I finally give in and decide to make a schedule

Wow, those dreams really got me writing and thinking. I wrote seven Morning Pages today (usually I write three or fewer) and four of those were typed, and there’s still more I want to get down. I’m so pleased to be writing again, and I’m feeling so much more balanced and calm as a result.

I’m also feeling that way because I’ve been thinking about routines a lot lately, and have decided I really do need to schedule my time more rigidly than I do. I’m always getting bogged down with all my activities: there are so many things I want to do, and there seems to be less and less time to do them in. I get really frustrated when I go too long without working on a project, but it’s hard to tend to one without neglecting all the others. Several times this pressure has brought me to tears of despair about my ability to ever make this work.

Part of the problem is that yes, it’s true, I have way more activities than any sane person should. Every time I start freaking out about time management, I end up making a list of all the things that take up my time, and this last time the list (which I tried to make as comprehensive as possible) was probably the longest ever:

The top nine items are things that are uncompromiseable, in that they are either just that important to me, or else they simply can’t be neglected on a daily or weekly basis. Other than that, these activities aren’t in any particular order.

  • my relationship with Erik
  • the kitties
  • sleep
  • yoga
  • homekeeping (roughly defined, in my mind, as “keeping the house nice”; includes cleaning, decorating, laundry, etc)
  • the garden
  • my art journal (this is a private blog I keep for myself, to track my progress)
  • beauty/skin care/hygiene (I do probably spend less time on this than most women)
  • morning pages
  • cardio training/going for walks and hikes and rambles
  • strength training
  • cooking and baking
  • singing
  • tidying (I personally, and many of my activities as well, tend to clutter, so this is really important and deserves a category separate from regular old cleaning)
  • decoupage prep (acquiring magazines and old books, cutting scraps from them, browsing Ebay, Etsy, and yard sales for boxes, etc)
  • decoupage (actually making the boxes)
  • family (this is a huge category I haven’t bothered to sub-divide)
  • friends (also a huge category)
  • sewing projects
  • Livejournal
  • reading for fun
  • houseguests and parties
  • errands
  • yard sales
  • games (I wish this weren’t a category, but I do play computer games pretty frequently)
  • Facebook
  • sending and replying to emails
  • reading webcomics and blogs
  • planning, and someday running, my Etsy shop
  • events (concerts, shows, parties, etc)
  • drawing
  • writing

I told you it was a long list. This is why I haven’t yet learned to paint, haven’t revisited dance classes, and will probably never knit!

While it’s probably true that there isn’t enough time to do all the things I want to do, there’s even less time when I have to waste it and my energy trying to decide what to do at any given moment, or worrying about what’s not getting done in the meantime. I’ll confess that sometimes I just end up spending hours playing computer games because it all seems too overwhelming. I’m not a very regimented person — I like to be spontaneous, and decide on the spur of the moment what I’m going to do — so I’ve resisted strict schedules for a long long time (and maybe it’s also because Mommy does like to make schedules and lists — and used to try to get me to do things like lay my clothes out the night before), but now I’m starting to see their value. When there are this many things involved in my time and in my mental space, there just isn’t any extra energy to spend on making use-of-time decisions.

It’s kind of ridiculous, but even though I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and have had many conversations with Erik about it, I didn’t really get it until last night when I was brushing my teeth. We had been in San Jose all weekend and we got home late. I was exhausted and just wanted to crawl into bed and be unconscious. But first I had to brush my teeth and wash my face, and I was so tired I didn’t want to. I’m not proud of this, but every time that I’m this exhausted in the evening, I consider skipping the whole tooth-brushing, face-washing routine entirely. Then I feel guilty, and consider skipping only part of it instead, like not flossing (though they say it’s better to skip brushing than flossing), or not washing my face. Always, inevitably, I decide it’s just better to do it, and I end up doing the complete regimen, with my two types of face lotion and all. Last night I was going through the usual procrastination process when I suddenly decided to just go into the bathroom and do it. And as slow and stupid as this makes me sound, I realized in that moment how much energy I waste all the time trying to decide whether to do something I know I’m eventually going to do anyway: of course I’m going to brush and wash before bed — why do I even bother to think about it? And then it hit me that that’s why we set up routines for ourselves, that’s why we do things the same way and at the same time every day or every week — because we don’t have brain space to waste on making decisions about these things.

I feel like such a doofus for never realizing this before, but it really was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I guess a lot of people go through their lives never questioning their routines, but I was way too far to the opposite extreme! I thought of the old verse housewives used to rely on: “Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday,” and I finally understood why it was so useful. If it was Monday, you knew you were going to be doing the washing, and if it was later in the week and the laundry was starting to pile up, you didn’t have to fret, because you knew you’d get to it on Monday. It’s genius! This is what I need for my own life. Maybe it’s going to turn me into a boring person who does the same thing every day and goes to bed early, but that’s better than being an insane, unbalanced person who breaks down crying in a taqueria parking lot (this is what happened to me last time the time-management stress got to me). It’s good — I think my life is going to get a lot better once I get my schedule set, and that’s what I’m going to work on first thing after lunch.

The other nice thing about routines is something I was thinking about a couple of weeks ago, also while I was getting ready for bed! It occurred to me that a lot of what we do every day has no precedent in primordial human life: brushing teeth, brushing hair, washing dishes, journal writing, checking email, and so on.* And yet, there’s some kind of very basic satisfaction that comes from doing all these things when they need to be done. I was thinking, maybe we like our routines because they remind us of the vital rhythms that would govern our lives in a more ancient time: the rise and set of the sun, the changes in the seasons, the natural shifts caused in our bodies by the aging process, monthly menstrual cycles. Our society has pretty much wiped out our dependence on any of these rhythms, and yet they still affect us deeply, as evidenced by SAD and PMS and stuff like that. Maybe we find our own little routines so comforting because they remind us of these rhythms that all creatures know, and because they provide substitute signposts in a world where we no longer rely on the old ones.

PS. Yesterday we saw Up again, with the family, and it was just as good the second time. I cried even harder!

PPS. Last night I dreamed that Erik and Jennifer and I were roaming around town trying to find a place to have dinner. There was a Tibetan place but Jennifer thought it was too dirty, and everything else was either closed or also unacceptable in some way. Finally we found a table at a Japanese cafe, but it turned out they were a dessert cafe and only had chocolates and coffee drinks.

*Well, okay yeah, you can read these things as having precedents: primates grooming themselves and each other, human contact, cleaning your cave, etc.