Busyness – occasionally it’s is unavoidable, but mostly it’s a state of our own making. You don’t sit down and think to yourself, “I want my day to be so frantic I’m bent over in pain at 3 pm cos I haven’t had a chance to pee” or write on your list of goals, “Life so full, catch-ups with friends must be scheduled two months in advance”. You don’t have to. Busyness creeps up on you and is the result of a myriad a small, everyday decisions. In fact, it’s so insidious that unless you take intentional steps to avoid it, busyness weasels its way in as life’s default setting.
That’s my experience. I took a big intentional step to get out of the rat race. I quit my job. Rather than being a mother and a worker, I became just a mother. Problem solved. Except it wasn’t.
Buying a present for a kid’s birthday party, paying for a school trip and finding a new rubbish collection service. These are a few of the things that landed on my plate this week, aside from the usual buying groceries and returning library books. Thankfully, my husband pays the bills.
You think you have all these little jobs that keep things ticking along under control, then something new pops up. It’s constant.
I can’t make these jobs magically disappear, but I can share the tricks I use to keep on top of errands and household administration with a minimum of fuss.
Almost 20 years ago, a 21-year-old me turned up to live in a house with strangers. A friend had told me the university let vacancies in their student flats for cheap over the summer. The only catch was you were randomly allocated a place – sight unseen, flatmates unmet. I had a fulltime job with a two-hour round trip commute and was about to start part-time study. The flats were walking distance to work and school, and the rent wasn’t much more than the cost of my commute. It was a no-brainer. I signed up.
Much more gungho in those days, I still remember how incredibly nervous I was meeting my new flatmates for the first time. I needn’t have worried – we went on to spend years living and travelling together and they’re still some of my closest friends. Years later they confessed they had some reservations about me when I first moved in. To start with they assumed I was just unpacking, but after eight weeks they realised having piles of stuff all around more room was just the way I lived. While they’d never have guessed from looking at me, I was the messiest person they’d ever known.
Fast forward twenty years and I have a new normal. A few months ago, some relatives were in town. We went out for lunch at a local bar and had a great time. They had some time to fill in afterwards, so I invited them back to our place. I simply gave the toilet a quick scrub and chucked a new hand towel on the rail while my husband got started making the coffee. Six guests, zero warning, no problem.
Imagine if you could repeat 2017 – carry the same responsibilities, meet the same commitments, achieve just as much (maybe more), but feel less busy. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Plenty of doing, but no more feeling rushed or overwhelmed. No more feeling like a little mouse on a wheel, legs frantically moving but not getting anywhere. Well, I think you can. In fact, I know you can, because I’ve done it.
It is spring, the days are getting longer, I’m enjoying my evening beach walks and I feel great.
Noticing how great I’m feeling now, I realised, I hadn’t been feeling so great through winter. Nothing was bothering me in particular, I just felt a bit flat and unmotivated. I was stuck in a rut.
Fortunately, a change of season was all I needed to switch gears and feel excited about life again. Lucky me. Lifting yourself out of a rut isn’t always so easy. If you’re searching for help to get going again, I’d like to point you toward three books I found really helpful when I felt blah and lost.
Each book guides you through a series of actions to reorientate your life. What I really appreciate about all three books is the emphasis on experimentation. Each offers some general principles along with a range of bite-size exercises designed to get you trying new things or thinking in a different way, rather than a blueprint to be followed.
“Help please. I feel like I’m a total failure. With working and trying to keep on top of things at home, I feel like I am dropping the ball all the time. Does anyone else feel this way? What is wrong with me? How do you mummies manage it all?”
So read the plea from a fellow mum. I could relate. Three years ago, I could’ve been the one posting this in the local mum’s Facebook group. I was giving it my all to be a good employee and a great mum, but I didn’t feel like I had a decent grip on either role. Life was a blur of one narrowly adverted minor disaster after another. I was a crap friend and a bitch of a wife. As for anything else, there wasn’t room, that would all have to wait for “someday”.
I was totally overwhelmed by my life. I had never worked so hard to fail so miserably. And not just miserably, spectacularly. Sobbing-loudly-at-my-desk-a-colleague-bundling-me-into-her-car-to-take-me-home type spectacularly.
What advice could I offer this fellow mum to helpprevent her becoming a burnt-out mess? Over the last three years, I’ve learnt a lot about how to live a full and meaningful life and push your limits without pushing yourself over the edge.
There I was, staring at my 2017 in 2017 decluttering chart, pondering how my progress had stagnated. In January, I decluttered 200 items. Six months later, I’ve only managed a further 500ish items. Telling myself, “I must try harder”, I racked my brain for the ultimate idea to inspire me and reignite my motivation.
Then something struck me. Less than two weeks into June, I’d already decluttered as much as in all of May. Without even trying, I’d already solved my own problem! How?
Something is better than nothing
This stealthy surge in momentum coincided with reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck[i]. Manson discusses what he calls the “Do Something Principle”. Rather than waiting for the inspiration to do something, just start. The principle is based on the premise that action (doing something, anything) is both the cause of motivation, as well as the effect of motivation.
This resonated with me. Manson gave a name to a principle that I apply in different facets of my life to overcome procrastination. Despite having pretty much zero motivation for decluttering, Manson spurred me to re-engage with some of my tried and true strategies for overcoming inertia. I picked up the pace, got back on track with my goal, and it was painless.
In turn, that inspired me to share my top tips for overcoming your own inertia.