On making plans and clearing mental clutter.
My good friend Naomi shared on Facebook last week an article containing a neat tip about to-do lists and how to manage the weight of tasks.
I bookmarked the link, of course didn’t read it, but have uncharacteristically returned to it for two small, compatible reasons: first, with my new job and a second work announcement forthcoming I have less free time than used to and thus need to make decisions; and second, as I eye off the six-ish months until the end of this year and these contracts I’ve just signed, I’m considering how my next year will begin and what I can do now to set myself up for it.
That sounds like I’m living too far ahead, doesn’t it?
That’s not quite my intention: I’m trying to be cleverer with my time and reflect on where I am right now, as well as thinking to the future.
I’ve been writing on this blog for just over a year, since I first arrived in Timor-Leste. This blog has been a diary, a lifeline, a way to connect with new people, a love letter to home and sometimes, proof to my mum that I’m still alive. You’ll likely know from the wearying lengths and self-indulgent tendencies of my posts that I write largely for myself, but this blog had found itself a tiny group of regular readers and I collect a handful of views every day. I see every person who reads these words and I never take it for granted. Thank you, thank you for reading here.
In this time I’ve amassed something like eighty unpublished posts: scraps of ideas and mucky thoughts that have never bloomed into fully-formed posts.
The technique Naomi shared suggests a way to stop items migrating from one week’s to-do list to another (and stressing you out more with their compounded weight) by forcing a reckoning: once a month, once a week, once a whatever, examine your stuffed list and do it all immediately or shoot it dead.
The point is to relieve you of the mental burden of these undone tasks. If you’re not getting them done, you’re not helping yourself by pretending you’ll get them done. And you can always add them back later. So let them go.
I loved this!
And I’m trying it myself.
I’ve committed to writing on this blog every day for the rest of the month, to churn through my draft scraps and start the year’s second half afresh.
But it’s not just about re-organising my blog or skimming a digestible LifeHacker post.
I’m reflecting on the time I have available and what are the very most important things for me to be doing with it. I’m considering what nourishes me and exhausts me, what kind of work lights me up and what makes me feel less-than-thrilled. I’m asking myself what it’s building towards.
I have no grand announcement yet, only to say: the truth is within all this, somewhere.
I read at the beginning of this year something that said like, “Everything you’re capable of is within you already,” which I found gently woo-woo and pleasing. My body’s ability to run a marathon is something I’ll build from training, not something I must transact or hope for. My brain’s capable of writing a novel, it’s just waiting for me to slough down to the dedication and courage within I can’t see yet. I’m not going to radically change and suddenly become capable of doing the things I want; I must examine the capacity already within me.
One small part of this process requires looking at everything I fill my time with and deciding to kill what doesn’t serve me.
Another small part involves writing more, because writing is one of my few consistent guides; it’s something that takes me closer to my truth. (I fucking hate hearing writers talk about writing; it always sounds so pompous, but writing does cut through for me the bushes of bullshit I let overgrow my mental path, if you can picture that).
I spend most of my waking hours thinking and talking about everything I haven’t done.
I haven’t written a short story. I haven’t pitched the Guardian. I haven’t run a half-marathon. I haven’t bought a scooter. I haven’t replied to 18 messages that sit patiently in my messenger inbox.
I have ideas for another blog, a copywriting business, a story-sharing network; a stock photo bank to build, a zero-waste community, workshops in my home, a free-form dance group for Dili, homemade coconut yoghurt and pickles and resin jewellery and a meditation retreat and a skills-sharing mountain holiday and hot-desks for hire in Dili cafes and a novel, one day a novel, and I’m racing with ideas and thoughts and half-formed plans like a dog you’ve just come home to after a week away. I’ll exhaust myself and crash down for a nap and not get any of it done and sit with with the burden and fear and anxiety of the undone tasks.
So finally, finally, I’m slowing down. I’m shaving off what doesn’t serve and confronting the fact that there are many things I won’t do, or won’t do yet.
I think something very good is around the corner. Thank you for being here for it.