A Daily List

Previously on this blog I talked about ‘The Everything List’ – the big brain-dump list of everything, the list that you use to clear your brain and to keep track of all the different jobs that you need to do. That is a really important list to use to get life organised, but it is not a list that you can work off on a daily basis.

If you just use the one big list, you run into a couple of problems pretty quickly:

1) You can jump from thing to thing on the list, never quite finishing anything and never getting focused work done, and

2) You end up feeling like you never achieve anything because the list never gets any smaller. 

This means you never feel productive, never get that nice feeling of being finished, never feel satisfied that you’ve done a good day’s work, and that leads to procrastination.

There is a solution: use a daily list.

The list for the day should be small. It should contain only the number of things that you can realistically achieve in that day. At first, that might be hard to judge, but as you go on you’ll start to see how much you can do and limit your list to those things.

For example, it took me a while, but I realised that editing 5,000 words takes me about two hours. I used to hope that I could squeeze it into an hour or so, and add more to the day. But now I know that if I get a 5,000 word editing job, I need two hours to do it. And so I set that time aside. I don’t try to do more than I can in the number of hours I have.

To keep the list small, it’s helpful to write it in a small place. You could use a Post-it note or an index card. I use a paper diary that has a week to a page, so each day has a small section of about 2 cm by 5 cm. The diary has the hours of the day on it too, so if I need to block out two or three hours for a job or activity I can do that and limit the amount that I can add to the rest of the day. Just having the limited space to write the list on keeps me aware that my time is limited too.

With this small space to write your daily list, you then turn to your master list. Look down that list and figure out what you are going to attempt to do today. What does today hold? As your eyes run down the master list, some things will catch your attention, maybe because they are urgent, or maybe because you have a desire to do them today. Both these attitudes are good – in fact, it’s a good idea to have a mix of things you have to do and things you want to do on your list if you can possibly achieve that. And don’t forget all the regular things too – checking email, washing clothes, all those repeating tasks. You need to set aside time to do those too. 

But only as much as you can fit into a day.

And what if a new job appears through the day? Because you’re almost guaranteed that something’s going to show up. You’ll have a request pop into your email in-box. You’ll get a phone call. Someone will knock on your door. 

Well, the thing is, your day is full. The new job either goes on the master list, or it goes on tomorrow’s list. But you don’t just try to squeeze it into today. Today is booked already. You have a complete list today.

If the job is extremely urgent, then you can bump one of today’s jobs onto tomorrow. But I don’t recommend that. If at all possible, tell the asker that your day is full today, but you can do the job tomorrow. You’ll be surprised at how often they will accept your explanation and put off the deadline.

Wouldn’t it be nice if time was unlimited? If you could squeeze more and more in to a day? But it’s not the case. Time and energy are limited commodities and we need to act as if they are. We need to take control of our day and use our time to serve us and to enable us to do the work that we have chosen to do.

Annie Dillard said, ‘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.’ 

Let’s use our daily lists to make sure that how we spend our days gives us the opportunity to give to the world the gift that only we can give.

Do you have another way to organise your day? Do you use pen and paper, or an app on your phone? How do you make sure you don’t try to squeeze too much into a day?

Focus

Our culture seems to be a little addicted to overwork. I mean, working hard, putting effort in, getting heaps done. That’s all good, isn’t it? That’s valuable. That makes us feel like productive members of society.

We can tell ourselves that we are working and that it’s all goodness and duty, but maybe sometimes we are working long hours to avoid our families, or our feelings, or ourselves.

And just because we are putting long hours in, doesn’t necessarily mean we are getting heaps done.

Moz remembers a time when he was doing a night shift. He and his boss worked until around 3am when they realised that their productivity and efficiency had gone right down. They chose to take a nap for a couple of hours and then get back on with it. They finished up at around 7am.

If they had worked through, they probably would have still finished at around 7am. The nap gave them the boost of energy they needed to work efficiently for the rest of the night.

In a similar way, the other week my pastor took a mental health day. He works six days a week and after a while he got a bit tired. (Fair enough!) By taking a mental health day he could come back to work refreshed and get more done, more efficiently. 

But I hope you notice that there’s a word that keeps coming up in this discussion, and that’s ‘efficient’.

A business in the UK (Voucher Cloud) surveyed 1989 workers and asked them how many hours they would actually work in an 8-hour day. The answer averaged out at just under 3 hours a day. What did they do for the rest of the work day? They read the news, chatted, made snacks and hot drinks, made phone calls, and even applied for new jobs! 

By working efficiently and effectively, you can get more done in less time and free up time to do what you love.

There are several tricks that you can use to get this efficiency and sense of focus.

Firstly, it is a good idea to figure out what you are working on right now. Make a list, prioritise, and then focus on the job that is the top of the list. If you’re jumping from job to job, you’re not going to make a dent in any of the tasks you need to achieve. Find one task, focus on that one, and get it done.

You can trick your brain into getting into work quickly by using separate spaces for different activities.

If your brain knows that this is a ‘work space’ then it will get into work mode much more easily. 

Caleb (my son) worked this out during the COVID year when he had to do his university studies from home. He had a desk and a desktop computer where he could have listened to lectures and worked on his assignments. The problem was, that desk was where he played his computer games. So when he tried to work at that desk, his brain told him that it was a gaming space. He did much better when he worked on his university assignments at the dining table, and relaxed by playing computer games at his desk.

As I do all my work from home, I need to do the same thing. I have a desk, an office space that I use for editing work and administration. When I want to write my novel or work on something creative I often move to the dining table, or even take my laptop to a café so that I can be in a different frame of mind. To relax, I head up to the lounge room. But I try not to do any work sitting on the couch. That is my relaxation space.

Another way to keep focus is to get rid of interruptions or distractions.

I used to keep Facebook and Twitter open on my desk top so that I could look at it for a ‘break’ through my work day. But I realised just how much I was being derailed by that, so now I usually peruse the socials on my phone in my relaxation place, rather than on my computer in my admin place.

And when I really REALLY need to focus I bring in another technique. This is the Pomodoro technique. Named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. Remember those?

I set the timer on my phone for 25 minutes. During that time I am completely focused. I do nothing else. No phone calls, no socials, no email. The job is the thing. I do the job. Then, the timer goes off and I give myself a five minute break. I walk around. I stretch. Then it’s back for another 25 minute work session and so on until I get the job done.

Studies show that it takes 5-10 minutes to refocus after an interruption. That is why it is so important to keep your phone on silent and your socials closed, and even to turn your email off while you focus on a task. 

Speaking of email, the best way that I have heard to deal with that constant interrupter is to only check your email three times a day and to deal with it as you check it. Schedule it in, like a meeting. That way it doesn’t derail your other good and focused work.

I don’t have a problem with good productive work. But I do have a problem if it takes over your whole life and leaves you no time for anything else. And one way that I see that happening is if you half-work when you should be focusing. It means your work drags out, doesn’t get done, comes home in the evening, takes over your weekend.

Instead, try setting a timer and really focusing on your work. That way, when you get it done you can really relax, have some fun, be creative, play, with no guilt at all.

What do you use to help you focus?

Living by Your Values

Do you know what your top values are? Do you know why you make decisions to do, or not do certain things? Do you have any idea what it is you’re really reaching for?

Recently I found out that I really didn’t know what values I lived by.

I had been talking with my psych about some unhelpful ways of thinking (that I am learning not to use) and she said, ‘Yes, that’s unhelpful, but that’s ok. You notice, you tell yourself that you understand why you’re thinking that way, and then you go back to your values and live from them.’ Which is very helpful information. Unless you have no idea what your top values are. 

So I asked her about that, about how to find out your top values. She gave me the following exercise, which I did on my holidays.

The first thing I did was google ‘list of values’. I copied off two lists and ended up with about 150 different words or phrases that described things that we can value. Some of them doubled up, that’s ok.

I printed off the lists and cut up the pieces of paper so that a different word or phrase was on each piece.

The first thing to do was go through the pile of values and divide them into three piles:

  1. Definitely me
  2. Maybe me
  3. Not me at all

After that, I got rid of piles two and three and concentrated on pile one.

It became much harder now.

I needed to take that pile and divide it again into:

  1. Definitely me
  2. Not quite so much me

It was important to me to note that all the statements in this pile are things that I value. Getting rid of one out of the pile didn’t mean that I no longer valued that thing, it just meant that it wasn’t part of the group of absolute top values.

I repeated this step until I was left with a list of five values.

It was simple, but not easy.

I had three nights away. It took me two and a half days to cut my list down to five. 

When I journaled about those five values I found something interesting. There were two in that five that could be incorporated into the other three. Which brings us to another important point. Words, like Humpty Dumpty says in Alice Through the Looking Glass, can mean whatever you want them to mean. This list of values, it is supposed to clarify things for you. Not to lock you into a box. Not even to broadcast to others (like I’m doing now) so that they can lock you into a box. They are to help you live your life with clarity and purpose.

What the words mean to you, might be very different from what they mean to another person.

My top five values were:

Peace

Family 

Security

Wellness

Excellence

But as I journaled about them I realised that Wellness to me means peace in my body. So that comes under the value of Peace. And I value excellence in my work because it enables me to keep my job. So that comes under Security. (Also, my year theme, the Year of Order, comes under the value of Peace. As I bring order to my life, I get more peace.)

So I ended up, after three days, with three top values:

Peace

Family

Security

These values can be lived out in two ways. They can be selfishly grasped, or they can be lived for yourself and others according to God’s will. They are not morally good or bad in themselves, it all depends on how we live it out.

For example, I can approach the value of Security in two ways. I can save up all my money, work harder and harder, trust in my money, my investments, my work to give me the security I long for. If I do that, the Bible calls me a fool. I could be as ‘secure’ as I could possibly be and the stock market might crash, or even worse, I could die (like the rich fool in Luke 12). What would my security gain me then? Nothing.

But if I place my security in God then I will be ‘like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither’ (Psalm 1). 

Your values are your great strengths and your great weaknesses. It depends how you live them. 

I think this is an excellent exercise to prayerfully undertake. I don’t think you need a week’s retreat to do it, but I suggest you do it over a few days. I did not find this an easy undertaking. But I have found it super helpful.

And if you would like to share your top values with me, I’d love to hear them. Leave me a comment, or head to http://ruthamos.com.au and use the Contact Me box, or find me on Facebook or on Twitter @amos_rj.

Silence and Solitude

‘I had 90 minutes to myself,’ the tweet read. ‘No questions, no demands, just 90 minutes for me. OK, it was a root canal, but still.’

When was the last time you had time alone?

Now I know that COVID meant that we were all living on top of each other, and in most places in the world people still are. It’s hard to get time alone. 

And if you managed to get some time alone, what would you do with it?

Would you fill it with music? TV? Social media?

No judgement here – I obviously started this blog with a Twitter quote, and I’m not going to tell you how many levels I have completed in Candy Crush.

But there is real value in spending time in silence. Alone, and in silence.

Silence and solitude is one of the great spiritual disciplines, and it is that for a reason.

Sitting in silence with God at the beginning of the day reminds you that you are a human being, not a human doing. That you are loved by God just for who you are. That the world doesn’t need you to spin it in order for it to turn.

Sitting in silence for ten minutes after a hectic morning resets your body and your brain and helps you to get your priorities right again.

Sitting in silence reminds you that it’s not all about you and that you’re not needed. But that you are loved. It helps you get in touch with your own thoughts and feelings. It helps you know where you’re at and where you’re going.

It’s a circuit breaker in the 100 mile an hour rush that life easily becomes.

This is how I do it:

The first thing I do is write down everything I’m worried about. I put that all on a piece of paper and then file that piece of paper in the shoe box that I’m calling God’s In Box. Now the worries are for him to deal with and are out of my head.

I have a special place, I sit on one end of my couch. The other end from where I sit when I’m watching TV. Other people go all out with special places for this and decorate and light candles and such. You do you. But it helps to have a regular place where you do this. If you keep places separate, then your brain and body knows, ‘This is where we do this. We’re doing silence now.’ This separate places thing works for other activities as well.

You can set a timer, so that you’re not always looking at your clock to see how the time is going. I sometimes set a timer, but if I have time I just leave it and go until I feel done. At least ten minutes, but sometimes as long as fifteen. I hope that someday I’ll be able to go even longer.

I start by taking three deep breaths – in for four, out for six, or something like that. This helps me to know that you’re starting now.

Then, I just sit.

If distractions come, I bat them away and keep going. If I find that my mind is still running at a hundred miles an hour, I stop and listen. I see how many different sounds I can hear. Birdsong, distant traffic, the house creaking as it warms up for the day. 

This is a time of not achieving, not doing, not being productive. I’m not thinking things through, I’m not actively praying in words. I’m just being. 

We can be addicted to words. Especially if you make a living with words like I do. We can think that they are absolutely necessary all the time. But they are not, and praying without words like this is … it’s just a beautiful thing.

We can be addicted to activity. Why sit for ten minutes when you could be cleaning? Gardening? Ringing a lonely person? Working? Exercising? But sometimes we need to know in our souls that we are worth more than just what we do. We are valuable for who we are. And that it doesn’t all depend on us. I am not the saviour of the world.

Sometimes I finish with The Lord’s Prayer, sometimes with a prayer of gratitude, sometimes I just finish.

If an insight comes to me, then I might journal it. But this is not about journaling (another great thing to do) this is just about being.

And that’s it, really. 

Can you do it? Ten minutes a day. You could get up ten minutes early, or you could go to bed and sit quietly before sleep. You could spend ten minutes in silence while going for a walk in your lunch break. Yes, you don’t have to just sit, walking meditation is a thing, or swimming, or cycling.

I cannot recommend this practice highly enough. Ten minutes a day of just you and God. Give it a go.

If you want to learn more (and I highly recommend that too) read Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton. This is the book that I’ve been using to start my practice.

And if you’d like to chat with me about your experience, why don’t you leave me a comment? Or head to the Contact Me box at http://ruthamos.com.au or find me on Facebook or on Twitter @amos_rj.

The Everything List

Today’s post is for you beautiful people who are feeling really overwhelmed right now.

The people who are finding that every time you turn around there’s yet another thing that you have to do.

The people who feel like they have so much in their head that if they add another thing then something will fall out. In fact, things might already be falling out, might be being missed, and you have no way of knowing what it is that you have already forgotten.

I have an excellent tool for just this situation. A tool that will work, just for you.

It’s an old fashioned tool. You might be so into apps and computer programs, smart phones and smart watches that you may have forgotten that this tool exists. But it’s a very good tool.

Excellent, in fact.

And for the situation of total overwhelm, I believe there is nothing better that you can use.

It’s a pen and a piece of paper.

Or, you know, a pencil, if you want to go even older school.

But make sure the piece of paper is a big one.

And this is what I want you to do:

Write down everything that you have to do on the piece of paper. Transfer everything on your mental list to the paper list.

No job is too big or too small. 

Just write it all down.

  • Clean the car
  • Finish the report
  • Make tomorrow’s lunches
  • Sort the sock drawer
  • Paint the house
  • Visit Great Aunt Mary
  • Buy Christmas cards
  • Write to the teacher about Billy’s homework

No job is too insignificant for this list. No job is too far off in the future. Every single thing that you can think of that you need to do, or to organise, every phone call or email you need to make, anything at all that requires an action or thought from you belongs on this list.

And another thing, resist the urge to sort the contents of this list right now. That comes later. At the moment your job is to dump on the piece of paper all the things you’ve been carrying around in your head.

You might even take a couple of days or a week to complete the list. You might think of new things to put on there. That’s good, just write them down.

Once you’ve got everything on your piece of paper you might find that you feel better already. There is a big difference between keeping it all in your head, and knowing that it’s safely written down somewhere.

So enjoy that feeling. Take a few deep breaths. 

Then look at the list again.

Now is the time to sort.

Now, there are a few ways that you can sort the list. And each of these could have it’s own blog post. But I’ll briefly outline them here.

1) You can make a big timeline. Give the jobs a due date. Put them on your calendar on that date. Now you don’t have to worry about the jobs until their due date comes around. You know your calendar will remind you then. So you can give yourself some brain space.

You don’t need to ring Great Aunt Mary until her birthday next month. Put it on the calendar.

Painting the house will be an autumn job, maybe next year. Put it on the calendar.

On the other hand, writing to the teacher about Billy’s homework needs to be done tomorrow. So put it on your calendar for tomorrow. There will only be a (comparatively) few jobs on tomorrow’s list and you can do them then.

2) Another way is to use the urgent/important quadrant method.

Divide another sheet of paper into four quadrants. Along the top write Urgent on one and Not Urgent on the other, down the side in the same way write Important and Not Important.

Now you divide your jobs among the quadrants. Are the jobs urgent and important (quadrant A)? Important but not urgent (quadrant B)? Not important but urgent (quadrant C)? Or neither important nor urgent (quadrant D)?

Once the jobs are sorted into the quadrants then you have four methods of dealing with them. 

For the A jobs, you really need to do those now. The B jobs need to be planned for in the future. The C jobs can be delegated to someone else. And the final quadrant? Those things should be dropped. You shouldn’t be wasting your time even thinking about them.

3) Another way to sort the jobs is using a mind map. I have created a map with me in the centre and from centre come categories such as home, work, school, church. Then looking at my large list, I divide the jobs among the categories. This helps me see which part of my life is the most overwhelming right now and helps me make decisions that might change that. 

4) A fourth way is to batch your jobs. Make a list of phone calls you need to make. Things you need to do in the car. Things you need to do on the computer. Things you need to do around the house. Or batch them under the headings of Do, Write, Call and Buy. 

Then when you’re in the car, do as many of those things as you can. When you’re ready to make phone calls, make them all. When you are able to get into email, write as many of those pesky emails as you have time for.

There are probably other ways to sort the big list of jobs. If you have a good method, I’d love for you to write to me and let me know about it.

One last thing I need to say on this topic is, make sure you keep the master list!

You might want to transfer it to a spreadsheet, or some notes software like Evernote or even to a task management app (I’m using the Moleskine app right now), but you really need to keep it so that your brain stays content that all of the jobs it was trying to remember are listed somewhere safe and sound.

I guarantee that this method will lead to clearer thinking, and much less overwhelm.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you. Please use the Contact Me form at ruthamos.com.au or find me on Facebook or on twitter @amos_rj. 

My Most Important Productivity Tip

We’re all back into it now. School has begun again, all the regular activities have started up. We’re back on the treadmill.

And it can really feel like a treadmill. You start on Monday with a list of things to do. You don’t quite get through them but you have high hopes for Tuesday. But the list keeps getting longer and you don’t feel like you can cross off very much. On Thursday night you have a moment of panic when you realise that there is no way that you will be able to get it all done on Friday and you realise you’ll have to take work home over the weekend. 

Saturday you chill out a little bit, sleep in maybe, do a bit of housework, but then you open the laptop or the file of paper and put it on the dining table. You don’t want to work on it really but it has to be done and it stares balefully at you over the entire weekend, robbing the weekend of its joy and robbing you of rest. 

‘If I have enough energy to do this thing I want to do,’ you tell yourself, ‘then I have enough energy to do the work I brought home.’ So you don’t do the things you want to do, and you don’t do the work you brought home either.

The net result is that you go back to work on Monday feeling more tired than you did on Friday and the to do list continues to pile up.

Which brings me to my very important top productivity tip of all time.

Rest.

The way we are made is that we need time off. I firmly believe that humans are made to function best if we take one day off a week.

A whole day. 

Of rest.

I must admit that I got caught up on the busy-ness treadmill last year and it took me to a bad place. And it’s a difficult treadmill to get off. Being productive is highly admired in our society. We begin to feel that our worth is tied to our productivity. 

But it’s not. 

We have worth because we are human beings, made in the image of God. 

And you know what God did once a week? He rested.

Sure, the stories we have of Jesus are stories where he ‘broke’ the sabbath. Where he healed someone, or his disciples pulled off some grains of wheat and ate them because they were hungry. But as a general rule, Jesus rested on the sabbath. His treatment of the sabbath warns us not to get too stupidly strict about what is work and what is recreation, but still, rest and recreation are vitally important.

The thing that got me off my treadmill was to simply stop. To take a full day of rest each week where I didn’t catch up on the week’s work, and I didn’t make myself do anything.

A day of no ‘shoulds’.

There’s a great fear that keeps us working and working, but that fear is groundless. It is the fear that if we stop, things will fall apart. It is based in the pride that says that we are the ones keeping things together. But God is the one that holds all things together. And taking a day off a week is a discipline that says that we trust him more than ourselves. That he is God and that we’re not. And that even if things do fall apart, we know that he will bring good out of the rubble.

So I encourage you this week to take a day off. Just one day out of the seven. I don’t care which day it is, but whatever day works best for you, take it off for rest and recreation. I promise you that you’ll feel better for it, and that you’ll work better the next week.

It’s always better when you work according to the user’s manual.

Changes for 2020

From Motherwell Magazine

It’s nearly February. Nearly time to put the holiday feeling behind us and get back to work for reals. I guess if you’re in the northern hemisphere you’ve already done that, but for us in the south, the warm weather can make us take longer to realise that the year is actually happening. But people, we have to face it now.

One of the things that often happens in holidays is that the problems you’re facing all become clear and you make promises to yourself that you’re sure you can hold to when you get home again.

I remember going away for as little as a weekend and thinking, ‘All I have to do is exercise regularly. It can’t be that hard. Just a little every day. We can do this.’ And then coming home, and the normalcy of life hit, and I realised that it was a lot harder than I thought.

I have this self-delusion in many areas of my life, not just exercise.

While I’ve been away visiting my sister, swanning around LA, I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish in the year ahead. I’ve been thinking that it shouldn’t be too hard, I just need to write a little of the novel each day, and write a little of the nonfiction too, and record a little of the audio book, and make sure I blog and podcast each week.

My sister Cath, Moz, Yossi and myself. Saying goodbye is hard!
You gotta have the photo with the Hollywood sign!

And I guess if that was all there was to my life, it wouldn’t be too hard.

But life is not like that. It is full of mundane things like washing up and going grocery shopping. And extras like declaring war on ants in the kitchen, putting away Christmas decorations, having coffees with people who need a chat, and celebrating special occasions. 

Life is not neat and tidy. 

Even my business life is not neat and tidy. I need to market my books and podcast in several different ways. I need to invite and meet people for podcast interviews. I need to keep my accounting up to date, and upgrade my websites, and learn new skills. 

When I got home from LA I drew out some mind maps. Maps of things I had to do, and things I wanted to do with my business. Plans and dreams and necessities.

And when I looked sensibly at the workload I had given myself for the year I realised (with Moz’s help) that I couldn’t do it all. I needed to plan differently.

I needed to plan to do less. Not just try to squeeze in more.

This is difficult because I love everything I do. Everything I try to fit into my days has meaning and purpose. Each item on my to do list is in line with what I want my life to be. 

But still I don’t have time to do all that I want to do.

I’ve cut out the fat, I guess, but I still can’t reach the goals I want to reach.

I need to slow down. Change my goals. Let myself off the hook.

So I’m trying to do that now. 

So what’s changing?

I am changing the podcast up a bit this year. I will be releasing a podcast interview once a fortnight. 

On the other week I will be recording and releasing a chapter of My Year of Saying No.  (Which will be good, because obviously I need a refresher on that content.) Once I’ve done that, I’ll put all the recordings together and release the audiobook.

I am also taking a break from this blog. I am thinking deeply about what I want to accomplish with my writing and I think when I come back the blog will take a different form. If you are interested in being there when I come back, please sign up to my newsletter here because I’m not sure that this particular blog space will resurface.

I’m also going to be spending more time working on the writing craft, reading craft books, doing exercises, and studying the books I love so that I can see how the authors made them so amazing. This will mean that I won’t be able to release my own books at the same rate, but hopefully it will also mean that my own books are much better value when I do release them.

So there are some of my thoughts as we get started on 2020.

How about you? What are your plans and goals like for the next year? Are you already feeling the need to pare them down? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Can we have it all?

out of officeYou know, we can’t do it all. Not all of the time. None of us can.

Sorry to start the post with such a strong pronouncement, but I’m hoping it’s not too much of a shock for you.

I think that each of us wants to have every area of our lives sorted out beautifully all the time. Each of us is striving for:

  • Good family relationships
  • A satisfying career
  • A healthy body
  • A vibrant spiritual life
  • An exciting social calendar
  • And the ability to eat unlimited amounts of chocolate

But it’s just not possible to be there in that paradise at all times. No, not even that last point.

Not even if you quit your job and start your own business from home. Even then it’s impossible to have all of it, all of the time.

There is no silver bullet. And believe me, I’ve spent a fair bit of time searching for one.

This week’s podcast interview is with Professor Matt King, and I asked him about his work-life balance. I know that in academia, the pressure to work long hours is intense. And Matt is trying to balance that with a young family and some ministry opportunities as well.

He said something really wise.

He said, ‘I’d prefer for some parts of my career to be diminished than to just respond to the pressures of being more, more, and more. … At the moment, my personal research is taking a hit. … It’s about priorities.’

So there’s a difficult path for each of us to walk. Which thing do we compromise on right now? Which thing do we concentrate on? What is the aspect of our life that needs special attention, and what needs to be dropped lower on the list for the time being?

Perfection will come, but not until the next life. For this life we are stuck in an imperfect, fallen world and that means making some hard decisions.

I think I may be worse at this than a lot of people. I love being needed. I love it when someone sends me a text and says, ‘Can you help out?’ Whether it’s ministry or editing or just being there for a friend, I love to help out in a crisis. But this means that my schedule fills quickly, that my life gets too full, and that I run out of time for myself, for my family, for my spiritual growth. I need to continue to learn that sometimes it is important to say no.

As I write this, I am frantically working on getting all my jobs finished so that I can take two weeks of holidays next week. I haven’t had a proper holiday for a long time, so I’m really looking forward to it. And I’m intending to book this type of holiday into my schedule regularly, even if that does mean saying no to some editing jobs, or saying no to some ministry opportunities. It’s not easy, but it’s very, very important.

How do you set your priorities? Do you feel the pressure of being ‘more, more, and more’? How do you deal with it? Do you take holidays?

 

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!

When a To Do List is the Worst Thing To Do

doing your best

I got up on that awful Monday morning, got dressed and ready to go, and sat at my desk to begin my day’s work.

First, I wrote out a list of things that I needed to accomplish in the week. I usually write that in my bullet journal. I write about the projects I’m focussing on and the tasks that need to be accomplished. So the list has things like:

Write DM3 (that’s the latest novel in the Deadly Miss series that I try to write something in each day – that’s one of the project-type tasks)

and

Book car in for a service (a task that doesn’t really relate to any special project)

Then I turned to my day planner. This has the day divided into hours and I can plan my day with it, using the tasks I’ve written in my bullet journal. Having the time allocated to certain projects or tasks usually helps me to work when I need to, and to not put too many tasks into any one day.

Usually it helps me to get my work done.

Usually.

On this particular Monday morning, I finished my list in my daily planner, looked at the day and the week, and realised that I wouldn’t get it all done. Again.

I had been through many weeks like this, where there were just too many tasks for the time available. And here was another one. And I couldn’t see how the work could get done.

I couldn’t handle it.

I went to bed and cried for half an hour.

Sometimes lists are a really good idea.

Sometimes crossing the tasks off makes you feel so productive and useful.

But sometimes the list just shows up how much you’re not getting done. How far you still have to go. How overwhelming life is right now.

Sometimes a to do list is (gasp!) a bad idea.

I got out of bed eventually, and I made it through the day and through the week. But for that week I ignored the daily planner, and just worked off the list of tasks and projects in the bullet journal.

That is, I sat at my desk, knowing that I had half an hour or two hours or whatever, I looked at my lists of tasks, evaluated whether I should be doing a thinking or non-thinking task, and just had a go at whatever took my fancy.

And I got through the week. I got heaps achieved. I felt great about it.

I didn’t knock everything off my list, but for that week I went easy on myself. If I achieved anything I gave myself high praise. If I missed things, I didn’t let myself worry about it. The aim was to get through the week with my mental health intact, not to get everything done.

This week’s podcast interview is with Amber. Amber suffers from a couple of fairly severe mental illnesses and she shares with us how we can help those we know who are mentally ill. But talking with her also made me think about each of us, and how we can help ourselves stay mentally healthy.

In the same way that we eat healthy food and exercise to keep our bodies healthy, each of us can also do things that help our own mental health to stay tip top. (And, of course, in the same way that we go and see a doctor when our physical health is breaking down, any of us may, at some time, need to see a specialist about our mental health.)

Sometimes the thing we need to do is give ourselves a break, like I had to do in the ‘no to-do list’ week. Sometimes we need to put down our phones and have a break from social media for a while.

I also think it’s important to think about what we’re putting into our brains. The Good Book says, ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –  if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ (Philippians 4:8) We can help ourselves to stay mentally healthy by reading good books, watching uplifting shows, talking about positive things.

What do you do to take care of your mental health? Have you had to give yourself a break at one time or another? Have you found that sometimes to do lists don’t work? What excellent or praiseworthy thing do you like to think about?

 

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!

Finding the Rhythm

2017-07-04 08.38.09

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!