Finding the Rhythm

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It’s been nearly a year now since I started working from home. Just a few weeks short of a year since I have been in charge of my own schedule.

When I started this process I was excited. I thought that if I just listened to myself, and worked out my circadian rhythm, that I could find a schedule that suited me perfectly and I would be able to work well each day, get the jobs done, and still be energetic and energised at the end of each day, and ready to go each new morning.

I thought that when I was no longer a permanently exhausted pigeon, I could figure out if I was an early bird or a night owl and run my day accordingly.

I thought that if I wasn’t squeezing myself into someone else’s schedule, that I could make it all work and be relaxed and happy about it. That I could find the perfect way to structure each day. That life would become easier to juggle.

And don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I really do. Even when I’m feeling totally challenged and busy I love my life right now. It’s great.

But I’m learning a few things about schedules.

I like schedules, I’ve written about them before. I like to have a plan, laid out, set out for me so that I know where I’m heading, what I’m doing. But if I’m not careful, that structure, that framework can become a cage. A prison with solid stone walls. And when things change – I get more work or I take up a new opportunity – then I can find myself squeezed against the bars of the schedule.

Life changes. There is a rhythm to the day, for sure. But there is also a rhythm to the week, to the month, and to the year. And I don’t know what all those are yet.

Right now it looks like winter is likely to be a busy time for my editing business. A time when I get a few extra jobs. Where there’s more to squeeze in.

In the summer I didn’t have much editing work at all. But I did a lot of writing work – producing books, marketing and rewriting, and even playing with book covers.

In the summer I worried that I would never get any editing work and that I wouldn’t make the business pay. In the winter I worry that I’ll never get my books to market, that they’ll be stuck in the editing, interior formatting, and cover design stage forever.

I think there’s a better way of living.

In the summer: to be grateful for all the writing I can do. To be busy creating. To enjoy the creative growth.

In the winter: to be grateful for the money coming in through editing, and to keep the writing just ticking slowly along, without feeling guilty for not reaching unrealistic goals.

I need to learn to live in these rhythms, not put burdens on myself that I can’t carry. I can’t keep up the amount of writing and book preparation and marketing that I did in the summer right now, because I have editing to do instead. I need to let it go a bit, allow myself to slow down. Not stop completely, but slow a bit.

I need to be more flexible, to keep the framework for sure, but to use it like a vine, weaving myself in and around it in order to grow.

I thought I could find the perfect schedule that fit everything into my life in perfect harmony, day by day, week by week. But I’m finding that is just not possible.

Instead I need to find the rhythm of my own life. Not just the daily rhythm, but weekly, monthly, and annual rhythm. Small adjustments each day depending on my energy levels, and larger adjustments as the seasons change and the workload changes with it.

The world is made with seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter. Sowing and harvest, times to work hard and times to rest. As we have sheltered ourselves from these changes using electricity to give light and heat, and big-name supermarkets to give strawberries all year round, have we lost the rhythm we need to feel for ourselves?

Do you see these rhythms in your life? How does the change in season from summer to winter affect you? (Or from winter to summer if you’re in the north.)

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!

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It Works!

Intro

If you’re like me, you see the amount of books and articles about how to change your life for the better and you wonder if the ‘three easy steps’ outlined therein actually work.

I mean, we all know that we are striving for a more peaceful, less busy, more organised lives. We all know that we should cut down on what we’re doing. We all know that we should rest more, simplify, find jobs that work with our personalities, remember to make time for ourselves, watch less TV, pay less attention to social media, read more, exercise more, etc.

But sometimes I wonder, does it actually work?

I mean, I wrote a whole book on saying, ‘no’. I wrote about setting priorities and about not letting the need define your response. I wrote about all sorts of good ways of getting more energy back in your life.

Some days I feel like I really need to go back and read my book again.

Others look at my life and tell me I need to go back and read my book again.

Yes, my life now is full. I have plenty to do. I have exciting projects coming out my ears. And from the outside it may look like I haven’t made any progress at all.

But I have.

And I’ll tell you how I know that.

Last weekend was one of those weekends where everything happens at the same time and you can’t spread the commitments out.

On Friday I had my parents 50th wedding anniversary. And the best way to celebrate that was to have a dinner party at our house. So we did. Eleven of us over for a candle-light dinner in my lounge room.

50th anniversary cake
The beautiful cake Elford’s Cakes made. It’s based on the original cake, of course.

On Saturday there was a book fair. Me, in a room full of people, selling my wares, giving a reading and a talk about my publishing journey, from 9 am until 5 pm.

TIA book fair
The view from my book-selling table

On Saturday evening our church had a women’s ministry evening and I offered a writing workshop as part of that. In my house.

Writers workshop
We had such a great time. The food-to-people ratio was pretty good too. 

Now, last year, any one of those events would have been enough to tire me out. And I admit that having all three of them in a row sent me into a bit of a spin. But this year it was different.

This year I could spend the time leading up to the weekend getting organised and ready. I could put some normal commitments on the back-burner and take them up again after the busy weekend was over. I arranged to have the party catered so that I didn’t have to cook, and I arranged my son and his girlfriend to clean up for me on Saturday so I came home to a clean house. I could think this all through. I had the time to think.

This year I had the time to rest afterwards.

On Sunday I chose not to go to church. I sat in bed and read a book (Katherine Scholes, The Perfect Wife, great, if you like literary fiction) and then in the afternoon Moz and I went for a drive.

This year I was fine. I could cope. I felt tired but I didn’t feel completely empty.

And today I’m ready to get back into it. To write this blog. To do my editing job. To potter around and do the banking and make dinner and do all the things I didn’t get done on the weekend, as well as the things that my work-from-home life entails.

I think that last year, or the year before, a weekend like the one just gone would have wiped me out for a week. I would have got sick. I would have used up every last bit of my resources and I wouldn’t have had time to recover.

But now, now that I’ve changed my life, I’ve made choices that work well with who I am and how I do things, now I can cope with the occasional full-on weekend. And I can cope with the rest of life as well.

I’m not perfect. My life is full. Maybe I’m still saying ‘yes’ too much and need to keep saying ‘no’ more. I know I need to keep an eye on it. I’ll need to keep an eye on it for the rest of my life. But I am improving. And my life is improving as a result.

It does work.

I’m so grateful.

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!

Is it time to take a break?

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Last week I took a break over the Easter weekend. You may have noticed that I didn’t post a blog. I decided to have four days off. Really off. No work, just rest, church, and family things.

What I really wanted to do was go to Pop’s shack for the weekend and blob out.

Let me explain.

When the kids were little, way back when, we had no money. We couldn’t go on holidays overseas, or even rent a motel room. But Moz’s Pop had a shack, a beach house. It was in Weymouth, a little town on the north coast of Tasmania. It had three bedrooms and a sunroom, enough for all of us, and it could stretch to fit three families if we really tried (and we did, a couple of times). It wasn’t a luxurious place by any means but there was a lovely long backyard with a BBQ, a hammock and a really old swing set. There was the shed, with tools and the dartboard. There was a lounge room where we could just hang out and play board games and watch TV. There was a kitchen to cook in and we would take up all our food for the weekend to keep the cost down.

We would head up there, leaving home straight after work (or as soon after work as possible), often arriving near midnight and carrying sleeping children in to put them to bed so that we could wake up there in the morning. There was nothing like waking up at the shack, knowing that we were on holidays now.

We would blob out. We would read, play board games, watch TV, go for walks on the beach and rides around the town on our bikes. We would head down to the local park and push the kids on the swings. We would play tennis in the town’s tennis court. Or at least something that looked a little like tennis. And we would jump over the fence of the property next to the tennis court to retrieve the balls that went astray.

In summer we would swim, and body board, and once or twice we took a boat out and went for a paddle around the estuary. The boys did a little fishing. We made sandcastles and looked at the crabs scuttling around in the mud.

In winter we would rug up and fight the icy breeze as we walked along the beach. We would pick up pebbles and skip them on the water. We would go rock-hopping.

But the big thing is, we wouldn’t feel guilty. We read magazines, ate chips and chocolate, just let all the rules go for the weekend. And we would be refreshed, rejuvenated. We would come back with all sorts of plans for regular exercise and renovations on the house, all sorts of things that we didn’t have the energy for in our everyday lives.

Pop has passed away now, and his shack has been sold. And you can’t go back to the past even if you want to, and I’m sure I’m wearing rose-coloured glasses and only remembering the best times.

But for the Easter weekend I rested the way I used to rest at the shack. I decided not to feel guilty. Just to sit, read, snack, walk on the beach, enjoy some silence and solitude (when the boys were out doing other things), pray, think, make plans.

I think that there’s more chance of my plans being put into action this year. I hope so. I’ll let you know as we go on. But one thing I know for sure: I’m very grateful for the rest. It has made a difference to the week just gone. And it will make a difference to the weeks ahead.

God made us for rest and for work. May he help each of us find that balance.

The week ahead is pretty huge, and one reason is that I’ll be at an Indie Book Fair. If you are in Hobart and you would like to come and see me and have a chat, I’ll be Hadley’s Hotel, this Saturday 4th May. Star Wars day.

I’ll be giving a talk about my journey to this work-from-home life at 1.30 pm and I’ll be reading some of my cosy mystery fiction at 11.15 am. I’ll be sitting at my table for the rest of the day (from 10 am until 5 pm) with books to sell, so please come and keep me company! I’ve got sweets to share.

There will be many other authors there as well. A couple that I can really recommend are Lindsey Little (Young Adult Fantasy), WR Gingell (Fairy Tales, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy), and Maria Grist (Tasmanian History). It’s a wide-ranging fair and it should be a lot of fun.

All the time in the world

 

I’ve just been reading (actually, listening to, but it’s the same thing) a brilliant book by Shauna Niequist called Present Over Perfect. (Incidentally, did you know that you can borrow audiobooks from the library here in Australia using the Libby app? It’s brilliant.)

In this book Shauna talks about her journey from frantic to simple. From busy to quiet. This is totally my groove, in fact, she starts her book in the same way I started My Year of Saying NO, by explaining how she wanted to tell us just how busy she was so that we wouldn’t think she was just weak, and how she decided not to because everyone’s busy is different but it’s still busy.

As I’ve been listening, I’ve been realising that I will always need to be reminded to slow down, to say ‘no’, to listen to my body, to rest. My addiction to busy-ness is real and it’s something I need to keep tabs on.

But there was one line, when Shauna was talking about prayer, that really jumped out at me. Here it is:

God has all the time in the world.

teapot and cup

Sometimes I can think of God as a very busy man up in heaven, keeping tabs on everything. I marvel at his ability to listen to so many prayers at once, and I limit my prayers so as not to take up too much of his time.

This is not a well thought-out position, it’s more a gut feeling. When I think it through I know that it’s not the case.

God made time. He exists outside of time. If he wants more time, he can just make some more.

I remember watching a program with Brian Cox where he was explaining space-time. He had a nice animation of a sausage-shaped thing all made with lasers and he told us that it was a representation of time, and for some reason he poked sticks through it at angles. I can’t remember why now. But that image of time stuck with me. If you put us in the sausage, walking along our timelines linearly, God is outside, like Brian Cox, able to interact with any moment in time.

This means that we can talk with God whenever we like, and however often we want to, and for as long as we desire. We are not ‘talking up his time’ we are not ‘getting in the way’. When God wants to spend time with us he doesn’t have to clear his desk or cancel appointments. He’s there for us, whenever we need him.

That’s why the Bible can say things like, ‘pray continually’ or ‘give thanks in all circumstances’. It’s not that God has a bunch of secretary angels filtering out the prayers so that only the important ones get to him. He has time to listen to every one of us.

He has all the time in the world, and more besides.

Then my brain flips the other way and says, ‘Well, if he has so much time, then his time is not precious, his spending time with me is not a sacrifice for him, and I’m not special’. (My brain is amazing at coming up with stupid ideas, let me tell you.)

The thing is, God did have to sacrifice so that I could have this precious gift of time with him. He didn’t have to sacrifice appointments with others, he didn’t sacrifice money-making time, or task-performing time.

What did God sacrifice?

Everything.

His life.

The whole lot.

Cross

That’s what we celebrate this Easter and every Easter. The sacrifice that God made so that we could be friends with him. More than friends, children.

His children.

His brothers and sisters.

So that’s my message today. It may be a reminder. For you it may be news for the first time.

God has all the time in the world, and he has given everything so that he can spend that time with you.

May you have a special Holy Week, and may it include lots of time spent with God.

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.

Overwhelm

Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.

One thing at a time

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I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

How to ask

Buy my book

Well friends, this is the last post in this Saying No series.

It’s not that I’m going to stop writing about this stuff, it seems to be something I love to explore, but I’m going to be writing about it less regularly and writing about other things more, and I’m going to give my artist a break 🙂

And of course, it’s time to write some Christmas posts, isn’t it?

I’m also going to add a little more to the saying no posts, include some thoughts that have been sparked by your comments, and wrap it all up in a ribbon and make it into a book. I’ll let you know when it’s for sale!

I’ve talked in this series about losing the ‘shoulds’, about figuring out priorities, about making rules beforehand so that we don’t have to make yes/no decisions on the fly, about pushing ourselves sometimes, and resting regularly. I want to finish with something that came up the other day when I was chatting to some good friends over lunch.

We were talking about this blog and the conversation moved to discussing methods of asking people to do things in such a way that they feel free to say no. It got me thinking about things from the other side of the fence and I thought I’d explore the idea.

An interesting thing has changed for me as I’ve been writing this series. Now, when people have asked me to do something they preface the request with ‘you can say no, but …’

‘You can say no, but would you like to come to the quiz night on Saturday?’

‘Feel free to say no, but would you like to be a part of this fundraiser?’

‘I know you’ll probably say no, but there’s a dinner on and I’d love you to come.’

It’s been wonderful. My friends are so great. They can see that I’m working on something here and they are trying to help.

Some requests are not so easy to refuse.

I think one of the worst ways of being asked is this, ‘What are you doing on March the 21st?’

This method of asking assumes that if there is nothing booked into your calendar then you are available for whatever event the person is asking you to.

However, what if there is nothing booked in your calendar because you need the day off as a rest day? Or sometimes you even need to wait and see – if the week before turns out to be huge, then maybe you need to turn the event down.

Now this is difficult, because sometimes the person asking really needs to know how many people are attending an event so that they can plan properly. And sometimes people are putting off answering because they are waiting to see if a better offer arrives, and that’s, honestly, a little rude.

Tasmanians have a dreadful habit of booking tickets to things at the very last moment. We’ve had some big name performers cancel their tours because people couldn’t make up their minds whether or not they wanted to come. I guess this is another place where there needs to be a bit of balance.

Having said that, I still think there’s a better way of asking.

How about, ‘Hey, could you check your calendar and get back to me? I’d love to invite you to this thing on March 21st if you would like to come. I need to know numbers by Feb 20th.’

Or ‘I’d really like to get together with you for dinner, I know you’re busy but I’m free on these days, would you be able to make it on any of those? Or maybe you could suggest one that works for you? I don’t mind how long I have to wait, I’d just like to spend time with you.’

Or ‘There’s this really great event happening that I’m sure you’d like. Have a think about it and get back to me.’

I can see a pattern in these invitations, they all give the invited person time to think. This may purely be my introverted nature but I really hate being put on the spot. I like to have a chance to think about anything before I give an answer. So maybe this is what we can do. Give our friends time to think and the freedom to say no without guilt. Do you have suggestions for good ways to ask? Let us know in the comments.

Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. I pray that each of us grows in wisdom about when to say no and when to say yes so that our lives fill up with meaning, joy, and peace. And yes, feel free to say no, but when the time comes, will you consider buying my book? 🙂

Sabbath

Indispensable

When I started working at the university on short-term contracts, I had a plan. I would say yes to as many things as possible, and make myself indispensable, and then they would have to keep renewing my contracts and my employment would be as good as permanent.

I didn’t say it was a good plan.

You see the problem with thinking like that is that when the time came this year when I really needed to take a break, I didn’t feel like I could because I had made myself indispensable. I felt like things would fall over if I took so much as a week off. And so I came close to exhaustion.

I think it must be a personality-type thing for me or something. I like being friends with people, but what I really like is being needed. I love being the one people turn to in a crisis. I love it so much … until I don’t. I love it until I am tired and I really need a break but there’s no one else who can take the load.

It’s pride, people. Plain and simple.

None of us can carry that burden.

I’m not meant to be the one solving everyone’s problems. I am not meant to be the sole provider of friendship to people, or the sole dispenser of wisdom. It works much better if everyone does their little bit than if I feel (even mistakenly) that it all depends on me.

One of the things that can help stop me from continually falling into this trap is the practice of regularly taking one day off a week. It’s a discipline that helps put everything back into order. That gives a regular reset of the brain.

When I was working full-time, a Sabbath for me meant a day when I didn’t do any paid work. I would make sure I didn’t do any work at all on that day as a statement of faith that God would either make it ok that the work didn’t get done, or make me cope with the fact that disaster happened.

It was amazing how little disaster actually happened. In fact, I can’t think of one time when taking a whole day off work for the week led to a crisis. What it usually led to was a rested, more competent, more peaceful me. And that was a very good thing.

Now that my ‘work’ consists of two days paid work and the rest of the time trying to get my own business off the ground I think I might find it a little harder to take a break. Harder to trust that it will all be ok. But I want to all the same. Because I want to remember that it’s not all about me, about my business. I don’t want to disappear into the rabbit hole of entrepreneur burnout.

So what does a Sabbath, a weekly day off, look like?

I don’t believe that a Sabbath needs to always be taken on a Sunday. I don’t think that we need to spend the day sitting quietly and reading religious texts. I love the idea of preparing meals and such beforehand and not doing any work at all but I don’t think that is achievable for most of us, and for some of us doing housework and cooking is a way to relax – a different way of being than we have for the rest of the week at work.

When Moz and I were doing missions training (back in the day, before we were married) we took Sundays off. We would go to an early church service and then we would just spend time together, chatting, maybe exploring the neighbourhood. We didn’t even have to cook meals because we were living in a missions community. It was a true day off.

Last Saturday for me the day off meant that I did a whole lot of washing, and went grocery shopping, and spent a few hours in the kitchen cooking up a proper meal for my family. I tried out a couple of new recipes and I enjoyed the creativity. I read a book. And I topped the day off by watching a mindless chick-flick.

Eugene Peterson describes his Sabbath in his book ‘The Pastor’. When he was a pastor he would take a day off each Monday, and he wrote to his congregation to explain what he was doing and why. He and his wife would pack a lunch and go for a bush walk each Monday (or a hike I guess, he was in America, here in Australia we would call it a bush walk). For the morning they would walk in silence, just taking the time to process the week that had come before. But when they broke for lunch they would talk to each other and they would keep talking all the way home.

Kris Rusch just happened to talk about her weekly day off in her blog this week. She writes that she takes the day off from work and that she has a no screen rule with that day off. ‘No email, no iPad, no laptop.’ She writes. ‘Phone with me but set on do not disturb except for the handful of people who call in for an emergency.’ She also writes, by the way, that once she started doing this kind of resting her productivity increased because her stress levels went down.

Perhaps if you are parents of small children your day off would include meeting another family at a park for a play – or possibly taking your kids to one of those indoor play centres so that you can sit and read with a nice coffee. Perhaps it means using disposable nappies for one day a week so that you can take one day off the washing.

There are many options and it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal. But however you put it together, I encourage you to take time off somehow to rest and rejuvenate each week.

How do you take a day off? What would your perfect Sabbath look like? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

This is the second-last of these posts on Saying No. But the blog will continue afterwards, don’t worry. If you would like to make sure you never miss a post then feel free to sign up here on WordPress. If you would like to read my regular newsletter about my novel writing then drop me a line at rijamos@gmail.com. And the amazing work of our artist Caleb is always available on instagram @deteor42.

When to push yourself

marathon

Earlier this year I was privileged to host a visiting lecturer to our institution. I have been trying for some time to be an advocate for gender equity in our workplace and the idea of a Women’s Lectureship was suggested to me – bringing a role-model down to Tasmania to encourage our female PhD students. I won’t go into all the reasons here, maybe I’ll leave that for another blog post, but I jumped at the chance to organise this visit.

Professor Michelle Coote agreed to visit with us for a week and I dove into the organisation. I had no idea just what was required for the hosting of a visiting lecturer. There were the flights and accommodation of course, I didn’t book those but I did liaise with our office staff to make sure we got it right. Then I had to decide on when to hold the public lecture, when to hold the seminar, when to hold the gender equity forum. And where.

And then things got a little more complicated. After choosing a time for the public lecture, booking the lecture room (and making sure that we’d booked it with a little lee way  so that we could easily get set up), and advertising on all the university websites and Facebook and, well, everywhere that I could think of, we found out that we had cleverly booked the lecture room for 7am rather than 7pm. And that the lecture room was already booked for another group at 7pm, and that the other booking couldn’t be changed.

PANIC

Then try not to let the panic show, and try to calm everyone down, and don’t let Michelle know that anything had gone wrong with the plan, and head for plan B.

We had a couple of options for plan B and we went with the lecture room that was available and closest to the original room. The only problems being that 1) it was a much larger room than we really wanted so our crowd would look tiny, and 2) it was booked right up until our opening time and the group before us would be having wine and cheese in the foyer as our attendees were coming in to our (wine and cheese-less) lecture. But it was the best option so we went with it.

The night arrived. However, the pizza that we had ordered to eat for tea in-between work and the lecture did not arrive so I was fairly hungry. What did arrive was the rain and the bitter cold, which made me wonder if any audience members would decide to arrive. But we battled on.

The lecture happened and it went well. Of course. Michelle is a professional and her research is fascinating. We had a reasonable audience (more than five anyway). We even managed to pick up a couple of attendees from the wine and cheese event. They came and sat in our lecture with their glasses of wine and hopefully learned something about self-healing polymers and solar cells.

The next day was the gender equity forum and I was busy buying cakes and snacks to encourage people to come and trying to fit that in around my regular work. And the day after that was the seminar that I was also chairing, and the special lunch afterwards.

It was a busy week. I didn’t have time to breathe. There was definitely no work-life balance that week. No gaps between appointments. No time to evaluate whether this or that was what I wanted to do or not.

But I am very glad I took on the challenge. Really grateful for the opportunity and the lessons learned.

The term ‘work-life balance’ can sound static. Like it’s a set point that we’re trying to find that we can set our thermostat to and have the same balance all the time. But life isn’t static. Even when our days are good life has its ups and downs. Maybe it’s better to try to find a work-life rhythm than a work-life balance. (No, that idea isn’t my own, but I can’t remember where I heard it first).

As a normal way of being, I think it is right to build margin into our days, to set aside time to follow our goals, to build in some down time, to make sure we have some peace.

But sometimes it is right to push ourselves – to squeeze more into our days, to stretch a little outside our comfort zones, to try to reach a little bit further. Some days bring us an opportunity to work hard and to be busy and go for it a bit.

I guess the question is, how do you tell which are the good moments to push yourself, and which are extras where we should say no?

I don’t know the total answer to this, of course, you are you, and I am me, and what we need to decide are two different things. But there’s a few things we can think through when making this kind of decision.

One is to get a reasonable estimate of the amount of time we have to give to the project. This takes practice of course. I had no idea how much time would be swallowed by Michelle’s visit, but I know now. I was very grateful that my other projects could be shunted to the side somewhat when Michelle was down so that I could give the lectureship the time it required without totally burning out. I think I could have helped myself with the time estimate by finding someone else who had done something similar and asking them for an estimate.

Another question to ask is whether this event will bring you closer to your life goals or whether it’s just busy-work. If you find your day is regularly getting built in by endless tasks that don’t seem to get you anywhere that you want to go, then maybe it’s best to start delegating or organising or somehow getting that busywork off your plate. Easier said than done I know, but if you don’t even recognise the problem then you’re unlikely to find any answers.

And finally, are you doing this out of selfish ambition? Is the only reason you’re taking on this event or project that you’re going to look good? I know that some of my readers might not like the fact that I’m making a distinction here but I’m all about going for it to reach your goals (ambition) but really not into doing it to make you look good to others (selfish ambition). Working yourself to death because it makes you look good to others is a really bad idea in my book.

Anyway, to summarise, yes, I think there are good reasons to push yourself sometimes. But I also think that these should be short-term sprints and not a way of life. And I would hope that they are in service of others.

We’re nearly at the end of this series, just a couple more posts to go though I’ll keep writing the blog don’t worry. You can sign up to my writer newsletter by dropping me a line to rijamos@gmail.com or you can get more of the artwork by heading to instagram @deteor42 

Am I just lazy?

Comparisonitis

I’ve talked a lot about saying no to things. About having days alone where my introvert self can recharge, about saying no to some requests and not even feeling guilty, about leaving some church or work activities to others, about rewarding myself for telling people no, about making sure that I’m not too busy and that I have time to do the things that really matter to me. And all of this is good, at least I think it’s good and that’s why I’m sharing it with you.

But there’s often a bit of a nagging worry in the back of my mind, “Am I just lazy?”

I mean, if I compare myself to my friend Naomi who runs her own tutoring business then I definitely look lazy – she works from 8am – 7pm tutoring and then spends her evenings writing reports and such. She’s amazing! Or how about my friend Megan who gets up at dark-o-clock to go jogging before getting her kids off to school and then going to work herself. She also looks after her elderly mother and helps out at church things.

But I’m sure I could compare myself to others who have different priorities or different health levels to me and think that I’m doing pretty well.

Comparisonitis, Joanna Penn calls it. It’s a deadly disease, sure to stop any endeavour. It’s a seriously bad idea to compare your life to another’s. The very best it can do is puff you up with pride, and that’s not a good thing. It is more likely to destroy you as you try to meet some unattainable ideal.

So, how then do you figure out if you are making the best use of the time and energy levels that you have been given in your day?

I found some very good advice in Kristine K Rusch’s book Goals and Dreams. She says to set a daily goal and try to achieve it for a week:

“If you never reach the goal, figure out if the problem is that you weren’t putting in enough time, that you didn’t have enough time to give … or if the goal is just too hard to achieve in a single day for you. Then, set a new goal and try that for a week. Work until you find one you have to stretch just a little to achieve, but make sure it is one you can achieve.”

I think this is fantastic advice. It requires being honest with yourself but that’s a good thing too.

I am really blessed in that I have a husband who will be honest with me. He sees what I do and what I don’t and he can give me feedback to let me know whether I’m being lazy, or whether I’m taking a well-deserved break from some hard work.  Sometimes it’s just so helpful to have someone else say, “No, rest, you deserve it”.

It can be good to have someone to be accountable to. Someone to whom you have stated your goal and who you will report back to. That may help you keep honest so that you’re not kidding yourself about your energy levels or time commitments. You need someone who can hold up a mirror to you that is not too distorted and can help you to see the truth about yourself.

But even in my incredibly blessed situation I can feel like Moz (my accountability partner) is not seeing the full picture and that I’m just being lazy. So I also need to self-assess, to set goals I can reach in a day, in a week. And to constantly reassess.

I love how Rusch says that goals can be reassessed on a constant basis. What works one week or month may not work the next. If you are reaching goals too easily then you may need to set the bar higher. If you are never achieving your goals and just getting frustrated then you may need to lower your expectations of yourself for this season, and this energy level. Just because you set a goal for yourself doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Just like pilots are constantly correcting their course when flying a plane or piloting a ship, we also need to constantly correct our life course and make sure we’re on track. Reassess, realign, set another goal and try to reach it.

So are you just lazy? Am I? I think the answer is so much more complex than that.

As always, I encourage you to sign up on WordPress to get this blog delivered to your email inbox, or to drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com to get my regular writerly email. And again, the wonderful artwork for these posts is from @deteor42 on instagram.