client. People also use this method to make time to write, or practice music, or spend time on their art. If it’s in the calendar, it’s an appointment.

I use Google calendar, and while they’re not paying me to say this, I think there are many benefits to using an online calendar that’s also available on your phone and therefore always with you.

I love the reminder facility. I can make the reminder as long as I need it to be to make sure I can travel to the appointment in plenty of time. I can even add travel time into the calendar so that I get reminded ten minutes before I have to make the half hour trip. Or I can make the reminder go one day or one week (or even longer) before the calendar entry if there’s some preparation involved.

I love that I can have different calendars too. I have one that’s just for me. But I have a second calendar that’s shared with Moz. This is a calendar for things we do together, like dinner with the parents or our small group night. It’s also good for documenting things that the other person might like to know. For example, when Moz blocked the whole day out for four-wheel driving last weekend, he shared that to the joint calendar. That meant that I knew I was free to do whatever that weekend and he wasn’t expecting me to be around. I have a women’s event coming up at church, so that’s in the shared calendar so that he knows I won’t be around and he can watch an action movie with the sound up loud.

We also use the joint calendar when we’re planning out our quarterly rhythm/routine. We book in holiday weekends and maintenance weekends and Sundays where we’ll sit together in church (rather than serving separately in some capacity). It’s nice to have a tentative plan made in advance, and we use the calendar to remind ourselves of that plan.

You can also share a calendar with someone who is not your significant other. When I was working at the university, my supervisor shared his calendar with me so that I could figure out when it would work to have our supervisory meetings without having to play email pingpong. 

The YouTuber and podcaster CGP Grey uses a separate online calendar to plan out an ideal week. On it he puts things like the three hours he plans to spend writing in the mornings. Or the four hours needed for podcasting recording. Or animating time. He marks out the days in one of his online calendars so that he can remind himself, ‘if everything is going well, you should be writing right now.’ (Or exercising, or podcasting, or animating.) It’s not something he has to stick to, but it helps  keep him focused. 

So while I think you could get some of these benefits from using a paper calendar or diary, I find that an electronic calendar works very well. It does away with paper clutter. It gives me peace that I know what my days hold. It helps me to book my appointments so that there’s room in between them. It helps me look after the people I love. And it helps me to bring rhythm to my life and to make time for the things that are important.

A calendar is a very handy tool.

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 this morning, you can listen at A Quiet Life on any pod catcher or find it on my website.

A Day Off

Last week I took four days off. It was a retreat, a holiday, a time with no ‘shoulds’. It was wonderful. I went to a little town called Dover, rented a studio apartment with a view over the bay. The weather was misty, wet, cold, sunny, windy, rainy, all the things. It’s spring here, that’s the weather you get.

I wanted this time to be useful and restful. I tried to stay off the socials, I read novels and non-fiction books, I played my bass guitar, and I went for walks and runs. And I also watched TV and played Candy Crush and just sat on the couch and stared at the water. (And for those wondering, Moz came down and joined me for one of the four nights and spent the rest of the time doing fun stuff like four-wheel driving and helping out at church.)

The two non-fiction books I read were:

Space Maker – how to unplug, unwind and think clearly in the digital age, by Daniel Sih

And 

Sacred Rhythms – arranging our lives for spiritual transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

And one thing those books had in common was an encouragement to explore a weekly Sabbath.

You know I love the idea of a day off each week. I know that just having one day a week where I stop trying to control the amount of work I’m doing, stop trying to get on top of my to do list and just trust God that he can keep the world running without my help, that day is essential to my wellbeing.

But reading these books encouraged me to take the whole thing further. Now, I don’t know fully where I stand on this yet but I’m feeling challenged to go even deeper into what ‘a day off’ means.

Both authors encouraged their readers to really think about what ‘work’ is. Because it looks different for each of us. For some, gardening is life-giving; for others it’s a chore. The Sih family don’t cook on a Sabbath, the Haley Bartons cook food that they find special and enjoy eating. 

Ruth Haley Barton works from a home office like I do. She says that at times she has had to close the door and not even go into her office on a Sabbath. Daniel Sih avoids email, the internet, texting, and writing, and talking about global events. 

For Daniel Sih, writing on his to do list is too much like work, so that activity is banned on the Sabbath. Ruth Haley Barton also encourages us to take a break from anything that causes worry and stress, and in that list she includes to-do lists as well as budgets, taxes, wedding planning and major decision making. 

Maybe we could just ban the word ‘covid’ on a Sabbath and see how restful that is?

Both of them agreed that having a break from screens or phones is important, though Daniel says that now that his kids are older, the ban is ‘more nuanced’. I feel like having the ability to contact my family or be contacted by them is really high on my priority list. But I also worry a bit that I am just addicted to the screen and all the apps contained therein. I’m thinking on it.

Ruth Haley Barton suggests that we don’t buy or sell anything on the Sabbath. That we take a break from our constant consumerism. Daniel says that rest might involve ‘eating at a café’, which of course requires buying things.

In terms of what goes on the list of things to do on a Sabbath, both of them are in favour of restful pursuits such as sleeping in, reading a book, riding bikes, getting out as a family to do an activity such as bushwalking or staying in to play a board game. It’s a day for rest, for community, and also for spiritual practice. That might mean going to church, though for me, church is often a work-related place. It might mean just taking a few minutes to read scripture and meditate on it through the day.

The major thing they had in common was the idea that this one day – 24 hours – is set aside for rest. And that we should not take this lightly, but instead prepare ourselves, write lists of what we consider work and what we consider rest and play, make sure we’ve done all we need to do beforehand so that the day is not chipped into by urgent tasks, and definitely do this once a week, one day out of seven, and preferably the same day each week so that we know it’s coming and we can look forward to it.

I am, as I said, still working through this. And I’m encouraged by both authors that this is a very counter-cultural discipline and therefore it’s difficult to do. But I feel encouraged that my Sabbath-taking needs to enter a new phase and I’m looking forward to the days of rest that will be ahead.

Where do you stand when it comes to a day of rest? Do you have Sabbath traditions? Or do you find it just too hard? Let me know by emailing ruth@ruthamos.com.au, or tweeting me @aquietlifeblog or find me on Facebook. I’d also love to hear from you if you have a topic you’d like me to talk about. Just let me know!

Routine or Rhythm?

Ursula Le Guin's writing schedule:
5.30 am–Wake up and lie there and think.
6.15 am–get up and eat breakfast (lots).
7.15 am–get to work writing, writing writing.
noon–lunch.
1 pm–reading, music.
3 pm–correspondence, maybe house cleaning.
5 pm–make dinner and eat it.
after 8pm–I tend to be very stupid and we won't talk about this.

At one stage this year, I would once or twice a week go to the same excellent café near my house, and buy myself a nice coffee to start the day. The lady who ran the shop noticed that I was turning up regularly, and she also must have noticed that I didn’t look ‘dressed for work’. She asked if I worked from home and I said I did. She then talked to me of the importance of having a routine when you work from home. I couldn’t agree more, but I decided to tell her the truth – the reason I was there regularly was that our washing machine was broken, and I needed to bribe myself with nice flat white as I did the unwelcome task of taking our clothes to the laundromat.

I do agree with her though, routine is very important. I think it’s important whether you work from home or not.

But, you say, routine sounds so boring!

Yes. Yes it does. And maybe we should change the word we’re using. I prefer the word ‘rhythm’.

We’re made for rhythm. Our bodies have their own circadian rhythms, times when we feel more energetic, times when the best thing we can do for productivity is to have a nap. 

Our years have a rhythm – summer, when the days are long and we feel energetic and full of life. And the dark winter, when hibernation feels more the thing.

It is a strange time for me to be writing this, because this week Moz is on holidays. And everything changes when Moz is on holidays. Our lives become more loose, we are out of routine.

But in a way, that’s the point. Moz is a school teacher and the rhythm of his year revolves around term time and holidays. So while the weekly routine might be a bit mixed up, this is part of our annual routine. Part of the rhythm of our year.

If we’re not intentional about our routine, deciding what we want to do and when, then we will unintentionally fall into a routine that may be less helpful to us. We might have a routine of playing on our phone for a couple of hours when we should be getting ready for bed. We might have a routine that squeezes too much into the day so that we never get to relax or to do some exercise. But we will generally find ourselves doing the same thing at the same time each day, unless we plan otherwise. It’s how we’re made.

Here are some suggestions for being intentional about the rhythm of your life:

Annual rhythm – It’s helpful to book holidays at the beginning of the year. I am also making sure I’m aware of when the busy times are and when I can take a breather afterwards, just knowing helps with the work it takes to get through the busy times. Even the church seasons are helpful – Lent, Easter, Advent, Christmas – these ‘holy-days’ bring rhythm into the year.

Quarterly rhythm – Moz and I have become more intentional about looking three months ahead and booking out adventure weekends, sit-together Sundays, and days to do maintenance on the house. The three months can slip away without important things being taken care of unless we look at our calendars intentionally.

Weekly rhythm – The Sabbath is an important one – the routine of having one day off a week. We can also schedule in times for exercise, family dinners, and regular times to meet with friends.

Daily rhythm – We might plan out a morning routine to start the day right. We can plan to do more intense work in the times of the day when we have more energy according to our circadian rhythms. In the evenings we can practice good sleep hygiene – turning the screen off an hour or so before bed, taking the time to calm down, having a set routine of getting ready for bed so that the brain and body knows it’s time to sleep.

I want to share with you one of my favourite quotes about schedules from Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”

Here’s some things that need to be a part of our life rhythm:

  • Exercise
  • The time to prepare and eat healthy food
  • Sleep
  • Social connection
  • Time to switch off and relax

If you’ve got those things locked in (most of the time) then you’re going to be in a good place. And then, yes, sometimes you can have a special take-away night or spend a whole day in bed watching movies. It’s part of the rhythm.

Discipline gives boundaries that make you feel safe. And in those safe boundaries, your creativity can flourish. 

Permission to say no

Did you ever have those times in school when you really didn’t want to do the Physical Education activity for the day? Where you knew that it was going to be awful and that you were going to get a ball smashed into your head, or drown in the pool, or something awful like that. And then, just by luck, you got a sore throat and a sniffy nose, and if you screwed your eyes tightly enough you had a headache and you went to your parents and said, ‘I’m sick, can you write me a note?’ And then they wrote that amazing note of wonder:

Please excuse Ruth from today’s activity, she is not well enough to attend.

And then you got to go to the library instead and read? And the whole day was saved?

Or was that just me?

I know I got sick way too much when I was a kid. I think it was the way my introvert self coped when I was starting to feel peopled-out. 

As an adult I have realised that getting sick is a very bad way of coping. There are better ways.

But there have still been times when I’ve caught myself thinking, ‘I wish someone would get me out of this commitment. I wish that my parents could write me a note saying I didn’t have to come.’

Moz was getting ready to go to work the other day. He put his jacket on and then checked all the pockets to make sure he had all the things – watch, phone, wallet, keys, pen – you know, all the things. As he patted his jacket, it made a crinkly noise. 

‘What’s that?’

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He unfolded it and showed it to me. It was a note that simply said, ‘No.’

A green piece of paper with the word 'No.' written on it.
Moz’s permission slip

Our pastor Pete had given it to him. It was a permission slip. Permission to say, ‘No.’

I love it.

For some commitments we feel like we need to have a Really Good ReasonTM not to do things. That our own reasons are not good enough and that we need some authority to step in and tell us we don’t have to go.

Sometimes, we can feel so overwhelmed that the thought of being hit by a car and having to go to hospital is appealing, because at least then we could sit still for a while.

If this is you, I’d like to write you a permission slip. My permission slip simply says, ‘No.’

You can tell people, ‘no’ and not give a reason.

You can say ‘no’ and not even have a ‘good enough’ reason in your own mind.

Sometimes, ‘no’ is a very reasonable response on its own.

Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone. And the problem I have here is that if you’re thinking, ‘I wish this applied to me, but it clearly doesn’t.’ Then chances are that it does apply to you. And if you’re thinking, ‘Oooo excellent, I’ll take that,’ then maybe you’re the person who needs to stretch yourself just a little bit more.

You’re going to have to be sensible here.

But, seriously, if you’re in the place where sitting in a hospital bed seems more appealing than what you need to do in the next week, I’d suggest that a little bit of saying ‘no’ is in order. 

Give it a go.

Find out that the world will still spin without you.

You have my permission to rest.

If you’ve found this helpful, please feel free to share it with a friend. And if you want to hear me talk more on this subject then my podcast is just the place for you!

If you would like to read more, in My Year of Saying No, I tell the story of my own saying no journey, what I learned about saying no, saying yes, and bringing peace to my life.

And a gold star for you!

A few years ago, I decided that I needed to help myself to simplify my life. I called that year My Year of Saying NO, and I even wrote a book about it. 

I am very good at saying ‘yes’ when people ask me to do things. I find it very uncomfortable to say ‘no’. I’m sure a lot of us do. So to help me make this new habit, I used a reward chart.  The actual chart was a very cute picture of a princess making her way along heart-shaped stepping stones to a castle. I hung the chart above my desk where I could see it every day. I bought some shiny gold star stickers and each time I had one of those difficult ‘no’ conversations, I stuck a gold star on the chart. When I got to the end of the chart I rewarded myself with a few days away.

It was a big reward, but it was a big lesson for me to learn.

My research tells me that reward charts work very well for children aged 3–8 years, and I don’t see why they won’t work for us adults aged 30–80 years as well. (And older, and younger of course.) In fact, if you google ‘reward charts for adults’ you get some really excited articles written by beautiful people who have discovered that they are ‘allowed’ to use stickers just as much as the kids are!

Using a chart like this is fun, and it helps encourage us in the activities we want to perform. So, just in case you are interested, I thought I’d write a post giving a little direction so that you can have fun with stickers too!

How do reward charts work?

1) Decide on the activity you are measuring. It is important that these gold stars are linked to an activity that you are doing, not a result. That is, you get a gold star for eating mindfully, not for losing a kilogram. You need to be able to do the activity and then reward yourself. So pick an activity, and write it down on your chart.

Activity ideas: Drinking six glasses of water in a day, working out, cooking a real meal, spending nine hours in bed at night (without your phone), practising a musical instrument for half an hour, walking for half an hour, meditating or sitting in silence with God for 10 minutes, writing 300 words in your novel, ringing your mother. Basically, anything you’d like to do more of.

 Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t try to achieve too many things at once. Just pick one, write it down and go with it for a while.

Another important part of this step is to write down why you are wanting to achieve this thing. Why do you want to go to the gym? To feel more energetic and to sleep better, maybe. Why do you want to practise the piano? So you can play that special song for your friend and really bless her. Write the reason for the activity – this really helps you keep going when the going is tough.

2) Decide on the reward you will receive at the end and write it down. Promise yourself a reward that is something meaningful, that is worth working for. 

Reward ideas: a bike ride, a movie night, a new book, a new toy, a pedicure, an afternoon off to read a book, an overnight at a B&B, a special meal out at a five-star restaurant.

Your reward could be related to the activity. For example, if you are giving yourself a star for every time you go to the gym, the reward after 20 sessions could be some new gym clothes. If you and a friend or partner are working on your goals together, your reward could be a weekend away for the two of you. 

It is important that you write the reward down. And it is important that you actually give yourself the reward once you reach your goal. The gold stars on the way are really great motivators, but I think that reaching the goal is also worthy of a celebration. We really want to celebrate success here!

3) Make that star chart, buy the shiny stickers (they don’t have to be stars, they can be any stickers you like) and go ahead and start measuring.

The star chart shouldn’t be too long. When people make these behavioural charts for their children, I see (and this is not backed by any kind of scientific study) that the resulting good behaviour lasts for about two or three weeks. 

It’s the same with us adults. We are using some extrinsic motivation here to hopefully build the intrinsic motivation that will turn this activity into a habit. But if we have to wait 100 days before we get any kind of reward, we are going to lose focus and even the sticking of a gold star to a chart will become a chore. So maybe make it three or four week’s worth, but no more. (Again, this is not backed by scientific studies, you do you.)

One last thing. When I was doing research for this post I found a new use of reward charts that I hadn’t seen before. They were charts for things like gratitude, and for noting when you feel positive. 

I love this idea. You can feel like you are miserable all the time, but if you stick a sticker on a chart whenever you are grateful for something, or whenever you notice that you’re feeling positive, then you  will be able to look at your calendar and clearly see a record of good things. And I think that will, in itself, add joy to your life. Beautiful.

Do you use a star chart or some kind of reward or tracking system? What do you do? How well does it work?

If you’d like to hear me chatting about this, my podcast A Quiet Life is available on Spotify, Apple podcasts and all other good podcatchers or you can find it at my website.

How to achieve your GOAL

Last time I wrote about doing jobs and activities where you enjoy the process and not just the outcome.

Celebrate small successes
Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

It made me think about the types of goals that we can have in our lives.  How it’s better to focus in our goals on process rather than outcome. On systems rather than milestones.

We all know the weight loss goal: lose 10 kg. It’s a goal I’ve had for quite some time now. It was an especially depressing goal when my weight was going up. I’d be focusing on ‘lose 10 kg’ and each time I weighed myself my weight increased by another 500 g. It became totally depressing. The goal was big and imposing and impossible to do all at once.

Now, I haven’t lost the dream of losing those 10 kg. I know I’d like to be 10 kg lighter. But the process, the thing I’m actively working on, is to go to the gym six days a week and work out on the cross trainer for half an hour at the highest level of pump that I can give it. And to cook at least six meals at home per week so that we eat less takeaway food. 

This means I can tick that off each week, and see how I’m going, even when the weight doesn’t seem to be budging due to other factors.

Another area where I apply this type of goal setting in my life is in my writing. At the beginning of this year I was really struggling to get going on the rewrite of my novel. The goal was to take the last couple of chapters and turn them into another 50,000 words or so. Tricky. Imposing. Impossible to do all at once. And therefore, very difficult to start.

Instead, I changed the goal to one of writing 300 words a day. This takes me about 15 minutes. It’s not a huge goal, it’s not a 2-m high-jump (sorry, still on the Olympic examples here) it’s more like a 15-cm step up. I can do it. And once I get started, I can often keep going. I can happily write 500 or 1000 words. But I don’t have to. I just try to hit that tiny goal each day.

So many of our goals or the things we are striving for are dependent on factors that are out of our control. There is so much in life we can’t control – the weather, the emotional state of others, the level of expertise of the other job applicants. It’s easy to worry about those things so much that we don’t get started on the things we can do something about – our own job application and making it the best that it can be, our own emotional and mental wellbeing, and the wearing of a raincoat.

I was reading a book by Michael Mosley this week where he used the word ‘goal’ as an acronym. Now it’s not the best and most memorable acronym out there but I think the approach it outlines is good.

Get

Opportunities

Approach

Look for successes

G is for get. What do you want to get? What are you aiming for? This is the overarching goal, the 10 kg or finished novel or new job. This gives you a direction to head in. And I think this is important.

O is for opportunities. What opportunities or resources are out there to help you succeed? Do you need to join a writer’s group? Or read some articles on resume presentation? Or join a gym?

A is for approach. This is your plan. What are steps are you going to take to reach your goal? This is the 300 words a day. This is exercise six times a week. This is the process. Remember, you need to love the process, and it needs to be achievable for you. There is no point coming up with an approach that you don’t think you can do. A lot of writers insist that waking up at 430am to get words on the page is the only reasonable approach. I know that approach is not for me and if I tried it I would get no writing done. What approach are you going to use?

L is for ‘look for successes’. You need little milestones along the way. You need to cheer yourself on. In terms of weight loss, I might not be able to cheer the 10 kg yet, but I can cheer myself on for the increased fitness I’m seeing at the gym. For writing I can rejoice in every 1000 words, every chapter finished, every new creative idea that springs up. 

Mosley says ‘notice and celebrate small milestones’ and I agree, that celebration of small milestones along the way is so important. If we wait for the big milestone we might find that 1) we never get there or 2) we get there but it feels a bit empty. But if we celebrate along the way we have a life filled with celebration and I think that’s a wonderful joyful way to live.

What method of goals or systems do you use?

Do you have a special way of celebrating small successes?

Did you know that as well as this blog I have a podcast? You may have friends for whom you think this information is great but they prefer to listen rather than read. They can find my podcast at A Quiet Life on any pod catcher or they can go to ruthamos.com.au/podcast/ and listen there.

Feel free to share this blog with anyone you think would enjoy it. I’d love to get the word out as far as possible. People can sign up to read it at ruthamos.com.au or on WordPress. 

Enjoy the process

A tennis ball

We’ve been watching the Olympics a lot lately, getting our fix of all the different kinds of sport. So I thought I’d start this blog with a sports example.

Here’s a story about Novak Djokovic:

“[Tennis champion] Novak Djokovic said in an interview with the Financial Times that “I can carry on playing at this level because I like hitting the tennis ball.” The interviewer replied in surprise: “Are there really players who don’t like hitting the ball?” Djokovic answered, “Oh yes. There are people out there who don’t have the right motivation. You don’t need to talk to them. I can see it.”

(From James Clear’s newsletter).

Moz, in his role as a teacher, talks to a lot of kids who are thinking about what they should do with their lives. And it’s not just kids, I think that some adults are really wondering if what they do is ‘all there is’ and whether they could change to do something else. They might be unhappy in their job situation, or maybe they’ve been laid off or something like, I don’t know, a global pandemic has happened and has changed their life or the way they are thinking about their life and they’re looking for what they want to do next.

My life has been a journey to find the process that I enjoy. 

I started my working life as a check-out chick, then a bank teller. I was unhappy in both of those situations, basically because I was an introvert operating with a flat people-battery all the time. These jobs weren’t right for me, but I have a friend, Judy, who worked in a supermarket for 30 years and really enjoyed it. I interviewed her in my podcast.

I left the bank to have children, and worked as a family day carer and a stay at home mum, again, using up my social energy to the utmost. But again, my friend Kerry just loves family day care and that’s where she knows she belongs.

To help with the resulting depression, I decided to go to university. And I loved it. Just loved it. I thought I’d be happy working at a university for the rest of my life. And I was happy for a good 15 years. But that time came to an end too. I have another podcast interview with Matt who serves God and the university and finds it fruitful and rewarding.

When I was thinking about leaving the university, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with myself. Like Djokovic, I wanted to do something where I enjoyed the process, and not just the outcome.

One thing I love to do is write. I know that some authors like ‘having written’ but I like the process of writing as well. I like to sit down at my computer, just like I’m doing now, and pounding out words. This makes the job of author an ideal job for me. 

I also like to read, and I read very quickly. I have a good grasp of the English language, and now that I’ve worked as a scientist, I have a good grasp of science too. And this enables me to work as an academic editor. Believe it or not, I like the fiddly process of working with words to make them sound beautiful. I like bringing order out of chaotic journal articles. I like the process.

When Moz talks with the kids at school about what they want for their future careers, they are often thinking of the outcome. ‘I want to make lots of money’ or ‘I want to be famous’. This is really short-term thinking, happily-ever-after thinking. Thinking that when you get to a particular point, you’re going to be happy from then on because everything will be perfect. I get trapped in this kind of thinking all the time. But I’m learning to change. I think it’s much better to think of the types of things you enjoy, and how those can be used to solve a problem or to give value to others.

Do you enjoy being inside or outside?

Do you like to bring order or make a creative mess?

Are you the ‘sit quietly and read and write’ type like me, or do you like to be active?

Do you fill your battery by being with others or by being alone?

The more you understand these things about yourself, the more you can look for a job or activity where you can give value to others and also be fulfilled yourself.

I really love to encourage people to find these things that suit them and do them to the best of their ability. It took me 40+ years to find out what suited me. I had several false starts. But I couldn’t be happier now.

My sister also has walked this path. She knew she wanted to be a musician, but what sort of musician? She tried classical and jazz performance, she tried music teaching, she tried working in administration (another of her gifts), and then she found film composition. That is her happy place, working in film in all sorts of ways. Composing, orchestrating, going and doing all the recording in the studios. One film she worked on recently (supporting the composer), Minari, was nominated for an Oscar. 

Once again, it took her a while to find her thing, but now she’s found it she’s unstoppable.

Nothing we do is wasted. I’m grateful for all my experiences on the way through. They have built me into what I am today. But I’m more than grateful for the ability now to work in a way that I love on projects that I enjoy.

I can’t encourage you enough to find activities where you enjoy the process. Not just the pay cheque, but the work you need to do to get the cheque. Enjoy hitting the ball. Whether it’s for money or just for love. It’s life changing.

Fun! (And how I forget to have it)

A woman dancing to music from her phone
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Last year, I read a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It was more than a book, it was more like a self-paced course to help blocked creatives become creative again. I didn’t know that before I started, I just read it because it had been suggested by so many people in podcasts and blogs. It was a worthwhile experience.

It’s full of activities and prompts to help you dig into your own creativity and to find joy and to make time to explore and make and do. 

One of the activities, fairly early on, was to write a list of 20 things that you enjoy doing.

Now, I wasn’t in the best of places at the end of last year. I don’t really think anybody was. I was not in crisis yet, but I was well on the way. 

I found it really hard to write a list of 20 things I enjoyed doing. 

And maybe a week or so after I wrote the list I thought, ‘Hang on. I enjoy dancing. Dancing is a big part of who I am. Why isn’t dancing on that list?’ 

I had lost touch with myself. I had lost touch with the part of myself that had fun.

Playing and having fun is a big part of being human. It’s an important part of mental health. 

And it’s a very easy thing to squeeze out of our lives.

I am a Type A personality. I admit it. I love lists. I love structure. I love to Get Things Done. But I can get so involved in looking at the jobs that need doing and crossing them off that I forget to enjoy life on the way through.

I like things to have purpose. And that’s good. But some things should be done for no purpose. Just for the joy of it. Not to monetise, not to add to your body of work, not to be part of your business. But just for fun.

My father-in-law has started a new project. He’s fulfilling a life-long ambition to make a model train set. In their back room he has a table on wheels and on that table is a train track that goes around and around, and he’s sculpted some hills and some rivers, and used 3D printing to make houses and train stations and people and so on. Last weekend, to celebrate his 70th birthday, all the boys in the family went to his place and worked on the train set. They wired in lights, used Arduino technology to make them come on in interesting ways. They worked on the train whistle. 

Now, I looked at the train set and my whole self went, ‘But why?’ What is the point of this? You can’t even make a story out of it. It just goes around and around.

But that is the point. That is the whole point. This project is play. It’s deep play and it’s great.

Moz is teaching himself to play piano. I enjoy listening to him play through worship songs, or some Elton John or Annie Lennox. He plays just for the fun of it. He doesn’t want to be part of a worship team or a band that plays gigs every week. He just enjoys playing. I love that. I need to put more of that in my life. I think all of us need to have these fun things in our lives.

I’m not good at play. Mostly I just look at all the things that need to be done, and try to do them. Try to get the whole list crossed off before the week ticks over and I have to do it all again.

Or if I do enjoy something, like writing, then I write whole novels and sell them and try to make a living doing that. 

I’m trying to change though. Now I put on funky music and dance in the kitchen, just for fun. I have an adult colouring book to work my way through and I’m trying not to stress too much when I colour outside the lines. I play card games with people and try not to mind when I lose. I mess around on the bass guitar, not for any reason, just to enjoy the music. I meet with friends for coffee and laughter and fun conversation.

Fun reminds me that I don’t have to ‘do’ all the time, that it’s OK sometimes just to ‘be’. That I am valuable for who I am, not just what I produce.

It’s so easy to lose this part of ourselves, but life with out light and laughter is no life at all. In all our organising and bringing order to our lives, let’s not forget to leave room for a little bit of fun every now and then. Make time to do the things you enjoy, just for the sake of enjoyment.

What do you enjoy doing? What do you do to bring fun into your life?