Lessons Learned: One Year On My Own

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

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

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

And it’s been a fantastic year.

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

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

1) Having backup savings is really important.

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

the writing den

2) Streamline Online.

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

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

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

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

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

time money

3) Flexible time does not mean unlimited time.

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

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

Priorities

Related to this:

4) Book holidays first.

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

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

teapot and cup

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

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

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

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

walking into sunset

6) Keep talking to your friends and family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

More Time-Gardening Thoughts

Garden

I’ve had some really lovely and thoughtful responses to last week’s blog. They came from people who actually garden (unlike me) and therefore they had insights that I didn’t have. It’s amazing what some actual knowledge will do to a metaphor! So I thought I’d share their wisdom with you.

One friend had been weeding her garden just before she read the blog. She wrote, ‘… as I pulled out big weeds I also started to pull out a “wanted” plant that I had forgotten was there (hidden under many weeds for quite some time!). This made me think about the things that restore me and bring me pleasure that sometimes get hidden, or pulled out because I forget I enjoy them.’

I agree with her. Some seasons in our lives are so busy that good and fun activities just get pushed out, or hidden. Sometimes we have to leave them for a time. When the busy season passes and we find we are able to clear our schedule a bit, it’s often tempting to continue to leave the good things out too. We start looking for clear time with nothing in it.

But I find that often clear time isn’t really what we need. If we have ‘free time’ we can fill it with TV, or surfing the web, or scrolling through social media. All good activities in moderation, but often these activities don’t leave us feeling refreshed. What we need instead is rejuvenating time. Activities that are creative, refreshing, enjoyable. Time spent playing an instrument, or going for a bush walk, or reading, or painting.  These activities may take a little effort to get started but they are more refreshing in the long run.

Do you have a hidden activity that you need to clear space around so that it has time to flourish in your time garden? Is there something you used to enjoy that you’ve almost forgotten about, that you would like to start doing again?

Another long-standing friend has sent me a list of thoughtful questions:

What if you COULD have a substantially set-and-forget garden/life where you built up the soil, the substrate, then applied, first aged compost, then fresh mulch?

Firstly, the odd weed would appear instantly out of place, green chickweed against brown pine-bark, for example.

  • What would that look like in life?  What would be the aged compost?  The mulch?
  • What areas of your “garden” need deeper mulch … perhaps some shade-cloth during the withering summer?
  • What areas are going to need additional fertilisation or water to fully enable the growth of what you’ve already planted?
  • Would attending to this thoughtful preparation mean that the “weeds” would be so easy to identify that they never even took root?

My friend says that the ‘aged compost and the mulch’ in our time garden is provided by identifying our core values, and our vocation or calling. If we are aware of these deeper intentions in our lives then we can measure tasks and possibilities against them.

He says:

Anything that comes along “looking” good and worthwhile, can instantly be measured against these priorities: 

  • Would letting this demand on my time bring me closer to my true self/ vocation/ calling… or take me away? 
  • Does this offer/ request really relate to who I really am… or is it something merely “worthwhile” – but not for me?
  • What have I planted in my garden previously… that has never prospered, never grown, and is merely surviving unproductively?  Does it need removal?

These are great questions, really worth thinking about. I’m going to take some time to consider them and I hope that you will be able to do so also.

I would love for you to join the conversation and let me know your thoughts as well. You can email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or tweet me @aquietlifeblog or find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author.

succulent garden

Weeding Your Time Garden

succulent garden
This is my succulent garden. Ironically I had to remove a large weed before I took the photo.

I have a new metaphor for time management, and I’m not sure if I’m going to use the metaphor very well, but I’ll give it a go.

Time management is like gardening.

Now, if you’ve read my short story The Useful Plants then you might know just how much I like (or rather don’t like) gardening. But I have a little bed of succulents near my front door that I take care of so I know something about it.

The thing I’ve noticed about gardens is that you can spend time on them, pull them into shape, prune and weed and tidy, and they look wonderful. But if you then think, ‘The job is done’ and leave them alone, the weeds creep in, the plants get overgrown, and the garden becomes messy again and require a lot of work.

This is the gardening cycle that I have experienced in my lifetime. But I know that the frustration is my own fault. Because the better way to deal with a garden is to work in it regularly. Head out there every week. Pull the weeds while they are small. Tidy up a little. And then, and this is important, spend time out there enjoying the beauty of what you’ve created.

So I hear, anyway.

But I know for sure that the same principle applies to our calendars, to our time management. You can set up the best system in the world, but it is not a set-and-forget situation. Over time little bits creep in. Extra jobs appear. Worthy activities find space. And suddenly you’re living in an overgrown mess, running from one thing to the next, head spinning, feeling really busy.

And I think the main point of this metaphor is not to be surprised that this happens. It’s just the second law of thermodynamics in action: The entropy of the universe is always increasing. Things tend towards disorder and randomness. It’s the way it is.

So we should not be surprised that the schedule we planned in January is now out of control in March (as mine was). Instead, maybe it’s easier to accept that and then deal with it, than to worry about it getting out of control again. Like the weeds in the garden, it’s just going to happen. We just need to be prepared.

We need to regularly head into our time garden and weed. We need to check where we’re at and make sure that our priorities are being taken care of first. We need to make sure there’s space in the schedule for rest, and space for time with those we love, and space for time with God.

And then, and this is important, once we’ve tidied out time garden, we need to take the time to enjoy its beauty. To rest in the rest. To appreciate the calm. As Eugene Peterson says, ‘Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time’.  We can have a totally clear schedule and still feel busy. It’s better to enjoy the restful activities that we’ve built in, to really be present when we go for an evening walk, to actually concentrate on the book that we’re reading, rather than to be always thinking about our incomplete to-do list, having the worry whir away in the back of our minds even when we’re supposed to be resting.

I garnered this metaphor from an excellent book I read last week — Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam. This is the most people-centred time-management book I think I have ever read. It doesn’t tell you how to structure your life to shut people out so that you’ll get more work done, instead it suggests ways of making the most of the time that you have so that you feel less busy (and still get the work done). I cannot recommend it more highly.

So happy gardening everyone! If you’re in Australia I hope you enjoy and make good use of your 8-hour day holiday, especially if the good use is resting. And if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere I hope that the advent of spring helps you to think about your time garden and how you can make it just as beautiful as the blossoms that no doubt are coming out now.

Do you like gardening? Are you surprised by the creeping disorder of the universe? What do you do to keep your time schedule under control?

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!

Reporting Back

I’m sure you’re all desperate to know how my time-management went last week.

But first, I want to tell you about an interview with Brené Brown that I read during the week. It’s a good article and I encourage you to read it.

Here’s the bit that stuck out to me. She was talking about words that wholehearted people were using when they were talking with her. The words that describe what we want life to be like.

These were the words: Vulnerability, authenticity, creativity, rest, compassion, boundaries, joy.

These words describe well what I want to get out of my writing life. These are the things I want in my life. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so I’m not. I’m pointing you to Brené.

There was another list of words too. Words that we want to stay away from: Comparison, perfection, status, exhaustion.

These two lists sum up why I have changed my lifestyle to be what it is now. But these bad habits, these bad aims are not limited to university life, or to any kind of life. These are habits and attitudes that can creep in on anyone at anytime. And the good list are things that can be part of any life, no matter what you are doing or where you are working.

I just love these two lists. I want to write them out and stick them up where I can see them regularly and be reminded to stop comparing myself to others, beating myself up with perfectionism, or looking for status, and to start exercising my creativity, allowing myself to rest, setting good boundaries, living in joy, being authentic and vulnerable.

 

And now to the time management.

Having two hours for writing blocked out in my calendar worked really well from Monday through Thursday.

On Monday in my writing time I wrote an ode to the blank page, then I remembered my dream journal (I write my dreams in it and it sits next to my bed) and I leafed through it for inspiration and came up with a story idea. On Tuesday I started writing the story, taking my time (I had two hours to fill), and concentrating on things like describing all the senses – how did the room look? Smell? Was it cold or hot? And so on. On Wednesday the story took hold of me and changed dramatically from where it started. After Thursday’s writing I had a very exciting idea about a plot twist. It was really wonderful to see the story take shape, to see that I can have ideas, to enjoy the process.

On Friday I was so tired I went back to bed in my writing time and just slept.

The same with the editing business time in the afternoon. That worked really well. The work I’m doing at the moment doesn’t require all that much brain power so I listened to an audio book while I worked. It meant that I got a lot done because the plot of the story pulled me along. Again, Friday didn’t work so well, but I still got some done.

The thing I’m having difficulty with is the in-between time. The big jobs are getting big time allocations but the smaller jobs are still fiddly and annoying. And while I love writing, I get tired after churning out 2000 words first thing in the morning, and then it’s hard to give the attention to, say, the emails that I really should read, or to paying the bills. Still, I mark last week down as a success and I’m working towards a similar plan for this week. I’ll keep working on how to fit the little fiddly things in. It has to happen.

I guess the two parts of this blog are not unrelated. It has been wonderful to put boundaries in place, to turn off the wifi to my computer and dedicate two hours in the morning to unlocking my creativity. And to give up on perfection in the story I’m writing and to not compare myself to others but just to enjoy what was coming out as I allowed myself to be authentic, vulnerable, and creative. And also, to rest on Friday when rest was what I needed most.

May you also have a creative and restful week, with good boundaries, and much joy.

The Adventures Continue

Amaro's picture
This is Caleb, Jessamy, Amaro, Me, and Moz. Isn’t it gorgeous!

Today’s gorgeous picture was drawn by our friend Amaro who is just about to turn six. She and her mum Jessamy stayed with us for a couple of nights (just as I got back from LA) before heading off to Townsville. Their adventure is much bigger than mine and I pray that it all goes smoothly for them.

Amaro drew the picture of everyone in the house. The boys have pink trousers on and I have to say that it’s a pretty accurate representation of Caleb’s hair (on the left).

I’ve been home for a few days now and it’s taken me a little while to figure out what is going on in my head. In fact, I’m proud of figuring it out this early, but then I knew it was coming so maybe it’s taken me too long.

The thing is, I am now officially an entrepreneur. I no longer work for the university, not even two days a week. I am a small business owner. I work for myself.

The whole day is mine. The whole week is mine. I don’t have to go into uni anymore. I can organise the all my time as it suits me.

But that means there is no structure. No fixed appointments. No urgency to get things done today because tomorrow is taken up by work.

And it is easy to let things go. To get lazy. To convince myself that I am tired today and that it would be better to start on that job (whatever it is) tomorrow. To tell myself that I don’t feel like writing this morning and I’ll do it later.

Or to get stuck. To wonder whether I should work on the paid editing rather than the writing because it is paid work and therefore more important. Or whether I should work on the writing rather than the editing because it’s my body of work and therefore more important. And then to do neither of those things because it’s all so confusing that I don’t know where to start.

The fact is, none of the time is mine. It was given to me by God. And though I am no longer working for a business, I am not working for myself either. I am working for God.

Now is the time to put into practice all the wonderful time-management processes that I have been reading about for the past years. I can now figure out when my most creative time is, when it is better for me to do editing, when I need to work on the business side of things.

There is plenty to do. I just need to schedule it in. I need to get started. Try things. See if they work, and adjust if they don’t.

And not feel overwhelmed by the hugeness of having my dream come true.

I am so grateful for this opportunity and I am NOT going to let it pass me by.

I have a novel to finish, editing work to complete for customers, blogs to write, and plenty to learn.

It’s exciting times, folks! Bring it on!

 

P.S. I thought you might like to know that my tooth has been fixed with a filling and you really can’t tell that it was chipped at all. And my arm is feeling much better and nearly all the bruising from the fall has gone. I’m over the jetlag too and I’m borrowing Moz’s old phone until my new one comes in the mail.

I’m very much enjoying having my sister visit us here in Tasmania, and my brother is coming today as well for some proper family time. Life is good. Busy, but good.

Saving your time

Pumpkin time

Saving money is really hard. I mean really saving money – for the future. Not for a holiday or for next week or for the next time that we run out and need to buy something, but for the long term future. It’s hard. I find it hard. But it’s necessary. It’s a good thing to do. It’s good stewardship, delayed gratification, healthy and wise.

In the same way, I need to put aside time to rejuvenate myself. This is time where I have nothing booked, time just to be. Time to invest in myself and my energy so that I have energy in the future.

It is difficult to block out time for this because it doesn’t have a label attached to it. It’s not exercise, or doing something for someone, or cleaning the house, or working. It’s rest time. Just rest.

It’s easy to eat into it – “Yes, I can do that – there’s nothing booked into my calendar.” Maybe there should be “Nothing” booked into your calendar so that you don’t book anything else in. I plan to do nothing. Just to be. To read, to think, to write in my journal, to go for a nice walk, to sleep.

It is investing in your future.

My husband Moz has found that this principle applies very well when it comes to sleep.

A few years ago you would have found me heading to bed at 9:30pm and Moz would be an hour or a bit longer behind me. I have to go to bed at 9:30pm – that’s when I turn into a pumpkin.

One evening a few years ago now, I came home from work, totally fruited, at about 7:45pm, and Moz heated up my dinner and served it to me on the couch (home made pizza – yum!) and at first I didn’t want to do anything but watch the box and chill out. But after a little blob time I was ready to surface and we both decided to turn off the box and connect with each other. We talked about the day – how his work went, how mine went, interesting things that happened, interesting things people said. Then we started talking about our plans for the future, little bits and pieces, lovely conversation.

Then, in the middle of conversation, DH looked at me, read my body language, looked at the clock and said, “Yep, it’s nine thirty. Pumpkin time.”

You see, I need a lot of sleep. About 9 1/2 hours a night does me beautifully. I am probably more of a morning person than an evening person but I’m not the kind of morning person who wakes at 5am refreshed and happy and ready to  start the day. No-siree-bob. I am the kind of morning person who wakes very slowly and becomes an intelligent being by drinking a cup of coffee in bed. I am so incredibly privileged to have a husband who is happy to get up in the morning and bring me a cup of coffee in bed. Perhaps it’s because I’m just totally useless without it.

Moz used to see me to bed once my brain stopped functioning and then he would stay up for around an hour, playing on his computer, learning things, reading articles, and then he would come to bed at 10:30-ish and – here’s the thing – try to immediately fall asleep so that he could get his 8 hours before the alarm went off in the morning.

Have you ever tried to immediately fall asleep? It adds a little stress to the scenario. Each ten minute interval that you’re not sleeping is a drama. You know that waiting ten minutes to get to sleep means you’ll want to wake up ten minutes after the alarm goes off next morning and you’ll therefore wake up groggy and grumpy.

When Moz was coming to bed at half past ten, woe betide me if I asked him to head back up stairs to turn the heat pump off, or to check if my phone was plugged in. He needed to fall asleep right then. Straight away.

A little while ago he decided that this was silly. Now, when pumpkin time hits and I go into the study to say goodnight, he says, “Is it bed time?” turns off his computer, and heads to bed too. We turn off the light early and he gets his eight hours. Actually, he’s worked out that he needs seven hours and fifty minutes sleep each night.

So he sleeps for seven hours and fifty minutes and wakes up naturally between 5:30 and 6 am. He gets up, heads to the study, and does the things that he would have done at night. He plays computer games, reads interesting articles, and learns things. At 6:45am when the alarm goes off he makes us a cuppa and brings it down to wake me up. He’s accomplished something already and he’s had a restful night’s sleep.

They used to say about daylight savings time that it’s daft to cut one inch off the top of the blanket and put it on the bottom and say that you have a longer blanket, but it looks like that very strategy has worked for Moz. He’s a happier, healthier person because he is investing his time in sleep.

I have another friend, Trish, who blocks out an entire month of every year to go on a retreat. She is a minister, and this is her way of investing in her growth and prayer life. She goes away, stops all of her commitments, and spends the month reading, writing, praying, retreating. It’s saving, investing in her future.

What do I do? I make sure that I don’t block up every time window in my schedule. I make sure that I am not out in the evenings more than twice a week and that Sunday evenings are kept free so that I can use to get my head together for the week ahead. And I only work four days a week. I give myself half a day to visit with people, and half a day to be by myself, to do whatever needs doing to rejuvenate. Sometimes that means writing, sometimes reading, sometimes I lie on the couch and watch TV, it’s time to invest in me.

I couldn’t always do that, of course. When you have small children there is not much chance of time alone. Sometimes life circumstances just do not allow the space that you need. But sometimes we bring it on ourselves – the busy-ness.

Is there something in your schedule that you can cut out to allow yourself some time just to be? Is there some time-savings that you need to make for your future?

The good book says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This time-savings idea has been good advice for a very long time. I highly recommend it.

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

One thing at a time

I want to write about how well this year’s plan to do less is going but I hesitate for two reasons. One is that at the moment I feel really rubbish, with a sore throat and blocked ears and sinuses, so I’m not feeling as overwhelmingly awesome as I have been feeling. The other is that if I tell you just how great it is, you will all get insanely jealous and make time in your busy schedules to come over to my place and bash me up!

One of the things I am learning this year in a positive way (and that I have been learning in previous years in the negative) is that it is so good to focus on one thing at once. I remember when I was working in Sydney one time I had a special set of experiments to perform in the chemical engineering building. My office, computer and internet access were in the chemistry building. The buildings were about 7 minutes walk apart (depending on how caffeinated I was). The experiments worked like this: I would set up the catalyst in the furnace and wait ten minutes for the temperature to equilibrate, then I would set the instrument running that would take a reading every five minutes for an hour. After waiting for an hour I would remove the catalyst and put in another one, wait ten minutes, and set the instrument running again.

There was a lot of time waiting for the whole experiment to run and I didn’t want to waste it, I wanted to get other work done during that time. So my day would consist of heading to chemical engineering and setting the experiment going, then waiting five minutes to make sure that the first reading worked well and there were no leaks in the line. After that I would head back over to chemistry and try to get some work done. I only had about 40 minutes to spend in the chemistry building because of the walk there and back and the five minute wait at the beginning, so I would try hard to do 40 minutes good work and then my alarm would go off and I’d head back over to chemical engineering.

Now any time management person will tell you that I was not real wise doing things that way. I remember after a whole day of working in this fractured pattern I went back to the little room where I was staying and I felt completely discombobulated. My brain felt like it was split into hundreds of pieces. I was exhausted and I couldn’t think straight. I realised that night that switching places so many times during the day had thrown out my brain. I think it takes 20 minutes to get back into proper work mode after an interruption, and I was only allowing myself twice that at a go to get any work done.

Once I realised what was going on, I set up a hotspot on my phone so that I could have internet access at chemical engineering. I found a reasonably quiet student lounge that I could gate crash, and I worked on site. I felt much more reasonable at the end of the day and I got more work done too.

Last year, in the same way, my time was split between research, university teaching, tutoring, and writing. I would try to cover each thing every day. To be able to do that I had to constantly watch the clock and drag myself away from one thing because it was time for the next. I felt like every day I was running late for an appointment, several times a day. I felt fractured, pulled in many different directions, discombobulated.

This year things are set up differently. My tutoring is limited to one day a week, and I have set aside three days for university research and teaching. I have a whole day blocked out to work on my writing projects. The other three days a week I do jobs around the house and any church related stuff and visiting (coffee with friends – one of the MAJOR priorities in my life). It has been so fantastic to live life this way.

I have been able to focus fully on my research in the three days I am at uni. I am finding that my state of flow often kicks in at about 430pm and it’s so brilliant to not have to pull myself away even to make tea on those nights (DH and DS do the cooking those nights, they are awesome!) I can finish my train of thought and then come home a bit late. I’m usually completely stuffed at the end of the day but I also feel satisfied with the day’s work.

On Thursdays I have a slightly fractured day – it’s the day I do all the visiting, the paperwork, the house stuff and the tutoring. But again, it’s good to have a day set aside to do these things, and as I get the house under control again Thursdays will settle down. And on Fridays, oh the Glory! I get to focus all day on my writing goals, and I spend the day alone. Total refreshment, right there. Then I hit the weekend ready to spend time with the family, to have meals with friends, to go out and have adventures.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to arrange my life like that. I am trying to live more in the moment – to be fully present in what I am doing when I am doing it, and not to be worrying about tomorrow or yesterday. I hope to become more practised at that through the year. I am not perfect, at the moment I’m hoping to get quite a bit of uni work done tomorrow because there just wasn’t enough time in the three days to do it all this week (or last week either) but again, I will keep trying.

It’s amazing how it is culturally acceptable to always be saying ‘I’m so busy!’ and ‘there’s so much to do’ but I feel very strange to be telling you all, ‘I’m so refreshed, and I feel like I have almost got life under control!’ but there you go. I’m loving life this year. I hope I keep my days clear for the important things and somehow let the urgent get itself done as it can. And I hope that you also can arrange your life so that you can be focused, present, and unhurried. And maybe one day we will change the culture so that we aren’t all too busy. You never know!

If you want to read more on this subject I have read a couple of really good books lately. One is Margin by Richard A Swenson, and the other is Single Tasking by Devora Zack. It’s actually very pleasant to read them when you’ve already put some of their ideas into practice! And they have very good ideas!