I am somewhat obsessed with Dr Rangan Chatterjee‘s books at the moment. They are ostensibly self-help books about finding good health in a world which seems bent on stressing us out. He refers to lots of medical research on the effects of stress on our bodies and of course our minds.
One of the things his books do is give permission to relax, to switch off the phones and laptops and just stop. I have been trying to turn off the electronic gizmos at 9pm and let my mind have a break from social media and email. It is hard though, as so much of what I do in my spare time I do on electronic devices.
So time management is even more crucial than ever. Not a bad thing. I am convinced that my brain does not know the difference between writing this blog or an email to a fellow Scout leader or to a work colleague. Surely the process of communicating via writing on an electronic device is the same regardless of whether I am being paid to write, or whether I am writing about stressful or fun subjects?
Last night I was expecting an evening of creativity with friends, which was cancelled at the last minute. The temptation to get on and catch up with some administrative tasks for Scouts was just too strong.
I am definitely paying for it this morning. My brain feels unrested. I slept well, but my mum always used to say that resting your body and brain is as good as sleeping. I am beginning to appreciate that wisdom as my brain definitely feels it missed out on a couple of hours of rest last night.
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.
One of the tools in the box to settle me into the new routine this month is yoga. Writing that has made me giggle. It’s not a new routine, it’s the old routine, but there has been a two week break of loveliness and so I am struggling. There we have it. I am an energetic, healthy and enthusiastic person, who just struggles with her routine changing. Somewhat like a toddler!
Anyway, in my adult self, I am being very sensible and am carving out time to do some yoga every day this month. I am using the lovely Yoga with Adriene series online, as that does not involve me finding a time I can attend a class, nor leaving the house again in days of work travel and other meetings.
It is a month’s programme for which I had to set an intention. Mine was simple – show up every day and see what happens. It’s been interesting. First of all, I have shown up every day, one night at 11:15pm, squeezing in that day’s practice at a time I rarely do anything useful. I slept brilliantly that night – not enough sleep, but great quality. I have proven that I do have time to stop and just be once a day.
The sessions are following some sort of path and surprise me every day. I am not great at a home practice of yoga, but I am thoroughly enjoying this gentle guidance. I am still responsible for getting myself onto the mat and letting go enough to follow the path. I like that guidance, I enjoy being challenged to do something unexpected and it takes away making choices and worrying I am making the wrong choice, a real relief.
I can do more than I think, I have very little faith in my physical self to do anything really, but I can feel myself letting go of some of the negative expectations and giving it a go, a good feeling.
Good lessons so far and we’re only a third of the way through. Wisdom will be mine by the end of the month. Ok, maybe not!
“I hope you have a quiet weekend planned” in an email from a close colleague late last week evoked a firm declaration that my weekend, and the few days annual leave I have taken, are indeed quiet. They need to be, I am recovering from an injury and a hectic few weeks at work.
Swiftly following the declaration was the plan for the weekend. It involves visiting three siblings and their combined six children, my parents in law, as well as two sets of very close family friends, all in a 250mile round car trip.
I wasn’t lying though, this is resting. I love heading back to where I grew up and catching up with people I love seeing, but whom daily life rarely gives me a window to see. Seeing so many people on one trip is especially brilliant.
We are staying with various delightful hosts who are feeding me and handing me drinks on a regular basis. The walks are frequent, but gentle and in brilliant autumn sunshine on the beach or around castles. I live a long way from the beach and although I live close to a castle it really is not as stunning as those in Pembrokeshire.
The nieces and nephews are energetic and delightful, they’re all adoring of the auntie they rarely see and are mainly entertained by their teenage cousins.
Apart from chatting and catching up with everyone, there is plenty of time for sewing the cross stitch I have had lingering in the background for years, reading a chapter of a book and even a much-needed nap. I have had time to catch up on some blogs I read, listen to podcasts and even smarten up this blog too.
All in all, an energising few days of intentional rest, made possible by being in a different environment surrounded by family. Perfect. Not a perfect way to rest for everyone admittedly, but this extrovert traveller loves it.
This could be the most repetitive theme of this blog, because it’s something I need to focus on. I am good at resting, when I really focus on it, I do not do it automatically. I automatically fill every evening with meetings and social events. I automatically agree to travel most days for work. I automatically try and squeeze as many activities as possible into a weekend. I automatically book a holiday for every period of leave I have from work. Booking in rest needs to be a deliberate break from the automatic impulse to fill out the diary.
Today is a day that was booked as rest. I had a very minor surgical procedure yesterday on my leg, so I need to rest it. Not stop totally, but definitely not do as much as normal. I am not in work, having taken a couple of days off. And yesterday, post-procedure I was very well-behaved. I slept lots, I watched TV, I caught up with some friends online. I rested.
I have woken up this morning having slept really well and my challenge now is that the leg does not hurt very much at all. Which means I am overcome with the impulse to crack on with normal life. There is a teeny tiny voice in my head though that is warning me that if I do that, I may not be quite so pain-free by tomorrow. And another teeny part of me that remembers the post-operative notes telling me not to stand too much and to keep the leg elevated. In other words – not quite normal activity just yet. Oh, yes and the nurse looked at me like I was possibly crazy when I asked her could I run on it. She said I can, but not for a few days. It’s the last part of that sentence that I need to remind myself of this morning.
To all those people whom I boss around when they’re poorly, insisting that they rest and take care of themselves, this is your time to preach that patience and the gospel of rest back to me please.
One very important strategy in a full-on work period was enforced rest this weekend. I have just corrected that word ‘rest’ – originally it said ‘nothing’. Resting is not doing nothing though, and this weekend it was meticulously planned to make sure I ahd time properly resting, and time being social and active.
I met a friend of Friday afternoon (one of my two afternoons off in a week) and hung out with the teen a bit. I went to a yoga class and then out for dinner with the husband. A good mix of social and exercise and a lot of fun in all cases. Saturday morning involved a run in the rain, another yoga class and a list of relatively quick chores and a lot of laundry. With that done then I felt very entitled to be less active. I read, I slept and I watched a lot of TV.
I was very tempted to carry on with that on Sunday, but TV was making my head hurt and it was feeling too isolated.
Instead, Sunday was a day of going to church then having the family over for Sunday lunch. A post-lunch snooze (yes, we’re the sort of family who has a race for a sofa for a snooze) was followed by a walk in the local country park. You could tell the dogs were happy with the return of the autumn/winter routine.
I then enforced more rest, whilst deliberately stopping me from hitting the sofa and watching more TV by getting out a jigsaw puzzle. And also cooking an apple crumble with the apple we had found on our walk. Definitely happy family time.
Hopefully that deliberate resting has set me up well for the week ahead.
It’s the penultimate day of the holidays for the remaining home-dwelling offspring. So the summer feels like it ends tomorrow and I am moving away from those halcyon days.
But I am determined not to waste any of the time that is left. A colleague pointed out today that an unexpected snow day feels delicious and you cram loads in and relish every moment. The last day of the holidays should not feel any different.
So it shall not. I am a bit of a sleep bully at this time of the year, I know it’s hard to get back into the swing of sleeping early, but at the same time it’s the only way to make sure we have the energy to get us through the change in routine with its early mornings and full evenings. So, I am plotting waffles for breakfast to make sure the morning feels special and to offset some of the complaints about having to get up earlier than a normal holiday morning. I will need to work, so there will be time for indulging in the latest Netflix craze, the YouTube fix or the driving cars very fast around a virtual track, or whatever screen-based itch will need to be scratched.
Then, in a rather crazy end of summer splurge (and as it happens, related to the analogy of the snow day), we are going skiing at the local indoor ski place. I say ‘we’ – husband and offspring are ending summer in cold fake snow. I am heading to the spa to rest and while away a few hours, remembering that making mini holidays in amongst it all may be the best way to get through the change in seasons.
Obviously there are no real problems with summer. Summer is a beautiful, gorgeous, energising time of the year.
I adore the long summer holidays for the break from the routine that can start to feel oppressive. Now that the offspring are older, the summer really gives a sense of ease. Only me to get up and get out in the morning. A feeling of fun in the evening as we hang out and do things as a family instead of execute a finely tuned evening of activities, transport and eating which are seemingly designed to test our life skills in every way.
The summer holiday mornings are especially precious, with a delicious combination of more sleep and more time spent with the husband. They are more tired though, as early nights seem to disappear in the change to the summer routine. But that just means more coffee and chat.
All in all, it is a good time where time seems to stretch a bit further. And so less gets done. There’s the rub. That feeling that I have loads more time as the deadlines are softer means I don’t gets things done. The running has fallen by the wayside. The blogging has been non-existent. This morning it occurs to me that I have not really looked at my diary or the to do list all week. There are advantages to the morning rush of the school term.
But for now, let’s enjoy these last few precious days of the relaxed routine.
I think I could have anticipated this, but I feel like I have run out of things to say today. Not that I haven’t got lots in my head, I have, it is a busy season at work and at home, there is a lot on my mind at the moment. But it’s too busy.
I am very aware that in order to be as efficient as I can be I need rest, which is proper sleep and some time not doing anything. That’s not the same as doing something really good for my brain like a mediation or a yoga session, or even taking an Instagram photo of whatever is in front of me. Those things are good to do, but that is still being deliberate and active in some way, Instead I need to let mind wander and not think about anything in particular.
It is doing nothing. I firmly believe this gives the brain time to put all the busyness together in a useful way. I’m also sure it’s where my brain finds the ability to write, to have good ideas, to think up effective processes.
Sleep is also in relatively short supply. I sleep well, and do everything I can to make sure that is the case. As long as my exercise routines are in place and I don’t accidentally drink tea late in the day, I can sleep. I need a lot of sleep though, at least seven hours, anything less and I can feel my brain slowing down. I sincerely hope no one else can tell, but I certainly can. It’s one reason I try and write this early in the morning, if I struggle to write, it’s a sign I have not slept enough.
So today I need to find time to stare out the window. To go for a gentle walk at lunch time instead of trying to do chores. To get to bed early enough that the mind has time to recover.
I had a chat with a colleague earlier this week who was struggling with finding balance to deal with illness and work and family, and well, we know the feeling I would say. I suggested she put resting on her to do list for the weekends. There was a surprised silence as this had never occurred to her. Of course I don’t always put the word ”rest” into the weekend plan, but when I know I have a bit of a hectic time in work or an upcoming event, or whatever it may be that will leave me feeling a bit frazzled, I do plan the downtime too. Sometimes that is literally putting “have a nap” on the list, I am comfortable with being the only person on the planet who adds napping to her to do list, it works for me. I like feeling intentional about resting, it is something I really want to do and feel is important.
The usual one that I add into the list is reading. I am a member of two book groups and also use the library lots, so deadlines and reading seem to go together. I feel wonderfully justified in having “finish Marie Kondo by Saturday” on the to-do list, otherwise I may get charged an overdue fee. Heavens forefend!
This week though I have a self-imposed deadline. I discovered that I have read 10 books so far this year, which is more than I expected, but of course it makes a neater pattern of three per month if I could fit in another couple this week. So that is my focus for the week – two more books. One on audio, a self-help style non-fiction: Shawn Achor’s Big Potential and on the Kindle (it’s been a long while since I used it) a light read, lots of fun and easy to have as an alternative to TV: The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star in the delightfully silly detective series by Vaseem Khan.
It feels like a wonderfully productive way to ensure I sit down for a bit every day, or encouraging me to go to bed a bit earlier to fit in some reading time. I have a fair amount of driving and bus travelling to do this week, so the audio book soothes some of the traffic stress.
If I can get them read, I will be chuffed with 12 books in the first quarter of 2018.