It Took Me Thirty Years to Vacuum a Closet

I took five minutes to vacuum my closet the other day. It was part of my routine cleaning, no big deal. It was just a quick thing to check off on my cleaning list. I removed some boxes of stuff in the bottom, a few pairs of slippers, and vacuumed. I replaced the stuff and went on with my—

No. I didn’t.

No, I looked at the bottom of the closet in a state of shock and burst out laughing.

I have spent a large portion of my life trying to get organized. When I was a child, “cleaning my room” really did mean tossing everything I could think of where to put it in a closet so that it looked tidy when Mom poked her head in. I was the child with the cubby under the desk in grade school so stuffed with papers and junk that it was simply impossible to add or find anything.

This level of disorganization bothered and embarrassed me. It really hurt and made me feel like a failure.

As a teenager, my backpack also became a mess of papers, random items, books, and paraphernalia (no, not that kind. In many ways, I was hopelessly square)

As an adult, it wasn’t much better. My desk was full of bills to be paid, papers I didn’t want to face, things that were vaguely sentimental but not enough to display anywhere. My closet?

That was still the place where I hid stuff I didn’t have a place for but wanted the room at least to appear a little tidy.

How long from a stuffed closet to a tidy closet?

It took about thirty years.

I wasted a lot of that time, though. I addressed it in cycles. “Starting now, I’m finally going to get organized!” I’d spend several hours a day over a few weeks cleaning, organizing, and playing possessions Tetris with my home. After a month or so, know what? The house would look great!

Then, inevitably, the house would no longer look great. I’d clean the kitchen well enough to prevent food poisoning, but more than that? Not so much.

Ever done that? C’mon, it’s okay. We all have.

Being tidy over time is all about consistent action.

You can, indeed, get the house clean with heroic effort, just as you can work really hard to train for an athletic event.

The problem comes in when you do something intense for a short period. As I mentioned in my last post, heroic effort is unsustainable.

Several of my favorite housekeeping systems (Flylady and Unfuck Your Habitat) talk about starting very small – shining your sink or making your bed. They are so right!

It’s not about getting tidied or organized quickly. It’s about developing consistent habits. For a lot of people, that’s enough.

But for some…

Executive dysfunction can interfere with consistency.

If you have organizational or distraction issues, habits may not be enough. Autism, ADHD, and a host of other neurodivergent issues centered around executive dysfunction make it hard to do things that seem pretty obvious to the neurotypical person. What? You need to wash the dishes after a meal? No kidding. Go do it!

As I was writing this article, I broke for dinner. Guess what is in my sink right now?

I thought about it, got up, scrubbed the pan a little, realized it needed to soak some more, and sat back down here to write. Sure, sure, I’ll get to it after I finish this, no biggie. But if my sink was full of dishes other than that pan, if I had laundry on my sofa, a desk drawer full of unaddressed bills, and my phone beeping that I needed to get up and get my car to the garage to get the brakes done, would I be getting back to that pan in any reasonable amount of time?

*Hollow laugh*

People with executive dysfunction issues can find their problems painful.

Maybe some people laugh and think it’s cute to be disorganized. It never felt cute to me. It hurt because I had a hard time doing what I wanted to do. I was utterly desperate to get my life under control. Completely and utterly desperate from the time I was nine years old. That’s a heavy load.

Jokes about executive dysfunction aren’t cute.

I know the whole “squirrel!” joke about distractibility is mean to make people feel better and okay with themselves. I never wanted to be okay with chaos. I wanted the chaos to stop. It hurt. It interfered with accomplishing what I wanted to. It was exhausting. It used up time I wanted to spend on other things. I wanted a clean canvas so that when I jumped from obsession to obsession to obsession, I could feel like I was using that time intelligently rather than as a distraction from things that were bothering me.

Late fees, court cases, and lost jobs aren’t cute, either.

There’s an ADHD vlogger that I really like named Jessica McCabe. She’s brilliant and adorable, and being a little bit of the manic pixie thing is part of her brand. It gets people to listen to broad issues of executive dysfunction. People will accept and listen to that stuff sometimes and find it palatable if someone is small and young and cute. (She’s a LOT older than her looks or mannerisms would indicate, by the way).

So, the brilliant part. Quite sure McCabe knows what she’s doing with that because sometimes she drops the adorable thing. The pain of being disorganized or having a hard time directing attention is very, very clear. If she weren’t so cute, it would be unlikely as many people would listen to the important things she is saying. There’s more to her than cute by a long shot. (And don’t get me started on the sexism of it).

But that whole “cute” thing about disorganization. It’s not so cute when unpaid bills land you in court. That has happened to me. With money in the BANK, that has happened to me! (Or without money. *shrugs* That, too). It’s not cute when you have to buy a car at interest rates that are close to what you’d pay on a credit card. Yeah, that’s happened, too. That we’re in good financial shape now is a miracle.

There is a cultural narrative of *giggle* *giggle* “I’m so distractable!” to try to ameliorate the pain of being disorganized. Know what? It’s not funny. It hurts.

Proscriptive solutions won’t work.

I use a Bullet Journal just about with the out-of-the-box method that Ryder Carrol posted in that first video he did about it. I tried it, and it clicked.

Know what wouldn’t have clicked? Someone making me do it when I was fifteen.

This is where you, if you have problems with executive dysfunction, might wonder if I can provide an answer for you. Know what? I can’t.

I can say, “You need a Bullet Journal.” I mean, I’ll think it. I wouldn’t say it. Know why? It won’t necessarily work for you.

What I will say is that you need to find methods that work for you.

“Okay, smartybrat,” I hear you cry, “if you can’t offer a solution, what do I do?”

Create systems that support you

This is going to look different depending on how you think. Does a beepy reminder go bing! and prompt you to do stuff? Do you like to have a menu of tasks that you choose from depending on how easily they grab your attention in the moment?

What primes you to take action?

What plans have you followed through on (c’mon, you do have some if you’re alive past 20), and what about them made you feel good?

My husband doesn’t use a Bullet Journal. He plans his day using a calendar app. If there’s an interrupt to a task, he’ll move it to another free time. When you first try this, I strongly encourage you to multiply your estimation of task time by at least four until you get good at estimating how long something will take. If you have executive dysfunction issues you’re struggling with, I’d bet at least a nickel that you’re not good at estimating how long things take yet.

What stops you from taking action? Can you remove the interrupts?

A simple example would be to take the dirty clothes hamper’s lid off if that’s enough to discourage you from tossing your clothes in the hamper. Still, I’m not talking about “Tips ‘n Tricks” here. I hate tips ‘n tricks! They’re like taking a Tylenol when you cut off your leg. You need to extrapolate that to life systems to support how you want to live.

Your system is useless until you define “good enough.”

I could skip the next two or three times I need to vacuum my closet, and I wouldn’t care. If I get to it every year or so, it’s absolutely good enough. “Good enough” means I address my paperwork file once a week and clear it out. I don’t have to do it every day unless I feel like it. “Good enough” is walking for five minutes on the hour around my living room until I get my 10,000 steps in. I don’t have to walk for three miles unless I want to. “Good enough” is spreading up the bed and tossing the shams at the head. I don’t have to bounce a quarter off the damn thing unless I get a wild hare to do that sometimes. Don’t give yourself an image of perfection you have to attain, or you’ll do nothing.

It’s okay for “good enough” to change

Remember how it took thirty years to get to vacuuming a closet? There was a time when that chore wasn’t on the “good enough” list, and ya know what? That’s fine. Have your “good enough” be slightly, but only slightly, ahead of what you’re currently doing if you want to make improvements. Incremental improvements over time, and I mean decades, are pretty dramatic when you look back.

Good enough can stay good enough

My exercise parameters have me getting in an average of 10,000 steps a day as measured over a month. That is never going to change. If the Spirit moves me, I’ll do more. But I’m not going to keep raising the bar over and over and over. This is it. I’m good. I’m maintaining.

It takes decades to get your life in order. What small thing will you do today?

The Value of 30-Day Challenges

Spending the winter getting in one’s exercise on a treadmill is deadly dull.  I plumbed the depths of the possibilities that is The Good Place. I found no other commercially produced television catching my fancy. In despair, I turned to productivity and self-improvement videos on YouTube.

These attractive young men with their nice, trim beards pontificating on how they had Solved Life’s Problems both amused and instructed me as I got in the tedium that is the 10,000 step habit.

The power of habit

Oh yeah, habit.

Is me getting in those 10,000 steps every day a habit?  Darn right, it is!  I do make a specific effort to get in a specified amount of walking every day.  That’s very true.

In fact, in 2020, I averaged 10,000 steps a day every month for the entire year.

2020-2021 Step Goals

Garmin won’t let me specify only the year 2020 in displaying the chart. Still, hey… I’ve been doing it for over twelve months anyway, so this is illustrative enough.  I hit my step counts as averaged over a month for the year.

Do 30 Day Challenges help develop habits?

I did I start this with a 30-day challenge?  Well… sorta.  I tried to get in over 10,000 steps a day for an entire month.

A 30-day challenge is an excellent way to explore a habit. 

Reinhard Engels of Everyday Systems talks about this when he talks about Monthly Resolutions.  He thinks, correctly, that too large a scale is a bad idea when developing a habit.  A large scale can be daunting.  A large scale can be so daunting it sets you up for failure because it’s overwhelming.

Reinhard suggests the Monthly Resolution as a low-investment way to try out a habit. It is easy to see if the habit works for you or if it’s really not addressing the issues you’re working on.

This is where the 30-day challenge comes in.  No sugar for a month.  No alcohol for a month! No Internet for a month!  10,000 steps a day for a month.  Go vegan for a month.

These things can be worth a try. 

But there is a dark side.

The Dark Side of the 30-day Challenge

A 30-day challenge, when misapplied, can harm your attempts at goal setting and habit formation.

For most everyday habit formation, any adult can tell themselves that they can tough something out for a month.  You can white-knuckle it and get through to the finish line precisely because you see that finish line.

For a habit you would like to keep lifelong, a month of extraordinary effort is pointless.  Been sedentary for three or four years?  Getting more fit is a project best measured over decades.  This means that doing something easy consistently is better than doing something difficult you’ll quit. The extremes you can tolerate for a month are unsustainable in the long term. For physical fitness, that two-mile walk you will take beats that 5K run you worked up to and then quit because it was unpleasant every time.

There is also the problem of “breaking the chain” for many habits. 

No, not that breaking a chain is difficult. It’s distressingly easy.  But quitting because you broke the chain?  Yeah, I know you’ve done it.  Don’t lie. Lyin’s a sin.

But a 30-Day Challenge does have you in that “don’t break the chain” mindset.  That’s less than useful for a habit you want to be lifelong.

Is habit tracking useful?

Which does bring up another point.  Is habit tracking useful?

No.  Habit tracking is not useful.

Anyone who has seen my stuff on Bullet Journals or even gives a second’s thought to the 10,000 steps I talk about earlier in this piece is about to accuse me of being a liar.  Bear with me.

You know what I don’t track?  Whether or not I made my bed this morning.  Know why?

I did.  I do every morning.  I don’t need to track that any more than I need to track whether or not I’m wearing underwear.  I do that every day.

Habit-tracking is a misleading name for what you’re doing.  You’re tracking the development of a habit.  Once it’s a habit, you offload that mentally.  You just.. do it.

I made my bed from the time I was out of a crib until I was in my thirties and living in a household that didn’t really value bed-making. When that household broke up, I was right back to it.

What you want to do is get something useful to yourself so ingrained that you don’t give it a lot of thought.  Maybe you want to eat vegetables.  Maybe you want to make your bed.  Maybe you want to avoid too much time on the internet.

I’ve talked before about Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg.  He talks about starting very small and engineering the environment. Flossing one tooth levels of small.

I admit there was a time when I simply would not have believed his assertions.  If you don’t work out hard or clean perfectly, you won’t get to your goal.

Well, if your goal is to do 100 pushups and get a sixpack by the end of the year, and the first quarter is already over, and you haven’t lifted anything heavier than a soda can in years?  Probably not.

If your goal is to develop a lifelong habit that will show progress over decades?  Those little habits are amazing.

So when you see the 30-day challenges, think of them as trying on an outfit in the dressing room.  It’s a good way to experiment, but past that, you need something else.

Day of Rest

A person covered by a blanket on a sofa with feet sticking out.

When is the last time you took a true day of rest?  I mean, for real.  No housework, no checking work emails, no work?

Me? I’m always doing something productive.   I was looking over my Bullet Journal in the past few weeks, I’ve realized something.  I never really take a day off.  Even on weekends, when hey, relaxing is important, I find lists of things to do to prepare for the next week.

I bet a lot of you are like that.

I bet many people use being busy as a way to cope with rough times, too.

Are you worried about maybe driving yourself crazy with that?

Now, if you’re Jewish and observant, you probably read the first line of this post and said, “Well, Shabbos, same as always.”

Many religious traditions have a concept of a Sabbath.  The more religious you are, chances are the stricter you are about protecting that day, too.

Recently, The Man of the House and I talked about it and decided that we were going to do a secular Day of Rest.  However, since it’s a personal preference to prep for the next day the night before, we took a cue from the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath and had it begin the night before for us as well.  Our cue that the Day of Leisure was to begin would be after we fed our cats their evening gooshy food.  We do that around five in the evening.  Sun to sun doesn’t work for us.  We have too much variation in the year to find that desirable.

During our Day of Leisure, we would do No Work At All.  Not cooking. I made a breakfast casserole and had other pre-made food on hand.  Not washing up. We could put dishes in the dishwasher. Not anything that we’d consider “professional” or count towards professional time.  I even waited until after five to start even thinking about this blog post.

We could engage in hobbies. Knitting is fine because that’s not the only way we get socks.  If it were work, that would change. We can read books, visit with friends and family, (well, online.  Covid-19 is still a problem), watch movies, take a walk, or anything strictly fun.

Saturday was busy. We did our weekly cleaning, prepping some food, doing some other things I used to do Sunday afternoon to prep for the week, and making a nice dinner for when the Day of Leisure was to begin.  I even changed into a nice lounging outfit for the occasion.

The Saturday night wasn’t that unusual.  We often have a nice meal and watch something.  However, I went to be with the full intention of Not Working all day.

Deliberately.

Sunday, was pretty amazing.  I didn’t cook a darn thing other than to put a casserole in the oven.  I cleaned nothing.   I didn’t plan a thing for the coming week.  I even had a book ready to read and spent the whole darn day diving into the book. 

To be frank, my personal indulgence of sitting down and reading a book cover to cover had become an infrequent thing in recent decades.  I think days of rest are ideal for that.

I didn’t even play on social media really.  I wasn’t forbidding myself to do so, but *shrugs* I considered myself off the hook for the Outside World.

My husband spent some time drawing. 

We talked about it afterwards and decided, yeah, a full Day of Leisure every week was going to be a thing for us for a bit. 

So, what do you think?  Do you observe a Sabbath, or do you think this is a good idea?   Lemme know in the comments!

A Watch Stopped Me Drinking

File:Closed loop feedback systems.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The Garmin Vivosmart 4 stopped me drinking.

I love it as a fitness tracker, as it tracks heart rate, pulse ox for part of the night when sleeping, and has a function called “body battery” that tracks your activity against your rest using heart rate variability. You can track many fitness activities and even sync it to your phone as a GPS tracker for dryland training.

Y’all knew I was a nerd and love crap like that, right?

It’s the body battery that was the major push away from booze. If I had a drink the night before, my body battery didn’t charge — as my heart rate never dropped down into the fifties for that “good sleep” slowdown.

Now, I’ll still have a drink about once a quarter, don’t get me wrong! I’m not entirely a teetotaler. However, if I think about wanting a drink, I think about how deep I want to sleep that night. Being extremely protective of my sleep, the answer’s usually “no.”

It’s the logic of, “What will this do to Future Me?”

Will I be sorry I had a glass of wine at a celebration?

No. Pleasures and enjoyment at celebrations are an important part of enjoying life.

Will I be sorry I got bad sleep after a tough day?

Yes. Most of the time, it’s the restorative sleep I need after a challenge. Challenges are a part of life, too, and doing what you can to recover from them is also important. Yeah, I would have thought that booze knocked you out so you’re all good. Turns out that’s not quite so. You’re adding something else for your body to recover from as well as the emotional hangover. I wouldn’t have believed it, either.

So…

Yes, direct feedback does have an effect on my behavior.

I also swim. But I will be quite honest, it’s hard for me to get in the pool. It’s a lot of rigamaole — getting the gym bag packed, making sure I have everything, plotting out how to get through the damn locker room with a bunch of old ladies who don’t seem to believe Covid is real, making sure my hands and face are dry with putting the mask on and off, making sure I packed my underwear…

It’s a damn production that, frankly, I sometimes don’t really want to face.

It’s not that I don’t love swimming, I do. I’ve never been grumpy more than 100 yards into a swim. I love the fact that I’m off the hook for thinking, planning, considering other people’s feelings, or solving problems for an hour. I have a lane to myself and all I have to do is swim. I can’t meditate sitting still, but woah, can I send my brain into that Mushin (no-mind) state pretty well staring at that black line. I even have a watch that counts laps for me and I swim some long sets.

So yes, a bit of moderate exercise and letting yourself off the hook for anything but what you’re doing in the moment usually does leave you feeling better, right? Well, it does for me, anyway.

I need to apply the same logic to not-drinking to swimming. How do I usually feel at the end of a swim? At worst, high end of neutral, low end of good.

Today, I was singing Uptown Funk at the top of my lungs on the drive home, and I’m sure my town thanks me for doing so with the windows closed!

Still, getting over that hump of getting myself out the door and into the pool is real.

I’m trying to think of things to engineer the hump away. You know, like people who have a hard time throwing their clothes in the dirty clothes hamper if there’s a top on it, but for some reason will toss those suckers right IN if there’s no top? (Yes, this is a real thing, especially with people with attention deficit problems)

Do y’all have things that were blocks, humps, or choke points? If you did, have you tried to engineer them away, and did that help?

Stay In the Present

I’d like to pass something on to y’all.

If you’re in mental health, you already know this one. This is for people who haven’t been to therapy (or don’t practice certain forms of meditation or philosophy).

Few ACTUAL MOMENTS suck.  It’s what you’re thinking about that sucks.

Seriously. 

I’ll use myself as an example.  I’m anxious about supply chains.

Am I currently experiencing any real deprivation?  Well, no.  I just had breakfast and a nice cup of coffee.  My fridge has many days of meals in it.

Right now, in this moment, the thing that sucks is the worrying, not what I am actually experiencing.

What I am actually experiencing is a full stomach, a tasty cup of coffee, a comfortable chair, and time writing.  I like all of those things and find them pleasant to experience.

I am not trying to say that it is easy to pull yourself back to the moment.  It isn’t.  It’s tough.  I’m not saying that if you’re in distress and worrying, it’s All Your Fault for Being Lazy.  I. Am. Not.  I have been worrying a lot and then pulling myself back to the present every time I think about things I’m scared of unless there’s an action I genuinely need to take.  It’s a process and a practice, and I think it’s worth doing.

Could things go all to hell?  Yes.  Absolutely.  I won’t face it any better from being tied up in knots about it. In fact, it would be kind of a shame to waste the days of safety and comfort I am actually experiencing.

If you want a tool that’s a good practice for this sort of focus, you could check out my free Minimalist Bullet Journal Course.  It’s practical and hands-on, requiring no skills or equipment but some paper and the ability to read and write.  For all that I’m high tech, this low tech solution focuses your mind wonderfully on the present.

Are Standards Stuffy?

A Tiger? In Africa? The Meaning of Life - John, Michael and Eric Monty Python, You Make Me Happy, Meaning Of Life, Meant To Be, Take That, Africa, Movies, Cinema, Type

Raise your hand if you thought Ma was uptight for keeping to a cleaning schedule in The Long Winter.

I was thinking about that this morning as I forced myself out of bed, even though I have no appointments. I got up, did my usual Saturday stuff, made coffee and breakfast for Peter and I, then sat down with my Bullet Journal and thought about how to lay out a schedule for next week.

As I was doing it, I thought about another novel of Hard Times set in the Victorian era. A favorite book of mine as a teenager was Zemindar. It’s about the Indian Rebellion of 1857 where the main character (who narrates the story) is snarking one of her Sisters in Suffering because the good lady is trying to keep to the same timetable she did while at her station rather than sheltered at a compound in Lucknow.

At the time I first read that, I was fifteen and I cheered for the main character for not being so hidebound and stuck in propriety.

It ain’t about propriety. It’s about living while surviving. That’s quite a trick, really. Survival mode can and does take all of one’s energy sometimes, and that’s real. But deciding who and what you are in the face of bad times?

That’s living.

The little ceremony of tea in a shelter, the dressing for dinner at war — they seem such weird things when you take them out of context. They seem as if you’re clinging to a fantasy and ignoring reality. It’s not that they’re “necessary” to survival. Of course, they’re not.

But thinking about who you are and who you want to be? That’s more crucial than ever. You can’t control what goes on around you all that much, but you have some control over what you do with it.

In many ways, I am very, very Victorian.

I tracked every second of my time for a week. Here’s what happened.

A chart breaking down an average day.
An Average Day in Chart Form

Just for giggles and to give my border collie brain something to do, I decided I was going to track every minute of my day according to what I was doing at the time.  Yeah, I know.  What’s the point of that nonsense?

In searching for a justification better than “I like playing with and analyzing data,” think about this:  Time is all you have, and it is finite.  Are you spending it in a way that is useful and happy-making to you?

What did I learn from tracking every minute of the day?

Some things that need change

I got some serious feedback on things I need to think about and take action on

The act of time tracking messes up the data.

Rather like someone who has decided to keep a food log, the very act of tracking my time has meant that the feedback has become more immediate.  Having to press a button on my phone to log what I was intending to do made me a bit more deliberate about what I was choosing to do.  I tried very hard to reflect what my time genuinely looks like, screwing around on the Internet or hopping like a bunny from task to task.  That didn’t stop me from wincing when I needed to deliberately say, “Okay, I am going to screw around on the Internet now!”

Time tracking is a time-consuming pain.

I could only stand doing it for about six days before I felt like it was distracting me from things I genuinely wanted to get done.  I could have sucked it up for the purposes of this article, but the sample of how I spend my time was reasonably representative, spanning workdays and a weekend, so I ran with the data I have.

I will probably start treating tracking my time rather like I treat tracking my food – only if it looks like there is a problem and I want a reality check.

I realized my priorities were screwed up

I suspected this.  While I was spending a decent amount of time on my family[1], I was not so good at spending an appropriate amount of time on my friends.  In fact, it helped cement a decision to get my butt off Facebook – which I will discuss in another article.

I also was spending far too much time on chores and housework.  I know that sounds nuts, but while having a tidy house is one thing, and yes, I do want that, puttering around all day looking for things to put away or clean and listening to audiobooks isn’t really where I want to put All the Energy.  I deserve a nice environment, yes.  But I can and should corral that time into discrete units so that it is taken care of efficiently and doesn’t get out of hand.

I found that my time was badly scattered

I already knew multitasking is a myth.  You’re not multitasking, you’re context switching.  Thing is, if you do that, you’re bearing a cognitive load. 

Numerous studies point to the fact that as you context switch between tasks, your efficiency on those tasks, as well as your accuracy, suffers.  For work that has a heavier cognitive load, a flow state is important.

If you take a look at the screenshot, you’ll notice that unless I was teaching a class, sleeping, exercising, or knitting, a lot of my time was spent in context switching.

Now, the reality?  Most housework chores simply don’t take all that much time or cognitive load. I’ve talked about that before.  However, when you’re switching your attention a lot, you’re not getting as much done.

I am taking away from this particular data that how much time I dedicate to something does need to depend a bit on the cognitive load the task takes.   Laundry, not so much.  Writing? Learning a new computer language?  I need to stop switching around and focus.

I was putting too much mental energy into exercise

Look, I need to work out.  I do work out.

I do not need to spend an hour looking for motivational articles on the Internet about why I need to work out or to get me excited about my goals.  My body does not care about what it takes to get me on the treadmill or weight bench.  It only cares that I did it.

That hour I spend hyping myself up to work out is in no way adding to my life.  It would be better-spent knitting.  At least I’d get a sweater out of it.

Things I won’t change

Because living on purpose choosing deliberately is a big deal to me, I’m happy that I got feedback about things I don’t want to change because I’m happy with what I’m doing.

I spend a lot of time planning or preparing

Straight up, I’m okay with this.  It wasn’t a surprise and I was always happy with spending my time this way.  I used to have a martial arts teacher who consistently said, “Preparation precedes action.”  True. Very true.

Making bento the night before takes about 15 minutes a night.  If I eschew those fifteen minutes, I am running a non-trivial risk of not making a well-balanced lunch when I get hungry around noontime.  I’m fine with giving Future Me that little present.

Laying out clothes and tidying while the bath is running (I have low water pressure) definitely jump-starts my morning, especially when exercise clothes are staring me in the face on what I know is going to be a busy day.

Five minutes with my Bullet Journal translates into more knitting and reading time because I think about what I want to accomplish in a day and when that’s done, I’m blasted well off the hook for being so-called productive.  I had kinda figured this was so, but now I have a numeric comparison.

I spend a lot more time reading actual books than I thought

I thought I consumed most stories in audiobook format while I’m doing household chores these days.  So I figured that the “Reading” part of how I spend my time under “Hobbies” was going to be a bit anemic.

Naw… Not really.  Part of this is that I read in the bathtub, and I had no idea how long I generally spent in the bath soaking and reading a book.  I found out that I average about as much time doing that as I do exercising.  Nice balance and a pleasant surprise.

I get enough sleep.

OK, I already knew that.  I’m protective of my sleep and have been for many years.  I’m stupid when sleep-deprived, so I avoid that.  I find the bragging about running on too little sleep idiotic and I’m sure it contributes to our unstable politics.  That, and not making your bed.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So, a question for my readers.  Are you satisfied with how you spend your days?  If not, what do you want to do and how can you do that?


[1] If you’ve known me for five minutes, you know about the family thing.

The Lie of Busy-ness

Being frantically busy isn’t the same thing as being productive.

This hit me hard last night when I migrated to a new Bullet Journal notebook last night. My old volume was full.

The migration process takes about an hour. It’s an hour that makes you think.

It was nice to review the notebook.  I can get caught up in the day to day and forget what I’ve accomplished.  The old Bullet Journals, especially when I am migrating to a new one, are an amazing way to review the past few months, take credit for what I did do as well as figure out where I’m falling down on doing what I want done.

As I was migrating, I noticed I’ve not been giving a project the attention it deserves as I was migrating different collections and projects from one notebook to the other.  It got me to thinking about how important that project really was. Maybe I need to let it go.

Except…

I migrated the collection about that project.  If I took the trouble to hand-write all that stuff, it’s still important.  If I let things slide until the next time I migrate, I’d say that’s a clear signal that it’s not something all that important to me any more.

I love that clarity. 

I joke, sometimes, that the Bullet Journal changed my life.  It’s hilarious, but it did.  It brought a lot of clarity to not only what I want, but how I actually spend my days. 

I think it’s funny that this little system and notebook, so low-tech, has been so useful to me.  I mean, I love gadgets. I love beepy reminders.  I love all the new tech.  I’m an early adopter as often as my purse allows. You wanna talk “sparking joy?”  Tech is it for me.

But that notebook surpasses it all.  The reality is that it works because I am not consistent.  Some days I’m on the ball and focused.  Other days, I am not on the ball at all.  Most digital systems don’t seem to allow for the ebb and flow of my energy the way my Bullet Journal does.  Most digital systems don’t allow for review, don’t allow for a reality check.  You get a snapshot of the present and that’s it.

For all that, yes, living in the moment is a good thing, when your moment is full of self-reproach about how you’re letting your life drift away, or that you never see your family like you want to, being able to review and say, “Well, you took a trip to visit them SEVEN TIMES last year!” or “You completed that course, wrote those articles, sewed that dress, and helped your son out where he needed it” it helps as a reality check, not only for the negative, but for the positive.

Tasks in Outlook don’t help with that.  They don’t show the shape of your days as well.  Remember the Milk might be amazing for scheduling recurring tasks.  It’s not so great when Life Happens.

None of them really encourage things like taking notes on one’s vacation to remember the good times.   I mean, sure, sure, I’m an enthusiastic diarist, but in terms of referencing what I’ve done from anything but an in-the-moment rant, the Bullet Journal has it over the things I write in my daily pages.

The biggest power of the Bullet Journal system for me is that things don’t fall through the cracks.  It is amazing the amount of time one wastes being reactive and scrambling to catch up.

The problem is I’m so used to things falling through the cracks that I’m still not used to being on the ball to the degree I am now.  You wouldn’t think that you’d have to overcome that sinking sensation of “I know I’m falling down and forgetting something” but if you’ve experienced it for forty-odd years, it’s like this weird hole when you realize that no, for the most part, you’re on top of things.

I’m still not used to it, which is, I suppose, why I write about organization with such a sense of wonder.  It’s new to me not to be frantically playing catch up on all the things I needed to do.  Busy?  Hell yeah, I’m often busy.  But oh! there is such a difference between being calmly busy and frantically trying to stay on top of things.

I will say that being used to being frantic might give you the illusion of being actively productive.

My Bullet Journal has proved that to be a stinkin’ lie.

I Put Things Away Because I am Lazy

In my Endless Quest for Tidiness, which is mostly analysis and musing these days, as my home is absolutely tidy enough, I noticed a habit of my mother’s in much sharper relief than usual.

She puts things away.

I know, duh!  Putting things away makes things tidy, right?  However, it’s more subtle than I thought. 

I noticed it on vacation, of all places.  Mom and Dad like to take a morning walk, and I’d volunteered to get breakfast for the family while they were doing so that week.  My husband loves to get out in the evenings when we’re at the beach, so I figured our Daily Walk (yes, we care about that, too) would be a good thing to do in the evenings after dinner.

Before Mom goes to bed, she likes everything to be put away.  For instance, in the kitchen dishwasher emptied of clean dishes, dish drainer empty of dishes that have dried after dinner.  She did this while my husband and I were on our walk.

Now, I wake at first light most days, call it twenty minutes or so before sunrise.  In real life, I might roll over to sleep some more, but I don’t at the beach.  I like to watch the sun rising over the ocean.  It’s one of my favorite sights in the whole world!

Walking into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee in preparation for my Morning Ritual was really nice.  Everything was neat and clear and calm, and it just made me feel good.

After coming home from our vacation, I decided I wanted to try that out in my own life.  I told myself if it was a burden or I couldn’t make it stick, I’d go back to my “never more than fifteen minutes of messy” style.  It’s certainly tidy enough and no big deal, so it wasn’t like I’d have this pressure and feel like I failed if I decided I didn’t want to keep it up.

I found out something.

I most emphatically do want to keep it up.

Putting things away every night reduces chances for accidents and property damage

I have a young cat.  Mr. Tumnus gets into things all the time, as he’s still a very curious and active little fellow.  When I put things away, the cat doesn’t get into my knitting and scatter my yarn and project all over the living room.

Making sure I put away my evening cup of tea ensures that when I get my morning coffee, I’m not risking a spill by my writin’ chair removing the empty cup from the coaster and replacing it with the mug of hot coffee.  I’ve spilled coffee on more than one knitting project from this little dance of switcheroo.

When I put things away every night, my kitchen stays tidy. 

Washing a pot or pan after a meal and always having a dishwasher ready for the things that can be machine washed is easy.  Unless you’re stressed to the point of needing medical care (and no shame about that, it happens to all of us) rinsing out a cereal bowl just isn’t overwhelming. 

Since we tend to pile mail on the kitchen counter, I also note that in tidying the kitchen every night, I’m loathe to leave mail piled on the counter.  It goes in the recycling, shredder, or is dealt with immediately.

Waking up to tidy spaces helps with mental clarity and creativity

Now, I’ve been keeping my room relatively neat for a long time. But, there would be times when it would get very cluttered.  Maybe I’d been slow to put laundry away.  Maybe I had a bunch of books I’d been reading all over the place (less common now that I read electronically).  Maybe I’d dropped yesterday’s clothing on the floor rather than putting it in the dirty clothes hamper properly.  Maybe I was in the middle of a sewing project and was leaving everything out until I had completed the garment.  It was never a big deal. Again, never more than fifteen minutes of messy, so if I took fifteen minutes on my housework day to tidy the room, it was easily brought back to rights.

I’m in the middle of sewing a dress right now.  Just for giggles, and to continue the experiment that I thought I might drop, I put all my equipment away after completing what I’d intended to do on it. 

For me, I realized that it is easier for me to think calmly about the project, to take it appropriately slowly when I am not eager to be done so my daggone room isn’t really cluttered from all the paraphernalia from the project.  Being less likely to rush means a better quality project that I’m happier with.

Tidying every night reduces work

Back when I lived in a really cluttered home, that sounded crazy.  Yes, yes, yes, I grew up in a tidy home, but tidying my room was always this big daggone production.  Surely the tidy spend all their time cleaning and tidying, right?

Not even close. 

I spent four and a half hours sewing on my new dress yesterday.  Putting away all my sewing stuff took 00:02.38.  Yes, less than three minutes!  Yes, I timed it.  Yes, I have space to put my stuff away easily because I’d Konmaried my home about four years ago.  So, I guess Ms. Kondo was right about the whole tidy forever thing.  *wrygrin* It’s just that “tidy” is still a dynamic process.  Which makes sense.  One’s home is a dynamic process, or it should be.  You do work, you get things messy, you put things away.  We all do it.  It’s just that making the cycle more rapid makes things easier.

Friends, if you take a look at home much time I spend writing, knitting, working, playing video games, working out, or sewing, any one of those items will take more time in a week than I spend on cleaning by at a minimum of a factor of two.

So, yes, I am going to keep the practice (which I hope to develop into a habit) of putting everything away and “rebooting” my house every night.

Why?

I have better things to do than tidy all the time.

Self-Improvement as a Hobby

It’s not a secret that I love trying out life systems and self-improvement ideas. And Goodness knows it’s a weird hobby. Flylady, Konmari, Everyday Systems, Bullet Journals, you name it. I find these things interesting and enjoyable to play with.

That’s the thing. I’ve begun to look at it as a hobby. Not every system I’ve tried has necessarily produced the results I wanted, but you know what?

Some have. My homemaking skills are a lot more Flylady than Konmari, but wow was keeping my home tidy easier after I did the big ole tidying “festival” Marie Kondo suggested.

I like listening to self-improvement books when I walk alone.

None of this has exactly made me a paragon of virtue or excellence, mind. I’m not rich. I’m not skinny. I’m not famous. *wrygrin* My view of the improvement of the Self even questions how in the world these three big goals seem in any way to be listed as self-improvement.

Fine, your house is tidy now. But do you treat people kindly?

Okay, you’re rich. How did you get that way? Were you honest? Were you able to keep your integrity?

Great, you’re skinny. Is this a virtue?

Things I think would be better addressed in self-improvement literature:

  • What is your word worth?
  • How’s your compassion?
  • Do you have good boundaries and how do you enforce them with kindness?
  • What do you see as your duty, and do you fulfill it? If not, what’s stopping you?

Not ONE self-improvement book I’ve seen discusses these topics much. Though, Marla Cielly of Flylady fame and Reinhard Engels of Everyday Systems seem to strike me as people to whom integrity and kindness seem to mean something.

But most of the so-called self-improvement literature I see is a lot less about becoming virtuous and a lot more about becoming inappropriately selfish. I say “inappropriately” because boundary setting can look selfish to someone wanting to take inappropriate advantage of you.

Few of these books discuss one’s duty to oneself and one’s fellow humans.

I think these questions are considerably more important than whether or not you have enough self-discipline to stick to a diet. For my own part, I find sticking to a diet a lot easier than being patient with strangers who frustrate me, speaking up about an injustice, or setting appropriate boundaries with people whose real motive is to use me as a thing or resource.

I think being a size two, being well-known or having a big bank account is trivial compared to that.

And I find it interesting that the self-improvement industry is largely silent on it.