What do I call today?

No, not Friday. Although, it is Friday, I will call today Friday. But it is also a day where I am not working for an employer. In the coming months I will have some more of those, as a contract comes to an end.

A short discussion with friends last night has led me to ponder. “Day off” doesn’t quite cut it. One of the friends in the discussion has a side hustle, she is paid for activity on some days off and sees that activity as work. We are keen (as a group, its one of our discussion topics) to keep work – either formal or side hustles – in a work space and carve proper space between work and rest.

Obviously all days include both – or they jolly well should do anyway. Cliches often have a root in truth and all work and no play making a person dull seems like truth to me. I am focussing very strongly on putting aside the work when my time there is done. It is not easy, I am criticised for not doing enough work, not answering enough emails or calls. As a part-time worker, I think I am an easy target for those who think I should be working in my non-paid hours. To my colleagues, there seem to be a lot of non-paid hours which others cannot imagine are filled with anything as useful as my job.

Being able to describe them to other people seems to be behind my need to title the days. I feel a sense of fear that people think I am wasting my time on my days off. I know that some are surprised I do not spend time cleaning or cooking.

There is also a ritual that seems to be needed, I will not have that Friday feeling soon – my week in my paid job will end on a Thursday. So what do I call a Thursday evening? The start of a new phase of the week for sure, but I oddly feel the need for a title. It may just be me though, the discussion last night included those who felt that days are days and do not need a specific work/non-work delineation, although we were all clear that “day off” becomes a misnomer when the paid work creeps into it, which does indeed happen.

An insignificant thing to be pondering this morning, but lovely to have a day in which I know I have time to ponder the insignificant alongside the significant.

Arbitrary deadline

Today is my last working day of the year.  When I next sit at my desk it will be a new year, a new start and I will be a totally new person.  

I will be very efficient, there will not be a thousand emails in my inbox, my to do lists will be legible and realistic.  I will calmly prepare thoroughly for all meetings and ensure that I have read all the required papers and have done some extra research on all topics to be discussed. I will follow all meetings and events with timely feedback and follow up wherever necessary. I will be available for every colleague whenever they need me, answering every email, phone and skype call as they come in.  I will have reflection time every day to develop my work against my plans and priorities. I will reach every deadline with time to spare.  I will be happy and calm at all times.

Ah, just writing all of that is making me feel so much better, I am typing and giggling at myself, which does a power of good.  My personal need to leave the year in some sort of state of perfection is indeed funny, even if I have not been able to see that in the last couple of days.  

Mainly I am looking forward to a holiday and I need to be very self-aware and check this daft feeling that I need to leave my desk today with everything in order for the imaginary perfection to be possible in a fortnight’s time.  Especially as it would take me two weeks just to clear that inbox. 

Happy last working day of the year to you, whenever it may fall for you.

Choosing how to fill the hours

Obviously, I have the same 24 hours a day that everyone else has.  I make choices on how to spend those 24 hours.  We all make choices, just not the same choices.  Recently I have been doing a lot of things outside the family bubble – more work, more socialising, more Scouting, more volunteering for LiveSimply and for CAFOD and for the Birmingham Children’s Book Group.

Right now I am choosing to focus back in on the family.  This is GCSE year with all the stress that entails just in terms of keeping morale up whilst facing mocks and reports and a feeling of impending doom that official exams tend to induce.  

The offspring’s situation is made more complicated in that he is being counter-cultural and not staying on at school or college.  I say counter-cultural, because the school system does not support young people in choosing a non-academic route.  The difference between the support offered in the apprenticeship path and that we experienced in the funding-driven university route is frankly astounding. I understand why – schools are judged on how many children go into university, so have a vested interest in keeping their pupil on to sixth form.  Sixth form colleges gain funding depending on the students they attract.  Where is the motivation to explore other paths with young people?

At home.  That is where the motivation and the time must come. It is a long, complicated and, this week at least, traumatic experience.  We have so far failed the offspring enormously by offering the wrong advice, but we have also gathered all our skills in mentoring and coaching and he is learning so much and gaining a huge amount.

We are thrilled to see some of his choices in how to spend his hours having an impact.  Applying for a job is hard work, but he had practice in applying for a place on the Scout World Jamboree (he failed to get a place, so rejection will not be new).  All his skills and training as a Young Leader in Scouts and the church youth group are being mentioned in applications, as are his experiences in Scouts of working in a team and being held responsible for activities with the Cubs. His Bivouac and Duke of Edinburgh awards are interesting and influential experiences.

Importantly this week he is learning to deal with things going wrong, with trying to schedule a lot of extra time to fill out 10-page applications in a packed pre-Christmas schedule in the middle of his mock exams.  It’s a week of growing up, of stress, but also of precious time of us supporting each other, offering advice, a shoulder to cry on and a ton of tea (me) and hot chocolate (him) and the occasional mince pie.

I have been criticised this week for having a dirty house – an example of what I choose not to do – but right now, I am happy with the example I have set of building my tribe, getting out of the house and meeting people and learning new skills and gaining life skills wherever and whenever I can.  And most of all I am proud of our ability to re-focus back on each other as a family when we need to. 

Inbox zero

I have a real struggle with email and the concept of inbox zero.  I like the concept, of course I do – a clear screen at the end of the day would be lovely.  The reality is that I just cannot achieve it, I receive too many emails and email is my main way of working, I do spend half my day working in email format.  Hopefully usefully, but maybe not.

Yesterday I was hit by the feeling that I have a lot of emails I have not responded to.  So I disappeared down the rabbit hole of filing and deleting emails.  I am still in the rabbit hole.  Is it productive? I am really not sure it is, but I am not clear how else I go through weeks of emails and check what I still need to action.

There is of course the theory that if I have missed something, someone will tell me about it.  But my team is in a busy period, so I am less confident of that as a work method.  

And there is the additional theory that Outlook enables easier searching when you leave everything in an inbox, rather than filing in a plethora of folders.

I had become much stronger in resisting temptation to delete all emails, but somehow I have succumbed to the temptation of inbox zero this week.  Maybe I need to compromise and just aim for clearing all of this month’s emails, in the hope that if I have not something from last month, then I will be reminded.  What a 21st century problem!  I need to remember that my work is not email, email is the tool I use for work!

A week of two halves

In weeks like this where work involves a fair amount of travel, I take comfort in dividing my week in half.  There are 168 hours in a week, my week starts at 6am on a Monday morning,  so the half way point is Thursday at 6pm.  The first half of my week has been focussed on work.  I have travelled to Plymouth and back and Bristol and back and worked full and productive days.  Today I have a good day planned with useful meetings and some discussions with colleagues in the diary.

It’s been very full and very work-focussed though.  That said, I have had dinner with a friend, I squeezed in one run, and have done quite a bot of Scouts volunteering, as well as getting some plans in place for family events and the pre-Christmas season.  I have also had a good amount of down time watching Netflix (I am obsessed with Gilmore Girls!) and surfing social media.   So, it has been far from all work.

It still does not feel quite as balanced as it could be though, so the halving the week is a great comfort.  The reality is that I will do absolutely no work at all in the second half of the week,  and thinking of my week like that really helps me see the balance.  And even in this last half a day of this half of the week (yes my brain does work like this!), I am squeezing in a blog writing session, I have just had a lovely ten minutes thinking through the day and I will manage a run before work.  I am also taking some time off to attend a school appointment, so there is family time in the day too.

Just reflecting on how much Scouting and me-time there has been already helps to energise me. here’s to the second half of the week.

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Always something better to do

I am struggling with making myself write in the mornings.  Yesterday was a good lesson in why I should though.  There is always a list of things I should be doing in the mornings; various parts of my volunteering roles are very much email or computer based, so this precious 15 minutes could definitely be used for the greater good.

This morning is no different.  I need to write a report, it should have been done a few days ago, so I need to crack on. Yesterday I got the laptop out deciding I would check my diary for the week and then do my account reconciliations – also overdue.  I wrote this blog instead.

The result surprised me. It gave me a bit more energy than crossing things off the list would have done.  I had forgotten that this exercise of putting thoughts onto paper first thing seems to straighten out my thinking for the morning and enables me to just get on with things a little bit faster.

I still didn’t get the report written, but I did get lots of other bits and bobs done yesterday, which I suspect I would not have had I not taken this bit of time to do something fun first.  To get my own thoughts sorted and out there before I start writing for everyone else and doing the chores that enable everyone to flourish together.

This is my version of putting on my oxygen mask before helping others.  I still need to plan what I am going to write though, eventually this is going to descend into sheer babbling if I don’t.  Some may say it already has!

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Life’s not simple

I am taking my mind back into the ‘real’ world after an extended break from listening to news.  I was a bit of a BBC Radio4 addict, especially their news shows, but at some point earlier this year it all started to feel too much, I decided half an hour a day of news was enough, ironically not even focussing on it, it’s in the background when I write this.   I opted out of being informed and thinking about it all.

My opting out was from radio news; I don’t read papers any more, I tell myself I have no time. That’s blatantly not true, I spend plenty of time on Facebook and Instagram that could be spent reading a paper, but I am having a continued battle with the wisdom of how I spend my time.  I don’t watch TV news, so I have no idea of how it works, but I suspect it would be similar to the radio.

I discovered one of the reasons that I am struggling with news this week.  It was during a church meeting when we were discussing the issue of explaining to parishioners the conflict resolution work by the church in Colombia.   Several people said that this would be too complicated to explain, we cannot condense the work and the issues into a short announcement in the bulletin, nor a one minute talk at the end of mass.

The penny dropped.  We are all trying to condense the problems and the solutions into a soundbite, into a short sentence, a tweet, a Facebook post, an Instagram pic.  I know, this is not new news folks, people have been saying it for years.  But it is making me feel personally anxious for the first time ever.   I don’t know what the answers are any more, because I can’t get the information.  I don’t spend time focussing on reading about an issue, anything longer than a TED talk – and I cannot even admit to how many TED talks are on my ‘oh that would be interesting, I will watch that later’ list.  – is too much for me now.  My brain has been trained to hear soundbites and muse on them. There is rarely a black and white, all or nothing solution to anything.

To go back to the conflict resolution – that sort of work takes time, it takes listening, it takes learning about people and their views and hearing why they hold those views.  My understanding of an issue and my ability to do something about it, can only happen if people give me the gift of information and time to hear it.  It’s not about who is the best orator or who has the best slogan – that is propaganda.

I suspect reading papers or periodicals would help.  Any suggestions?

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