I’ve read a few posts like this before (I just can’t resist the appeal of tips on how to get more out of my time) and I always begin them with the hope that I might discover some new secret to time efficiency that’s never occurred to me before. Mostly, I never discover anything miraculous; more likely I find I’m already doing most of what’s recommended but I might just also be reminded of some common sense approach, that’s kick-yourself simple that I’ve just forgotten to keep doing along the way. I do however, ALWAYS finish reading feeling much more motivated, switched on to my bad habits and feeling all brand new, like I’m never going to procrastinate again. Ahem.
I suppose it all depends on how your ‘time’ is making you feel: my time (or lack of), for example, has been a source of frustration for a while now and it’s affecting my ability to unwind. For quite a while I’ve been about as busy as I can (just about) handle with work, which leaves me feeling totally empty when I get home. But that’s no good because then, I need to switch to mummy/wife mode and be good at that too; I end up beating myself up for looking forward to the girls’ bedtime, so that I can be quiet, be still and gather myself after a tough day (and of course, binge on Station 19 – we’re loving the Grey’s spin off at the moment!). This process generally hits repeat every 24 hours and is one exhausting cycle of negativity.
The thing for me, is I need variety. I have no problem with working hard but I absolutely have to change up the scenery during the day and have a little me/family/friend time as well. Not much time can pass without this before I start feeling stressed, demotivated and like there’s no point in working so hard if there’s no time to play either. In fact, it’s scientifically proven that prolonged periods of too much stress actually degenerates the part of the brain that is responsible for self control. Meaning that, we lose our handle on our normal behaviour, plus our ability to successfully manage our stress… So here’s my contribution on the matter: I’ve been reflecting on this lots recently and feel like I’ve really nailed the solution (for me personally at least) and I hope that there might be something in this for you too…
Spend your time wisely – get to know what your best ‘me time’ is
‘Me time’ (I’ll try not to annoyingly overuse this phrase!) is different for everyone and it’s important to think about what your best version of this is. This will make sure that, when you do have some of it, you’ll spend it wisely. I’ve already said that (for me) it’s about variety, a change of scenery and I particularly like things that give me escapism (like the cinema, reading, creating). For too long, when I had some time to spare, I’d end up having nothing to show for it because I’d never considered what makes me feel the best and the most refreshed. Again, it’s one of those kick-yourself simple concepts but sometimes it helps to have it pointed out.
It’s great to have a variety of things up your sleeve for when precious chunks of time appear; things that take different amounts of time or require differing resources, so you have a tool box to pick from when you have time to play with, no matter how much or how little time you have. If you’re a runner for example, running might be the thing that resets you after a long day and that’s great, when you have the time to do that. But you won’t always have time to squeeze in a run, you might not have your gear with you, perhaps you have somewhere to be straight after and it’s not appropriate to look puffed out, red and moist when you turn up (it takes all sorts, mind). So have some simpler ideas to pick from too, to guarantee the likelihood of grabbing a switch off whenever you can.
- Colouring in (stay with me!) – I’m a simple creature: I have a grown-up colouring book and some posh pencils and I LOVE concentrating on nothing but keeping perfectly in the lines (but I actually spend most of the time guarding it all against my 4 year old!).
- Stick on an audio book – I’ve spent years convincing myself I don’t have the time to read but thanks to my library’s audio book app, I’ve powered through 5 books in the last 2 months and all whilst keeping on top of other things at the same time. I can recommend The Break by Marian Keys and How To Stop Time by Matt Haig if you like an easy going but thought-provoking listen…
- Crochet a few rows – this one has to wait until nap time for our youngest or she’ll run off with the ball of wool; last time she tried to put it out the cat flap while I was still attached… Obviously not something you can pick up anytime but still one of my favourites and I can nearly take my eyes off it to watch the TV at the same time!
- Head down the beach and hunt for sea glass – I adopted this from my sister-in-law, who got me hooked on a holiday in St Ives last year. There’s something blissful about the concentration in finding it glisten in the sand and my kitchen windowsill has bottles and bud vases filled with treasure from hours of time well spent.
Don’t neglect your routines
Leading such busy lives as is now the norm means we find ourselves neglecting the things that make us feel like us. Working in the beauty industry, it’s no surprise that I’m a bit of a product junkie but essentially, a lot of what winds me down is about taking care of myself. Life has got busier and busier the last few years and I find myself not practising what I preach anymore, which leaves me feeling neglected and so I’ve started actively looking for opportunities to squeeze it all back in again.
One example of how I’ve done this: I’m lucky enough to travel to work with my husband, so while he’s driving us, I’ll dig out the mini manicure kit I keep in the passenger side door, sort out my cuticles and rub in some balm and something as simple as this makes me feel a hundred times better. Since having children, I wash my hands so much more than I ever did (they’re filthy animals); my skin gets so dry it’s like Velcro – I’d actually ladder my tights just by touching them! At least now I’ll get through the day without my hands being a constant reminder to me of how little time I have.
Make more hours in the day and say yes!
The busier my lifestyle gets, the more I convince myself I need more sleep (or I can’t possibly cope) but it recently got to the point where I was going to bed by 8:30pm and still not feeling any better for it and I wondered: what more can I do? If I go to bed any earlier I’ll barely have an evening at all and the day will just be all about work. It had already gotten to the point where I’d get anxious about being invited out on a school night, as it’d mean I’d go to bed so late and I actually avoided it if I could. But something’s got to give. I’ve come to the conclusion that sleep breeds more sleep and I already had proof that I wasn’t feeling better for going to bed so early. So I started saying yes (to the invites, even making some myself) and staying up a little later, to make sure I had something to show for my time at home. I’m still just as tired as I was before but definitely not more tired and definitely more fulfilled.
Another thing I used to say no to on a school night included burning my favourite scents in the house: normally that’s my weekend thing because I think candles should have a good few hours to burn properly, right across the wax (can’t bare ‘tunnelling’!) and I wasn’t up enough hours after work to make this worth the while but then I realised I was talking crap and now it’s the first thing I do when I walk in the front door. Fragrance really sets a mood for me and burning my favourite candle has become synonymous with winding down at home and switching off.
Notice what narks you and stop doing it
I had a revelation last week: those little red bubbles on the apps on my phone really bother me. Each time I unlock my phone I see red bubbles on most of my apps and I realised they felt like a ‘to do’ list that never got completed. In addition to all the other things constantly pecking at me to get done, my phone was adding to the pile (even if only in a small way, it all mounts up). I did a little research and it’s so easy to turn them off; they’re called ‘badges’ and it turns out ‘banners’ had the same effect on me, so I’ve switched off most of them as well. Such a trivial thing but now my phone’s home screen feels less chaotic and I now actually see the beautiful picture saved as my wallpaper of my girls playing on the beach, rather than distractedly tapping on twenty-something apps to get rid of the red bubbles!
It’s made me wonder: what else might there be that’s adding to my feeling of overwhelm? It’s all too easy to go from day to day being unconscious to these little details but paying a little attention to how you’re feeling and making some simple changes can make a world of difference to your motivation and ability to switch off.
How do you break a stressful cycle? What are your favorite ways to wind down and beat the busy-ness that is now considered normal?
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