Defending from chaos and whim

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Last week I quoted Annie Dillard from her book The Writing Life, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.’ She goes on to say,

A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.

I love schedules.

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s going to have to change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My dream life

I’ve been reading a new organisational book. I think they’re a bit of an addiction for me. I just love them. Especially if there’s a picture of a coffee cup or a journal and pen on the cover. I’m very sensitive to suggestion.

They usually have excellent advice and this latest book is no exception. It had really good advice on how to write lists and prioritise. How to make your special project a priority. How to encourage yourself and keep track of the progress you’re making.

I really enjoy the books and I’m always disappointed when I get to the end.

While I’m reading them I’m so full of hope. They just sound so confident, so sure that if you just follow their advice (to the letter) then your life will suddenly be amazing. All you have to do is follow their particular method of organising your day, their method of keeping track, their method of making lists, and suddenly you’ll be making millions by working just 3 hours a day and all your dreams will come true.

It reminds me of when my lovely in-laws bought a George Foreman grill. You know ‘knocks out the fat’ – it was essentially a toasted sandwich maker with a disability. Shorter front legs made it slope forward and all the fat ran out when you were cooking stuff. The parents-in-law bought one, then the brother-in-law bought one. The family loved their Georges – every week we met for dinner and they would rave about how great the food was. And, truth be told, it was pretty good food – my mother-in-law is a pretty good cook! We didn’t buy one. We didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare. So the lovely in-laws bought us one for Christmas.

After a couple of weeks we met up for dinner again and they asked us ‘How’s the George?’ We had to tell them – it made everything better! The food was better, we were exercising more, our sex lives were better, our jobs, the kid’s behaviour, everything was better! Oh dear.

This is how I think when I’m reading these books. It’s all going to work. It’s all going to be better.

It’s not that my life is bad to start off with. In fact, it’s pretty excellent already. I don’t know what I’m expecting!

I’m sure that some of the things I have put into my life from reading these books have helped my life be more organised and less stressed. The strategies are pretty much the same in every one and they are good strategies. But I always feel let down by the end of the book because I get to the end and I still have the same life, the same time pressures, the same job. And that’s not going to change by me putting in some new organisation program.

I know that the fault lies with me. With my inability to say no to anyone who asks me for help (should I write this here? Don’t ask). And, also, with my health at the moment. Maybe I only read them when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed, maybe I don’t need them when I’m getting things done and feeling like I’ve got it together.

There are things I can change, there are things I can’t, and there are things that I think I wouldn’t change, even if I could. And all these things add up to my life.

Maybe the trick is to find a book that perfectly describes your life and tells you that it’s great just as it is. Or maybe to write your own self-help book that tells you that you’re pretty good, really. That you can make it just as you are. Because each of us is different. We have our own dreams and hopes and pressures and needs and stressors. We don’t fit into anyone else’s ‘get it done’ mould.

I guess one of the things that makes me, me is the enjoyment of reading organisational books. So I’m going to enjoy that enjoyment but I’m going to choose to not beat myself up at the end. And I’m going to be grateful for the life I have. Like all the organisational books tell me to. Here’s to life!