Back to the real world

Photo courtesy of Penny Dugmore (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Penny Dugmore (Creative Commons)

It’s always hard when the holidays are over, the decorations have come down, the sales have been shopped, and the vacation time dwindles down. Instead of leisurely days spent sleeping in and doing what you want to when you want to, it’s back to a tight schedule, with little room for flexibility between the demands of work, school and other commitments.

It’s back to the feeling of being overwhelmed, overworked, and over-committed. How does that happen?

One valuable lesson I’ve learned over this break, is how important it is to set boundaries, so that no one part of your life takes over. For me, that’s the work part of life. If I am not careful, it can spill over the edges of my schedule until it is pretty much all I’m doing – and that leads to a very unbalanced life.

For instance, my mornings used to consist of getting up early for devotions and prayer, writing, running, and then work. But over the last few months, that time carved out for writing lessened (and some days disappeared), and work took its place. Instead of setting a more reasonable end time to allow for adequate rest, I have found myself staying up later and later trying to get to a little more done.

Now that I’m aware of these issues, I’m taking steps to prevent them from happening – at least as often as possible. I am going to viciously protect that writing time in the morning, and have set a goal of at least 300 words a day. It feels good to be back to writing every day – even if sometimes that’s just journaling and not words worth publishing.

Using a timer when I’m working can help keep me attentive to the project at hand, so that I don’t get distracted and off track. That way I can stay focused, get done, and move on.

Doing regular reviews of the entire scope of what I need to do helps too, as a reminder that the one project is not really the only project – but one of many. Instead of trying to finish one to the exclusion of others, I can move several along and make progress on different fronts.

Planning is key. Spending a few minutes at the end of the day to plot which projects and commitments are coming up the next day can help eliminate that unpreparedness that wastes time. Don’t you hate it when you are ready to work on something but don’t have all the papers you need? Or you get out doing errands, and realize you don’t have your list or that receipt for the item you need to return?  What a wasted effort.

Distractions need to be limited. As I’m writing this, my phone chimed about some online offers at a particular store – and I stopped to see what they were – in spite of the fact that I don’t need anything from that store, and I really need to be writing. Ugh. Once again, I have to remind myself to turn off email, turn off at least the sound on the phone, and reduce as many interferences as possible.

By being intentional about setting boundaries and schedules, then I can make the time to do things for me – like read, or meet someone for lunch, or watch a movie. And those things need to be part of the schedule instead of just vague ideas of an activity I’ll do once I finish this other thing. Because you know what will happen – I’ll finish the other thing too late to start a movie, or get sidetracked onto something else and never make the plans to meet my friend for lunch.

How will you start this year differently to make sure you have time for all you want to do?