Once upon a time, life revolved around eating, sleeping and working. The word leisure didn’t exist. There were celebrations, festivals and religious holidays of course but no one would have understood the concept of leisure time. There were natural pauses in the day and the year, dictated by the sun, the moon and the seasons. Children were looked after by their grandparents, parents, siblings.. the whole village. I don’t imagine (and as I’m no historian I’m relying on my imagination here, so I hope you’ll allow me a little leeway!) that women had to think much about what the family would eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Food was limited and seasonal, there wasn’t much choice. No supermarkets or posh delis. No takeaways or home delivery pizza.
My life could not be more different. There are a zillion things to do and so much choice on offer, (of food and everything else) that I can feel giddy trying to decide what to choose! Today the sun and moon and seasons can do what they like and my days and weeks go on regardless. I am like so many women and possibly like you. There’s so much to do; work… which for many of us takes up almost all our waking hours… and when we’re not working...the shopping, cleaning, washing, making sure the house is painted and decorated and stays standing, getting kids to school and after school activities, looking after parents or grandparents, seeing friends, going on holiday (arranging the holiday!), exercising, gardening and… and… I could go on and on. And we do most of it either alone or with a partner. Few of us have the benefit of willing extended families to share in the work. We’re all different and our lives are all unique and at the same time, at some level, most of us share the businesses, the endless list of things to do and so little time to do them. There are very few natural pauses in our lives.
I know that where that so often leaves me is reacting. Hopping from one thing to the next. Dealing with the most urgent task first. And that can mean shoving myself, time to 'pause', to the bottom of the pile. It can mean cobbling something together for dinner that doesn't particularly appeal. It can mean spending very little time with the children, (the sort of time when I’m 100% available). I can mean doing and doing and doing and having no time to be. No time to sit and stare and tune in. And sometimes it means we while away the hours watching telly or on the computer or eating because at least for a bit we don't have to think about all the stuff we have to do and why we’re doing it anyway and whether we're up to it and whether we do it well enough!
Life these days is full and busy. I used to think the answer was to do less. I'd tell myself that if I could slow down everything would be better. And I judged and critisised myself for doing too much, for filling my days and for not 'looking after myself'. And the more I decided to do less, the worse I felt while the lists got longer and I felt more and more out of control and less and less capable.
In the past few months I’ve discovered something that really works. It’s pretty obvious - like most brilliant concepts. It’s simple and doable and practical.
It’s my favourite word!
The best way I know to support myself is to make time to sit and think and PLAN.
When I take an hour on a Monday to plan my weekly menus and shopping lists (thanks to the wonderful Kitchen Fairy!) we eat tasty, nutritious meals. There’s always something in the fridge for the children's packed lunches and there’s even something in the freezer for when I’m away. I’m not superwoman - it’s the planning that makes all the difference. When I sit down and think it through and write it down, I can plan for the days when I don’t have time to cook, I can plan for the days when Ben’s out and the kids are fencing, I can plan what Evie will eat when we have risotto that she hates and what Ben (who is vegetarian) will eat when we have steak! And the beauty of planning is that once it’s done I don’t have to think about what we’re going to eat again that week! Of course if on the given day I don’t fancy whatever’s on the menu, I can have something else or pick something up on the way home. And the rest of the family know that if they don’t like what’s on offer they can always make themselves a bowl of pasta or a salad… There’s always something that will do. And after ears and years of eating whatever I want I’ve discovered my tastes and desires go in phases and I’m pretty good at guessing on Monday what I might fancy on Friday.
And it’s not just our evening meals I plan. Many years ago I went on an 8 week course where we had to agree at the beginning of the course to do one hour of ‘homework’ for six days of the week, every week for the 8 weeks. And that hour had to be at the same time of day each day! It was tough, especially with little ones aged 2 and 6. And the homework was.. let’s say… interesting! We had to prepare a space just for ourselves. Somewhere to be comfortable and completely alone. No one was allowed to interrupt the homework for anything, except an absolute emergency. Pretty draconian! Difficult but immensely valuable. I learned how to make time for myself. How to create a space in the day without having to make sure everyone is OK first. Without telling myself that I have to choose a time when I won’t be missed! These days I plan that time. Special time. Just for me. I look at my week and think about it in advance. Because I know that if I wait until the day is upon me, it will be too late and I won’t do it. Or, if I tell myself I’ll do it every day (a fond wish… ) I just won’t and then I’ll beat myself up for having failed and it will be just another thing to do that I don’t have time for.
I plan lots of other things too; special time with the children, time with Ben, time away in Italy, my finances, my working week… I’m not brilliant at planning all those things yet, I have lots of learning and tweaking to do and sometimes, when I don't make the time to think and plan, I end up double booked, frazzled, trying to do it all.
Planning isn’t about being rigid or set in stone. It’s not about having to stick to the plan or sating goodbye to spontaneity and creativity. Planning is about having a structure to support me. It’s about taking the time to think about what matters to me and making sure that I allocate time and resources to whatever it is. Planning work our how to get more of what I want. The more I plan, the freer I feel. Planning is effective, empowering and very, very liberating.