You may have noticed by now, but I am a “routines and habits” kinda girl. I am never bored by the workaday life…the “métro, boulot, dodo…” I like waking up at the same time, doing exactly the same things, making my coffee, having my quiet work time. I like knowing exactly what time I need to be where.
I abhor the middle of the day, when there are other people to take into account, because other people invariably bring variability and this stresses me out. Am I a control freak? Perhaps. But I also have come to be at peace with how I function: in order to be a creative person, I need empty swaths of time in order to be able get down to business. If I have one little strand of something undone, I just can’t relax enough to get creative. (This doesn’t mean I have the motivation to do that one little thing…it just means I can’t do anything else, either.)
The all important swath
Most days, in this season of my life, I have one, sometimes two, swaths of time each day: one in the morning when the boys are at school until I pick them up for lunch, and sometimes, when I am very very lucky, one in the afternoon after lunch. These swaths are generally two and a half hours long, which, while a touch short for my taste, are long enough to make some progress on just about anything, as long as I know what I want to get started on.
Certain conditions must be met, however: I need to have nothing on the schedule. The laundry must be hung up to dry. Dishes must be washed and dried. Stray toys or pyjamas need to be put away. When these things are done, I feel like I can get started.
If I have a doctor’s appointment or need to run to store for something, or have a date to have coffee with a friend, that swath is moot. It is a fruitless little period of time. Sure, I might be able to do some little houseworky little things, but these events on the agenda stress me out so much that I can’t be creative.
I live for my end of day routine, which I use to unwind from the strings of unexpected things that I got tangled in throughout the day. That’s what a day feels like to me once there are other people involved: a tangle of sticky thoughts and words and emotions and things to do and mouths to feed. If it sounds like I don’t much like this, it’s because I don’t.
I am a socially functional introvert. I know this about myself and have no inclination to change it, if that would even be possible. Fortunately or unfortunately, I know that the only way for me to function socially, even with my own family, is for me to have enough time alone to be able to breathe and make progress on something. This was why I started setting alarm at 4:00AM to begin with. If I wanted to be available to my children each day, I needed several hours of alone time to be able to face them in the morning. It was my equivalent to charging my batteries before the day started.
I hate vacations
Enter vacation. Vacation of any kind, really. The random long-weekend, the Christmas breaks, the Spring breaks, and, most vicious of all, the Summer vacation.
Suddenly, those hours that I use to be creative, which is what I do that gives me a sense of existing, disappear into hours of negotiating between squabbling children, spouses wanting to chat, making real meals for four people (two of whom will never be satisfied with what I put in front of them anyway…) It only takes two days of this for me to feel desperately unhappy, lost and invisible.
I know what it takes to charge my batteries, and my routines are what make that happen.
Make progress wherever I can
The habits/routines/happiness author to whom I have turned on many occasions to help me get unstuck is named Gretchen Rubin. She has an idea that she has leashed into the world around this time every hear that she calls “design your summer.” (That link will take you to a series of podcast episodes and articles around this theme.)
Her idea is that have a few goals for this specific time of the year is helpful…and can even be fun.
Summer 2020 was a bust. The summer before that my family and I spent in the US on a prolonged vacation. The summer before that my little ones were too little–they had no independence at all to speak of.
So this year, summer 2021, I have decided to “engineer my summer.” There are a few sticking points I have uncovered as I make progress on my Ideal Life Exercises, ones that (you may have noticed through these last three weeks during which I exposed the contents of a typical Ideal Life exercise) make me simply miserable.
My “engineering projects” are going to be little, doable challenges that I give myself all summer in order to get unstuck. Notably, the topics of Family Life and Schedule, a Clean House and Mental Health are areas that each individually make me nuts. So this summer, I am going to do everything I can to start pulling the Jenga blocks out that are keeping these fortresses of frustration in place.
Over the next few days, I am going to expose some of those ideas for my own summer engineering projects. I hope that they will get you thinking about how you can use this time of the year to make progress, too!