I have a problem. Several, in fact. Some of these problems fall within the realm of time management, and I knew they would be helped when my child (finally) turned school age. But I also knew that some would continue to plague me. Time management is a nice scapegoat, but these problems are more like 1-part time management, 1-part time perfectionism, and 1-part time procrastination.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I’m a (college) teacher, and I have to lesson plan. It’s part of my job that takes place outside of my teaching hours, and because I don’t have a campus office, and I do have daily responsibilities that require me to be at home, I work from home, mostly at night after my daughter goes to bed. I have extremely grand plans that I can take one weekend, get all my shit together, plan the whole quarter out, and then only have to worry about grading the rest of the quarter. One single, glorious weekend that frees my nights from responsibility and my mind from guilt.
This is a perfectionist fantasy. These run rampant in my brain. From lesson planning to cleaning and organizing, there’s always a grand plan. My brain doesn’t seem to understand the “chip-away-at-it” mentality. It is an all-or-nothing proposition, and it leads to nothing but procrastination. I wait (and wait and wait) for a large enough chunk of time to accomplish all that I want to accomplish, and when it doesn’t materialize, I wind up lesson planning in a frantic midnight haze of self-beratement. (Never mind that there are several reasons why planning that far in advance wouldn’t work, and that the flexibility to adapt to my students is a desirable trait anyway.) And any time I want to do something for fun or for me, like blog, I won’t if my work isn’t done. But then, because I don’t have enough time to do all the work I want to to, or because I don’t want to start something and be interrupted, I wind up wasting time on the internet, doing nothing, waiting for more time.
I’m so tired. This is not a working system, but for the longest time I have been at a loss for how to change it. As a perfectionist, I
like to try to figure out am consumed with finding the perfect way to live life. The internet is both an instigator and accessory to this crime. If it weren’t for the internet, I would have no clue about all the things I should be doing, and I wouldn’t care what a loser-chump I am for not doing them. There’s a lot of chatter in my head about giving myself a break because no on can be perfect and it’s not important. But trying to ignore these exhausting arguments in my head that consume large chunks of my brain, as I mentioned, is not working. Maybe it’s time for a different tack. Maybe I should stop making excuses and stop procrastinating in the name of perfection. Maybe I should just DO all of that stuff I’m supposed to be doing, even if I can’t do it perfectly.
It’s a novel idea that I deemed worthy of a trial period. See how it feels to not make excuses. Try to quiet those arguments in my head. First though, I had to decide exactly what arguments I was going to pick a fight with. The internet is large and full of
crackpots irrelevant advice, so I had to do some research and cherry pick the life tips and hacks that I thought would make the most impact on my life if I put them into serious practice.
Before I get to them, I realize that this will require advance planning, so that’s the first life hack that I must commit to. Then, this has to be a trial. There has to be a set time to do the things, even if I’m not liking them, to see if they really work. But there has to come a time to re-evaluate and ditch the ones that aren’t worthy, thereby saying sayonara not only to the habit but to that particular argument in my head. So it’s late in the year and making promises about new routines is a perfect thing for New Year’s, so I’m going to go from tomorrow – October 16th – to December 31st. That’s 76 days. If it takes 21 days to form a habit, I should be pretty set in the new ways and have enough information to evaluate their efficacy.
I’ve got quite a few changes lined up. Though they are ones I feel I can be successful at, I need some sort of accountability. So I’ll check back here each week, on Sunday, with details. If you’re like me and scour the internet for first hand accounts of what something is like before you try it (sometimes, for me, even food, which is as utterly preposterous as it sounds), perhaps this will give you the information you need to decide to make that leap.
I also realize that this adds to my schedule without explicitly scheduling time for work, which is what I am most concerned about. However, I’m going to take it as a leap of faith that one good habit will lead to others. I’m not getting work done by thinking about it or worrying about it, though work is my excuse for not doing some of these other things. So really, there is no excuse. I’m going to prioritize these other things and trust that in so doing, the rest of life will fall into place. If it doesn’t, eh, back to the drawing board.
So without further ado, here are the new habits…
Set Up and Stick To a Routine
That’s the whole point of the list that follows.
Go to Bed and Get Up at the Same Time Everyday
I’ve never thought this was terribly…what’s the word?…reasonable. And since, for the past six years, I’ve been trying to get sleep wherever and whenever I can, I’ve not attempted it. Now that the kid is in kindergarten, that standardizes my wake-up call. I’ll have to resolve not to sleep in on Mondays, which are her late start days, and the weekend. Having read that the ideal amount of sleep is actually on the lower end of the recommended 7-9 hours, I’m going to set my bedtime at 11:30 and my wake-up at 7:00. That gives me just enough time to get myself ready for work and spend some time with her in the morning.
Don’t Hit the Snooze Button
The first time I read this tip was out of some glossy, teeny-bopper magainze when I was in middle school. Middle school! That was – you know what, never mind how long ago that was. I remember trying it once. Suffice it to say, this is going to be the most difficult one on this list.
Exercise Every Day
This is so vitally important to prioritize and I don’t. I’m choosing a minimum of 20 minutes per day, more allowed. The perfectionist in me always wants to exercise a properly lengthy amount of time, with a trainer-approved routine, mixing strength and cardio in just the right ratios. It tanks the mindset. No more. Even if it’s just a walk, it counts.
Meditate Every Day
I’ve been interested in this since I read Dan Harris’ 10% Happier. The more I read about it, the more interested I become. 5 minutes minimum per day. More allowed.
Put Stuff Back in its Place Immediately
This house becomes chaotic fast. There’s always going to be toys laying around, but I don’t need to add to that. Coats and shoes put away, not left in the entryway and on the railing. Clothes folded in the closet, not laying on the bench. La di da.
Don’t Buy Stuff You Don’t Need
Well duh. My focus lately is thinking more critically about what I really need, so that I can save for the things I truly want.
Write Down Daily Expenditures
I’ve actually been doing this for about three weeks now, and it’s helpful. Unfortunately it’s only the things I buy, and I can’t convince my husband to do the same. At least, since I do most of the grocery shopping, it’s useful for me.
Pay with Cash
It’s harder to part with, so the experts say. Now that I have an idea of what we spend on groceries, which is less than I thought and seems totally reasonable, this will be easier to do. I’ve resisted before, because you know, reward points! But really, the idea is to save, not spend, and rewards that promise savings are really just invitations to spend.
Limit or Eliminate Social Media
Ugh. I’ve been through many social media cleanses when I feel it’s overtaking my life, but then I get right back on that horse. I know it wouldn’t be that difficult for me to swear off it for the next couple of months, but then I’d probably binge on it later. So I’m taking arguably the harder road, which is limiting. One hour a week for Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. This includes computer and phone. (I don’t know how social pinterest is, but it’s addicting.) I’m not limiting my time on Goodreads or the number of times I check the library’s website to see if my latest hold is in yet. I think the weekly limit will work better than a daily limit for me, so that I’m not wasting 20 minutes on a day I don’t have it, and scrolling aimlessly out of obligation on a day when I have more time.
I’ve made reading more and more of a priority over the last two years and haven’t regretted it. I’m sure I’m going to fill some of that social media time with my nose in a book, and hallelujah. Love the example this sets for my little reader, too.
Concentrate on a Hobby
This one was meant as a way to get you to focus. Put your efforts into one thing, not 10. I don’t think I’ve been concentrating on any hobby, but my eggs are going in the writing basket. I’ll update this blog weekly to let you know how this challenge is going, and hopefully get in extra, non-project-related blogs as well. As always, someday maybe I’ll actually write other stuff too.
Keep a Notebook with you Always
Mitch Hedberg has this joke: “I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”
This was the most difficult category because food is always something I’m thinking about and working on, but I feel like it has the potential to tank the whole project if I get too ambitious. I have a weird schedule three days a week, where I work a split shift teaching four hours in the morning and two at night. It screws with the best of my intentions, and while I’m working on meal planning, it’s not my strong suit. I’ve been focused on whole foods and home cooking the past couple of months and doing pretty good, but I don’t want to hear all that negative chatter in my head for the inevitable mistakes. So I’m keeping this list to small changes that have the best chance of success and long term improvement.
Eat Breakfast Every Day
I’m not a big breakfast person but I do try to eat something before I go and teach for four hours straight, purely for the purposes of not passing out. Mostly, I see the logic behind the breakfast advice and think that it doesn’t apply to me. But we’ll see how it goes, that’s the whole point.
Drink More Water/Limit Caffeine
I don’t drink that much caffeine because I drink (unsweetened, iced) tea. But some days I drink nothing but tea, and perhaps I should add in some water? I don’t know. Tea is made with water. I’m sure of it because I make it myself. My goal here is to replace at least one glass of tea with one glass of water per day.
I’ve decided to simply continue with the whole foods transition I’ve been making. I’ve made some changes and I will continue to make more changes as I can. I’ll continue to cook more at home, experiment with recipes and eat more fruits and vegetables while eating fewer processed foods and chemicals.
So much sugar. I’m giving up soda for this experiment. I don’t drink that much, and I’ve given up before, but I’ve always gone back. Coca-Cola has their hooks in me and I know it. They know it. Everybody knows it. After reading books on the psychology of eating, I even know how they got their hooks in me, and it irritates me, but it’s too late for me. Save yourselves.
So there you have it. My next 76 days. Yes, I know, those aren’t the only things I could be doing, and if you have a suggestion about something that has made your life that much better, by all means, keep it to yourself. I don’t want anymore brain arguments.