Saturday, May 2, 2015

Productive Unemployment, and Flexible Scheduling for the Non-Structured Personality

Something many people don't consider or value is that a household economy is "money in and money out." Looking back over the past year and half of having a half -time job, I was able to do much better on the "money out" side of the equation when I was home. I had time to shop at thrift stores, take advantage of store sales, and cook more things from scratch. I only needed a few nice dressy items instead of a closet full, and I didn't need to drive as much or figure out child care during school holidays.  All that said, it was great to have a financial "cushion" and more security, and we've done some good things with the money: Bought one vehicle outright and paid off the other one, remodeled a kitchen debt-free, built up our savings account, and taken some neat trips. But the additional income came with a high price tag in time and stress, and personally, I haven't done well with that. With working, my stress skyrocketed, and my sleep (always a battle for me) nose-dived.

As for my husband, he is half-time ministry (which I used to do with him more, but could not when I was working), and half-time handyman. Each which could each easily be full time when he does not strictly lasso them in. The man is busy. Before I had a job too, I was able to do his bookkeeping and correspondence and the like, and I'll be going back to doing that again. With a lot of different things going on, things worked better when we could both be pulling in the same direction.

I'm looking forward to life not being so crazy as it has been. To being able to do things like regularly exercise so I can sleep and manage stress better, and bake snacks and meals instead of buying them. I'm excited about planting a big food garden, and I want to learn how to freeze and can my own healthy, chemical-free food. I can't wait to reconnect with friends and be able to open our home to others--hospitality is a huge value for my husband and I, and we have both felt frustrated that it was barely happening with me working. I was just too tired, and my evenings were filled chores and errands and kids' sports. Last summer when the kids were home all day was especially hard, but this summer I'll get to take my daughter out to do fun stuff instead of shuffling her from house to house, or leaving her home to most likely sit inside and look at a screen all day.

The question is not what will I do, it's which few things among the many possibilities teeming in my brain will I do? Because I've always had way more ideas and interests than I have time.

I have an idea for a new novel I would like to write on and develop. I was able to edit an already written manuscript while working, but story creation is a different thing, requiring a lot more time and focus. I have a manuscript of poems that go through the Pentateuch that I would like to polish up and put together. And I'd like to start writing on how to recover from complex PTSD and severe sexual abuse. I'd like to share some of the things I have learned with others. Looking back to my college-age and young-mother self of 20 odd years ago, there are things someone could have told me that would have made a huge difference. Things that would have helped. So maybe I can help someone else in the way that would have helped me.

In my new schedule, I want to use my time well. At the same time, I don't do well when every moment of time is blocked in and designated, where there's no room to move. Too much structure and no room to "go with the flow" kills my mojo, and makes me want to rebel. What works really well for me is to have some basic "neatening up" routines in place, along with a goal or a few goals for the day: From a "master list" of tasks, what do I want to tackle today? What needs done the most?

The basic routines are things I barely have to think about. Examples are doing the dishes and deciding what's for dinner while I'm making breakfast or lunch, since I'm in the kitchen anyway. Doing laundry on Mondays (if Monday is busy, this stretches to Tuesday as well), then folding it all while watching a good show (a treat!) on Monday or Tuesday night. Picking up and straightening things for ten minutes before bedtime. Walking the dog: I get that in most days though not at a fixed time, because it's good for both of us, I totally enjoy it, and the dog herself doesn't let me forget. If I'm lucky this can combine with time with a good friend. The kids' doing their chores (vacuuming and bathrooms) on weekends. It's nice to just have fixed routines that don't take much mental energy, and keep the house running smooth. Now that I'm home I'd like to have routine times for more items, like exercise (yoga or pilates? something beyond just walking the dog) and 2-4 regular writing sessions per week. And bookkeeping and grocery shopping, instead of these things happening at inconvenient times because "yikes! the fridge is empty!" and "shoot, that bill is due tomorrow!"

The goals-for-the-day (or week) is the form of planning that I have found works best for me. Here's how it works: I have a master list of stuff that needs done or I want to do. This list tended to be either in my head, or occasionally written out in random pages of my journal, but recently I gathered it all together and put it on Evernote (Now it's online, so I can't lose it! Same goes for Google Calendar on my smartphone, the only planner I've never lost!). Stuff like: buy birthday or mother's day gifts, install a watering system in the garden, buy a shower curtain, paint a wall, finish editing or formatting a writing project, organize my digital photos, or deep clean the bathrooms. These are not the the day in, day out every-week chores, which happen better in a regular routine, but all the other stuff I need or want to accomplish.

So what I do is I look at the day or the week ahead (Really, no more than one week ahead! Because in my experience, life is changing constantly), and I ask these kinds of questions: What is the most important thing right now? Out of all this long list, what thing is bugging me the most? And, what do I feel like doing today or this week? Some things are timely (buying birthday gifts or planting out in the garden), others are more flexible and can happen on the less busy weeks when I have the time, or simply feel inspired to do them. Some weeks I may feel like painting a wall, others I just totally don't. For my friends with a more structured personality, maybe this would drive them nuts. But I've found that this is the approach that works for me, and in the end, the stuff gets done.

This kind of flexible planning style evolved back when I was struggling with severe depression, and I was trying to homeschool as well. I kept trying to copy the very structured and regular schedules of other families, and I always failed. I would get what I call "low-energy days," or "sad days." On those days, I was doing good to get the very basics done, like get everyone fed. But then I would have "high energy days," and accomplish three days in one. Eventually I decided to stop trying to copy other people's schedules. To stop putting pressure on myself, and just go with what worked.

Now I don't struggle with depression much (anxiety--that's a different matter!). I very rarely have a "sad day." It does happen, usually when sad memories are triggered in some way. I know how to draw back, how to rest and take care of myself, how to distract myself with something comforting (usually, a novel), do the minimum required for the family, and ride it out. In the end, the stuff gets done. Which is what routines, schedules and structures are all about. You can make them work for you, and honor your individual make-up, your personality, and the unique circumstances of your life. Be sensitive and notice how you work best, when you feel productive and satisfied, when and how you are able to best get things done.