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You Can Do Anything, just not EVERYTHING

[1]I love Mondays.  That fresh start to the week, the untouched pages in my planner, the possibilities that stretch out into the distance, alluring and endless. I also have discovered a passion for bullet journals, and the practice has given me the impetus to track everything.

Mondays are the day my new week begins, and I can do anything! An hour of practice of tai chi every morning. Write 15,000 words toward the deadline looming. Gather a daily star for hitting my step count goal! Teach my dogs a new trick!! Eat great and lose a pound!!! Spend a half hour each evening with my Sketchbook Skool [2] class!

Oh, yes, and weed every day!! Keep regular work hours, get that stuff uploaded to the site, explore that other opportunity that’s been nagging me. Cook cooling dinners because it’s hot.

Did I mention I have a deadline? A bare moon cycle from now.

But it’s Monday.  I love Mondays, so I woke up and got moving early. So far, I’ve walked both of the puppies (separately, for training), which helps address dog time and step time. I did get my tai chi warm up in, and a quick run-through of the part of the 108 form that I’m working on.

Then I realized that everybody has peed on their beds and blankets and I have to wash them all.  Up until then, I was pretty close to the schedule, which says I have to be at the computer with the Internet turned off by 8:30 am. I didn’t make it until 9:00, but the puppies are sprawled, unconscious, on the tiles of the living room floor so I should be able to get my words in.

Except—oops! I forgot I didn’t write this column yesterday because I was weeding one very overgrown part of the garden. And then my granddaughters called to FaceTime with me and then I talked to my son and wonderful new daughter-in-law in Italy.

That’s the trouble. Life! Life gets in the way of my goals! Every week!

Maybe your life is like that, too.

The main complicating factor in my life are the not-quite-four-month old puppies. Who are EXUBERANT! And spend hours every day racing around the family room, then outside, then climb in the water and roll in the dirt and drag in grass and dirt and who-knows-what, requiring another vacuum/mop/sweep. They also, it must be said, poo. A lot. Which requires a lot of clean-up. They also are not entirely great about potty training yet, which also requires clean-up. They need walking, and puppy classes, and vet trips.  They also require lots of playing and love… I mean, we want friendly, happy dogs, right? I am required to kiss them a hundred and seventeen times a day and throw balls and play tug of war.

Did I mention I have a deadline?

The other trouble with puppies is that they don’t really sleep all night.Which means my work days are sometimes this: I made it to the computer, turned off the Internet, wrote for a half hour, and fell asleep. Woke up, got a drink of water, wrote another half hour, fell asleep.

Miraculously, the work is going fine. I’m still mad for the book. But I realize, once again, something I have to practice over and over and over:

I can do anything I want, but I can’t do everything I want.

This is true of the time budget I’m struggling with currently, and money budgets, and calorie budgets.  It’s also true of creativity budgets.

Time is finite, and its own limitation, and you can’t come up with more even if you wheedle and whine. Overspend money, and you end up in debt. Overspend calories and you gain weight.  Overspend your creativity and you end up blocked and burned out.

Today, I’m focusing on the time aspect. We live in a society that says we can do all the things if we just get ourselves organized and don’t give up. We’re given the message that we can be and do all we wish—marathoner, novelist, brilliant decorator, great mom, supportive and present spouse, and well-groomed at all times.

It’s not true, not for me and not for you.

Obviously, I can’t do all the things I’d love to do this week.  If I’m realistic, I know from previous experience that the last 20,000 words of a book are very intense work. What I’ll mostly be doing is focusing on the pages every day. When I finish them—which will inevitably take longer than I planned every day—I’ll be very tired both mentally and physically, and I won’t want to do any business or do some big house cleaning thing.  I’ll want to get away from the computer, read a book, paint, walk the dogs.

Realistically, at this stage of a book, the work is what will spread over my days.  The garden will have to make do with hit and run weeding. We can eat the same three things in rotation (English salad, chicken/cilantro stir fry with peas, and tacos), mainly so I don’t have to think about meal planning and grocery shopping. The dogs don’t have to be walked in the morning (my prime work time) if I walk them at night. They have an entire yard to play in.

I also don’t have to decorate my bullet journal or find just the right photo for Instagram or answer non-urgent emails. Which can feel productive, but none of them are.  The bullet journal works just fine with a list.  Instagram can wait, and I probably never have to answer some of those emails.

More insidious for me are things that seem like they do matter, like step count. Like getting to tai chi classes.  It is definitely important for me to practice tai chi every day because I have joint issues and it helps keep me healthy. I don’t have to go to tai chi classes every week. I’ll go when I can, but they know I’ll be back when life isn’t so extreme.

It’s also important for me to take a walk, simply because it is my habit and makes me a better person.  What I don’t have to do is hit the FitBit step count goal every day, or win the competitions with my sisters and friends.

I have a book to write and puppies to raise and a garden that needs at least a little attention. Oh, and there is that man in my house who might like me to talk to him once in awhile.

That’s a lot for one person. Instead of habit trackers in twelve areas, maybe my bullet journal could just urge me to do take a good walk with myself in the morning before I start work, then do my pages and have a nourishing lunch, and afterward, maybe sit in the swing in the garden and read a book with the puppies snoozing at my feet. When my partner comes home, I’ll have dinner with him and we’ll walk the dogs.

And I’ll get a gold star for the day.

Do you struggle with budgeting your time realistically? What things get in your way?  If you were to give yourself a gold star for a day that’s good enough, what would it look like?


About Barbara O'Neal [3]

Barbara O'Neal [4] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [5], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [6].