This week, as the year reaches its halfway point, I’m taking stock of how I spend my time.
Each year, as soon as the clocks go back, I begin to look forward to the fresh start a new year will bring. A pessimist might say that if I haven’t yet mastered time management, financial planning or decluttering, a new year is unlikely to make a critical difference. But I’m an incurable optimist, and in the last few weeks, chance sayings by three people of my acquaintance have inspired me for the year ahead.
- Catching up with an older friend after a couple of years apart, I was taken aback when she declared, “I reckon I’ve got another eight good years ahead.” From a less exuberant, busy type, that might have sounded like self-pity, but she was filled with gratitude. Never mind carpe diem, she plans to seize the next 2922 days and squeeze every drop of life out of them.
- Trying to reach an elderly gentleman by phone, I was tickled by his answerphone’s announcement: “I’m busy having fun right now but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.” He’s right: fun is not the preserve of the young. Focusing on fun for however many days remain to you is a sound philosophy.
- The third arresting statement came from a much younger friend: “I’m proud of the life I’ve curated for myself.” Curated? I thought. What is she, a museum? Then I realised it was the perfect shorthand for purposeful management of your life. Like a good museum, she takes regular stock of her assets, jettisoning any that are irrelevant or surplus to her personal mission. A good museum doesn’t stash away its best possessions for fear of breakage or loss – it exploits them with gusto.
Curating a Life of Fun and Gratitude
When I went on a writers’ retreat last month, it came up in conversation how sad it is when someone dies leaving gifts or purchases unopened, having saved them for a special occasion that never happened.
My writer friends and I vowed that when we got home, we’d crack open all those fancy notebooks no writer can resist buying but often cannot bear to sully.
By the same token, in my kitchen, I moved to the top of the drawer all the pretty unused tea towels previously nestling beneath the much-laundered, greying, and holey ones in constant use.
In my bedroom, I rejected snagged tights that I’d been eking out to the point of decomposition and ripped the wrapper off a beautiful, patterned pair I’d bought about three years ago, even though I had no plans to go out that day.
My daughter, with the natural assurance of the teenager, has a theory that the older you get, the more you are pleased by small things.
Given the pleasure I’ve just gained from a fresh notebook, a virgin tea towel, and brand-new tights, I can hardly disagree. But I’m also reassured that whatever the new year brings after the stress of a post-Brexit pandemic year, it won’t take much in 2022 to make me happy.
I wish you a contented and peaceful Christmas, and a new year of living your best life.
(This post was originally written for the December 2021/January 2022 issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser.)
Recommended Reading on the Theme of Fresh Starts
In three of my stories, the main characters are seeking fresh starts for a happier life:
- Sophie Sayers when she moves to the Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow in Best Murder in Show, first in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries series
- Gemma Lamb as she starts a new job at St Bride’s School for Girls in Secrets at St Bride’s the first in the Staffroom at St Bride’s series
- Juliet Morris when she accepts the loan of a car with extraordinary powers in Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, my stand-alone novella
If you haven’t already read them, why not give one a try?
As the world begins to open up again, I buy a new mid-year diary twice the size of my old one.
After crossing out practically every event in the last sixteen months due to Covid restrictions, I’m hoping I’ll need more diary space to make up for lost time. I have so many missed social engagements with family and friends to make up for, not to mention practical appointments with doctors, dentists, hairdressers and garages.
My favourite time for appointments is 11am. With 11 as my default, I am more likely to remember when my meetings are and to turn up on time. Similarly, when I’m working at my desk, I generally down tools at 11 for a coffee break.
I follow Winnie-the-Pooh’s advocacy for elevenses – “Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning” – although I don’t share his taste in refreshments.
Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ Pooh was so excited that he said, ‘Both,’ and then as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘but don’t bother about the bread, please.’*
My plan for more outings is soon scuppered by increased traffic congestion. (Yes, I know, I’m contributing to those traffic jams by driving places.) One Friday afternoon in early July, when it takes me two hours to drive the six miles between Junctions 18 and 19 on the M4, I resolve to avoid motorways at weekends until after the summer holidays.
Consequently, the Monday to Thursday pages of my diary are soon choc-a-bloc, while the rest are almost empty. But that’s fine by me. Being self-employed, I am fortunate in being able to work whichever days I choose, including weekends.
My next challenge is to fit a whole week’s work into Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Nearly 100 years ago, leading economist John Maynard Keynes predicted labour-saving technology would soon shorten the standard working week to 15 hours.
In my teens (not quite 100 years ago), futurists were still predicting a four-day week for us all. Even so, to avoid burning the midnight oil, what I really need is a five-day weekend.
But after more than a year of not being able to tell one day from another, that’s a good problem to have.
(This post originally appeared in the August 2021 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News *Copyright The estate of A A Milne)
Summer Holiday Reading
Two books in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series take place in the summer holidays:
Best Murder in Show (first in series) revolves around the annual horticultural show, where Sophie finds a dead body on a float in the village carnival
Murder Lost and Found (seventh in series) takes place just after the end of the academic year at the village school, when Sophie finds a dead body in the school’s lost property cupboard
All of my novels are available in paperback online or to order from your local bookshop and in ebook from all the popular ebook store sites. Best Murder in Show is also available as an audiobook from all the major audiobook sites including Audible – or you can buy it at a very special rate via my AuthorsDirect shop here.
Summer Diary Date
The highlight of this month in my diary will on Saturday 28th August – the fabulous Hawkesbury Horticultural Show, in the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton where I’ve lived for over thirty years. I’ll be manning the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival stall – if you’re at the Show, do come and find me and say hello!
Find out more about the Hawkesbury Horticultural Show at www.hawkesburyshow.org)
In my Young By Name column for the Tetbury Advertiser‘s June issue, I’m anticipating a return to almost-normal life – and being careful what I wish for.
Inheriting my parents’ strong work ethic and optimism, I have developed a lifelong tendency to try to do more than is physically possible in the available time. Even so, people often remark that I’m prolific, usually in the same breath as asking me to do something for them on the old “ask a busy person” principle. (I really need to learn to say no.)
The upshot is that most of the time, like the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, I feel as if I’m running to stand still. “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place,” the Red Queen tells Alice. “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
I occasionally write a ‘done’ list to prove to myself that I have been more productive than I think, but who has time to do that every day?
Jumping Off the Treadmill
When in 9-5 jobs I stepped off the treadmill for holidays, I was conscious that my work would come to a standstill while others beavered away in my absence. My favourite time to take a break was therefore during the Christmas/New Year break, when almost everyone else went on leave too.
When I worked on a year-round contract in a school office, I rejoiced every time term ended, because in the absence of teachers and pupils, much as I loved them, I felt I had time to catch up with myself.
Stopping the World
To help me stay on top of all my tasks, I used to wish I could put the rest of the world on hold, in the manner of Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmother making the kingdom sleep for 100 years. My only proviso was that I wouldn’t age a century by the time I woke everyone up again. What a shock that would be for my poor husband!
Covid-19 has put paid to that fantasy for good.
As we emerge, blinking, from the quasi-hibernation of lockdown, I’m hoping this past year is the closest I will ever get to casting that magic spell. As I predicted in the April 2020 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, for me lockdown resulted in tidier bookshelves, larder, wardrobe, etc, and I’m pleased about that. But going forward, my priorities have changed.
Top of my to-do list post-lockdown will be hugging my parents.
That’s one action I’m happy to keep adding every day.
My column for the June issue of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser
As I delete the latest task management app from my phone, my quest for the perfect automated to-do list resumes, in parallel with my perpetual search for the ideal handbag.
When I downloaded this cutely-named app, it seemed full of promise. I imagined my days streamlined and efficient, my desk and my conscience clear by wine o’clock every day. However, I quickly went off it when it began to take over the decision-making process. It refused point-blank to allow me to change my mind about priorities or even to move incomplete tasks to the next day.
I really need an action-list app with a mañana setting, although the ever-patient editor of this esteemed magazine may disagree.
The last straw was the app’s highhandedly adding events to my calendar that were of no relevance to me. Bank Holidays I could accept, and I don’t mind a reminder of the Queen’s birthday, but the Battle of the Boyne? Really? All that did was make me feel inadequate that I couldn’t think of an appropriate to-do action to add to my list. “Wear orange,” suggested one waggish friend when I protested the fact on Twitter.
Which brings me to a different approach to productivity management: the What Not to Do list, for logging time-wasting things to avoid. If you know of any app designers out there, tell them I think there’s a gap in the market for this. I don’t mean only for recording evergreen items such as “Don’t spend too much time on Twitter (except to “like” @LionsTetbury’s wisecracks, obviously)”. I formulate new ideas for mine every day.
This morning, for example, I’d have added: “Don’t match up the pile of odd socks that your husband has discarded on the bedroom rug while searching his wardrobe for a pair – he is not a toddler. He can sort his own socks.” Although to be fair a toddler would handle this task very well, if at the stage of enjoying shape-sorter toys and memory games of pairs.”
I must add to my action list: “Recruit affable toddler.”
So it’s back to the drawing board for me – or at least to pen and paper. A handwritten list by my keyboard will have to suffice. Sometimes old technology really is the best option, just as old wives’ tales so often prove to be founded in fact. Old-fashioned does not mean obsolete. My favourite sage old saying? “The best way to get something done is to do it.”
As in writing my column for the Tetbury Advertiser.
(You see what I did there?)
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