Thursday, August 19, 2004

Other important things in life

I've been following the story of a friend who is going through the pangs of taking his step-daughter off to college for her freshman year. It's touching to see this big ol' tough guy getting all veklempt about the empty nest, but the story also is a great reminder of the rhythm of life. (You can read his story at his blog, Erudite Redneck, linked at the left.)

We celebrate the "New Year" in January, but I've always felt like the holiday was misplaced on the calendar. In my thinking, the real new year always has come in the fall, when school starts over. Even though I'm decades out of school myself, I still measure my life in semesters -- shorter periods of times with set goals and a plan to achieve them.

My sense of "semesters" is skewed now, however, since I've kind of stepped out of the "normal" world the past couple of years. I'm not in synch with other people nearly as much since I work in relative isolation. And the truth is, after a while it is a bit disconcerting.

At first, the notion of being a nonconformist sounds like a blast. Work when you want, sleep when you want, wear what you like. And it's good, for a while.

The problem, for me, seems to have come when I realized how far from "normal" I've strayed. We are, after all, social creatures. And through our socialization we've developed a more-or-less universal rhythm to life. Kind of like those sleeping pill commercials that show a litter of cute puppies piling into their bed when the sun goes down and then watching their little eyes open up when the sun peaks out in the morning.

No matter how we resist the notion, we thrive when we have routines and structure. They help us pace our lives, much as semesters do. We set goals and make a plan of action measured in increments of time.

A schedule or routine provides the framework that makes sure we get things done, but it also makes sure we leave time to LIVE. It's stupid to schedule ourselves too tightly, leaving no room for relaxing, reflecting, renewal and replenishing ourselves. It's equally stupid to schedule ourselves too loosely, because then we don't get anything done and thus have no sense of achievement or success.

I mentioned Flylady previously -- my online mentor. One of her key tools is the mantra "I can do anything for 15 minutes." No, she did not say "I can finish anything in 15 minutes." But she wisely understands that sometimes we can only face a task for a short period of time. And sometimes we grossly overestimate how long a task will take. It's nice to finish a job sooner than you expected.

Putting this lesson into practice is easy -- set a timer for 15 minutes and simply begin. Knowing you can stop when the timer goes off helps. And often, simply starting provides momentum to continue. The key is to give yourself permission to stop before you become obsessed or overwhelmed. This is why we got recess in grade school and it's still a wise model of time management.

Goodnight, Moon
Tonight I'm going to establish a bedtime again. My inner brat has had too much control lately and it's time to exert a little discipline.
The rhythm of life flows in 15 minute chunks, semesters, seasons and years. Ultimately, we must redeem our time. We need to sacrifice irresponsible freedom for the freedom that comes with structure.
Like a home-cooked dinner, a bedtime is good for us. G'night, folks.

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