I really like the idea that I came across on the very brilliant Zen Habits that if you want to introduce a good habit into your life the best way to do it is to start with just a tiny change (floss ONE tooth, drink ONE glass of water, exercise for ONE minute per day are the examples given at Zen Habits).
Make that one tiny change become a daily habit in your life. Once you have made it habit by repeating that small thing each day for a few weeks it is then time to increase the amount you do it.
Once that habit has become ingrained it will be life enhancing and you can move onto another habit.
My recent trial was to drink more water. I have managed to survive for years on just a cup of coffee in the morning and a herbal tea at night with the occasional weak gin and tonic consumed during early evening. Isn’t that shocking? Obviously this was not enough fluid to be healthy and I knew the recommended amounts of water drinking were many times what I was drinking but how to get from nil to loads?
By using the Zen Habits trick I started by just making sure I had at least one glass of water a day – just one. As soon as I thought of it I would drink it and then my task for the day was done. I noticed that I started feeling naturally thirsty as if my body was finally allowed to acknowledge the fact that it needed water. I then started making sure I had a drink of water with every meal and then added in having a glass of water beside me when I am working on the computer and then another at bedtime. Now I am happy to report that although I am still not drinking the quantities recommended by official sources I am providing myself with adequate hydration throughout the day. I have made it a habit and I imagine I will carry on in this way with my new drinking habits for the rest of my life. It took me a good forty years to develop the habits though – partly because I hadn’t made them achievable,
When we first left the rat race nearly seven years ago now (goodness! how did that time fly by so swiftly?) I had very few good habits in my life. It was all I could do to stagger through the week looking forward to the weekend and then I staggered through the weekends catching up with mountains of laundry, grocery shopping and looking after the little children, eating rich food, drinking and smoking. There was very definitely no time at all for regular maintenance of home, health, relationships or finances.
Gradually gradually since leaving that world of split personality where my life was not my own for over 50 hours each week I have gained habits that really work for me in managing myself, our home, our children, our finances, our animals, our garden, my health and my work projects.
Until I started to write this post and consider what habits I now have I hadn’t appreciated how many I have acquired.
It has been by very small incremental steps that I have traveled so far from the scatty exhausted unfulfilled cluttered-home me of yesteryear.
Small steps, just like Leo of Zen Habits recommends or ‘Baby Steps’ as the all-American FlyLady advises us to take work very much on the principal that Rome apparently was not built in a day and neither will it be an instant cure-all to get ourselves as organised, healthy and well-managed as we’d like.
I used to wonder how so many people seemed to be so effortlessly organised and in control. Now I think I have worked out what was never explained to me. If you spend just a few moments each day on some essential habits then so much energy and time will be saved.
FlyLady’s classic examples are to spend each day of each month learning some fundamental habits. Some of the habits seem ludicrous at first but after they have become ingrained you can look back to a time before the habits helped your daily life flow smoothly.
You can choose your own of course but FlyLady’s include making your bed immediately after getting out of it, getting dressed as soon as you can after waking, making sure you go to bed knowing what’s on your family’s schedule for the following day, making sure you know what the family are eating for dinner, going to bed with a clean kitchen ready for action the following morning, knowing which clothes you will be wearing when you get up the next day and spending a small chunk of time each day dedicated to tidying or de-cluttering an area of your home.
Some people do this naturally I discovered when we shared a smallholding with our favourite next door neighbours. For the first couple of weeks the two families shared one house while the other house was being plastered. My lovely neighbour friend Jen had this amazing trick of always thinking about what could be for dinner the following day and getting any meat required out of the freezer to thaw overnight. Genius! It has stuck with me ever since as has her wonderful trick of starting the dinner preparations LONG before anyone was hungry or it was dinner time. Pizza dough got made first thing in the morning, sauce made at some point during the day too then all that was required before dinner time was to grate a bit of cheese. What a clever girl.
I on the other hand have had to scour the local libraries for books which share their wisdoms on little habits which save so much angst once they are a part of your life.
Some of my own personal favourites now include:
- Washing up, wiping down and sweeping the floor after every meal (it actually now seems quite unbelievable that I didn’t used to do this and then spent so much time wondering why my kitchen was always a hideous mess) with the saying ‘no-one likes a grubby kitchen’ whispering in my head
- Making the bed, getting dressed AND doing make-up as soon as I’m up instead of slopping around in a dressing gown then trying to find a moment to go upstairs to get ready for the day. When I turned forty I suddenly started being startled every time I caught sight of my own face in a mirror so vowed I would always at least have a bit of sparkly eyeshadow and lippy on ready for all eventualities. It seems to have worked – no longer startling and no longer answering the door thinking ‘oh bugger I’ve got no make up on’
- Daily management of home and business finances. This is a very new one for me but such a great one as it really transforms a dull tedious overdue and vital job into a quick. ‘Oh yes I’d forgotten that I spent £25 on hen food’ type of activity which needn’t take up any more than 10 minutes each day
- Gardening time slot. Not so much during the hard winter we have had but in warmer seasons I was always so easily tempted out into the garden if the sun was shining and my responsibilities inside would be shirked. These days I allow myself to head outdoors for gardening jobs on week days at 2pm and not a moment before. This allows me to crack on with my indoor work and computer work even if it is glorious outside as I now know the day will not slip away without me going out but I have to do my other things first. It also means that the garden gets tended as it must without the sense of ‘I MUST tackle some gardening jobs’ but actually end up doing other tasks instead. By having the habit of a regular daily allocated slot to head outside to see what needs doing at there I am less worried that I *should* be doing something else and the garden and house both get their required share of my energies and focus.
- Tidying and Decluttering – 15 minutes finding the nearest quickest thing that has been bugging you as being disorganised. For me today it was my son’s chest of drawers – several pairs of too small trousers were filtered out, odd socks were paired and jumpers folded. Tomorrow it might be to photograph some of the things waiting to be sold on eBay and write a quick listing or two. Next time it might be one of the files in our home filing cabinet, kids DVDs or books. I just think ‘What is the most annoying mess in this house right now?’ and then spend 15 minutes on sorting it. That way I do seem to have a reasonably tidy uncluttered house I would be happy to invite people in to but rarely have to find great chunks of time to get areas of the house sorted.
- Going to bed with a clean kitchen, knowing what I will make for meals the next day including the children’s packed lunches, a load of washing in the machine ready to take out to hang out the following day.
I’m always such an urgent person that I always want to be doing it ALL and doing it NOW and if I can’t do it all I make the assumption that it isn’t worth doing. The classic example is weight loss and exercise.
Like so many others I seemed to have spent my entire adult life wishing I was lighter and fitter and waiting for the time in my life when I would be able to dedicate lots of time to cycling, walking, running and swimming. Instead of waiting any more and letting even more decades slip past I have now employed the Zen Habits trick of making exercise a daily habit but starting with a very tiny achievable amount. I am trying to do just a few minutes exercise each day and it seems to be working.
At some point, once it has become a non-missable daily habit I will start to increase the amount of time I spend on that slot but for now I am just enjoying the sense of achievement it is giving me rather than the constant nagging voice in my ear saying ‘Oh I see you didn’t do any exercise again today hmmmm’.
I’m always curious about the tricks people employ to keep their own lives running smoothly and I’d love to hear any of them from you especially if you are one of those people who have always been organised and have never had to be shown any tips to be more organised.
I shall leave with one of my favourite so simple but so stress-free:
We have three kids and at least two of them find it hard to be organised. Somehow the amount of socks that got lost between taking them off and putting into the laundry basket was incredible and sooner or later I would hear the cry ‘Mummy I’ve only got loads of odd socks in my drawer’ so I would buy more socks. NOW my lovely trick is to siphon off any sock found without its partner and put it immediately into the Odd Sock Basket. If I found an odd sock on the floor in it would go, if, when I came to fold the laundry, a sock appeared to be on its own instead of in a pair it would be added to the odd sock basket. When I put clothes away I take a quick look in the sock drawer to fish out any loners and add them to the basket also. The dah-dahhhh moment comes when someone claims they have no socks to wear so I instigate a sock basket pairing session and Hallelulah the basket is actually full of happy socky twosomes.