Oh my goodness. Where did October go? and most of November? The weeks have slipped past in a blur.
But now I’m back (again), and this time I hope to manage to stay on top of things a bit better.
I usually plan my time in a way that I find gives me some balance between flexibility and structure, and helps me fit a lot in while also preserving some down time. But over the past few months I chose to give some urgent (and important) pulls on my time and energy priority. Coupled with depleted energy levels resulting from continuing insomnia, this has resulted in a backlog of other things I had to put to one side. This was entirely my choice, and I don’t regret a second of it.
So, here I am again, with a post I began writing back in September, around Jewish New Year. I’ve missed this space, and I’ve missed you!
Yes, the irony of writing a post about planning my time following on immediately from a time when I’ve not been able to achieve that is not lost on me. But past failure is no reason for present and future failure. We start from where we are, always.
One thing I love about a new year is reflecting on what I want to do differently with it (and what the same). I’ve always found the lure of the perfectly organised (and equipped) pencil case hard to resist, and even more so the beautiful notebook or diary or planner. And that hasn’t diminished since I’ve retired: I’ve maintained some of the habits that stood me in good stead when I was juggling work with many other things that I had or wanted to do.
Back last September (2016) when we were in New York I treated myself to such a diary/planner, and I haven’t regretted it. This one lasts a full 18 months, so I was able to start using it straight away, and it’s still going strong. It’s just a simple double-page-to-a-week diary with a front cover that caught my eye, which I’ve adapted to suit my needs. It takes the place of all sorts of ad hoc lists, diaries and reminders.
As a reminder to myself, I’ve added a slot inside the front cover to hold three postcards – each a memory-jog for things to fit in each month, each week, and each day. Because even though I’m no longer doing paid work, I still have commitments to others, things I really want to do, and things I really ought to do.
I never wanted to find myself wondering what I could do to fill the time, and I certainly never have yet: there are any number of things I want to do, places I want to go, people I want to spend time with. Only now, at this time in my life, and who knows for how long or short a time, I have the luxury of choice. My time is my own, and the only person to whom I’m accountable for how I spend it is myself.
I’ve been fortunate in that for almost all of my working life I’ve had control (mostly) of what I did, when I did it, and how I did it. Of course I had to report and explain myself to managers or to clients, but it was me who agreed what to put in the diary when. It was me who decided how to carry out a project, and when to slot things in.
To help me to do that in a controlled (ie not chaotic) way, I developed the habit of having a monthly planning meeting with myself towards the end of the month, to plan the following month, over a nice cup of coffee (preferably somewhere agreeable). Not for nothing am I known for having a fund of nice cafes all over Wiltshire and Bath. And I still have that monthly planning meeting. With myself.
With a month-at-a-view A4 sheet in front of me, I could see what appointments and meetings were coming up. I had a list of tasks I needed to do, and spent some time figuring out when would be the best time to slot them in to ensure that I completed them in good time before deadlines. It meant I could, barring unexpected emergencies, avoid the stress of tight deadlines. It also meant that, most months, if an unexpected emergency arose (as they frequently did in those last few years when we were helping care for two very dependent relatives), I had already made a good start on the urgent stuff.
Which is not to say that I didn’t struggle with the stresses and strains of combining a demanding job with caring responsibilities and normal life – I most certainly did (and I worked part time, not full time).
I struggled to the point that I had twice to take time off sick as a result of being burnt out by stress. But those experiences were partly what taught me the usefulness of forward planning; of doing things in a timely way, not a rush (where possible). And once I got into a rhythm of doing the things that helped me, well, it did help ease some very hard situations.
And now I have the luxury of freedom to choose, and the habit of planning ahead. And I am still finding it helps me fit in most (but never all) of the things I really want to be spending my time on. And reminding me that we always have to make choices about what we do and what we leave undone, and that life is never, ever predictable.