Wednesday, March 20, 2013

With A Little More Help From My Friend

As I’ve said before, planning my day is a two-part process.   (See Harnessing Time with a Little Help from My Friend.)  Once I’ve come up with my plan, I call my friend – my regular time partner – and tell her what my plan is.  I tell her how my day went yesterday too – what I did and didn’t do, what successes I had and problems I ran into as I carried out yesterday’s plan.   Then she tells me the same about her day yesterday and her plan for today.  
I absolutely love doing this.  It helps me feel good about myself because it forces me to pay attention to all the stuff I’m getting done (instead of just ignoring that while I focus on what I didn’t get done), and it helps me let go of what I didn’t get done.  My favorite part of the whole thing is saying what was on my list that I didn’t do yesterday (I did not do yoga, I did not pay the water bill, etc.).  Somehow saying those things out loud, like someone listing sins in a confessional, and then being absolved of them by my friend, and then hearing what my friend didn’t do that was on her list, makes me see how insignificant my not-doing on any given day really is.  It also gives me a realistic sense of how much I can reasonably expect to do on any given day, and it brings certain facts to my attention that I might otherwise miss (such as the fact that I’m not exercising many days in a row and I need to find some better way to fit exercise in).  The whole check-in process also makes me more mindful while I’m doing whatever I’m doing (because I know I’m going to be telling someone else about it so I’m more likely to pay attention myself), and adds an element of companionability to all my days, so I never have to feel alone with whatever happens, no matter how hard or strange, frustrating or funny it is.   Plus, checking in with my friend is fun.
This check-in process grew out of another time-harnessing exercise one of my friends came up with on a Sunday afternoon about four years ago.  She suggested during a phone call that we tell each other what we’d like to do during the next two hours.  Then, she said, maybe we could call each other back after the two hours were over and report to each other what we’d actually done. 
            We both had stuff to do around the house, the kind of stuff that feels great when you get it done but that you find yourself putting off for weeks or months or even years – cleaning out closets, weeding through drawers and taking what you don’t wear any more to Goodwill, catching up on filing.  So we told each other our goals for the next two hours and decided who was going to call whom when the appointed time came.  When the time did come one of us called the other and we made our reports and then we praised each other for what we’d done and waved away each other’s guilt at what we hadn’t gotten done.
The whole exercise worked great.  It broke the day down into manageable chunks and helped my friend and me get a lot more done than we probably would have without it.  It gave us the impetus to tackle chores we wouldn’t have otherwise and made doing those things feel fun instead of tedious and endless.  Not that filing and cleaning out closets were any more enjoyable than they usually are, but somehow knowing you were going to tell somebody exactly what you did made it fun.  And it was enjoyable precisely because it wasn’t endless; it was knowing you were only going to be doing those things for a brief, limited time -- putting boundaries around the time you’d be spending on them – that made it pleasurable, or at least easier and a lot more tolerable.  (I remember saying to someone once years ago, when I was applying for entry-level jobs I didn’t particularly want, I can do anything for four hours a day.)  The Sunday check-in process also made my friend and me feel like we weren’t alone even though we were in our separate houses. Afterwards, my day felt well spent.  I’d accomplished a lot and even socialized in the process. 
My friend and I still do the Sunday check-in thing every chance we get, and, like I said, those check-ins also led to a somewhat different, daily check-in routine for me.  I strongly encourage anyone who feels chronically rushed, out of control of time, or bad about what she gets done on any given day to try either or both of these check-in processes.  They only take a few minutes and will increase your productivity, improve your ability to manage time, and contribute immeasurably to the quality of your daily life – I know they have mine.   They’re also a fun easy way to socialize, to reach out and connect intimately, regularly, with another human being, without even leaving your house.  And they draw on two great resources we all have available, for free, but often don’t take advantage of:  time and each other.
                                                -- Mary Allen

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