Planning through the overwhelm

It seems to me that every few months I post on here exclaiming how much I have missed it and that I am determined to once again make this a regular part of life. It was indeed an intention for 2021 to blog regularly. Play piano also featured as an intention. Neither has happened very much. I pay for the weekly lessons and I subscribe to the blog platform, but I do not make the best use of either financial investment.

It is turning out to be one of those phases of life where there is a lot swirling round and I move (with alarming speed some days) from feeling like I am drowning in overwhelm with a list of things I want to do that I am never going to be able to do, to loving every minute and feeling like I am rising to all the challenges.

At just past the mid point of my winter break from work (and all my volunteering roles) I am plotting and planning my way into 2022. Will embracing a new paper planner, three new notebooks AND Todoist all help me be more efficient? Or – am I just trying to do too much?

Over the next couple of days I will make some decisions on how I am going to choose to spend my time in 2022. Because they feel like momentous decisions I shall probably share them here for you to wonder at. When I say ‘wonder’ I mean for you to read and then think ‘good grief what IS she blathering on about?’

I hope you’re feeling the chilled out vibes of the between Christmas and New Year weekends. If you are not, I hope there are snippets of peace somewhere in your week.

By the way – I have missed this, I will write more 😉

Accepting the hours I have

My hours at work have changed recently and I now have one whole day off a week, I don’t work on a Friday. I was working 4 days a week, but worked a bit every day. I now work fewer hours, so have a whole day off. I am struggling. Let me be clear, it is me who is struggling, I am in no way obliged by anyone else to work in my hours off. Being clear and strong about asking for meetings on days that I am paid to work sits uncomfortably with me. I have difficulties switching off on a Friday, knowing that the email inbox is filling up, knowing that colleagues have fed back that I am difficult to get hold of.

I am very clear in my own mind that being effective is getting as much done as possible in the hours I am supposed to work. Despite that clarity, so far this Friday morning I have been diverted by my email inbox, albeit only for a few minutes as I remembered something I wanted to tell someone today rather than Monday. Of course I read and replied to a couple of other emails too.

I am trying very hard not to apologise for not being there today and also aware that the shorter week is making me feel less work-efficient than usual. Definitely needs some more work in my head though to relish and accept today as a day off and just put the work aside for a while, knowing I will be better at it on Monday if I do and that if anyone wants me to do more, they need to consider paying me for some more hours. Nope I feel guilty even typing that. Oh well, work in progress.

A full week hangover

Last week was full on, and writing this took a back seat. As did running and yoga. So this morning is a reassessment of what is important in the week ahead. But I am trying to be gentle with myself rather than looking at the yoga and run records for the month so far and beating myself up. Or looking back and realising it is five days since I wrote my ‘daily’ blog.

I have got into the bad habit of noticing what I have NOT done, but last week was hugely productive. I made contact with various people in Scouts and ended up having some very productive conversations. It is good to be back in touch with some really inspiring and dedicated people.

The Birmingham Children’s Book Group were at Bournville BookFest on Saturday and I spent the day in a rather chilly marquee, chatting to interesting, lovely people about children’s books and reading in families and schools. And publicising our monthly Book Swap (second Saturday of every month at Bournville Community Hub, 9.30 to 10.30).

Sunday morning was spent at church, collecting donations to CAFOD’s Fast Day and showing the film of Mahinur’s story . I met new volunteers to our Children’s Liturgy team and started their training. I caught up with some other friends at coffee after mass. A very sociable morning which felt useful.

Sunday afternoon included cooking lunch for the extended family, who we have not seen for an age. Time was spent reading and watching TV as a family. We had an evening dog walk to the pub to catch up with good friends.

Writing it all down helps me realise that it’s not that I have done nothing, I just chose to prioritise volunteering over exercise and blogging for a couple of days. And by blogging the list I get to start this week with a tick in the blog box on this week’s to do list. Two birds with one blog. Have a good week.

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.

Photo by Buenosia Carol on

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!

white plane on the sky
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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?

creative smartphone desk notebook
Photo by Markus Spiske on