What I saw in my head: Fred and I would take a leisurely drive to Charlotte to participate in a PlannerCon Party, after which we’d drive across the country on US 10 to California. Fred would drive and I’d be typing away in the passenger seat writing curriculum and blog posts. The weather would be warm and sunny, and I’d get plenty of Vitamin D therapy.
The reality: We left hours later than we planned due to unexpected delays and last minute errands. We got to Charlotte late, hit standstill traffic and set up franctically after the conference began. I started and ended the event frazzled and flustered.
When it ended, I felt relieved – let the relaxation and productivity begin! We stayed overnight in Atlanta, had a quick visit with my in-laws in the morning and headed down toward US 10 via Alabama. When we were just outside Mobile we realized we left a suitcase in Atlanta, and the next morning Fred backtracked 3 1/2 hours to the hotel while I worked. The seven-hour roundtrip turned into twelve thanks to an 8 car pile up on the freeway. When he finally got back at about 11:00 PM, it was with the news that brakes on the Edge were on the fritz.
We have arrived at the dealership a full three days behind schedule. (I should be writing this from the condo in Palm Desert, but Palm Desert, according to Google Maps, is still 1800 miles away.) The entire trip has been a steady stream of interruptions – more than I usually get at home — and can I just say that Fred needs an exceptional amount of GPS assistance and has apparently decided I am his personal music curator. I am, if you can’t tell, a tad cranky.
How I saw myself behaving: I was sure I’d be an angel of inner peace, tranquil, relaxed, laughing easily, fun to be around. I’d be the perfect travel companion. The hours would be filled by bursts of creative brilliance separated by stimulating conversation and energized brainstorming. I’d have plenty of time to meditate and read my Bible and the other books I brought. I’d reset my sleep schedule. Food would be treated as fuel, eating to calm inflammation and reset my digestive system.
The reality: I’m tired and frustrated. I’ve become a brittle, sullen travel companion with a sharp tongue used mostly to break up passive aggressive sighs and dramatic lip-biting. I’m not only not the embodiment of inner peace, I’m the complete opposite of it. Zero meditation and minimal prayer have occurred (unless you include breaking down into tears during a Lauren Daigle song. Actually, I’m gonna go ‘head and count it or my trip prayer total will bottom out.) My diet since leaving last Thursday has consisted mostly of Diet Coke and coffee, peanuts and Wint-O-Green Lifesavers, with the occasional fast food sandwich or diner dinner thrown in for good measure. My body feels sluggish. My mind feels cluttered. My spirit feels defeated. Epic fail.
Ever notice that when things go south we have a weird need to place blame? I mean, it has to be somebody’s fault because, humans. In my angst I choose Fred. I can’t write because Fred keeps asking me to GPS things or find music stations. I’m neglecting (much-needed) prayer time because of Fred’s presence. I can’t eat healthy food because Fred is always ready to eat when there are no good restaurants around. When the road changes direction and the sun blinds me, Fred did it. The pouring rain? It’s Fred. The brakes failing? Even though I can’t remember the last time, if ever, we had the brakes done, it’s gotta be Fred’s driving. Human rights violations in China and starvation in Nigeria? Fred.
I know. I sound like – no I am— a total Hagatha. And also apparently delusional, because clearly none of this is really Fred’s fault. Well, except the whole forgetting the suitcase in Atlanta thing, but let’s not rehash all that. The naked truth is that I am the problem. Not Fred. Not the traveling. Me.
The trip is not that different than my usual time at home. So often my day is hijacked by tiny decisions that sabotage my work and growth. I recall Gretchen Rubin’s words in The Happiness Project. She advocates clearing both physical and schedule “clutter”, doing a time audit and making small adjustments toward efficiency that can really help calm and direct our days.
This grid was used in a training session I attended some years ago.
The idea is to review how we spend a typical day, placing tasks in the quadrants where they best fit. Quadrant A – tasks that are both important and immediate (important meaning really impact my quality of life and long-term goals; immediate meaning they need to be done right now.) Quadrant B are tasks that are not important, but immediate; quadrant C, tasks that are important but not immediate, and finally quadrant D, the tasks that are neither important nor immediate.
Many people spend their days in quadrants A and B, but truly successful people – leaders and outliers – focus on tasks that fall into quadrants A and C.
Even now I can’t really wrap my mind around this. If something needs to be done right now doesn’t that make it important? And even more confounding, how on earth do I ignore the immediate for the important? I mean, let’s face it, there are definite and unpleasant consequences that will occur if one stops doing laundry, paying bills, or watering plants or pets. Or husbands or daughters, for that matter.
Still…. Still. My personal life and my fledgling business are both a hot mess of quadrant B chaos – those annoying tasks with firm deadlines, but not a whole lot of return on our time investment. I run from morning until night crossing things off a to-do list that is never finished. But the B tasks neither add value to my life, nor help me build a future – professionally, spiritually, or physically. I do get that it’s impossible to completely get rid of the B quadrant without wearing smelly clothes, getting evicted or murdering the plants.
Early on in Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist cautions that the kind of gut-and-rehab I want to do “…cannot be about time management or better to-do lists… Instead it comes from within, from being called away from the weight of comparison, competition and exhaustion, recrafting one’s life so that it is marked with meaning, connection and unconditional love.”
It doesn’t seem possible to recraft my life unless I am willing to, for the time being, schedule my day not by what I deem “has to get done” but rather by what will most add value. For example, as a woman of faith, I say that praying, journaling and getting in the Word are essential to my soul and daily life, yet I tend to put them in quadrant C – important but not immediate. And because I have managed to fill quadrant B with a crazy number of tasks, prayer and Bible-reading often end up not happening, which de facto means I actually place them in quadrant D, which feels shameful and foolish. Also, let’s face it – this has been my standard operating procedure for 30+ years, the results of which have been a decent life, decent productivity, decent relationships, but not the kind of exceptional, meaningful, inspirational life I want.
I don’t mind sharing that I took quite a pause between what I wrote above and what comes next. I let it marinate (one of my favorite expressions.) Here’s what I came up with during the break.
I’m going to try an experiment for the last 12 days of the month. I’m going to spend time on whatever daily tasks fall into quadrants A and C before I begin to tackle anything in the B space. So praying, journaling, reading (including scriptures, books and articles that edify) and anything else I deem important to my spiritual growth, my family, my health, building my business, will come before cleaning, laundry, bills, errands, etc.
My fear is that my stress will rise off the charts. I find putting off “immediate tasks” unsettling and counterintuitive. But we have all read that insanity is doing the same thing over-and-over, expecting different results. Perhaps it’s time to shake things up.
What do you think? Any advice for me? Oh, by the way, once I accepted that the road trip was off-rails, I rallied and relaxed into it. We ended up completely changing the plans and schedule, with some interesting results – I’ll write about that next.
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