A new way to divide (and conquer) your to-do list

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I’m trying something new in the organisational process. I’m always ready to try something new, I’m always hoping that I’ll find that thing, that perfect thing, that will give me more energy and make my days go more smoothly. And right now I think I’ve had a bit of a brainwave, even if I do say so myself.

The problem.

I work from home, running three businesses.

  • My editing business – academic editing, technical editing of insurance reports, that kind of thing.
  • My fiction writing – the R. J. Amos business.
  • And finally, my non-fiction author business (Ruth Amos): this blog, the podcast, and books.

The difficulty I have is figuring out what I should be doing at any one time. In some parts of the day (usually the mornings) I have energy, I can think, I can do creative work. Other times (after lunch, anyone?) I’m tired, I can’t think well and I need drudge jobs to do. Jobs that I can do with music on in the background, or jobs that require a bit of waiting around for things to load. Jobs that don’t require my undivided attention and creativity.

So, when should I do the different jobs that my different businesses need me to do?

It’s always easy to prioritise the editing jobs – they are money in my pocket, and they are jobs that other people need done.

But if I always do those jobs first, if they always take up my time when I have energy and I can think, then I’ll never get books written. And that would be a problem because I quit my job to write books.

Also, when I get to the tired times, I often don’t have enough brain to decide what to do with my time. I have enough brain to do a job, just not enough to think about what that job should be.

The solution (I hope).

I have decided to break my to-do list into two parts: thinking jobs, and non-thinking jobs.

All the writing comes under ‘thinking’. As do the phone calls, planning, academic editing, and recording of podcasts. All the things that need energy.

Under ‘non-thinking’ are tasks like posting promo material, website maintenance, the less technical editing, book formatting, reading, and listening to podcasts.

This is a change for me because now ‘writing the blog’ comes under ‘thinking’ but ‘posting the blog’ comes under ‘non-thinking’. A job that once was a single task has been divided into two. The same with the podcast. I need to record the introduction in the morning when I have energy, but the editing together of the different audio segments, and the posting online, those things don’t require the same energy and come under ‘non-thinking’.

I am hoping that dividing things this way will help me to make the most of my creative hours, but that it will also help me to make the most of my tired times. That having the list already divided in this way will help me to decide quickly what I should be doing, rather than letting me aimlessly scroll social media while I try to figure out which task I could summon up the energy to concentrate on now.

Social Media

Speaking of social media, dividing jobs in this way should also help me stay away from that distraction when I have the brain for creative things. It’s pretty creativity-zapping, the social media entertainment flood, and I need to stay away from it while I’m trying to do my thinking tasks. This means that you won’t get happy birthday messages from me until the afternoon, but I think you’ll cope.

I will go onto Facebook or Twitter when it is time for me to post promo things, when it’s time for me to let you know that my blog is ready, when it’s time to post a newsletter, but try to stay off when I’m concentrating on the ‘thinking’ tasks. I think it will help.

So that’s me, how about you?

Have you tried something like this? Are you as addicted to to-do lists as I am? Are you a morning or afternoon or evening person? When do you do your creative/thinking tasks? Let me know in the comments.

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Failure and Value

Failure

I have been thinking lately about goals and achievements. About productivity. About getting things done. I think it’s good to examine your productivity and to set goals for yourself. It’s good to feel like your life is moving forward and that you’re making a difference in the world.

But what if you don’t feel like that at all?

What if you feel like your life is on hold? Or that you’re slowly moving backwards?

What if you can’t see any difference you’re making in the world?

What if, for whatever reason, this season of life requires you to sit in the background and achieve nothing?

What then?

It’s so easy at times like those to feel like you’re failing, or even worse, to label yourself as ‘a failure’.

I felt like it was really important this week to say that your value is not because of what you do. You are valuable purely because you are, because you exist.

One of the things I love about my Christian faith is that it says that ALL people are valuable because they are made in the image of God. Therefore, no matter what you are doing, no matter who you are, you, yes, YOU are valuable. Absolutely precious. Of inestimable importance. Worth dying for. Worth giving everything for.

You are loved. In all your flaws and imperfections, you are deeply loved.

I could go on, but this is getting mushy.

I am reading a book by Dr Dweck about the Growth Mindset and it talks a lot about how you can see yourself as the sum of your achievements, but that it is so much healthier to instead look at how hard you try, at whether you are putting in an effort. (And for some of us, the effort required to open our eyes in the morning is all we have.)

I also heard a wonderful quote on the Simple podcast, (episode 202). It says, ‘It’s not hard because you are failing, it’s hard because it’s hard.’

Are you finding something hard today? Maybe the fault is not in you, maybe the thing you’re working on (say parenting, or completing your uni studies, or going to work) feels hard. And it feels hard because it is hard. You’re allowed to feel like something is hard.

Tsh Oxenrider, the host of the Simple podcast, also commented in that episode that a couple of times a week she asks her children, ‘What did you fail at today?’ She says that failure means you are trying and that’s a good thing. This is the attitude she wants to build into her children.

So all of this has come together in my mind. I want to be someone with a growth mindset. I want to be someone not afraid to learn from failure. And I want to remember that I’m valuable, even if I’m not obviously succeeding at something.

So, let me ask you, what did you fail at over the last few days?

I can tell you that my house-cleaning this weekend was no where near as good as our regular cleaner’s job. That the last couple of times I’ve tried to spruik my book it hasn’t resulted in a sale. And that when I went to the gym last night I didn’t do weights and opted instead just to walk on the treadmill. But at least I cleaned, spruiked, and went to the gym. I’m trying. So I’ll take that as a win.

And even if I hadn’t done those things, I’m going to remember that I’m valuable just because I am. And I hope that you can remember that too.

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A surprising benefit of mindful eating

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It’s a crumpet kind of day today.

I’m doing a new thing when it comes to how I eat. And it’s bringing me an unexpected benefit.

I know you’ve gone through a journey with me about what I eat, looking for allergies and so forth. But this is not about what I eat, but about how.

It’s based on a set of guidelines in a book called Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth. I didn’t really get a whole lot out of the book, though it was interesting. But at the very end of the book she has a section called The Eating Guidelines which I am finding very helpful.

In these guidelines she suggests that we eat sitting down in a calm environment and without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, books, and even intense music.

It is very tempting when you have a lot of work to do, to eat your lunch ‘al desco’ – at your desk, while you are working. I have also found, while working at home, that it’s tempting to just watch a little TV for a break while I’m eating my lunch. Or to listen to a podcast, or to read a book for a break while eating. But doing any of these things means that I don’t really taste the food that I’m eating. I’m in another place in my head, and I don’t even know, once I’ve eaten, whether I’m full or not.

The other temptation that I have is to eat snacks while working in the afternoon to get myself through. Just a handful of nuts. Or a snack-sized bag of chips. Or a square of dark chocolate. (Or all three.) Just to make the afternoon’s work easier to handle. Again, this means that I don’t really notice what I’m eating and it probably means that I’m eating more than I should be.

I decided, a couple of weeks ago, in the interest of increasing my health and well-being, that I would try Roth’s guidelines.

I mean, feeding yourself is a basic right, right? And I know I’m trying to squeeze into each day more than each day can handle, but if I can’t take the time to eat, then something is out of whack. And if I have to bribe myself to work in the afternoon then maybe I should just stop and take a nap instead.

So I decided to change things a bit. I haven’t changed what we do as a family for the evening meal, but for my own breakfast, lunch, and whatever snacks I have, I am making a new pattern.

When I am eating, I am only eating.

Mindfully eating, if you like.

I sit at the table, I look out the window, I taste the food, I don’t rush, I just eat.

And the benefits have been amazing. Not to my body so much as to my brain.

Every time I go to eat I am strongly tempted to scroll through social media, or to listen to a podcast, or to write notes on something, or read a book. But I fight the temptation, prepare food that I look forward to eating, and I sit at the table.

And slowly my brain calms down. I feel more rested. I remember those things that I was going to do, but didn’t write down on my list. I think through the plot of the story I’m writing. I pray.

One time, looking out my window, I saw a flock of cockatoos chasing a hawk. I would have totally missed that if my eyes had been on my phone.

It’s like, you know when you get in the shower, or you finally lie down to sleep at night, and all the things you were trying to remember or think about come back to you. Well, I get that when I eat my lunch. And then, if I need to, I can do something about them in the afternoon.

I’m sure there will be benefits for my body as well. But I’ve just been stunned by how beneficial this has been for my mental wellbeing. The break, the calming down, the unwinding during the day, it has made my life calmer and quieter, and it hasn’t really affected my output at all.

So let me encourage you. You are worthy of a lunch break. Take the time to eat and enjoy your food. You might find some unexpected benefits.

Geneen Roth says to ‘Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.’ I hope that all of us can take the pleasure in food that it was created to give.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Lessons Learned: One Year On My Own

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It is one year today since I started working as a freelancer full-time. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the year and the lessons learned.

This time last year I had just come back from a trip to visit my lovely sister in LA. I had seen her living her freelance composer life and had been very impressed. Now it was my turn.

I had big plans. My freelance life consists of three businesses: the Ruth Amos author business (non-fiction), the R. J. Amos author business (fiction), and the Fix My English business (editing). The idea was that the editing would help pay the bills as the author businesses got off the ground. I had listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books and I was eager to put it all into practice.

And it’s been a fantastic year.

There have been ups and downs – I wouldn’t recommend losing all thyroid functionality in the first year of starting your own businesses for one thing. But it’s been a joy to be able to run with my ideas, to see where they lead me, to experiment and try new things. I have launched two books in the last twelve months, both big highlights of the year for me. I don’t think that I have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve heard that the second year of full-time life at home is more difficult than the first. I guess we’ll see. I’ll let you know this time next year.

Anyway, here are some lessons I have learned in the last year:

1) Having backup savings is really important.

Every piece of advice you see when you’re thinking of going freelance tells you to have at least three-months and even six-months worth of expenses saved. I could not agree more. It has been a great comfort in the lean times (like over the summer where I didn’t get an editing job for four straight months) to know that there’s a cushion to fall back on. It takes the pressure off and allows you to be creative in your activities and to think more long-term when you are planning your future undertakings. It takes away the panic, and we know that panic leads to bad decision-making.

the writing den

2) Streamline Online.

All of my work is performed on the internet. Without the internet I wouldn’t have any of my businesses. This has meant that I have needed to learn some online marketing techniques. And it was around January when I realised that the editing online personality I was trying to build was different from the author online personalities and that one of them had to go.

I tried keeping the editing on LinkedIn and just advertising the author businesses on Facebook and Twitter. That worked better, but it was a lot of marketing work for very little return.

In the end I decided to go a different route for my editing business, working with other businesses who source the work (academic and technical editing) and not trying to do all the marketing myself. This was less satisfying than doing it all by myself, but I had to decide which business I wanted to build up, and that is my writing, of course. I just had to let go of some pride.

So now I am myself on social media, like I am myself in my books. A bit silly, hopefully fun, caring about my friends, sharing ups and downs, sharing about God.

And as far as the editing is concerned, well, now that I’m not trying to do it all myself, I’m actually getting work and managing to make some money. So that turned out to be the right decision.

time money

3) Flexible time does not mean unlimited time.

I was very fortunate coming into this work that I had been trained as an academic. In the work I had done before I didn’t have anyone clocking me in or out, I was responsible for getting the work done. Working for myself was similar, and I knew how to discipline myself to focus. I have not been spending my days lost in social media, YouTube, or Netflix as some warned me I might be. But I have enjoyed the flexibility of being able to get out for a coffee with my friends and doing extra activities at church during the day.

When the editing load was light, this was fine. But as my business has grown and the workload has increased I have realised that I need to be much more careful with my extra-curricular activities. I think I need to read ‘My Year of Saying No’ again, prioritise, and then say no to some of my activities.

Priorities

Related to this:

4) Book holidays first.

The year has a rhythm. Unfortunately in Year One you don’t know what that rhythm is. As the year passed I didn’t know when would be a good time for holidays so I didn’t book any. In freelance work, if you don’t have work to do for a client, then you have work to do to get the next client. I just kept going with the writing, marketing, editing, podcasting, all the bits and pieces that just roll on week by week. This, of course, has led to me feeling very tired and lately I have realised what a bad idea a holiday-less year is. So I have now booked myself two weeks of holidays to be taken in a few months time when the Very Big Editing Job I’m working on now will be finished.

I have a bit clearer idea of what the rhythm of the year is like now, but even if the next year turns out to be full of opportunities for the whole 52 weeks, I realise now that I don’t have to take all of them. I will be booking holidays and sticking to them in the future. Rest is important.

teapot and cup

5) Exercise must be booked in too – incidental exercise doesn’t just happen.

I work from home. My desk is about ten steps from my bed and another few steps from the bathroom. I don’t have to walk up two flights of stairs to go to the staff loo anymore. I don’t have to walk the three blocks from the carpark to the office. I don’t have to wander down the hill to the café to get a coffee at lunch time. If I am not careful I can walk less than a thousand steps in a whole day.

I have started using the pomodoro technique to help with this. This is a timer app I have on my phone. It runs for 25 minutes during which I work solidly, then it gives me a five minute break during which I jog on the spot, stretch, hang washing out, clean up the kitchen, and so on through the day. This is not enough, of course. I need to also make sure that most days I have a good hour-long walk, or head to the gym for some weights.

I want this lifestyle to continue on a long, long time. And to do that I need to take care of my body, give it good food, and good exercise. I am not just a brain and fingers, I am a whole person, spirit, soul, and body and I want to look after all of myself.

walking into sunset

6) Keep talking to your friends and family.

So much has changed this year and the change is continuing. I think that change is the only definite thing in my life.

In all this it has been essential to keep talking with Moz, to get an outside opinion on it all and to keep him appraised of all my goings on. He is not my boss, but it always helps to have a friend to share with and to be accountable to so that you don’t end up going off on a tangent accidentally.

The weeks slip by, the months follow them, and before you know it, a year has passed. By talking with Moz on the way through I have been stopped from spending too much time on the wrong activities, or pushing the wrong agenda for too long.

I have other family members I talked with regularly too that help me to see my life from the outside. And while I work online, I need to meet with my friends in real life and keep a grasp on what the real world is like. As I said, I love my coffee dates and the things I do for church.

Communication is essential. Community, both online and in-person is one of the most important things in this world. I hope that I am helping build that by what I write and what I do.

So there are a few things I have learned this year. There is so much still to learn. When I was brainstorming this list. I could think of so many things that I still don’t understand. So many lessons that I am in the middle of learning. Hopefully they will make it onto a ‘lessons learned’ list for a future year.

Thank you for being a part of my community as I walk this journey. I am hoping I will have many more years doing this, it’s great fun!

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They (usually) come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Goal questions.

OK, I’m trying to figure out what I think about something, and I’ve got some of the way there, but I’d love your input on this one.

Goals.

How do you set them? What sort of goals do you set? What do you do when you reach a goal?

When I was a stay-at-home mum, one of the things that I really didn’t cope well with was the feeling that I wasn’t progressing anywhere. The kids grew up, but that wasn’t due to my input. They would have got older anyway. The house got cleaned, then dirty, then cleaned, then dirty. The washing was put away, and built up again. The weeks went past and nothing seemed to change.

For me, going to university was a way to escape that feeling. At the end of every semester I would get a report card with marks on it. I knew that I was working towards something, and there were milestones to mark how I was going. It was a wonderful interlude, but we know that life is not generally like that.

When I started working at the university, people would say to me things like, ‘You need to do such-and-such so that it looks good on your promotion application.’ And I would think, ‘Why do we need to be thinking about promotion all the time? Why not just be allowed to do a good job and leave it at that.’ I decided to forget about promotion or tenure and just to do my work well. And that worked for a while.

But I remember sitting in a seminar, letting my thoughts wander, and realising that I needed some direction. Some measure of forward progress. I needed to come up with my own goals so that I knew where I was going.

And I’m at that point again.

I’ve been working as a freelancer for almost a year now and I’m realising that I need some measure of forward progress. I don’t want to put myself under a whole lot of pressure, but I need some way to know that I’m not just going through the motions. Not just doing the same things day after day just for the sake of filling in the hours.

I need some measure of whether I am doing enough work, or too much. Sometimes I need to know that I have achieved something and that the hard push was worthwhile. And sometimes I need some way of giving myself a kick up the butt when I’m not working hard.

I remember reading something about how instead of goals we should focus on systems. Instead of a goal of ‘lose 10 kg’ we should focus on a system like ‘go to the gym three times a week’. I understand the reasoning here, and I realise that without systems like this you do not get anywhere. But I think that in addition to the systems I need a goal, something to aim for and  when I reach it, something to celebrate.

I also understand that goals need to be something that you can control. This is why ‘lose 10 kg’ is a bad goal (especially for us women) because there can be reasons – illness, or some family issue or something that stops us from reaching such a goal and is totally out of our control. It’s the same for me with book-writing goals. I can determine when I should have the first draft by, but then cover design, editing, beta-reading, all of these things depend on someone else, and I can’t predict or account for all the variables that might happen.

I think I need some SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. I know I have some really big goals – pay off the mortgage is one – but I need some smaller milestones that I can mark off along the way. I think I need to gamify my life so that it resembles (a little) the university years. Goals for every six months or so that I can tick off and feel like I’m getting to the big ones.

So that’s where I’m at. But I’d love to know your process, your goal-setting ideas. Even some of your goals, if you feel comfortable sharing. What do you do here? Or do you set goals at all?

PS We had a lovely four-day adventure in Swansea. That’s where today’s pictures are from. We totally unwound and relaxed. Watched TV, read books, went for long walks, sat in front of the fire and played crib, jammed a bit on our musical instruments. It was delightful and necessary, and we’re going to be doing this sort of thing regularly in the future.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Juggling Fire

Juggling fire

A friend of mine told me about a talent show she was a part of on a church camp. Everyone was super-excited about it, especially the children. They so wanted to be involved, to be important, to have their moment of fame at the front of the room.

They thought long and hard about what their ‘talent’ was going to be. What they were going to do that would wow the crowd. Their imaginations went into overtime.

One ten-year-old boy said to his mum, ‘I know what my talent is. I’m going to get some sticks, set them on fire, and juggle them. Then, I’ll have a bucket of water behind me, and once I’ve finished juggling, I’ll throw the burning sticks over my head into the bucket of water to put them out.’

Now I’m telling you, that would have been very impressive. Amazing.

Especially since the child has never juggled before, and hasn’t played with fire much either.

Needless to say, his mother suggested that he think of something else.

The thing he actually did was also pretty impressive, even if it wasn’t quite as showy: He ate an entire bag of Minties (I don’t know how long that took.)

minties

Look, it’s funny, but I see myself doing this in my own life.

Moz and I got engaged while he was still in his last year of high school. (I graduated the year before; I know, I’m a cradle-snatcher.)

When he first asked me to marry him we kept it very quiet. It was a secret from everyone.

Then the time came to ask my parents. They gave their permission, but they suggested (strongly) that we didn’t announce the engagement until after Moz finished high school.

I was so frustrated. Why couldn’t we share our good news? For that matter, why couldn’t we just go ahead and get married? What was all this faffing about for?

But I realised over the next few months that I wasn’t ready to announce our engagement. I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t done all the thinking through of what that would involve, what making such a huge change to my life was actually like. I knew we had made the right decision, but the timing wasn’t quite right. The four months between getting engaged and announcing it to the world were necessary for my mental health.

Right now I can make the same mistake with my writing. I would like my stories to take off, to be best-sellers. I would like my blog to go viral. I would love to be a household name.

Or would I?

Because every time a little bit of ‘fame’ comes my way I recoil. I get overwhelmed. I start to ask, ’Is this what I really want?’

I think God is being gracious by holding things back. I hope that one day I will be mature enough to handle a little bit of fame, and a larger number of book sales. But I want to wait until the time is right.

I don’t want to find myself onstage, hurling burning sticks in the air and hoping I can catch them without being hurt or hurting anyone else. There are things I need to put into place in my business and in my life, so that if I get my fifteen minutes of fame I will cope with it well and it will be a blessing to others.

For now,  I’m learning to juggle. And Minties taste really good.

Is there something in your life that is waiting for the right time? Do you feel like good things are being held back? Is there a skill you need to learn so that when the time comes, you will be ready?

Building community

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This is the Art Creative Space on Thursdays. Libby makes the room look better than I do.

Today’s blog is a bit late because I had a coffee with the amazing author, Katherine Scholes. She writes beautiful novels, many set in the African continent. I just read one called The Perfect Wife, and if you read it and you get as angry with the husband as I did, just hang in there (no spoilers).

While we were chatting, (and I tell you, I’m so grateful to her for giving me the time) we also said hello to the editor of a magazine, and had a chat to another author I know. I felt like I was so much a part of the writer community.

Being part of community is one of the things I love about living in Tasmania. Katherine and I were meeting for the first time today, but I know her parents and her sister, and she knows my parents too and can remember seeing Mum sing at St David’s Cathedral when she was a child.

Being married to a teacher in such a small community means that as we go to the shops, the beach, or the gym, we are constantly interrupted by calls of, ‘Hello Mr A’. And having worked at a university, I have friends in almost every restaurant and café in town working their way through uni in the hospitality industry.

Sometimes, I admit, I would like to be invisible. To be able to have a bad hair day without seeing someone I know. But most of the time I’m grateful for the people that know me. For those who know me well enough to give me a smile, for those I stop and have a quick chat to, and for those who are closer friends who I can meet with for coffee, dump on, and be a shoulder for them to cry on in return. I love being part of a community.

I got a little hooked on the Lego Masters TV show recently. I thought again that it was a wonderful example of a community. The different participants encouraged each other, and rejoiced in each other’s creativity and accomplishments at the end of each challenge. Yes, there had to be one winning team, but each person who left the show (that I saw) was just so happy to have been a part of that community. To have spent time with like-minded people.

Actually, I’m sitting and writing this as part of another creative community. I have started a little project called Creative Spaces in a local church near me. We provide the space, the tea and coffee, and the nibbles, and the people who come along bring their own writing or art pursuit and we all get creative together.

I am part of the writing space, and another friend, Libby, is taking the art space. We’re hoping that this place can become a hub where people are able to come, do their own project, but have conversation and make community with like-minded people.

Writing is a weird thing to share. At the moment we are all sitting quietly in the hall, typing or scribbling away. But in a few moments my timer will go off and we’ll make drinks and chat about what we’re doing. Then we’ll all sit quietly and write again.

Yes, it seems strange for an introvert like me to be harping on so much about getting together with people in real life and making community. But I’m starting to think that this is one of the most important things we can do to combat the loneliness and isolation that is all around us. I am trying to build community online using this blog and my podcast. But I am also prepared to get out of my own comfortable study and meet with people to make real life community happen.

I wonder if there is a community that you could start to build around you? It doesn’t need to be an official thing, but maybe you could find others that enjoy cooking and have a shared dinner party once a month. Or find others whose kids are totally into Lego like yours and start your own informal building parties. Or just say hello to your neighbours and maybe take the time to find out a little bit about them.

It will be a bit of a stretch, but I’m thinking it’s worth it. You might change the world for one other person, and isn’t that enough?

If you’re interested in hearing more about the Creative Space, feel free to drop me a line, I’d love to share it with you.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

The Stories you tell Yourself

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Of course, I went down a rabbit hole looking for photos for this blog post. I couldn’t find a sports carnival one (but I’ll add one if I find one later) but I tell you, these days don’t seem so long ago. My hair is a different colour now 🙂 And Jess looks a little more grown up.

Moz headed off to sports carnival last week. His school house is called Geneva (which is blue), the rest of the family are in Wittenberg (red). (The other house is Westminster but we don’t concern ourselves with those yellow-wearing people.)

As he got ready for the day he put on his blue T-shirt with a ‘Go Geneva!’

I responded with, ‘Go Witt!’ and donned a maroon jumper (which is close to red so I’m going with that). And then we reminisced that the whole thing is not as fun now that the kids are not at school anymore.

In days gone past we would have chanting competitions — three against one. Moz would wave his blue feather boa in our faces. We would all compare scores at the end of the day. It was all great fun.

Now, I had to remind myself that we’d had our school children time, and that it had lasted 17 years. Now, it feels like the whole 17 years took just a few moments.

It’s that whole, ‘blink your eyes and it’s gone’ thing that so frustrated me when I was in the depths of raising children, worn out, peopled out, and feeling like the interrupted nights and crazy days we’re never going to end.

Well-meaning people would smile and pat the kids’ heads and say, ‘Make the most of it. It goes so quickly.’ And I would grumble that it couldn’t go quickly enough, and that being grateful when I’m just so very tired is more than anyone should ask of a person.

But those crazy days do end. And we are left with only the photos we’ve taken and the stories we’ve told ourselves and locked into our memories.

I thought to myself the other morning that it is really important when we are doing anything to be careful of the story we are telling ourselves while it’s happening. Because that is the story that gets etched into your brain. It is the story that you will remember for years to come.

When I look back, I remember the crazy times and the exhausted times, but there are also some great stories that I can tell myself. The fun mornings before sports carnivals. The beautiful times up at the shack that I wrote about the other day. The ‘lotions and potions’ play that the kids had with all the ingredients in our pantry. The special cuddles with my son, the brushing of my daughter’s hair, the deep conversations. Those are stories I want to remember. And I’m happy to let the frustrations and irritations stay in my memories only in as much as they allow me to be empathetic with other parents going through the same things now.

I have the same choice with the days I’m living now. I could tell myself a story each day about how I have more to do than can possibly be done, and how I am interrupted when I’m in the middle of things, and how no-one put the washing out and I had to go and do it myself, and any amount of other small frustrations.

Or I can choose to be grateful instead that I get to write and edit for a living, that I get to work from home and have flexibility. That I am so incredibly privileged to even be able to give this a go. That I am so beautifully supported by my friends and family.

I know that this can get taken to the extremes of denial and pretending that the bad parts of life don’t exist and I am not advocating for that. But I am going to keep trying to keep the happy stories alive inside my memory, in my imagination, and maybe just deal with the less happy things at the time, and then let them go.

Do you find it’s important to remind yourself of the good, whatever  you’re going through? 

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Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Defending from chaos and whim

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Last week I quoted Annie Dillard from 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.’ She goes on to say,

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.

I love schedules.

A friend said to me last week that her daughter really needed a schedule, that she needed to know what’s going on, that she doesn’t cope well with changes of plans. I’m so like that. Even if the change to my plans is a pleasant change, if we’re now going out to dinner, or have people coming over (and I’ve been really bored), I still struggle to come to terms with the change.

Moz is much more spontaneous, so we worked out what to do with that. We decided that Saturdays would be our spontaneous day. We have a plan for spontaneity. Planned adventures. We don’t always go on an adventure, but because I’ve planned beforehand that we will, if something spontaneous happens, I’m ready.

Some schedules are printed out firmly on pieces of paper, or highlighted in a calendar app. For other people, they just know that first they will do this, and then at around midmorning they will change to doing that. It’s sitting in the back of their minds, almost subconscious, but still giving their lives order.

My life is changing right now, I have more work on and I need to fit more things into my week. It’s not an unwanted change, it’s more that life’s gone back to the way I thought it would be in June of last year.

The last few weeks have been nice and slow, I’ve been working on my own projects, my writing, my blog and podcast, and figuring out marketing. I have had a couple of regular deadlines—blog on Monday, podcast on Wednesday—but also a lot of flexibility.

But that’s going to have to change.

I’m not sure quite what the schedule is going to look like yet, but if I don’t have one, there are a couple of options for what’s going to happen, and neither of them are nice.

I might just panic. Say yes to every job and then work stupid hours to make sure the jobs are done by the deadlines. I have done a little of that in the last week and editing from 7.30 am until 9.30 pm is not how I want to spend my days.

I also don’t want to live in an emotional panic-state at all times. I want to be calm. To be able to make sensible decisions, not fear-ridden disasters.

The other option is that I will never get to my own creative work. It is much easier to do others’ jobs first and put mine on the back-burner.

As I said, I only have a couple of deadlines, they are self-imposed, and the worst that will happen if I don’t meet them is that I will be disappointed and slightly embarrassed. However, if my editing job for the big company is not complete by their deadline, then I might lose my position there and that would not be so good.

So that makes me shove my stuff to the end of the list. Do all the work for others first, and do mine if I get around to it. Which may be never. Because there is always resistance to doing creative work—if it’s not someone else getting in the way, then it’s me telling myself I’m too tired, or I don’t have great ideas today, or it would be better to nap, or eat chocolate while watching Netflix (in the name of research, of course).

So I’m hoping that over the next couple of weeks I will find myself a schedule that works. A schedule where I know how much time I am committing to the new work I have, and how much I am committing to my own creative work. That I will use that schedule to help myself sit down and do the appropriate work at the appropriate time, calmly, knowing that the hours I have put aside are enough for what is required. And hopefully, a schedule that has time set aside to be spontaneous too, to work, and rest, and play, and all in the right amounts.

It will always need tweaking, I’m not even pretending I’m going to get it right, but I think I need something anyway, something to order my days, a ‘peace and a haven’ set into my time.

How about you? Do you like schedules? Are you more of a spontaneous person? How do you keep track of your time?

This is a bit of a process blog, a blog that is helping me to figure out how I am feeling right now. I hope it helped you to process too.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

How do you spend your days?

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This week I will head to the third funeral in as many weeks. This week’s will be harder, I think, than the other two, because the other two friends were at least ten times older than little Ned who passed away on Friday from leukaemia.

But regardless, it’s hard to say goodbye.

I have a few thoughts.

The first is that I am grateful for my faith. For my God who became human, died, rose again, and triumphed over death. I believe that death is not the end for any of us, and I look forward to seeing my friends again in heaven. In fact, I am already rejoicing, with tears in my eyes, at the thought of little Ned meeting up with our friend Frank and once again enjoying shoulder rides and playing trains.

The second is that I am grateful for the arts. For the TV show I just watched about someone dying from cancer that gave me the outlet of tears. For the book I am reading on pain and suffering that helps my mind to cope with this awful situation. For music, that unlocks the tightness of my chest and gives my pain wings. For the poetry that gives me the words when I have none of my own.

Thirdly, I feel that it is a good thing to remember that each of us will die. We don’t know when or how, but we can think now about how we want our lives to be remembered. The Good Book says, ‘Teach us to number our days, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.’

It is easy for the days to slip past without us noticing. In fact, when my kids were little it was only the fact of them growing up that made me realise just how quickly time was passing. If we remember that one day this will all end, it helps us to spend our days more wisely, reaching out for meaning and purpose.

Annie Dillard says, ‘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.’

We don’t know how many days we will have. We don’t know if we will live six years, or sixty, or more. But let’s strive to live each day the best we can.