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.

A (very late) New Year Post

This blog post was written in early January. If you go to http://www.ruthamos.com.au/podcast you can hear the chat I had with Scott on Ultra106.5 about it at the time. I know I’m posting it on here a little late, I guess it is just another of those things that I’m slowly getting into order.

_______________________

It’s that time again. Time for new year’s resolutions. Time for new year plans. Time to think ‘new year, new you’ or some such thing. 

We do it each year, and as John Dickson says, it’s not really a bad thing. Resolutions are built on hope, he says. And hope is better than the alternative. Living hopefully is a good thing.

So I’m not pooh-poohing resolutions. But I am going about things slightly differently this year. 

I’m going with a Year Theme.

I got this idea from the podcast, Cortex, hosted by CGP Grey and Myke Hurley. They have been doing themes each year since 2016 (I think). And Grey has done it for a lot longer.

OK, what is a Year Theme?

It’s an idea, a thought, a direction that you want the year to go. It’s a bit like having a word for the year, which is another idea I have seen around the place. But with a theme you are not limited to one word, so you don’t have to do the extreme hyphenation I did in 2019 when it was the year of  give-it-a-go.

It is not a goal, or something that you cross off. So in that way it’s not like a resolution. It’s not ‘lose 5 kg’ or even ‘exercise more’ or anything like that. It’s an overarching idea that you can use to measure your activities against and see whether they fit, whether they are something you should be doing.

Your year theme could be something like, the year of adventure, or the year of diversification, the year of stabilisation, the year of less, the year of fun, or the year of prayer or worship.

What is my theme for this year?

My theme is ‘The Year of Order’.

Last year was quite chaotic for me. Both my children got married, for one thing. And for another, we renovated our house to make a little home for our son Caleb and his new wife. And there were other things as well (of course) that added to the chaos. 

I decided back in November that I wanted 2021 to be much more ordered. Calm. Peaceful. 

I am using this theme to help me decide what to do and how to do the things I do.

OK, we’re two weeks in to the year, so there’s not a big sample yet. But here are some things I have done so far because of the theme I have put in place:

I have taken control of what I do on the church roster. Up until now, Moz and I have just gone with what we were given on the roster, unless we had some big prior engagement that meant we couldn’t serve in some way. This year, we looked at the months in advance and blocked out some Sundays when neither of us are on any jobs, so that we can just sit in church and enjoy each other’s company.

I have sorted out some cupboards and given things to the Salvos. Part of this is due to not having as much storage space now that we’ve renovated. But partly this is due to my year theme and trying each day to do something that adds order.

I have organised my calendar so that I have one day a week to work on my creative projects. A day with no coffee dates and no day-job work. And I’m trying to batch the other things I do each week so that my focus isn’t continually changing.

Daily I am asking myself in my intention questions (more on this later), ‘Have I done my best to create order today?’ And I’m keeping track to see how I’m doing. I hope to keep you updated as the year goes on.

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It’s never too late to put together a year theme. Unlike new year’s resolutions, you can come up with one at any time and apply it to any block of time that you like. It can be a year theme, but a quarterly theme is a really great idea too.

We’re heading into the second quarter of 2021 as I write this, and I’d like to let you know that I’m still following the theme. One of the things Moz and I have done as part of this is to plan out each quarter in advance, booking in times to work on our house, times to go away on adventures, and occasional Sundays when neither of us is on a church roster so that we can actually sit together. And I sorted out my filing cabinet yesterday. So this year’s theme is really working for me.

Do you have a year theme? Or has this post made you think of one? I’d love to hear what yours is. Let me know in the comments, or email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or visit me at https://www.facebook.com/RuthAmosAuthor 

New Things

Well! I didn’t imagine that my break from blogging would last a whole year. But it has. It was really interesting to read the last blog entry from January 2020 and to laugh at myself. I mean, who could not? We had no idea in January 2020 what the year would hold. 

In case you don’t know what my 2020 held, here is a quick rundown:

  • We went to LA in January
  • COVID happened (I’m sure you haven’t forgotten) with lockdowns etc.
  • Our daughter Jess became engaged to Jordan
  • Pretty quickly after that Jess and Jordan were married
  • Our son Caleb became engaged to Mikayla
  • We renovated the house to make a small home for Caleb and Mikayla
  • I published a novel (Deadly Miscalculation)
  • Caleb and Mikayla got married

There were a few other small things too – surgeries, illnesses, major work deadlines, all the sorts of things that a year holds. The year 2020 was a very full year.

I am grateful that I stopped blogging in January last year. I don’t know how I would have managed with a blog and podcast on my plate. 

But here I am, in faith, taking it up again.

Faith that it is what God wants me to do. Faith that I can give you all something that will make your lives better. And faith that I won’t be overloading myself with this. That I can do it at a pace that makes sense and is possible.

However, this blog will be different from what it has been before. It is part of a new and exciting opportunity for me.

I will be chatting each fortnight with Scottie Haas, the breakfast announcer at Ultra106.5. The chat will be broadcast, and I will also share it on my podcast, and write a complementary blog post.

This is something new for me, though I have chatted with Scottie before. The Mikayla that our Caleb married is Scottie’s eldest daughter, so we are family now! Also, I’ve been on the radio to talk about my books before. So it’s not entirely new. 

But a regular radio spot is something new. And very cool.

So here we go. Into another year. And having no idea what the year will hold. But we know Who holds the year, and that He holds each of us too. So we walk confidently, holding God’s hand, and looking for what he has in store for us.

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.

The perfect Christmas verse

I think I’ve found the perfect Bible verse for Christmas.

It’s not your normal verse. Not ‘In the beginning was the Word’ or ‘For God so loved the world’ or ‘For unto us a child is born’, or anything like that.

It’s a different one.

But I think it’s suitable.

It’s this one: Philippians 4:13

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The 'do all the things' meme
And sometimes we feel like we have All the things to do!

Now this verse has a bit of a bad rap. 

People have used this verse to say that they will succeed in their business or pass all their exams. They use it to say that things will go well with them because they’ve told Jesus to ‘make it so’. But that’s not what this verse means.

In his letter, in the lead up to this sentence, Paul says that he’s learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Whether he’s in need, or has plenty, whether he’s well fed or hungry, it doesn’t matter. He knows that he can do all things through God who gives him strength.

Paul has learned that whatever happens, God will be there with him. 

Advent candles. Four white candles surrounding a purple candle. The white candles are all lit.
The fourth Advent candle is lit. Just the Jesus candle to go.

Christmas can be very hard for some of us. 

Everyone in my family has had conversations in the last few weeks with people for whom Christmas is a really difficult time. People who have difficult family relationships. People who are mourning. People who are lonely. 

For some of us, (cough *introverts* cough) Christmas is exhausting just because it is full of people and fun and good times.

Christmas is a time that requires extra strength.

But that’s God’s gift to us. He gives us strength. Strength to the weary. 

So whatever you’re doing this Christmas:

  • if you’re the one cooking the whole meal for the hordes this Christmas 
  • or you’re going to eat your mother-in-law’s famous roast
  • if you’re surrounded by people
  • or doing Christmas day on your own
  • if you’re going for three straight days so you can visit all the family
  • or if you’re mourning the loss of a loved one
  • if you’re still frantically shopping to make sure all the presents are bought
  • or if you’ve been organised since July and everyone’s getting a goat from a charity anyway
  • if you’re leading the Christmas Eve service, the midnight service, and the service for Christmas day
  • or if you’re not going to church at all
  • if your Christmas decorations have been up since mid-October
  • or you haven’t decorated even one room in your house 

Lean on Him who gives you strength. He promises to never leave you. He knows what you’re doing, how you’re just barely coping, or how much you’re giving to others. He will be there for you.

You can do it, you can do all the things, through Him who gives you strength.

A nativity scene. Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, two sheep, a blue plastic dinosaur, and four lego figures representing our family.
This year’s nativity scene. The lego figures represent our family, thanks to a present from Jess.

A helpful hint for a stress-free Christmas.

It’s joy week. If I had a rose candle I’d be lighting it this week.

My lovely Mother-in-law has a philosophy about wedding anniversaries. She says that if your marriage is having trouble, then your anniversary is the most important day of the year. You have to make it perfect. And woe betide the spouse who forgets the date. But if your marriage is good, if you’re investing in each other throughout the year, if you communicate well, then the anniversary isn’t so important. It’s nice if it’s nice, but it’s not the end of the world if it’s not.

Which is a very good thing, really.

Moz and I have had some doozy wedding anniversaries. We’ve had a couple on Scripture Union camps, where we shared our cabin with not only our children, but our nieces as well. Fun and all, but not the best for romantic pursuits.

Then there was the one in Vanuatu where it rained all day, there was no power (our fault, we’d left a speaker on all night and drained the solar-powered batteries), all our battery operated devices ran out of power and there was almost nothing to do. We played crib with a packet of cards we had bought as a gift for Caleb. When the clouds finally cleared and the rain stopped, our host asked Moz if he could help him out – one of their goats had died and needed to be buried.

On one anniversary, Moz had been given the option to go sailing with my uncle so we spent the day apart. Which wasn’t so dreadful, but it did happen to be the day where I had to make the decision to have our cat put down. Another gem of an anniversary.

We’ve had some good ones as well, but either way it doesn’t matter. We can celebrate our day on the day, or we can celebrate our marriage at another time. We know we’re all right, and we make the effort through the year to rejoice in each other. It’s fine.

I think the same philosophy applies to Christmas.

Christmas day can be a day filled with stress. It can be a day we feel intense pressure to ‘get it right’. To make it perfect. To have the absolutely most special family day of the whole year.

But think about it, you’ve been putting effort into the family for the whole year. You have shown them over and over again that you love them, and they you. Christmas day is a special day, but it is only one day. Even if everything falls apart, you can come together on another day to have another go.

Let’s let Christmas go a bit this year, hold it more lightly, laugh if things go wrong and tuck the stories away to share at a later date and make others laugh too.

Rest in the knowledge that you’ve shared love throughout the year, take the pressure off this day, and let it be the type of special that it needs to be.

May this Christmas be joyous and peaceful for you and those you love.

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.

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!

Get The Whole Story Here.

Two candles lit this week.

I wasn’t sure what to write about in today’s blog and then last night Moz and I went to Nine Lessons and Carols and I knew.

I thought that someone who reads this blog might not know the whole story of Christmas. You might think you know what Christians believe from what you heard in Sunday School or during the end-of-year school assembly. You might be piecing together the story from Christmas cards or bits alluded to in movies (I don’t think that famous Christmas movie, Die Hard, has a whole lot about the story though). 

As I sat in the beautiful chapel, listening to the readings that spelled out the whole story, I thought I’d put them up in my blog today. You too can begin at the beginning and read through to understand what it is that Christians are celebrating this time of year.

You might be surprised – there’s a child sacrifice averted in the nick of time, there’s a prophecy that was told long before the Roman Empire even existed, there’s the threat of divorce and shame. And there’s great rejoicing too.

So have a click on the links below, read the story for yourself, and see what you think. I’m happy to chat about any of it, just email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au

The very beginning

A sacrifice averted

An ancient prophecy

A pretty gutsy woman

A threatened divorce

A birth in strange circumstances

A terrifying encounter

A jealous king

How does this apply to me?

If you have questions about the historicity of the story, many of them are answered in this brilliant podcast by John Dickson.

If you read this and feel like you’ve missed out, if you live in southern Tasmania, St Luke’s Taroona is holding a Nine Lessons and Carols at 9am on the 22nd December.

You may also find that it’s broadcast on the ABC on Christmas Eve (though I’m not sure about that one). Or you can find the Kings College Cambridge version here.

Happy New Year!

Thou shalt light but one candle on the first Sunday of Advent, and the number of candles to be lighted shall be one. Four candles there are, but thou shalt light but one, not two, nor three, but one. And stay away from the rose coloured one.
Wish I’d seen these instructions before I bought the candles 😉

If you’re a churchgoer of the traditional persuasion you may already know that the church year started on Sunday. The first Sunday in Advent is the first day of the church year.

Somehow it’s not having the same effect on me as January 1st does. There’s something about the world having a huge party the night before, and a public holiday, that makes New Years Day feel special.

Having said that, I felt like I wanted to do something for Advent this year. I want to make the lead up to Christmas something different. To prepare myself.

I am not one of those who puts a Christmas tree up in November. If you are one, more power to you. I find I’ve had enough of the tree taking up my living room once it’s been there a couple of weeks, so I wait a little longer to put it up.

I am also not organised enough to make up an Advent calendar of any significance, and I don’t want to eat extra chocolate every day before Christmas. (I was going to say, ‘eat chocolate every day’ but I realised that I’m probably going to do that anyway if the past few weeks are any indication.)

Just an aside, I have really great friends who have done an amazing thing for their kids. They’ve made up an advent calendar, in each little draw there are a few pieces of Lego and a page of instructions. Each day, the girls will pull out the draw and add something to the growing Lego construction. At Christmas time they will have a full Lego toy, and it’s one of those three-in-one things so they’ll be able to pull it apart and make the other two on Christmas day.

I was never going to do something that organised.

But I decided that there was something small that I could do to make the time seem a little more special and that is Advent candles.

Four white candles surrounding a purple candle, on a wooden board. One white candle is lit.
My little Advent wreath

I went to the local everything cheap store (and marvelled at the overwhelming amount of sugar wrapped in plastic junk that is available to all of us). I found (eventually) some candles, and then after a little more searching I found candles that were unscented (so I don’t spend the whole of Advent with a stuffed up nose). And I found a little board. 

I’ve made my own Advent thingy. It’s not really a wreath, it doesn’t have greenery. But it’s Advent-ish.

Each Sunday I will light another candle. One for each of the Sundays, and the purple one for Jesus on Christmas day.

I chose not to worry about the pink one for the ‘Joy’ Sunday, and I think that technically all the white candles should be purple, and the purple one, white. But see the earlier comments about scent. All the purple candles in the store were scented and one candle is more than enough scent for me.

I’m hoping that lighting candles each week gives enough of a slow down moment to make the lead up to Christmas less hectic as I take the time to remember what it’s all about.

Oh and I saw this amazing Advent calendar on Facebook that I thought I’d share with you too. Maybe we can make this month a precious and joyful time and put some good back into the world.

A 25-day calendar with a suggestion of a kindness to do each day. For example, let someone in front of you in line, or buy a friend coffee.

What are your Advent traditions? When does your tree go up? Is anyone else doing a clever Advent calendar of some sort?

Shirt Sandwiches

Yes, this is exactly how neat and organised my workspace is. Exactly. Not.

You all probably know by now that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. That is, I’ve been writing a novel this month of November, aiming to get 50,000 words written by the end of the month. It’s been fantastic fun.

You may think I’m insane, but I have been enjoying myself immensely.

That is not to say that some days it is very hard to sit down and write the required 1667 words. And I don’t think I’ve had even one day where things have flown so well that I’ve not noticed the time go by and have looked up to find 4000 words on the page. It hasn’t been like that at all.

It’s been hard work.

Nouns and Verbs

I listened to Simple the other day and Tsh was talking about nouns and verbs. I’ll let you listen if you want the whole story, but the upshot was, you don’t get to be the ‘noun’ if you don’t do the ‘verb’.

For example, 

  • you are not a writer unless you sit down and write.
  • you are not a baker unless you spend hours in the kitchen getting all floury
  • you are not a runner unless you spend time outside sweating and puffing and dodging geriatric dog-walkers

A person who sits inside on the couch and watches running videos all day may be very interested in running, they may love the look of running, but they are not a runner. Not unless they run.

A shirt sandwich.

Whatever you decide to do with your life, there are good parts of that thing and there are bad parts. But if you really want that thing, you’ll put up with the bad parts. 

Mark Manson asks this question (and I’ll give you the ‘The Good Place’ interpretation):  ‘What’s your favourite flavour of shirt sandwich?’

In other words, you need to look at the work involved in an idea and decide if you’re willing to do that work. If you love, like I do, sitting at a laptop and bashing out a couple of thousand words a day, if you’re willing to do that, then you may be ready to be a writer.

If you love, like I definitely don’t, pushing your body to the limit, watching your toenails fall off, and getting rubbing rashes, then you’re good to go to run a marathon.

There are payoffs for everything, but you need to be willing to do the work.

I’ve been employed in the arts since graduating.

This week on the podcast we talk with Catherine Gaffney, an actor and voice-over artist. She said she’s so blessed that she’s been employed in the arts since she graduated from her undergrad degree about twenty years ago. That made it sound like she’s had her dream career, that she’s been acting all her adult life. But when we pushed a bit further, it turns out that she hadn’t been working on the stage all that time – sometimes she was in the box office, sometimes coaching or teaching, sometimes narrating audio books, and yes, sometimes on the stage. She hasn’t stood on her dignity and refused to do anything other than act. She’s accepted that some of the work is less fun than other parts. She’s grateful just to be in the arts.

This week I wanted to make you think, what is it that you are willing to do some hard stuff for so that you’ll get the payoff? What is your shirt sandwich? What are some drudge jobs you are grateful for because they keep you going with your dream?

I’d love to hear your answers.

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!