The House of Walker has been visited by pestilence and plague the last few weeks – one by one we have all succumbed to tummy bugs, colds, aches and pains of varying origins and intensities. So no time for blogging but, in between hurling and holding basins for littler hurlers, wiping noses, administering painkillers and finding entertainment for grouchy offspring when I could out-grouch them all there have been little pockets of time to ponder my workload. I have been conducting a little work-study on myself – keeping tabs on what I actually do all day, on what I think I should be doing all day and on what I would actually like to be doing all day. Several things have emerged.
First of all, my workload as it stands – the things I think I ought to get through each week – is ridiculously out of proportion to the time actually available. Secondly, tasks don’t require a constant amount of time. I can get all the cleaning done for the week in a fifteen minute slot each morning, with a little extra wiping and swiping in the kitchen and bathroom each evening. On the other hand, if I postpone the cleaning to later in the morning it takes me about forty-five minutes to get the same amount done. Leave it until after the school run and it will take double that again. The little Walkers need increasing amounts of maternal input as the day goes on: the later the hour the less of it there is to deal with anything other than the kids. Thirdly, my family’s needs will expand to fit whatever time is available: if I don’t schedule time to be unavailable, I won’t get any time for myself. And, obvious as that statement seems, I have not been scheduling time for myself. I have been expecting it to happen spontaneously, waiting for the childcare day to finish so that Me Time can commence. But some days, the childcare goes on, on and off, right into and indeed through the night. Unless I plan for it, time to do the things that fuel my Happy is simply not going to arrive. I need a paradigm shift for my time management. And here it is.
1. Stop allowing a swarm of To Do’s to buzz insistently around my head all day: when something occurs to me that urgently needs doing I write it down. If it urgently needs doing by a certain day and time, then I add that to my note. That’s all. If I write it down it is In The System and I will get to it in due course. Now I can let it go and just focus on the task I am actually doing right now. This has been the most enormous relief – I realise now how stressful it has been for the past few months carrying all my To Do’s at the front of my attention. The System, in case you are wondering, consists of file cards in a drawer with velcro tabs on the back so I can stick them up on the felt-board in the kitchen.
2. Run a very short list. Pick three things at the most to get done each day. In the evening I now take five minutes to look through the cards in my little drawer and pick out any that urgently have to be done tomorrow. If there are more than three I work out which ones could be shelved, abandoned, delegated or otherwise ignored. When I get my cards down to three I stick them on my felt board. There they are, waiting for me in the morning. No anxious fretting over what I should do today – I can just get on with it. On days when there are less than three I pick out whichever other card takes my fancy. Sometimes my fancy appears to be on sabbatical. Or possibly the Dog has buried it in the garden. I pick a random card instead. Three works for me: it is achievable in one day. Some days it is only just achievable, and some days it leaves me with free time to pick out a few more task cards and then glow with satisfaction at being ahead of the game. Some cards go back in the drawer to be repeated at a later date. And some I gleefully rip up and throw away. This is a relatively small change – I am still getting through exactly the same amount I was getting through anyway but before I only saw what I hadn’t got through and berated myself accordingly. Now I can see that I have achieved what I set out to achieve, and whisk the cards off their board with satisfaction. And satisfaction has been woefully absent from my life for too long.
3. Don’t treat all hours as equal. I now realise that what I can do in the first half of the morning is not the same as what I can get through in the second half, even though they last the same time. Mini-Walker needs more stimulation and attention in the second half of the morning, and a bit of down-time straight after lunch. Then it’s the school run and two little people for the rest of the afternoon at their least self-occupying. So when I write down a task on its little card, I now try to note whether it needs to be done early on while he is busy with his own little projects, or whether it is something he can do with me later in the morning or in the late afternoon. I try (with limited success so far!) to estimate how much time it is going to take, so I can be realistic about what else, if anything I can fit in. It seems obvious but I have been swamped for so long by the Dog’s special brand of internal chaos that I forgot that days with a toddler have their own rhythm. Now I try to follow that rhythm rather than letting the Dog drag me along behind it. So I only schedule one task each day that needs a lot of my attention (a.m. 1), one that can involve Baby Walker (a.m.2) and one that can be done with both kids after the school run (p.m. 2). The third task will be something that doesn’t have to be completed that day – a task I can put down and pick up again easily – so that I won’t get frustrated if the kids constantly interrupt me. And straight after lunch (p.m. 1) I sit with Baby Walker on my knee, watching one of his beloved Thomas DVDs and look out the window with my brain in neutral and a mug of coffee on hand.
4. Show up on time. Oh how hard I find this! Mornings are the worst time for depressed people, and the meds I am on give me a blissful night’s sleep but a groggy start to the day. But if I don’t get up and get on with the routine daily stuff – laundry, cleaning, making beds, packing lunches, etc they then take me all morning. And spending the best part of the day on the least interesting part of my job makes me miserable. So I have bought an alarm clock with a sequence of progressively more annoying alarm sounds and put it in the kitchen. I stumble through to make it shut up and once I am there make myself a coffee. After that, I begin to feel less appalled by the prospect of getting on with the day. This little change has made a huge impact on my wellbeing. I no longer begin each day on the back foot, trying to make up time and watching the morning disappear into dull, repetitive housework. I now race through the dull, repetitive housework knowing there will be an hour afterwards to tackle an interesting project. And I do love a project.
5. Schedule time for me – daily, weekly and monthly. This feels downright audacious at the moment. I set aside a whole day to do whatever I want. It’s not entirely decadent – Baby Walker is still with me – but instead of filling the day with errands and projects that benefit the whole family I focus on tasks that are just for me and fit them around his little rhythm. So far, I have spent two days leafing through magazines I would not normally buy (festive ones because I do love Christmas) at our local softplay centre, done a little online clothes shopping for the first time in almost a year, started making a dress and spent silly amounts of time on Pinterest as well as going for a wander with the pram a couple of times and treating Baby Walker and myself to a venison burger from the van in the Botanic Gardens. I feel almost like myself again on these days and – astonishingly – the rest of my life does not fall apart from lack of attention. I am planning to set aside the week before my period is due (since the Dog goes nuts then anyway) to take my foot off the accelerator and just do whatever I want to each day for five days. Oddly though, it’s finding time for me daily that is giving me problems. Having found what a difference a day makes, I am determined to find that little slice out of each of the other days that I can claim just for me.