5 things about structure, 29.8.2016

1. The end of August is rapidly becoming my favourite time of year. Goodbye to stifling heat and mosquitoes; hello to fresh mornings, a hint of golden glow in the trees, and best of all, hello to school. It took me a while to get used to the idea of autumn as back-to-school time – the South African school year starts in January, as is only logical, but still the middle of summer – but I’m definitely into it. Autumn is a perfect time to get your brain back in gear, much better than lazy summer heat. So here we are: the holidays are over, houseguests dispatched, temperatures cooling (well… imminently) and I’m revelling in the return to structure. 

2. The concept of “routine” is sadly undervalued. It connotes humdrum, boring everyday life, that which we need to get away from. But I love routine. Routine comprises the structure of my life, plus the little rituals within that structure. Routine means knowing that Sunday nights are for planning my week; Monday is for grocery shopping, and enjoying the one playgroup-free morning with my charming little monster (and for blogging); Tuesday to Friday are for making things happen. Routine means getting up at 5, drinking a coffee, tackling the most urgent things on my list undisturbed. Getting C off to school and walking M to playgroup; letting the fresh air put a smile on my face and settle my thoughts for the next two hours that comprise the rest of my work day. Drinking another coffee and getting down to it. Routine means the structure that allows me to keep everything under control, and the comfort of knowing that I can.  

3. There’s a lot of stuff around that purports to structure your life (or help you structure it) – a category that I expect has grown along with the number of freelancers, micro enterprises and other work-from-homers.. From productivity blogs that tell you how to organise your time and get stuff done, to the software and stationery you use to follow their advice. (Not to mention the stuff that straddles both categories.) It’s immensely appealing, the idea of finding that one tool, that one system, that will Get You Sorted. But bordering on fetishisation as it does, you have to assume there’s a lot of displacement going on. Much like the displacement activity of stocking up on how-to books and art supplies instead of actually making art. (I am totally guilty of this, just as I am guilty of obsessing over my Perfect Productivity Tools.*)

4. I have had to stop even looking at any article about productivity because they only feed my frustration. I don’t want to see anyone’s day planner with slots for gym and email and big projects and paperwork and “me time”, not when I somehow have to squeeze all that into at most 18 hours a week (including the hours of 5-6.30am). I am so bitterly, intensely envious of anyone with the freedom to arrange their days according to their personal rhythms, it amounts to actual (ridiculously unreasonable) anger. And of course such people are in the minority! Except in the world of productivity blogs. There, they are everywhere.

This bitterness reflects what feels like my biggest problem. I seem to need a lot of structure, and being at home with small children, that’s a problem. There are precious few hours I can count on having to myself, and reality being the bastard that it is, even those hours are prone to disruption on a number of fronts. Now, in theory, there’s a lot I could still do even when my routine is disrupted. In practice, it all falls apart. To get stuff done, I need my desk clear, my diary open and up to date, I need to know that I have a solid chunk of time to tackle things – when these things aren’t in place, I can’t keep my thoughts in place either. Everything slips through my fingers. I can’t concentrate, I can’t remember what I need to do, never mind assemble my thoughts to actually do it. 

5. This – I have finally realised – is the difference between me and the effective self-employed mothers. It’s not that they’re fundamentally smarter or better workers than me, or somehow have more time, or easier kids. (Well, they might have easier kids. Mine do seem to want more attention than other kids I’ve observed. Maybe I’m just not brutal enough. But that’s a side issue.) No, I think they just make better use of the time they have.

Well. DUH.

I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ve heard from these paragons, time and again (not to mention every productivity blog ever). But I didn’t get it until, like, right now, writing this blog post. Life would be very different if I were able to do a 10-minute job in 10 minutes, because sure, not everything I need to do requires hours of concentration, and even I have 10 minutes here and there. But I’m not. Give me a clean desk and 2 uninterrupted hours, and I’ll knock down 4 hours worth of work, no sweat. I’m fast – and highly effective – when have a chance to sink myself into the work. But give me 10 minutes and I can’t do anything at all. (Except knit. That’s the glorious thing about knitting: 2 minutes’ worth of stitches are 2 minutes’ worth of stitches.) I need structure; but home life is chaos.

So, well, hm. That’s… a problem. Is it something I can learn? I honestly don’t know. I’m clearly going to have to work on it. 

* Trello, Google Calendar, a Moleskine XL Weekly Notebook and a chalkboard. 


2 thoughts on “5 things about structure, 29.8.2016

  1. I can confirm that some children are easier than others! DH had to stay home with A a couple of weeks ago because he was sick, and I suggested he could probably work from home with the 3yo. He wouldn’t have thought to try it because experience has taught that it would never have worked with older brother.
    It’s actually kind of weird having a kid who will happily just play while you get stuff done (and there are obviously still some limits), but I can now see how there are people who might think that’s just how kids work if they don’t have first-hand experience of the other models.

    1. I knew it!
      M is actually a lot easier than C. I can do some stuff with him around. But (as I realised yesterday, trying to act on this "do the little things when you can" idea), there’s still always the strong possibility of interruption, and that’s amazingly disruptive. It’s just so hard starting anything, even a small thing, if you expect that "come Mommy, come" any second.
      Meanwhile my friend C, whose two kids are the exact same ages as mine, manages to work at home without childcare and it’s just not a problem. They… pretty much leave her alone?! WEIRD.

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