As stress reducers go, you would think that something so simple as planning the day wouldn't make much difference. But there are so many mornings I wake up overwhelmed. Before my feet even hit the floor I feel the burden of juggling all the things I want to do, need to do, and would maybe like to squeeze in. Sometimes, when things are really hot, all that juggling leads to a feeling of being frantic. Rather than get the whole mental list of activities accomplished that day, I just shut down. The governor has been reached and the machine dials it all the way back.
I don't buy into the notion that I'm more busy than anyone else. We're all busy. Or, we're as busy as we choose to be. It's just that we handle it differently. I've got friends whose days are scheduled for them, a series of carefully scripted meetings and phone calls orchestrated by an assistant to keep them on track. My days aren't like that. I try at all costs to avoid coffees and lunches, so there isn't a huge interpersonal component. I have a schedule revolving around individual milestones. My goals are simple: write (2,000 words is always the goal, but sometimes 100 is good enough), train (thirty minutes is too little, one hour is optimal, two hours is a recess break), cross country practice, and prayer (constant, as mindful and far-ranging as possible). But even those can seem a little demanding when real life things like buying light bulbs at Lowe's and giving a speech insert themselves into the mix.
To be honest, I used to get angry when events forced me out of the man cave. I like burrowing deep into the written word, never coming up for air until the brain tells me there are no more words today. But sometimes that's not realistic. Sometimes it's just as important to take a shower, put on a pair of long pants and check back into real world meetings and schedules. It makes me feel overwhelmed and very put-upon, in a very self-absorbed way, and even as I react to the intrusions into my routine with petty fits of rage, I hear myself being a baby and wish I could just go with the flow.
A while back, a good friend suggested a simple solution: write it down. Get a legal pad, sit with a cup of coffee, and write out the things you need to do each day.
I didn't believe him. Way back in my corporate days, every employee at the large engineering firm I worked for was given a Franklin planner and instructed to write down their days in detail. I'm not sure whether it was the corporate edict or the carefully structured world of the Franklin, but it felt claustrophobic. Other than forever banishing the "in" basket from my desk, getting rid of the planner was one of the first things I did when I left that job.
But I gave the legal pad a try anyway. I started with writing the date at the top of the page. Simple enough. Then a list of to-do's. For awhile, that's all I wrote. But then the to-do's became more descriptive, joined on the page by an 80/20 list (the 20 percent of the problems that cause 80 percent of the headaches), and soon after, a recording of details throughout the day that needed to be remembered: split times for the team's afternoon workout, historical dates and spellings, a phone number, and pretty much anything that needs to be remembered.
So now it's a thing. A habit. I wouldn't quite call it a safety blanket, but that simple yellow legal pad is like a very cheap and portable personal assistant, keeping me on track and mindful when the day feels like it might otherwise go sideways. I can get as creative as I need to be, which actually sparks more unconventional approaches to my writing.
Funny how something as simple as taking pen to paper to strategize a plan can take the elephant off the chest.