Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Time management’

Hanging up the cape


My world right now feels like one giant, endless white desert, and every horizon – as far as the eye can see – comprises nothing but the word TIRED in large, 3D letters. For some reason, I can move freely through these letters – and I do. Despite seeing the desert clearly through the letters, they seem solid enough. But walking to – and through – a word, shimmers it like a mirage, moving it so that it always fills utterly the sum of my view.

So tired, the very word brings me to tears.

Shaking with stupid, soundless sobs.


And my back hurts.

It seems even more contemptible in words than it does swirling round in the vortex of energy draining my brain, as if someone pulled the plug at the base of my hypothalamus and let it all out.

Adrenal Fatigue is the official diagnosis. The cause? Years and years of intense (and mostly self-inflicted) stress, far too much coffee, and way too little sleep. I don’t know when it all started, but I do know that I was well and truly entrenched in this lifestyle by the time I was 14 years old.

That’s a lot of life.

The treatment is a simple, three step programme:

    1. Sleep
      Apparently I need to plan on getting at least 9-10 hours of sleep every night for the next two to three years. (Looking wistfully to her right, she sighed slightly as she suppressed a mirthless snort of laughter. Sleep. Oh how she laughed).
    2. Drink less coffee
      Again, ha ha ha. Coffee is fuel. I need it more than oxygen. It’s not a beverage, it’s a personality trait. I have been instructed to cut back to no more than 2-3 cups a day. Please, hold the applause while I announce that I have actually succeeded at this so far (today is day four). I feel awful, and it turns out I really do have absolutely no personality without coffee. Duller than ditchwater, me. And you thought I was dull when I ditched the vino. *Snigger*. All I am now is a bag of well-padded bones with a sleep-deficit and a self-deprecating bent that went out of style in the ’80s.
    3. Exercise – moderately!
      I started exercising on Saturday. Have I mentioned how much I love to run? I do. I love it. And I haven’t run in at least eight months. Why not? Well, we’ve recently had a spate of crime that kept many of us runners off the roads in the wee hours of the morning. And I have been VERY busy.So I ran. Not far or long – at all. I really am VERY unfit, as it turns out. And now my back hurts, and it’s hard to walk.

Wow. That is some pity party.

Superwoman? Not so much.

Superwoman? Not so much.

Okay, I’m done with that bit. I’m going to start a series on uncovering the basics of adrenal fatigue. But for today, I’m just going to start with the first thing: the implications.

For a long time, my goal has been to have it all. I want to have a career – and business – that changes the world for the better. I want to have an amazing relationship with my well-rounded, brilliant children who have all the input they need from me, loads of crafts and adventures, and a balanced education. I want a welcoming, perfectly decorated home, always brimming with fresh, allergen-free edibles, ready to welcome weary travellers. I want to be useful and supportive in my church, helping ladies draw nearer to God even as I do the same. And of course, I want to be the world’s best wife. Ever.

In short: I want to be Superwoman.

To my enormous disappointment, my body and mind are not on the same page as my will. And, to my horror, my will has lost. I need to face the facts, be realistic, and lay the cloak aside.

Interestingly, this message has come from a number of different places in the last few weeks, and really brought home the fact that it’s time to be realistic, and get some rest.



How to fit it all in

Almost every day, I’m asked the same question: how do you get it all done? To be clear: I’m no Wonder Woman. Far from it. All I am is a mom trying to have it all – and get it all into a single day. On average, I work between 16 and a half and 18 hours a day. This includes housework and school but even so, there’s not much time for “me time”. Now, I’m not advocating an eighteen-hour day. Far from it! I believe proper planning and focus can allow any of us to achieve our most important goals.

The thing is, some things are important. Investing in my relationship with God is important. Reading to my children is important. Exercise is important. Work is important. The question is, how on earth can anyone fit it all in? 

We all need a planny plan

We all need a planny plan

For me, I find anything I aim to do is far more achievable if I start out with the premise that the thing I intend to do can be done. Because, you see, if it can be done by anyone, it stands to reason that it can be done by me. All it takes is a plan. A planny plan. Here’s mine:

Get your priorities straight

First of all, decide what is important. Be specific. Choose the five things you can’t NOT do in a day. These are your priorities. There are a hundred things I’d like to get done each day. Only a handful of these is non-negotiable, however. For me, that handful includes, in no particular order:

  • Housework and meal preparation
  • Home education
  • Time with God
  • Billable work
  • Research, management and non-billable work

I’ love to include exercise, arts and crafts, and long walks with my kids in my list. I wish I could find time for charity and home visits, and time to invest in making my Sunday School classroom appealing. But I have to be realistic. My work happens every single day of the week, and if I don’t prioritise, I’ll end up out of control and in chaos. Which does happen from time to time!

Get up early

It’s only a cliché because the truth of it has stood the test of the ages. The Bible speaks of the value of an early start. Idioms and sayings from around the world explain that

“early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Take time to recharge

Take time to recharge

The reason we all know these sayings is because they ring with truth. Little beats the productivity I find myself able to tap into when I’m up early. Before the rest of the family is up, I get my thoughts in order. I get myself ready for the day. I spend time with God. And even if I get nothing billable done, I get a little of that precious me time that seems so elusive in our frenetic lives. It is so important to get that time to recharge, and if we don’t make a concerted, intentional effort to achieve that, we are robbing ourselves of a significant source of energy and well-being.

Get up before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, and sort out your lists. List the three things you absolutely must achieve today for today to be labelled a success. More than that is a bonus, less than that is a disaster. Three important things should be a manageable goal for any day, so be sure you know, before the day starts, what your three things are. I don’t mean choosing three of your priorities. I mean, within the confines of those priorities, what three items simply cannot go undone today? This simple act will give your day focus, your work purpose, and yourself energy.


Conflicting studies discuss the pros and cons of multi-tasking. Theories such as Critical Chain explain the negative impact multi-tasking can have on productivity, pointing out that if we focus on one task at a time, not only do we finish all the tasks at least as quickly as we would have had we attempted to do them all at once, we also perform better in each task individually, and report lower levels of stress generally.

That’s fair enough, and in fact my on research supports this view – for the most part. However, there are pockets of “dead time” in our days that can be better utilised. For instance, I have a mild back condition as a result of exceptionally low muscle tone and very poor posture. If I don’t do at least 200 intensive abdominal crunches each and every day, I am soon in so much agony, I can barely walk. Even sitting becomes painful and, needless to say, my productivity plummets. However, fitting that amount of exercise into an already full 18 hour day can be a challenge. My solution? Multi-task. When I wash my hair in the morning, while I wait for the conditioner to do its thing, I do my crunches. (The added benefit here is that the bath water provides my back with the support it needs!) I do calf raises and lunges while I fry the eggs for breakfast. I do tricep dips on the kitchen counter while I make supper. Once you get used to it (and make it a priority), it’s really not that hard to do.

We do the Bible Time and History segments of school around the breakfast table in the morning. I incorporate English language studies into History by printing out the day’s text and creating a treasure hunt for verbs and adjectives and predicates and those other faithful friends of the fanatical word nerd (guilty!). Art happens organically and continually with my creative brood. Geography is the very natural spin-off of a rich history curriculum, with us looking everything up on the globe and the girls spending hours poring over the atlas. At dinner, we’ll watch great movies to do with our literature, or play games that secretly stimulate learning – and friendly family competition.

Work is work, but if I work in a central space I am always available to my children, my clients and my staff. It can be distracting, but it is also necessary. After all, this is the life I chose, and the only way I’ll succeed at living my dream is to make it all fit together, rather than squashing things into ill-formed boxes.

Zen and the art of home maintenance

Housework is my least favourite task, and I know for a fact that I’m not alone here. A sinkful of dishes has the effect of a dementor on my soul, sucking every happiness from my being and leaving me cold and terrified. I find that there are two solutions to my sense of joyless dread, namely The Sneak Attack approach, and the wilful application of Zen.

The Sneak Attack approach

This is my own personal legacy that I am bequeathing to the world. Seriously, it’s genius. If other people are doing this, they sure aren’t talking about it. And they should, because it works. It’s brilliant. It goes like this: when I face a task I loathe, (or just don’t prefer), I tell myself not to do it. I reason that I don’t need to do it, and shouldn’t have to do it, since I already do so much. I let myself off the hook for that task, and take all the stress, guilt and urgency out of it. I turn around. Then, when my mind isn’t looking, I sneak in and do it quickly before I realise what’s going on. I’ve effectively removed the sense of burden from the task, and made it almost naughty to go ahead and do it. It’s artificially-applied fun, and it works! I’ve been doing this for years, but only recently discovered that this is actually a scientifically documented productivity tool called Structured Procrastination. Try it – I dare you!

Now, sometimes the task at hand takes longer than it takes my brain to catch on to my sneaky trick. Then I’m in trouble, because the overwhelming drudgery of the task at hand seeps into my consciousness and saps my will to live. Or at least my will to keep doing what I’m doing. This is where the next part of the approach kicks in:

The Wilful Application of Zen

I have learned to sublimate the mundane , to elevate the banal to an art form. I honestly believe this is one of the most useful and effective uses of one’s time. Because, let’s face it, the dishes must be done. The laundry must be folded. And if not by you, then by whom? You’re it. So it’s important to find ways to grow and bloom in these minor trials, rather than giving housework the power to make us unhappy. Take back that power! Housework most certainly does not deserve that kind of a hold over your life. Instead, recognise that time alone at the sink is time alone. It’s that “me time” you’re hankering after. And you get the privilege of changing things for the better – making them clean and shiny and ready for use – without having them complain about your interference.

In fact, the simple acts of folding laundry – instilling order in chaos – and washing dishes – creating hygiene and health where before there were only germs and disease – are very therapeutic. It’s necessary work. It can be fulfilling work. It’s a great opportunity to get your thoughts in order, and the necessity of the situation creates a virtual bubble around you. No one can demand frivolous things from you while you’re busy with these important things. You learn, grow and rest in the mundane busyness. Enjoy.

Take breaks – productively

And finally, take breaks and get rest. But use these wisely. A break is not the time to check texts and catch up on emails. Those long walks I said I wanted? Now’s the time to take one. Step away from the computer. Get outside. Read a page of a well-written book. Grab a cup of bulletproof coffee or some refreshing tea. Spend time talking to your kids – or drawing with them! Build a fort. Go for a run. Wash the dog. Even doing filing can be good, because it is so soothing to instil order in your chaos.

And make sure you get the sleep you need. If worry is keeping you awake at night, supplement with Vitamin D, Zinc, and CalMag. Get regular, mild exercise. And talk to the One who promises to take all your worries, because He cares for you.

These are my secrets for a successful and effective day. What are yours? I’d love to hear how you fit everything into your day. And if this was helpful to you, let me know! I really hope I can make your life a little easier, and a little happier.

With love,


Workaholic Mama

This evening, my hilarious offspring took turns doing impressions of us. Papa Bear was serious and gruff, although the darlings collapsed in giggles as they tried to pull it off. As for me, they put on a high, shrill voice and a poncy air, saying.

“I’m Mama and I work all the time and say there’s never time for stories ever again and we never go for walks because I’m always working, and I’m going to get fat-fat-fat because I just work and make delicious chocolate and make us all eat it all the time.”

It’s Saturday. We’ve had a frenetic dash to the Market, followed by a high-speed weekly shop, magicking grocery money out of thin air. After that, the day has consisted of nothing but work and meal preparation, while the girls played.

Perhaps they have a point.

Walking in Mama's shoes

Walking in Mama’s shoes


When Papa Bear and I were semi-newlyweds, I gave him a Promise Keepers’ Bible. It was not well received. While my intentions were good and honourable (I swear it!), the implication was (apparently) abundantly clear: he didn’t keep his promises. In fact, that was not true then, nor is it now. Papa Bear has always been very good about not committing to anything he wasn’t sure he could carry through, and carrying it through if did commit. (Except giving up carbs, but seriously, who can stick to that?)

I, on the other hand, am less successful in this area. Despite years of training, I tend to over promise and under deliver. I blame my inclination to give people the answers they want. If the answer a person wants is, “I’ll do it today”, then that’s what I say. The fact that I’ve said it to ten other people today, and still have catch up from the ten people I said it to yesterday, tends not to register on my radar.

What I need is a promiseometer. The idea behind this nifty device is that it records every promise you make, as you make it. It sounds an alarm when the deadline is looming, and a louder alarm when the deadline passes. It records how many promises you’ve made and alerts you when you reach a certain quota. And best of all: it cannot turned off without the promise being fulfilled.

Just think of the possibilities: no more disappointed kids because you were “too tired” to read tonight’s bed time story, even though you’d promised. No more disgruntled clients because the deadline you’d agreed to has passed. No more neglected spouses, let down friends, angry creditors – none of that. That’s all done. Because now, a promise you make would have to be a promise you kept! Perhaps the alarm could just be the beginning, and the longer you go without keeping your word, the more painful and violent the punishments become!

I think most people have a promiseometer already. It’s called common sense, with a good dose of boundaries and a heaping side order of reasonable expectations thrown in for good measure.  The simple truth is that when we break promises, we instantly convert ourselves into liars. And who can ever trust a liar? I certainly don’t want to be that, yet I become one every day as I rack up a slew of unkept promises.

The Bible has a very simple solution in James 5:12:

“But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.”

Am I the only one who over commits and fails to deliver? Has anyone found an effective, consistent way to deal with it?

The ebb and flow of peace

We live in a cottage (not in a wood, unfortunately). It’s quaint. I think that’s the best way to describe it. Apart from a suffusion of yellow, it’s fairly featureless. However, it meets our needs (close to amenities and affordable), and it’s home. For now.

When we moved here, we were in the middle of an economic crisis. Our kids were in school all day. We spent all day in an office. All we needed a house for was a place to cook meals once in a while, and a place to sleep.

Then things changed.

“School” became the dining room table. “The Office” became our bedroom. Our bedroom moved into the en suite bathroom space, and our lives became compressed. As our business has grown, we’ve taken on staff, as one does. First we had a flexible and understanding lady two days a week. Then three. Finally, five. Then another lady – also flexible and understanding. Also two days a week, then three … Pretty soon she’ll be full time, too. I work with freelancers, who come in to the “office” from time to time to work – often with home schooled kids in tow. Friends come over for play dates with my children. And we still need a PFY (pimply-faced youth, aka tech assistant) for Papa Bear!

In other words, our cottage’s ability to meet our space requirements is being tried. Sorely.

A side effect of this is that we occasionally devolve into chaos. In theory, a small space is easier to maintain, but in practice, sometimes there just isn’t a place to put stuff! We’ve debated various options (moving, storage, rearranging), and finally settled on a combination of a space rearrangement, and a brutal clean up. Then we spent about a month psyching ourselves up for the task at hand. For some reason, yesterday, Papa Bear and I both woke up raring to go. There was nothing for it but to get stuck in. We gave our staff the day off, loaded the station wagon to the gills with junk, and moved things around. We raised a lot of dust, and we all still feel as if we’re encased in a light coat of cement. Not to mention the hayfever everyone is battling. But that’ll be over soon, and for now we seem to have a working solution. We have also managed to achieve a modicum of privacy (did I mention that until yesterday the office was in our bedroom – and we have no interior doors?).

So, to the title. It seems that I manage to instill and maintain order relatively well in my space. I have a sense of peace as things find and stay in (or return to) their  places easily and regularly. Timetables are established and maintained. Dishes are done – all the time. I feel good about myself as domestic diva, and happy to entertain stragglers.

Then I get busy. I finally realise that I need to actually work for a living. I get involved in clients and meetings and deadlines and late nights and early mornings. Before I know it, it’s been a week since the girls received focused education. The dishes are done on an “as needed” basis, and meals consist of frying whatever happens to be closest to the door of the fridge. Papers pile up, toys accumulate in flotsam eddies around the driftwood of disorganised furniture, and it’s hard to believe we haven’t just been the victims of a robbery. (Actually, I’m sure this acts as a deterrent to would-be thieves. They think we’ve already been hit!).

At the back of my mind is a persistent belief that there is some kind of balance to be found here. I am sure that it must be possible to achieve a reasonable degree of personal organisation AND a reasonable degree of business organisation at the same time. Surely I can do half as much of each as I ever do of just the one or the other, on an ongoing basis, and manage to maintain an orderly home and an efficient business, with happy, educated, adjusted kids? Is there anyone out there who is doing this successfully? Or do we all do what I do, swinging from one extreme to the other, with only intermittent applications of peace in isolated areas of our lives?

I’d love to know. But in the mean time, I am putting off the billing so that I can tackle this severely overdue pile of filing. Wish me luck!

Workaholics and a day of rest

This week has been a bit of a voyage of spiritual discovery as I have begin observing what seems to be the most logical understanding of the Sabbath. My first Sabbath day was Thursday. Perhaps I need to provide some context here. It’s not that I never take days off. Sometimes, on Saturdays, after I’ve been to the Market, prepared food for the week (where possible), prepared for Sunday School and Discipleship for the week ahead, cleaned the house and done the homeschool prep, I only check emails. Mostly I do a bit of work, but not every Saturday. The rest of the week seems to be round-the-clock work, and it’s fine because it’s the life I’ve chosen. I don’t mind or resent it a bit, I’m just tired.

The idea of a whole day where no work is allowed to be done is so very beguiling that I decided to investigate it even if it was just to see how it felt not to work at all for a twenty four hour period. And what did I discover?

Simple: I’m a workaholic.

For years I’ve been telling myself that I work so hard because I have to. I don’t have a choice, and if I did I certainly wouldn’t spend the day behind my computer screen. I may have to revise my thesis. I was actually jittery. It was a bit like the way one feels when the internet is down and a deadline is looming. Panic. Nail-biting, jaw-clenching, armpit-wetting distraction. What should I do all day? We had a bit of school: Bible time and reading some great stories. I had a challenging quiet time, and then I fairly paced the room like a caged animal.

In the end, I actually did do a bit of work, operating under the vain hope that if I don’t charge for it, it doesn’t count. Genius? Hmm …

It turns out I may well have an addiction problem. And I may well have a problem with idol worship. My idol seems to be my work, and I need to process what exactly I’m going to do about that.

How to balance working from home and home educating your children

I wish there was a simple answer to this question. Our typical day starts early (around 5AM): I do a quick round of laundry and dishes, make breakfast, and launch straight into school. After school I check emails and return calls, then make lunch. Work follows, flat out until it’s time to make supper. After supper it’s time for dishes and bed time stories, then back to work.

Bed time is usually between 23:00 and 02:00.

For me, there are two equally important keys to making this work. The first is prioritisation. Decide what’s important, and focus on that. But realise and accept that what’s important today (or this morning, or right this moment), may not be the same as what’s important tomorrow, what mattered tomorrow, or what is important in your life generally. It helps, too, to have a very clear idea of what is important generally, so that when you have to make a touch choice, it’ll be the right choice.

The other important key is acceptance and realistic expectations. Many years ago I had this romantic notion that eight hours each day, five days each week, would always be enough for getting work done. Add to that three hours of school and half an hour of exercise, and you still have plenty of time for sleep and being a domestic goddess. That’s not how life works. School often takes five hours or more. Or no time at all, since there isn’t any time for school and that’s that. Exercise is usually a distant memory and sleep sits on the bookshelf between Fairy Tales and Rumpelstiltskin. Being a domestic goddess is many miles away from divine most of the time, and every moment of every day of every week seems dedicated to putting out fires and desperately trying to keep promises that seemed so very realistic when they were made. The thing is that when you accept that what is, is; that this is just the way things are, it becomes so much easier to face each challenge rather than always looking for the road to “The-Way-Things-Should-Be Land”.

It’s not easy, and it’s not for the faint hearted. But it is what I wanted and that, too, makes it easier to bear. With the end game in sight, and taking things one step at a time, each day is better than the last.

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