Tag Archives: stress

Identifying negative routine

For a very long time, I’ve thought that I am not a creature of habit. I claim to dislike routine and repetitive tasks and prefer to keep my life in a manageable state of chaos. I’ve now realised, however, that I don’t not have routine. I have negative routine.

I don’t normally make my bed in the morning. I almost always get out of bed late enough that I have to rush to have a chance of getting to work on time. I usually don’t wash my dirty dishes immediately. I avoid doing laundry until I am literally going to run out of clean clothes. I exercise only very occasionally.

I’ve believed for most of my life that the above paragraph describes a resistance to routine. I don’t like routine. I don’t want it. But I realised this morning that I do all of those things with great consistency. They are my routine.

My morning routine looks a bit like this:

  1. Snooze alarm (a few times)
  2. Notice the time, panic because I’ll be late for work and spring into action
  3. Shower (a little longer than I can afford to given that I’ve woken up late)
  4. Decide I don’t have enough time to shave
  5. Search through messy cupboard for clothes to wear
  6. Get dressed
  7. Brush teeth
  8. Use lack of time as an excuse to not make my bed or tidy up in any way
  9. Pack up the things I need to take to work
  10. Get in the car and head to work, knowing with certainty that I will be late
  11. Stress

Looking at that list, it’s no wonder that I find every workday stressful from the start. It takes me a good few hours to really settle into a day of work, so while I do get things done in the morning, I’m usually just trying desperately to keep up rather than actually being on top of my work. Only in the afternoon, when I’ve finally settled down at my desk, do I really make significant progress in my day.

And then I go home, tired from the day that started off in a state of self-induced stress. When I get home, it’s to the mess I created by avoiding cleaning and tidying up.

This is my routine. It’s not a resistance to routine as I’ve thought for so long, but a well-practised, finely-tuned exercise in compromising every day of my own life. I realise now that I choose it, and that only I can change it.

Mood Matters

I used to think that my mood made no material difference to my ability to successfully perform tasks, particularly tasks that I’m used to. But over time that’s proving not to be the case. My mood matters. A lot.

I work in a fairly stressful job. There are multiple deadlines during each day and they all have to be met. So I don’t have a lot of time to slow down and think about how I’m approaching my day. I simply have to get on with it.

The trouble with that is not the stress itself. It’s the lack of space to deal with my mood. If I arrive at work frustrated and stressed out for some reason completely unrelated to work, that frame of mind stays with me and affects how I experience my work day.

What has woken me up to this reality is dissatisfaction in my work. On some days, I really don’t like my job. And that’s been slightly mystifying because on other days I relish my work. Looking at those days on which I’d rather be somewhere else, I can see that I’ve taken stress and frustration to work with me, rather than the work itself being the problem.

Of course, there’s a positive side to this too – if I arrive at work calm, collected and focused on being productive, I generally have a fantastic day.

This is something that’s taken me a bit by surprise. And looking at it now, it seems a little ridiculous that it’s taken me 30 years to work out that I need to prepare myself mentally for any task in order to perform it well. But that’s just how it is.

Of course, this new realisation is also a call to action. I need to spend my morning in such a way that I arrive at work in a positive frame of mind. That means I need to have enough time for my morning routine, so that I don’t have to rush.

It also means that I must wake up refreshed, which requires that my sleep be of sufficient length and quality. And for that to happen, I need to go to bed early and, perhaps more importantly, without being stressed out.

This post is now going in a direction that has been covered before – I need to take care of myself. And that’s not what I was thinking when I started to write today. But it’s the inevitable conclusion. If I want to live a positive and productive life, I must first be good to myself.

This new appreciation of the importance of mood also highlights something I chatted about with a good friend over a glass of wine yesterday evening: It’s crucial to face personal issues, even if it’s uncomfortable.  That’s how we learn and grow.

If I constantly push my own issues aside, they don’t go away. Instead, they stress me out and wreck my mood. If I deal with my problems, they go away. And the lightness that results from solving my own personal problems is truly wonderful. It’s surprisingly easy to forget that.

So I suppose the conclusion I’m drawing from this meandering post is this: I need to care about myself enough to face the issues that are holding me back. I’ll be trying to keep that in mind as I go through today; then tomorrow; and hopefully every day after that.


Quit trying to do everything yourself

I’m guessing you have a long list of things to do at home that you never get round to. My wife and I certainly do. We finally worked out that we don’t have to do it all ourselves. We also worked out how to get it all done in pretty quick time.

How? We hired a PA (Personal Assistant). Just for a week. Just to take care of some stuff that we needed done.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Last Sunday, the wife and I were staring at each other across the coffee table, contemplating the bleakness of our to-do list (Quite a lot of that list really needed to happen by the middle of the week).

And we wondered aloud “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just pay someone else to do it all?”

A few seconds later, we clicked. “We CAN just pay someone else to do it all!”

So we Googled this idea, hoping to find some sort of agency or business that did exactly what we wanted. No luck. Then we started looking at Gumtree ads, where we found one promising candidate, who we emailed (without ever getting a response).

Not long after sending that email, we thought “What we really need is a student-type person who’s on holiday and therefore has the time.” We also thought it would help if we actually knew this person who would end up with access to our house and cars while we were not at home.

A quick phone-call to one of my sisters later, we had our target. An unemployed (funemployed in her terms) friend of my youngest sister who had just finished studying and was waiting to go overseas.

We called her up, met with her later in the afternoon and she agreed to work for us. In return, we promised her pay, petrol money, airtime and five lunches.

The result has been, in a word, magnificent.

In the space of a week our awesome PA has engaged the services of movers, an electrician, a handyman and a cleaner. The enormous pile of everything that has been sitting in our garage waiting to be sorted has been neatly divided into appropriately labeled sections.

We’ve acquired a ladder (we needed one), had a wardrobe and various other items sold and had some clothes dry-cleaned. Next week, my wife’s car is getting fixed and a handyman is coming to sort out some more issues that we’ve identified.

What we’ve learned from this experience

1. We don’t have the time to clear our to-do list. In fact, if we had to do everything that’s been done this week it would take weeks or even months to accomplish.

2. We can afford it. Many people I know would prefer to leave things undone or do them badly rather than pay someone else to do it, simply because of the perception that there’s no money available. That’s not true. Budget is just a factor. If money were tight, we would have made it a day or two instead of a full week.

3. Getting things done is satisfying. And that applies even if we’re getting them done by proxy. I’m very pleased by what’s been accomplished this week.

4. An organised life is more pleasant. Just walking into our garage is more pleasant than it was a few days ago. Where before there was a mess to be dealt with, now there are specific actions to be taken with specific things: A particular pile of books needs to be sold, tossed or shelved. Some items we need but don’t use often must be put into the ceiling. And so on.

5. We don’t need to make all of the decisions. We needed a ladder, but we didn’t choose it. It was chosen for us, and that’s just fine with me. We didn’t have to choose our electrician, handyman, movers or cleaner. And everything worked out just fine.

6. We don’t need to control all of our spending. Most of the tasks our PA dealt with this week involved money. We didn’t want to have to approve everything, so we gave her complete freedom to approve anything up to R500. We could have made it higher, and probably will next time. Because of that freedom, we only had to approve expenses on 2 or 3 occasions. The rest of the time, things just happened and we found out when we got the invoices for payment.

7. When we have time, we’re more productive. My wife and I both work full-time. We normally get home tired and a bit stressed, and then try to deal with our world in that compromised state. Now we don’t have to do that. So we end up happier and more relaxed when we go to work. In my case, the benefits have been noticeable.

In conclusion

Stop stressing about your personal to-do list. Really. Just stop. It’s not helping you or anyone else to be stressed about problems you don’t have the time to solve.

Just hire someone. Make it someone you trust and someone you expect to actually do the things you want done. And then forget about it.

And stop worrying about the money. Money is just a tool. Spend it to make your life better.