Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert

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Creature of habit

So what tricks do you use to jump start your day? Or smooth your transition to evening? Spending a week recently with Stephanie and Matt, watching little Riley, and recalling the years of juggling children with life’s demands, I thought about how my routines have changed. Not sure how I can feel as busy as ever, but that’s life.

So here are my top 10 tips for getting out the door and having a productive day:

  1. Get up early! I try to get up by 5:00. When I build extra time into my morning, it doesn’t throw me off to have a second cup of coffee or to check my email. I don’t have to have the extra time to dress if I’m in a rush. But my days are much smoother if I have some quiet time up front. Worth the loss of an extra half hour’s sleep!
  2. Have a plan before I walk out the door. If I have things to drop off (dry cleaning, etc.,) I leave it at the front door, or put it in my car the night before. I list what I need to do so I don’t have to rely on memory, especially if my to dos include appointments.
  3. Take lunch. I usually see this one referenced as a strategy for saving money. You know, the encouragement to save the lunch money that adds up over a month’s time. But that’s not my incentive for eating in. Mine is two-fold. We have a huge parking problem at work, so by staying put, I don’t have that issue to deal with in the afternoon. And more importantly, I use the lunch break at my desk to check my email, make a quick call, or balance my check book. Just taking a few minutes to deal with some personal chores during the day frees evening time later.
  4. Keep lists, whether digital or on paper. Keep phone lists, grocery lists, errand lists, gift lists. It is always surprising to me how long it can take to get around to making a simple call or two if I don’t write it down as a to do. And I have to have reminders for grocery needs, birthday gifts, etc. When I see it, I do it.
  5. Leave a breadcrumb trail at work for the next day, especially when you’re out for the weekend, or for a longer period of time. I can’t tell you how often this has saved me. I keep a running to do list of work projects, deadlines, and chores, on my computer, just as I do for my personal life. I still sometimes forget something or get behind, but I have very few dropped balls using this low tech system. Other low tech ideas: I leave notes to myself on my chair at work. If I have to move something to sit down, I know I’ll see it in the morning. Or I put a note, print outs for a meeting, etc. on my keyboard. And if I need to take something home with me at the end of the day, I put it in my path out the door. Again, the concept is: if I have to step over it to go home, I know I’ll see it. 
  6. Streamline errands. I try to limit my grocery run to once a week. This cuts down on impulse spending and keeps that chore to a minimum. I actually like going to the grocery store. But I don’t need to do it every day. I especially try to limit errands after work, and I particularly limit my errands in the winter months. When it’s cold and dreary, I just want to go home. Batching errands on Saturday instead of spreading them through the week is better time management for me.
  7. If I don’t have a social commitment in the evening, I come in and do two things right away. I take off my makeup, and I get coffee ready to brew for the next morning. I love having most of my evening routine done long before bed time. And I love having hot coffee in the morning with no additional effort.
  8. ALWAYS do dinner dishes as soon as dinner is done. This is a rule I keep almost religiously. If I allow myself to get sidetracked, I find myself doing dishes at 10:00 o’clock at night, or whatever time we finish the movie, or game, etc., and I HATE that. I also hate seeing last night’s dishes when I get up in the morning. Best solution: as the old catch phrase goes, “just do it!” And then, (I realize this my not be possible with kids in the house) close the kitchen for business, except for beverages. Helps with late night snack cravings, and there’s no second round of dishes to do later.
  9. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. This should be an easy one, but apparently for most Americans, it is quite the challenge. So I challenge you: choose your bed time, rather than staying up until you fall over. Take control of yourself, and definitely, if you have young children, take control of them. The best gift a parent can give to themselves (IMHO) is some quiet evening time after kids are in bed. (Good for the kids to have structure too.)
  10. And finally, this is all easy stuff…but the key to making it work is to make it a routine. If you don’t have to think about managing your time, if you automatically write things down as you think of them, or follow a regular pattern for the beginning and end or your day, you’ll find that the small tasks that underpin your day become ingrained. And as your habits become routine, they begin to support you. You’ll find yourself more organized with less effort, and sometimes, you may be surprised that you can operate so automatically, you don’t even remember doing some of the things on your list. That’s ok…better to be able to do the mundane things of life with little to no thought. There are plenty of bigger things to put that brain power on!   

Facing the tasks

As I said in yesterday’s post, the house is on the market. Most of the things on my to-do list have been completed. The interior has been painted, the walls are fresh and clean. That was the spring/summer project last year. Some minor repairs have been made. But I have a few things left to do, and I’m struggling to finish the last tasks. I need to freshen the paint on the sun room window sills where the dogs put their paws when they are looking out the windows at people on the sidewalk below. They’ve left evidence of their habit of looking out and alerting me to passers-by. And the window sill in the kitchen above the sink needs a little attention as well.

Then there is my never-ending process of sorting the boxed items in the basement. I had a burst of energy last fall and got through a hefty amount of stuff. Some I gave away, some I threw away, and some I kept. But there are more boxes to be sorted out. My incentive, aside from wanting to know that the stuff I haul out of Ketchikan is what I really want to keep, is that it is expensive to move off an island. Everything has to be barged out, so I want to be sure I’m not paying to ship out and store items that I could eliminate here.

So I have another ambitious list for the weekend. Touch up the windowsills. Sort a few boxes. Challenge myself to eliminate things that I no longer use, need, love, value. I always say that “things” have two best days: the day you buy something, and the day you find a new home for it! Of course, some possessions never leave. But there are an astonishing number of things that outlive their usefulness. The challenge is to determine which is which, and to remove the things that are cluttering my space and my life. After all, if I end up spending some extensive time in the RV, I won’t need a lot of stuff. I only need my partner, and he travels pretty light.

Why do I find it hard to deal with these tasks? I don’t have ambivalence about selling the house or moving to the “next” in life. Maybe it’s that the remaining tasks are not the major ones. Painting a room is a big project, but it also has a big impact. You can get a lot of satisfaction from walking into a room that has been transformed by new paint. The small tasks just don’t deliver the same bang for the buck.

When I reach this stage, I usually resort to bribing: I think of some reward for myself if I tick off the items on my Saturday list. Frequently my rewards have to do with some decadent chocolate goody and a chick flick. I learned a long time ago that I am not above a reasonable bribe. It works well with children too, and as long as everyone understands the deal up front, I don’t have any problem with a fair exchange of goods or privilege for behaviour.

So here’s hoping that I am energized and motivated this Saturday. It feels good to mark chores off my list, and if I get through my list, I’ve got a new chocolate bundt cake to try (but that’s a couple of postings back!) And the best reward of all: I’m getting ready to launch, ready to reorder my priorities, ready to renew my life.

Do you know “Flylady?”

I can already hear my family, and maybe even a few of my friends, begin to groan: not “Flylady” again! I first became acquainted with this site several years ago when I saw an article in a Denver paper profiling “Flylady” and her mission.

Let me explain: this is a site designed to help people who are challenged with self-organization in every way. If your home is cluttered, Flylady is for you! If you have difficulty getting your bills paid on time, Flylady is for you! If you are looking for exercise or encouragement to eat more healthy meals , Flylady is for you! This is a site that offers gentle and positive messages to people who need help overcoming self-defeating behaviors.

One of the nicest things about all of this encouragement is that it is free. There are various products that the site offers for sale, but there is no requirement to purchase to be an email subscriber. I don’t follow all the recommendations offered, but I have picked up some great ideas, and I love the positive attitudes of the people who host the site, as well as the enthusiastic subscriber comments. It’s a great virtual support group and members have the ability to be passive observers or as active as they choose.

Flylady is very family oriented and incorporates ideas for children as well as adults. The tools and suggestions work for everyone:  married, single, young, old, empty nester, or in the thick of child rearing.

One of my favorite phrases from the site is “Progress, not perfection.” There is an anti-perfection message at the heart of the Flylady system that emphasizes the crippling nature of that spirit. The goal is to recognize that doing your best is doing enough, to respect and value what is being accomplished rather than to focus on what may yet need to be done. This is the positive, hope-filled, and an empowering message of the site. Look beyond the graphics (a bit corny for my taste) and let me know what you think.