Sorting, reviewing, evaluating, discarding, actioning.
Sitting at the dining table today through paperwork is a pretty standard part of my life. I seem to be constantly collating, making decisions and responding to physical or electronic forms, payment to be made, email requests and advice.
As I was dividing documents into piles, I realised I my sorting extends beyond paperwork. I make so many decisions – collating opportunities and requests, choosing some and discarding others, sometimes on my own and sometimes with or at the direction of others. There are so many choices available, issues to focus on, people I would like to spend time with and so many things we could do with our days. Whether consciously or not, I am making choices – going one way rather than another – because that is what has to happen. Decisions, decisions – constantly sorting, constantly judging. I’m starting to realise that I only have so much attention and emotional energy and it cannot extend across everything I think is worthwhile.
It’s all been overwhelming and I’ve been having little (if you define little as ‘huge’) tantrums, which the whole family has been enjoying (again, if I extend the definition of ‘enjoying’ to mean ‘experiencing while hating’). As well as ranting a lot, I’ve been throwing my hands up (literally – because what good is a tantrum if it is only shouting?) and declaring ‘No more – I give up’. And then I sit and wait for someone to solve them all for me. And then I stop waiting. Life, and I, will go on.
But I do need to change the way life goes on. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, but so far haven’t acted. Just being thinking. And, of course, sorting and making decisions. Sigh. Not a lot of progress.
Fortuitously, a little book arrived in the mail on Friday, from a lovely blogger called Kelly Exeter. You can read more of her thoughts here – http://www.kellyexeter.com.au
I was lucky enough to read Your Best Year Yet before it was published, and it contains some great, common sense ideas for those who are tired of feeling overwhelmed and would like to feel more purposeful in their life. I’m looking forward to re-reading it (and encourage those who are interested in a succinct book of good practical tips to do so too).
In the light of Kelly’s prompts, I’ve been thinking how to better manage the sheer volume of stuff to think about and do.
Here’s my starting list –
1. Work out what’s important and focus more of my energy there
I’ve committed to too many activities – teaching a weekly class at the kids’ school, being a class representative, being on church committees, book clubs, other church groups. I’m trying to attend all events that my children perform or compete in, keeping on top of their homework, and attend all school and sports fundraisers. I also share my professional town planning knowledge with friends and family because you do, if you can, don’t you? I managed to negotiate working 4 days a week, however I increased my hours to offset this, so was working close to full time. Attending school events meant making up the hours by working later into the evenings. It was exhausting.
Attempts to develop a consistent exercise program and being more than an email / text facebook friend have been sporadic, to say the least. These are important to me – I need to free up time to be able to give more in this area. I also need more space to be with my husband and kids. There is some prioritising to be done.
2. Set my sights on what is achievable. Small steps are better than no steps
As much as I’d love to be the world’s best cook, the fact is a) I’m not that great, b) I’m married to someone who is much better and c) I’m not really very interested.
Last year, I decided I would cook new and innovative meals each week, which would broaden everyone’s taste buds and add to my repertoire. I would demonstrate as well to my kids that I could cook, taking the burden off my husband and showing them that they too could learn.
Unfortunately, it was less than a wonderful experience for us all. I stressed over what to cook, trying to choose new recipes after returning from work at 9pm, forgetting vital ingredients, not allowing enough cooking time or focusing on the preparation. Sadly, the meals were not always well received – sometimes because the kids have a limited sense of adventure and sometimes because the meals were, well, not that great. The only thing more annoying than my family telling me that they don’t enjoy dinner is if I hate it too.
I’ve modified my aspirations and now aim to master a couple of additional salads and main courses, as well as something nice to serve for afternoon teas by the end of this year. Far more achievable goals, and actually things I want to do rather than things I think I need to do. I am starting to apply the same refining and re-scoping in other areas of life – there are many areas where I need to temper my expectations.
In order to do this, I know I need to get better at distinguishing between the ‘important’ and the ‘nice but not essential’. I can see that at different times, my focus and energy will shift. For instance, work may play a more important role for a period of time, and then the needs of my family will absorb more focus. Being relatively flexible in shifting prioritising will be important. Allowing time to think, so I am consciously making these choices and understanding what will need to give (either for a while or permanently), will also be important.
3. I can’t fully engage in everything that is important – but that doesn’t mean I need to disengage in everything
This has been a big one for me this year. I have always taken an interest in what’s going on around me – in the community, in my local areas, in Australia and so on. And I have tried not be passive about it – I share my views, write letters, sign petitions, periodically (although less than I would like to) join marches, etc. I think it is important to communicate on issues that detract from people’s lives, could adversely affect the environment, or reduce freedom of speech. Equally, I like to applaud compassionate actions and decisions. As well as being the right thing to do, I think it is important to be consistent in my beliefs and my faith – and that is the way I choose to do it.
However, I am now finding there are too many issues to be passionate about. Take politics for example. Currently I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions that our Federal Government is making that I strongly disagree with (and this is not meant to be party political – it appears that the Opposition is not dramatically different.) However there are so many things − I cannot protest against them all.
However, rather than throw my hands up again in despair, I am going to apply a similar approach that I have to charity donations. Namely, I focus on a few only and ensure I provide meaningful assistance to them. I am going to focus on handful of issues and spend my time and emotional energy on them. I will keep a passing interest in others, but try not to become drained by them. It will be interesting to see if this can work!
4. Be honest with myself
I know that it is important to exercise. I know it is important to eat well. I know it is important to get enough sleep. I know it is important for self reflection – and for a Christian, to spend time in prayer. Yet in all these areas I continually slip up. I don’t find the time to exercise regularly. I eat far too much sugary food and probably not enough vegetables. And I am constantly going to bed much later than I should. Sleep is a big issue if I have any chance of ensuring enough time in the mornings to get ready without significant stress, and even more so when I am in charge, the kids ready without significant stress. The consequence of ongoing insufficient sleep is that I am constantly running late, short tempered, and live with an underlying tiredness that seems only to be alleviated temporarily by chocolate – and the cycle continues.
There are reasons why I keep slipping up in these areas and not just because I have taken on too many commitments. There are a range of justifications that I use – not always consciously – which really don’t hold up under scrutiny. There are the clichéd excuses like ‘it’s too cold, hot or wet’ of course. There are the excuses that ‘I’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work’ – which can be picked apart pretty easily really. And then there is the excuse that ‘I just have to accept that this is the way it’s going to be’. Even just writing it I can see what a poor excuse that is!
I know that there are many reasons associated with not looking after myself properly. It is hard work. I feel like I do so much hard work already that I resent having to do more. I fact, I think there is an underlying defiance or rebellion that I am only just recognising. As an adult, I have THE RIGHT to decide when I go to bed – and it is one area that I don’t feel I have given over control to others (when I am not rushing, rushing, rushing). I DESERVE to reward myself with food given how much I am doing for others (even though at times they have not always wanted or needed my help).
If I was really honest with myself, often I am running myself ragged for the kids because I want to – I feel like I need to and I don’t want to miss out on any of their lives. If I was honest with myself, I would realise that my husband could do many of the aspects of our family life that I see as my responsibility, or our friends and members of our family could help out in different ways (recognising that we do have a lot of help from lovely friends and family in many ways already).
And if I was honest with myself, I would realise that part of the issue is letting go – from controlling outcomes or controlling my home and family. Have you noticed how much of what I have written relates to decisions I have to make? In a partnership, as a marriage is, many of these are really decisions we have to make – but I will often jump in and make them on our behalf. And then I become resentful.
And finally, I have to recognise that I feel guilty. Carving out time for exercise, or for time for myself, or in battling my cravings for sugar (having given it up for a while, I know the bad temper I feel for a while as I adapt to less highs and lows – and it takes so much willpower to keep that under control) – should I subject other people, particularly my husband or children to that? So instead I stay up late (when they are asleep, including my husband who falls asleep regularly on the couch midway through TV programs), and I have my time to myself then – often supplemented by icecream, certainly eating into sleep, and generally fairly mindless as I troll through links to different news trivia sites and am diverted into old TV programs and following comment links to websites. And I kid myself that no one else is missing out this way.
From sorting, reviewing, evaluating, discarding, actioning – to embracing
So that’s my plan:
1. Work out what to get involved in – don’t spread my involvement too thinly and don’t neglect who and what are important.
2. Make my goals achievable – I don’t need to be the best in everything.
3. Stay engaged with things impacting me and others – but be realistic with what I respond to and how I respond.
4. Take care of myself and be on the watch-out for excuses, and what they are really telling me.
It doesn’t look like it is going to be easy (sigh), however the current situation isn’t working, so I need to try something. I can see I will be testing and refining, adding bits and discarding others. But it’s a start.
How do you manage to sort through your life? Do you think my ideas will work, or will I end up a basket-case??? I would love to know!