I woke up late this morning.
Actually, I woke up close to on time, but my husband was working from home (and in bed, on his laptop), and I woke up exhausted. Rather than pulling myself out of bed, I flipped on the TV “just to ease into the day” (I’d told myself) and ended up falling back to asleep for another almost three hours.
Clearly, I needed the sleep. But I woke up in an immediate panic.
OH NO! IT’S THE FIRST MONDAY OF MID-YEAR! IT’S THE START OF A NEW WEEK! I WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE MY SCHEDULE ALL FIGURED OUT BY NOW! THERE WAS GOING TO BE ORDER AND PROCESS AND…
Somewhere, in the midst of my freak out, I heard a voice from deep inside me. She sounded like me, only about mid-20s, but with infinitely more wisdom than I was currently able to muster.
“Dude,” she said. “Why are you doing this again? How many times have we tried to make a rigid schedule with certain activities at certain times and certain window boxes for ‘rest’ at other times and planned every minute of our day only to have it totally blow up in our stupid face?”
The voice was coming from someone who looked like this:
Now I know some of you are immediately wanting to stop me and go “Colette. Literally no one should be listening to themselves at 21. Especially not 14 years later when we should, by now, technically know better.”
And you’re totally right to a degree. 21-year-old me was not the wisest young gal. I mean, she was a graduate student and already teaching at the collegiate level and working as an academic advisor and had developed some pretty stable relationships with people that still are around today, so she wasn’t a complete moron. Just a little inexperienced.
But you know what she was good at?
Having a totally unpredictable, fluid, ever-changing schedule full of LOTS of different activities and commitments, and finding times to make it all work.
And since that’s where life has found me once again, give me a minute to indulge the kid in what she has to say…
“Remember those crazy calendars we used to make in Excel, blocking out every waking hour of our day with a specific task or activity?”
(I didn’t have the heart to tell her, in this moment, that I’d just made another one of those recently.)
“Remember how long they didn’t last? And how we always ended up throwing them away and being so mad at ourselves?”
I think I was nodding at this point.
“Why have you been so mad at yourself all through June?”
I realized she was waiting for me to respond, so I mumbled “Because I haven’t figured out a set routine.”
“Mhmmm,” she pursed her lips. She’s quite smug, to be honest, but I know she has a good point to make. “So, really, maybe you haven’t learned anything in fourteen years. Because lemme let you in on a little secret about when we were the most productive and the most happy, work/school-wise: it was when we had a to-do list and just let ourselves get things done. We didn’t have to write at 10AM and grade at 1PM and not schedule coffee dates in the middle of the week. You used to blow off class to go on a coffee date, and you still had nearly a 4.0 throughout all your schooling. So don’t tell me you can’t ‘do lunch’ now because you should be ‘working’ during those hours. You’ve NEVER been successful when you’re tied down; why would that start now?!”
She silenced me. She humbled me. If I didn’t love her so much, I would’ve been really pissed. But looking my 21-year-old self in the eyes, I knew she was right. I don’t do well when I’m confined by schedules and boxes and rules. That’s why my husband and I have been working so hard to give me the things I know in my gut and my soul that I truly need to succeed – flexibility and freedom.
Does it matter if I workout first and then answer emails and then write on Monday, and then wake up on Tuesday morning to spend six hours writing and squeezing in my workout in the afternoon leaving my students’ work for the evening, only to turn around on Wednesday and devote the bulk of the middle of my day to my students’ work?
No. Because this is what I’ve been working for.
Now, this is not gonna work for everybody. Trust me. Like my advice about marriage, what I’ve come to find is that everyone is so unique that offering any sort of advice is probably a fool’s errand. Because you might turn around and try this and hate yourself (and me!) because a lack of structure in your day drives you crazy, makes you forget things, and doesn’t fit your lifestyle.
But…if you ARE like me…and you’ve found that whatever hours of the day you get to control* are feeling like a punishment rather than an opportunity…
…then I say give disorganization a try. You just might find the flexibility you need to actually be successful. And if you do, thank 21-year-old me for being a saucy little brat and showing up in my memories to yell at me this morning.
Now…I’m off to make my to-do list, which I will tackle in whatever order feels good to me in the moment. And that’s really the best way to start a Monday.
*I realize not everyone is in a position where you don’t have SOME boxes of time that are set by certain things, like your job or your school or whatever. But everyone has SOME time in their day that they personally get to call the shots, and I’m talking about THOSE hours. For you it might be one or two, for someone else it might be sixteen. The core concept remains the same.