Thursday, November 3, 2016
The productivity rabbit hole.
My current work schedule is an every other week rotation. It's ideal and fits my life as it is now, so no complaints. However, this is my 50-hours-in-7-days week. It's also the week before a vacation which inevitably means it takes 20 mental hours to get through a 10-hour day. Thus is life.
After a 3-day stretch, I have the day off. Husband is out of town and Kiddo is at school and our once-monthly splurge on a housekeeper just occurred. The house is clean and quiet and all is right in the world. There is a french press with my name on it, a nearly finished embroidery project, and one chapter left of The Hound of the Baskervilles. So what if my alarm clock erroneously decided daylight savings time occurred last night and changed itself? Thankfully Kiddo got himself up this morning in a somewhat timely fashion.
We hopped in the car in the pitch dark that now persists past our 7a departure time, and click click click goes the car engine. A tardy excuse note was scribbled and a bike lock key located, and in a matter of moments he was on his way to school. (His idea to ride his bike! How resourceful + flexible! The teenage equivalent of a lunar eclipse. There is a cupcake with his name on it for afternoon snack.)
I drank my coffee and showered and picked up my phone to call AAA. Only, my cell phone was stuck on the text message screen and stubbornly resisted my attempts at a restart. (One of many reasons I believe in keeping a landline, but I digress.) By 11:30 my car was jump-started then checked out by a mechanic and I was sent on my merry way, if only a little weary about operating things containing electricity.
These days I never feel like I have enough time. Logically, I see that I do. Every other week I only work 3 shifts, leaving me with 4 days off. So why does my to-do list persist? Why do I feel like I never have enough time for anything? Days like today are the exception, not the rule. And yet I'm always playing catch up and bemoaning a lack of personal time to my poor Husband.
I realized something this morning: I am the reason I always feel short on time. You see, if today had gone as planned and I had puttered around the house all day in my pajamas, I would have felt horrendously guilty that I hadn't done x, y and z. You're so unproductive! I would have told myself, You have SO MUCH to do!. Instead of enjoying my coveted day off, I would have brow-beaten myself for literally taking a day off.
Alternately, there are the days where I force myself out, list in hand, determined to prove my domestic and organizational prowess. So I run into the city, inevitably getting trapped in traffic one or both ways, crossing off this or that that I didn't really need to do as much as say, sitting down to meal plan. But somehow I give myself credit for being moderately unproductive as long as I left the house and went through the motions.
Then there's the common practice of making something a much bigger project than it has to be. For instance, the other night I went into Portland to take a class. The class was cancelled, so I spent a couple hours grabbing dinner and aimlessly wandering around our big, beautiful new Anthropologie store. I picked up a scent diffuser for Kiddo's bathroom and other such things. Long story short, Kiddo loves the diffuser and moved it to his room because it smelled funky, too. (See above regarding teenage boys. Oy.) However, it was the only thing that finally made his bathroom smell like something other than a goat farm, and he embraces so few of my ideas, so now I'm fervently pursuing a second diffuser. Which means another trip to Anthro which involves nightmarish city parking and traffic jams and half a day off spent in downtown Portland when all I really want to do is finish my embroidery hoop and make a batch of banana bread. I could run 3 errands and be back home drinking a cup of joe in the time it would take to pick up that single superfluous oil diffuser.
So why do I feel so compelled to do these things? To stretch myself thin? Especially when I have to work all weekend and come Monday I know I will feel anxious and annoyed because my perception will be that I haven't had time to pack for our trip and meal prep for Kiddo (he'll be staying behind with a family friend). I'll snip at Husband because he was away on business and didn't help enough and once again lament my lack of free time. As history dictates, I'll likely leave for our vacation with the unpleasant feeling that I forgot 50 things and my kid will starve and my house looks ransacked and, and, and. (You know the feeling. The white hot panicky I left the stove burner on and the house will burn down adrenaline spikes that occur every 5 minutes for the first day of your trip.)
I could sit here and blame our culture for the pressure it puts on humans, especially human moms, to be everything, do everything, and accomplish all while keeping up the illusion that our worlds are maintained by a mixture of pure magic and elegance. But I can't do that. The fact is, I've let my thoughts and expectations become cluttered. I beat myself up for not being productive then kvetch that I spent my day off running errands. Lose-lose.
Today, in this very hour, I'm vowing to change my ways. If that plant dies because I didn't repot it today, it probably wasn't long for this world anyway. The crumbs on my counter? I scraped them into the trash with my AAA card while on hold waiting to place a service request. Twenty seconds and my counter was clean. It didn't have to go on a list and become some big bad project I revolted against because It's my day off, damn it!
Oh, and that oil diffuser? I woke up and realized I'm in the 21st century and things can be delivered to my door. Yes, his bathroom will smell like teenage funk for a week while I wait for it. That might just be the definition of a First World problem. Which meant I could sit at Starbucks and write a blog post, a pastime I dearly love but so often gets pushed to the back burner by unnecessary noise and feelings of obligation. (Bonus: I stumbled across the perfect Christmas gift for my sister-in-law and it's coming along for the ride. One less thing to do a month from now.)
Tonight's dinner will be something from the freezer and I will probably pack underwear and nothing else. Tomorrow, I'll pack something else. Oh dear! What if I forget something?! Chances are good I can live without it or a local drugstore will have a replacement. Oh no! What if I don't have time for a mani/pedi before we go?! Then I'll have chipped nails in Mexico. Who cares? Imperfection in paradise is still paradise. What if Kiddo can't find something to eat?! He's an able-bodied young man who lives 5 minutes from a grocery store. Fending for himself is something we've been training him for his whole life. Trust that you've done right by him. Guilt is no less toxic than rat poison and should be treated as such.
I'm convinced life is meant to be lived differently. More simply. With more joy and less errands. Life comes with enough inherent pressure and responsibility. Why add to it?
The first step: Start setting realistic expectations. The only way to truly step out of the rat race is to Marie Kondo my to-do list. I'm going to start by dividing it into two categories: What must get done and what would be nice to get done. They are not one and the same and should therefore be approached with a different mindset. Clean underwear, necessity. Rewrapping my kokedama, nice. Voting, necessity. Ordering my 2017 planner, nice. Buying car insurance, necessity. Buying another pair of ankle boots, nice.
Here's to a more sane, less guilty existence, and the ability to embrace the day (off).