New Year, New You: I don’t know what they put in the mulled-wine around Christmas that make us so aspirational and optimistic about what the next year will bring, but if you’re anything like me, much of your New Year chatter pontificated grandly on the wonderful things you were going to achieve in 2014, while you lazed on the couch with a second piece of pudding drenched brandy butter watching re-runs of old year-end quiz shows. “Sure I need the second piece, because next week I’m going to start marathon training so I’ll need the extra poundage for energy, gives me a bit to lose”.
January is usually a good month – everything is new and exciting; I set goals and stick to them (“Look at me go, I’m going to be ripped in no time”). End of January into February I tend to lag a bit; payday shows up so I am no longer too broke to do anything other than run laps of the local track for entertainment. Mid-February I usually get a new spurt of guilt–induced determination, but this second wind passes more quickly than the initial enthusiasm, so much of March is spent guiltily watching deadlines pass unfulfilled. By April I give up and embrace full out denial – “Run in the Dublin Marathon, sure I never said I’d do that – are ya mad?” and then December rolls around again “My New Year’s resolution? The 2015 Dublin Marathon – yeah, I know, big right? It’s going to be epic. Could you pass the crisps? I need to stock up on energy.”
Look, it’s good to have aspirations, everyone should dream big, but going from that Christmas inertia to the New Year hyper-drive and keeping that momentum for a whole year can be hell, and quickly these beautiful aspirations morph into ugly frustrations and become yet another stick of dissatisfaction to beat yourself down with. But I don’t think that is a reason to stop trying, just a reason to change the approach.
Over the last few years I noticed that the biggest reason my new hobbies fell by the wayside was Time; it was fine in the winter when everyone was hibernating, but as the spring and summer start up there are so many things going on that I develop acute FOMO (fear of missing out) and just do not have the time to do it all. In an ideal world I would have the money and resources to hire a large staff to prepare my daily schedule to ensure I got the most from each day, but until that day rolls around (and it will) here are some tips I used to scrape back some time and avoided missing deadlines. Some of them are difficult to start, but if you have perseverance, like a kid taking up smoking for the first time, they soon become unbreakable habits.
- Stop slouching on the couch after work – instead try use this time constructively. I know, you’re exhausted; it’s been a long day, the traffic was hell, all you want to do is flake out…. but, what if instead of that you had dinner, did a project/training for an hour and went to bed early. Not only would you feel that you achieved something that day, you will also feel less like a hamster on a wheel as though your whole life is an endless cycle of working and sleeping and working again.
- Limit your TV viewing/ book reading/ movie watching/ game playing. I am not saying any of the above are evil, and god knows every so often it’s all you’re fit for, but if you reduce the amount of time you take in media (except this blog obviously), it frees up some time for you to create and output material.
- Write down (honestly – you don’t have to show it to anyone, it’s just for you) what you spent your time doing for a week. Not only will this keep you more focused on being productive, it will also highlight the 30 min you spent gazing out the window, brushing your hair or watching You-Tube videos of people falling over.
- Multi-task – link tasks which require you to do things without really thinking, with tasks which require you to think without doing anything. Examples; Listen to podcasts about day-job/current affairs/blogging while walking the dog. Watch that recording of your favourite must-see TV show over dinner. Call your Mum while you are sorting the laundry. Do the ironing while catching up with your partner’s day. Let your mind wander and have space to think as you do the hovering.
- Get a To-do list; a daily one and a long term one. On the daily list, every item you need to do (within reason) goes on and then comes off one at a time. Not only does it keep you focused but you can also see what you got done that week which gives you motivation to stay productive. There are some tricks with this however
- Break up items into bite-sized tasks. Don’t put on ‘Decorate Bathroom’ as that is a long term task, instead put on ‘pick colour scheme’ ‘buy paint’ ‘research storage ideas’ ‘purchase storage’ etc.
- Don’t assign tasks to days – just do what you can today, and do the rest tomorrow. How do you eat an elephant? – one bite at a time. Approach your list the same way. It will all get done eventually.
- Only add what you need to do – I know everyone loves a clean home; but are any of the family going to catch TB if you don’t hoover again today? If not, then there is no need to add it to the list.
The long term list should be the big things you want to get done in the coming months. This will help you keep your eye on the prize and avoid getting lost in the minutiae of the daily list.
- Every moment is valuable so use it to the full. Instead of wasting an hour lunch regurgitating the same gossip day-in day-out, do something useful; go on a walk, take a trip to the gym, make those household phone calls, if you’re at home – do some housework. If you commute make this time work for you too; treat it as your ‘you’ time – read a book, listen to music, catch up with friends, speak to your partner, this can be quality time if you let it.
- Stop getting hangovers, which for me meant stop drinking. Again, not because drink is evil, but because I got 3 day hangovers that wiped out my whole weekend. Now I have two extra days in the week, plus I am saving money on taxis – added bonus.
- Allow yourself to occasionally crash. It is not possible to run at 100%, 100% of the time. Listen to your body and mind when it says it can do no more and embrace it. Catch up on the telly/books/games etc you have been avoiding, recharge the batteries and be ready to go again tomorrow.
- Ask for and accept help. When I am chasing a deadline I ask my husband to do a little more than his share of the housework, just as I pick up the slack when he is under pressure. I have asked friends for a dig out with guest blogs. I asked my sister to pick up fabric while she was over in Blanchardstown. If you don’t ask, people won’t know you need help, but just be careful to keep this as give-and-take and return the favours in your quieter times.
- Be prepared: Jot down ideas as they occur to you, so that when you can make time for writing the time is used productively, rather than staring out the window with writers block. Stack your gym mat and weights close to the telly, so you can quickly set up when you have time for that exercise video.
- Do not procrastinate. If you can do it today, do, don’t wait until tomorrow, you have no idea what it will bring. Last thing you want is to be sitting in the hospital/police station/gig of your life worrying about what you should have done yesterday rather than focusing on today, or worse, having to turn down an amazing opportunity because you didn’t study for that exam yesterday and now have to do it today.
- Do as you go. It takes just as long to put a dish in the dishwasher as it does to leave it on the workspace – but it takes 10min to fill a dishwasher from a full workspace. The same applies for filing and a myriad of minor tasks. Don’t be creating unnecessary work for yourself in the future out of laziness.
- Clean and organise your home and workspace – you will get more done if you don’t have to spend hours search for tools/the other shoe/your laptop/keys/phone. Without being OCD about it, everything should have a place, and everything should be in its place. Good and plentiful storage will help with this one.
- Be realistic in your planning. It is not possible to be two places at once, give 100% attention to more than one thing, travel faster than the speed of light. Bear this in mind and don’t commit to anything which requires any of the above. Learn to say ‘No’. It is better to say No in the start than do a bad-rush job at the 11th hour, or worse, miss the deadline and let someone down.
With all that said there are some important thoughts I would like to leave you with;
- Accept from the outset that you cannot do it all. It is not possible to be a CEO that works 18 hours a day and simultaneously be a stay at home mom that pushes swings and bakes apple pies. Unless you can time travel no amount of time-saving can change that fact. You can however be a CEO that works 8-10 hours a day, plays with the kids in the evenings and bakes pies at the weekend.
- Be in the moment. Multitasking banal chores is one thing, but do not be so busy that you miss the important moments. If you schedule in time to see your friends or go out for dinner, then do that. Put the phone at the bottom of your bag and focus on where you are. The twitter feed can wait; this is the stuff that you are saving time elsewhere to enjoy.
- There is a priority triangle (similar to the food triangle, but inverted): it goes family, friends, paying bills, other stuff. The top 3 can switch around depending on your stage in life but they always sit above ‘other stuff’. If the addition of yet another project/goal/activity causes ‘other stuff’ to take too large a proportion of your life, then you may have to accept that at this moment you are overstretched, and perhaps it would be better make a different New Year’s resolution and leave the marathon running for another time.