Rituals In The Empty Day, Or, Saturday Morning at 11:00am


I’ve had a productive week. I managed to exercise, complete blogging projects, and deal with administrative and house issues that have been on my list for 6 months. Or longer.

This was not easy. You might wonder, “Why? The woman is unemployed, her children are on the other side of the country. What on earth prevents her from living every day in a blaze of checklist glory?”

Well, I find that with no absolute demands on my time, I have to create my own deadlines, my own structure, my own to-do list. And that’s tiring. The effort of talking myself into doing what I have to do wears on me. It appears that I require a fair amount of talking to.

I don’t think it has to be like this. I believe that one can avoid the exhaustion of self-discipline by building a routine. When you work, it’s already in place. Everything outside of work makes do with the leftover space. When you have kids, you build their routine. You follow it, to save all of you from chaos. But in the absence of external requirements, you have to set up your own structure. This week I did it well. Doesn’t always happen.

The best resource I have ever found to improve the process of getting things done is here. Admittedly, the idea that if you absolutely want to do something you have to make it into a habit surprised the bejeezus out of me. I thought I needed to speak to myself more strictly, or eradicate, somehow, my love for lying on the sofa. I’ve been trying to rise from the ashes of my lazy soul for years. No. It works much better to create a habit. Habits are the small pieces of routines.

Free form living illuminates the exercises of nuns and monks. The ringing bells. The rituals. As humans, pretty much no matter what we do there’s going to be a voice in the back of your head saying, “Shouldn’t you be attending to that thing? You know, that thing?” Structure and ritual, it turns out, aren’t the noise. At their best, rituals and routines are the stage for thought beyond tasks.

When I was young, with two small children, what with nursing and nighttime coughing and sibling quarrels I used to wish I could run away to Portland and hide in a motel for a week. I know I’ve told you that before. One never forgets those days of overwhelm. When I was working and managing people and traveling to New York and presenting at conferences, I wished I had the time and space to write. But once there’s nothing preventing you from doing almost anything you like, you run into yourself muttering in your own corridors.

So were I to speak to my younger self, I might say this. “Cherish your masters. Step back from obligation and feel some gratitude for the structure that requires you.” Of course, I might just tell my younger self to get some more sleep, for Pete’s sake, and to start a blog sooner. I mean, if I wasn’t feeling all enlightened that day. Which often happens.

If you are in the stage where life demands more of your time than you think you have, I’m going to turn you over to Penelope Trunk. This is perhaps one of her best posts ever. Then I’m going to sign the engagement letter for my estate lawyer and send off a check to my web designer.

Have a wonderful weekend.

36 Comments

  • 09/18/10
    10:28 am

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    Annabel Manners said...

    I love "a blaze of checklist glory." Terrific post. I hope you have a fabulous weekend!

  • 09/18/10
    10:43 am

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    pve design said...

    I have a journal that is all about a "passion for wellness" and in order to set up good habits, one has to set up a set routine with a variety and then step it up to be more challenging for "break-throughs."
    Self-discipline only becomes that much easier with a list of to do's along with a time-line.
    Wishing you a productive checklist to achieve your goals.
    pve

  • 09/18/10
    10:55 am

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    QueenBeeSwain said...

    hip hip hooray on the completion of some long-standing to-do's and you're so right about the all or nothing mentality of one's daily/weekly diary yielding varying levels of productivity….

    enjoy the calm

    kHm

  • 09/18/10
    11:00 am

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    Hannah said...

    I find myself with the same problem, I am unemployed yet again (for the 16th month in the last two years) and I find it impossible to get anything done. Even relaxing. It's as if without work I can't have leisure.

  • 09/18/10
    11:14 am

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    Blighty said...

    Fascinating post so well written, and I followed the link to Ms Trunk, also so interesting, thank you

  • 09/18/10
    11:26 am

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    Anonymous said...

    You described my daily routine perfectly !! lol,but I chalk it up to being a human being meaning just trying to be in the spot Iam,whew its hard to learn to just be,don't have to do anything or think,just be,am learning all sorts of things about myself & appreciate more because of that,Thank You for it in words that make sense to me ! Calinda

  • 09/18/10
    11:47 am

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    SPLENDEROSA said...

    Hi precious, I see you have exactly 500 followers/friends now. You should celebrate immediately. I realize we must all make room for endless tasks (some I put off as long as I'm allowed), lying on the sofa sounds like a nice reward when you've accomplished ONE task.
    Love you, me.

  • 09/18/10
    1:03 pm

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    Deja Pseu said...

    Yes, you're so right about habits! It's much easier to just get in the habit of doing something, instead of debating whether you're going to do it or not, and when.

    Having a special needs child, we learned early on that routine was going to be important. For him, and for us. Weekends are much harder with lots of unstructured time. We all do better when we have a least an inkling of what to expect, at least most of the time.

  • 09/18/10
    3:18 pm

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    Pink Martini said...

    Now if you could only tackle what's on my list! :)

  • 09/18/10
    4:10 pm

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    The Preppy Princess said...

    Habits and routines are the only things that keep me sane. We have learned the lack of either sends us down a perilous path, one that might initially look inviting, but really only offers waste and sloth.

    Smiles at you,
    tp

  • 09/18/10
    4:40 pm

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    Anonymous said...

    Just when I was beating myself up about not flossing I follow your link and BOOM! solution. Thanks so much for this — the post as well — I am in a moment of not extreme business and struggling with it, thank you for sharing.

    Hope you have a great weekend!

  • 09/18/10
    4:44 pm

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    hostess of the humble bungalow said...

    Lisa,
    I'm guessing that you are feeling much lighter having tackled all these nagging tasks…and good for getting on with them.
    I find procrastinating is worse when there is no scheduled work or time crunch involved…I am so much more productive when I am back at school working!
    I hope that in my future "retirement" I will be a better time manager!

    BTW I went to Penelope Trunk and read her post including "the story"…and it was not at all what I expected…I am amazed at the power of the human spirit.

  • 09/18/10
    5:04 pm

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    Henley on the Horn said...

    I always feel like the more I have on my plate, the more I accomplish. We can all learn to rest a little more!

  • 09/18/10
    6:21 pm

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    Anna Mavromatis said...

    You just posted the everyday reality and thoughts of so many (of us…!); not too many could put it so clearly, simply and beautifully in words and present these inspiring ways to address it…
    Great post!

  • 09/18/10
    7:32 pm

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    Andrea said...

    I have had the summer off of work, and it has been the greatest joy. I've accomplished a great deal (though of course less than I wanted to; it would have been less than I wanted to if I personally rebuilt the Great Wall of China). And I've relaxed, have schooled my horse to a higher level, have improved my horsemanship greatly, have improved my house, garden, fitness level, have written and painted, entertained, hiked, shopped, have simply spent time with my beautiful children. For the first time in many years I've looked forward to waking up every morning because there were so many delightful things to do. I have come to consider that having a grand career is much over-rated. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and now I must go back to work. Adieu to long sunny afternoons of swimming, reading, and riding!

  • 09/18/10
    7:43 pm

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    Sydney Shop Girl said...

    Hello LPC
    A thoughtful post as always.

    I had never thought of my current stage in life from the perspective that you write of.

    Thank you. It has helped enormously and I will remember your wise words this week.

    SSG xxx

  • 09/18/10
    11:28 pm

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    Semi Expat said...

    LPC how right you are… when there are no demands on your time its so easy not to be too productive. I know. And then when I am working and doing one hundred other things all seems to be easier – a strange contradiction. I am such a procrastinator too and can spend ages on the computer "flitting"! Wonderful post. x

  • 09/19/10
    4:37 am

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    metscan said...

    To stay healthy, I definitely need a week schedule. What to do and when. I have also scheduled a lazy Sunday for myself. No wonder Sundays are the worst days for me. I feel guilty for not doing much.
    Your post today was really good! Thank you for it!

  • 09/19/10
    5:24 am

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    Duchesse said...

    I read a recent interview w/ the Dalai Lama; he was asked what one factor was most important to happiness and replied, "Routines".

    At the same time, we can impose so many routines that lose our ability to relax. In the last two years I have come to revere the state Italians call "dolce far niente, "the sweetness of doing nothing", as well as some non-guilt-inducing routine.

  • 09/19/10
    7:27 am

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    materfamilias said...

    What amuses me at this stage of my life is the growing recognition that for certain types (myself included) one is always busy. Having looked forward to the end of this or that project or stage or employment, certain that it will bring release and room for all sorts of new possibilities, I've found instead that every new stage brings its new obligations and even if the schedule is self-imposed, it imposes demands. What I now try to get to is an appreciation of the choice that I've exercised. As for your choices, I'm so glad your blog is one of them!

  • 09/19/10
    7:28 am

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    glaciercountyhoney said...

    You've inspired me once more – I am in an overwhelm stage, what with the beekeeping and the lawyering and the construction-ing, etc. Today, I'm going to think about the structure I clearly need, and I'm going to reflect on how lucky I am to have this abundance of "overwhelm." Thank you.

  • 09/19/10
    8:42 am

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    Tabitha said...

    I have way too much time on my hands and spend way too much time by myself. Rituals ground me in my day, I would be lost without them, I've always been very disciplined, it's the one positive thing i can say about myself!

  • 09/19/10
    10:59 am

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    LPC said...

    Annabel – Thank you very much. I hope your weekend has been wonderful too.

    pve – More and more intriguing.

    QBS – I think you've hit on something, in that I do sort of take an all or nothing approach in how I talk to myself, and it's not very productive. You could always become a personal coach, you know:).

    Hannah – Oh my gosh. Here's hoping for your imminent employment.

    Blighty – I think you might enjoy Ms. Trunk, over time.

    Calinda – We probably can chalk it up to being human. I always try to find words that make sense of the confusing. They're the only tools I'm any good at.

  • 09/19/10
    11:04 am

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    LPC said...

    Splenderosa – Ha! I try to do at least 4-5 tasks before I lie on the sofa. Still, the feeling of happiness as I settle in is quite something. And yes, 500. Very gratifying. I am thinking about how to celebrate. Probably with presents.

    Deja – Point well taken on special needs. His need is probably the need we all have, only so much more intense, given everything he's dealing with.

    Pink – Be right there! Seriously though, I get so much more done when I have a friend here to help. My best friend is the kind of person with infinite physical energy, and she always spurs me on to huge accomplishments. Too bad she moved to Belgium:).

    TPP – I know. I ought to paint, over my sofa, Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter:).

    Anon – You are very welcome. I swear that post on how to establish a habit has really helped me.

    Hostess – Penelope Trunk is an inspiration, in a very odd, infuriating way.

  • 09/19/10
    11:09 am

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    LPC said...

    Henley – I think it's resting well that's so important. With intent.

    Anna – Thank you so much. I find your art inspiring, so there you go:).

    Andrea – I think periods such as you describe, where the free time is circumscribed, and work waits on the horizon, are the absolute best. Especially with children. It sounds like a wonderful time.

    SSG – Here's a toast to your youth and energy.

    Semi – Oh no. Please don't get me started on computer flitting. I'm the worse offender. Thank you for the nice words.

  • 09/19/10
    11:13 am

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    LPC said...

    Mette – If you are getting a lot done the other days, I say take Sunday off and enjoy it with all your heart.

    Duchesse – I always like to be in the company of the Dalai Lama:). I think the key, when one is not working, is to make a routine of dolce far niente as well.

    mater – "What I now try to get to is an appreciation of the choice that I've exercised." Ah. Yes.

    Glaciercountyhoney – Also, the stuff you are doing is all of such different rhythms, very hard to integrate. You are welcome. Thank you.

    Tabitha – There are many other positive things to say about yourself. How about extremely attractive and very funny, as starters? Nothing wrong with a little affirmation, as long as we don't let ourselves overindulge:).

  • 09/19/10
    11:31 am

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    Lori said...

    Oh my goodness I so love this post…I am one that is always wishing for more time…went and read that post you suggested…very good post too…thank you for this wonderful post that has me in deep thoughts…hope your having a nice Sunday. XX

  • 09/20/10
    7:59 am

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    Patsy said...

    Oh wow, Penelope Trunk. SO powerful.

    "Figure out a new way to manage time, one that divides the day for doing good, instead of just doing." – love this.

  • 09/20/10
    8:17 am

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    A Refocused Life said...

    Wonderful post. After four years of freedom from my career, I'm still not sure I have a routine. I think I have more on my plate now with grandchildren, aging parents, and volunteer work, but it's all good. I'm just amazed at how much I don't accomplish at home. But boy, am I having fun. I'll think about the '6 Changes' idea later.

  • 09/20/10
    10:05 am

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    Aleatha Parker-Wood said...

    Thanks for the lovely post. I was just reading my news feeds, and upset and saddened by the overwhelming madness of the world, and then I come here, and it's a little garden of serenity and sanity.

    One of the things I struggle with as a grad student is the utter lack of external structure. Now that classes are done, I'm the only one who structures my days and weeks. (With the occasional talk with my advisor to pile on impetus.) It's simultaneously liberating and terrible. Freedom is a tricky thing. Some days I'm on fire. Others, I spend an embarrassing amount of time on the couch.

    I've heard people refer to grad school as a monastic existence. It's true that we live in poverty, and forsake worldly experiences to be with our books, but sometimes I think it would be nice to have our matins, lauds, and vespers too. Little things to divide the day, to remind us when to work and when to stop. Then again, maybe that's the point of grad school, to teach us to be our own masters if we can.

  • 09/20/10
    10:11 am

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    Nya's mom said...

    I enjoyed this post! I particularly enjoyed the line: "Cherish your masters. Step back from obligation and feel some gratitude for the structure that requires you." I think I will make a sticky note, in fact, to remind myself of this profound truth as I go about my day.

    -Jessica

  • 09/21/10
    5:06 am

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    Jennnifer said...

    I can sooo relate! I am my own boss… love the freedom…but also the responsibility. thanks for the links. great sites!

    Have a great week…i try for 3 main goals every day…Blessings…Jennifer aka Gigi

  • 09/21/10
    1:53 pm

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Lori – Thank you. I am only returning the favor for your posts:).

    Patsy – Penelope Trunk is a whacked out genius. I've read her for years. Completely original.

    A Refocused Life – If you are having fun, the routine may be either unecessary, or underneath everything already.

    Aleatha – What a beautifully written response. "It would be nice to have our matins, lauds, and vespers too." Somehow that seems to have a lot of meaning to me. Have you ever read Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris? It's lovely.

    Nya's mom – For mothers of babies this is particularly strong.

    Jennifer aka Gigi – I am glad you like those sites. I have never thought to count the goals I set per week. I will try it.

  • 09/22/10
    10:56 am

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    Elizabeth said...

    Wow! This is like a glimpse into another world. Love reading about such serenity, (even if it has a down side) since I am definitely in the too-many-demands-with-to-little-time life stage. I do understand that it's easy to get less done with less structure — I figure that explains why I didn't do all the things I would like to do now (play tennis, learn to decoupage) before I had children. I can't wait to follow the links since everyone seems to have enjoyed them!

  • 09/22/10
    11:44 am

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    Miss Cavendish said...

    I like your "blaze of checklist glory" phrase too. Oddly enough, the busier I am, the more I get done. This summer I had umpteen projects to work on. I began . . . one of them.

  • 09/23/10
    3:36 pm

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    Audi said...

    I hate lists (though I loved the "blaze of checklist glory" comment). I find that the effort of making a list causes me to forget many of the things that need to go on it, which means they don't get done. If I approach my to-do's with free form fluidity, bouncing from one task to another as they occur to me, I get much more accomplished. Perhaps you are of a similar bent, and simply cannot live within the constraints of list-making. Still, list or no I agree it's the getting started that is the biggest hurdle; I wish I had a good solution for that one.

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