Parenting Diaries: the Quest for ‘Deep Work’…

I just don’t *do* busy.

So, I am a mother of Isaac, a delightful seven-month old noisy mini-me with lots of energy, I have my own business, Joy Factory, doing marketing consultation, design and selling my art, I do mental health advocacy, I’m a business mentor, I volunteer at my church…people often ask me how do I manage to do it all. I’m not sure, but I think it might be because I’m not ‘busy‘, but ‘focused’.

Gratuitous cute picture of my son, Isaac (and my lovely hub, Mike)
Gratuitous cute picture of my son, Isaac (and my lovely hub, Mike)

I don’t do that word. I’m not being pedantic – I just believe the power our own words can have over your life. So, to me…’busy‘ is not a good state. It could mean a badge of honour, a way to feel important or successful but in my eyes it means I’d be stressed, over-worked, people pleasing and had a bout of not saying no.

What is ‘deep work‘?

So what is ‘deep work‘, then? Instead of ‘busy‘, I use the words ‘purposeful‘, or ‘focused‘ but the other day I read an article that just summed up what I’m aiming for. ‘Deep work‘ is that time where you get your head down and manage to work on projects, activities etc that align and work towards your values and mission. Not getting caught in the trap of nervously watching emails come in or social media notifications (that make your heart flutter), or going off on tangents or answering the door or phone.

Just say
Just say “no” – get more done!

Just say “no”

So how do you manage to get some deep work done? By saying “no”. All the things we say “yes” to, we are saying “no” to something we were going to do.

And we can also say “no” to ourselves. As a creative and organised person, I can easily be drawn off on tangents and do a whole host of things where I was just trying to do one, as my mind makes galloping leaps. (e.g. some thoughts from this morning… “Right, I’m just going to take these cups to the kitchen so I can finish this blog post. Oh yes, I must hoover the hall. Ah yes, those seeds on the kitchen counter there, must plant those. Ooh, only got two eggs, need some more to cook that cake…right let’s go to Waitrose…”)

If I think about my aims for that day, hour, week or even year, it focuses my thoughts and actions. It’s so easy though, to get whirled along by life, people, marketing etc etc and not manage to carve out the time to consider what actually matters. It’s so easy to just shelve that time you put aside to evaluate a work project, back up the laptop (hello, that’s me) or just have a day retreat.

But, as it says in ‘Seven Habits of Effective People‘, the most important tasks to complete are those that are ‘Important, and not urgent‘. Not…”oh the photocopier is broken, the delivery’s not come, we need more post-its” etc…those fire-fighting ones that take up the whole day somehow.

'Deep Work' - free from distraction.
‘Deep Work’ – free from distraction.

Stocking a ‘Deep work’ toolkit

So, how do I do this already? How could I do this better? Here are some thoughts and ideas:

Get things done with Evernote - free up at least an hour a day.
Get things done with Evernote – free up at least an hour a day.

Getting Things Done

My life is so much easier (and less stressful) now I use Evernote, with a ‘Getting Things Done‘ mentality. If this is new to you, then I promise implementing this system will open up at least an hour a day, and you’ll be less stressed and have more amazing ideas.

Mindfulness

It’s so important for me to take a moment or an extended amount of time out during the day, at the end of the day and periodically throughout the year to take stock, be grateful, critically review, play and make big plans. Otherwise stuff just happens to me I didn’t plan or want. I try to do just one thing at a time, and be fully present.

The power of habits, according to Gretchen Rubin.
The power of habits, according to Gretchen Rubin.

Build habits

Habit-building is something I’m doing more intentionally these days. I read the fab book, ‘Better than Before‘, by Gretchen Rubin. If you spend just twenty-one days working hard on a new habit, it will then run itself and you need no will power or self-control. I now have a strict routine each day, which includes a walk, mindfulness and even doing my Pelvic Floor exercises.

My hope is that if I got mentally ill again (heaven forbid) that these habits would continue. I realised that on even the very worst day of my life when I was depressed and anxious I still cleaned the shower screen because it’s an ingrained habit.

I hate to say it, but work ‘SMART’

I’m sure we all know this one; are our projects specific, measured, achievable, realistic and time-based? I have now made myself a checklist for my habits and also set myself some targets for the things I want to achieve, both personally, as a mother and in work.

I discovered through ‘Better than Before‘ that our success in keeping habits is determined by our personality type. I’m an ‘obliger‘, which means I can do things very easily for others, but not so much for myself. If I am accountable to someone, i.e. I say “please ask me about my pelvic floor practice, or have I been on the exercise bike, or have I had enough ‘me-time'”, I am far more likely to do these things.

Know yourself enough to say “no”

One amazing blessing that’s come from being depressed and anxious several times over the last few years has been the sharpening effect. When you’ve been through some of the worst days of your life and you come out of them, I’ve found that nothing really scares me anymore. I don’t have time to waste on toxic people, work I don’t want to do or things I don’t want to do. Life is short!

I think saying “no”, is hard because of the fear of upsetting someone or letting someone down and therefore how we will be seen by them. When you know yourself, and what you really want to do in life and what you care about, you can say “no”, politely though, with confidence. If the person is offended then a) that is their choice, their decision and their prerogative, and b) maybe I don’t need that person in my life.

Don’t chase people

So let’s say you make an invitation or offer (e.g. someone asks for a business card, you arrange to meet up with someone you don’t know very well, or you’re meeting up with someone who you are patching things up with). Then *don’t* chase it. Have some respect for yourself. Take a leaf out of ‘The Rules’. If your invitation or offer matters to the other person, they will get back to you. Then you don’t waste your time.

And lastly some random things (in no particular order of importance) I find helpful:

  • Post-its, my beloved label maker and my in-tray
  • Days off doing something I really enjoy, like Stealth!
  • Letting God into the problem
  • The Konmarie method: only keep in your life things that spark ‘joy’.
  • Google products
  • Just keeping on doing it, no matter who shows up or cares, if you believe in it then it’s worth doing
  • The Wisdom of Crowds and online forums
  • Just start, then ask for feedback, then do again (Agile project planning)

My last thought comes from my Bible study today. Time is the great leveler, we all have the same amount, we just spend it differently. I want to spend mine on the things that matter. Here’s the original article on ‘deep work’. Would love people’s thoughts and tips, please do comment.

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