My “flower garden” never happened this summer. Sadly neglected.
It was brought home to me pretty powerfully this past week that I’ve allowed things to get out of alignment. My summer of teaching summer school, of accommodating DH’s off-the-chart business, of starting home-office renovations, and of aggressive de-cluttering – all very good things – has taken its toll. My focus got distorted, and important areas of my life have suffered – my poor un-launched “flower garden” above symbolizing that sad neglect. A change is clearly needed.
My 20-year-old diary
Here’s a random fact: I kept diaries from the age of 10 to 25. There’s a stash of them that have remained essentially untouched in my closet for years – decades now – and this week, I pulled one out fairly randomly. It opened to the summer of 1983 when I was twenty years old. I had just finished my first year of university, and I was living for four months in England with my parents (who had been there all year for a one-year work stint that my dad had taken on). The summer was filled with fabulous experience, travel, sight-seeing – interspersed with periods of boredom for me, alone at my parents’ home, far away from my friends and the rest of my family.
July 17, I wrote, “I’m so glad that tomorrow, a schedule begins . . . I’m reading a biography of Thatcher, and one of the things she says is: ‘The secret of life is to make 90% of it habit.’ It holds some truth for me. I like it when when what I do with my time is out of my hands . . . [when] my actions are dictated by what the ‘divine schedule’ tells me to do . . . But in [a] sense, it’s a weakness to follow a ‘divine schedule’. It’s a self-subjugation to authority; taking your actions out of your own hands and forfeiting your free will . . . [but] I’m usually lazy when I’m left with unscheduled time.”
(That’s slightly embarrassing, but please bear in mind that I was a student just out of my teens.)
Stephen Covey on schedules
Stephen Covey, author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is big on scheduling, and it comes into play in Habit #3. If you aren’t familiar with the 7 Habits, here are the first few:
- Be Proactive. If you consider yourself to be a mere product of your upbringing, social class, education, relationships, and career experience, Covey encourages you to a paradigm shift: “. . . because of our unique human endowments, we can write new programs for ourselves totally apart from our instincts and training” (p. 70). Don’t just react to circumstances as if you have no power over them, says Covey. “It is inspiring to realize that in choosing our response to circumstance, we powerfully affect our circumstance” (86).
- Begin with The End in Mind. “How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most” (Covey, 98). It is in Habit #2 that Covey encourages individuals as well as organizations to write a mission statement. “It focuses on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based” (Covey, 106).
- Put First Things First. ” . . . if Habit 1 says ‘You’re the programmer’ and Habit 2 says ‘Write the program,’ then Habit 3 says, ‘Run the program,’ ‘Live the program’ (Covery, 169). It is in Habit 3 that Covey shares his vision for schedules – as being subordinate to and in service of deeper goals and values expressed in the mission statement.
J. Money on Ben Franklin’s schedule
Given my thoughts about priorities, time, and scheduling this week, I was surprised to find in J. Money’s post at Budgets Are Sexy a bit about his own struggles with scheduling. I found out that he’s been on a schedule experiment since the beginning of August. “I have my moments where I get a bunch of stuff done and feel like a complete rock star,” he wrote at the end of July, “but a few days later I’m typically back to ‘trying to figure it all out again.’ And I think a lot of it has to do with finding that optimum schedule that works best for you . . . [S]omething needs to change. And I’m hoping Ben Franklin has the answer.”
You can see Ben Franklin’s schedule – or Scheme as he called it – in Jay’s post. Franklin’s morning started with “Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness!” and the question, “What good shall I do this day?” His evening ended with, “Examination of the day,” and the question, “What good have I done today?” Like Covey’s schedule, Franklin’s “scheme” is in service of the greater good – not an end in itself. Not just a tool of logistical efficiency.
I too know that “Something needs to change,” and I’m going to start with a more proactive plan for my days. Stephen Covey’s schedule is way too elaborate for me. Mine is simple. I have posted a big, laminated calendar in the spare bedroom that I use as my writing space. I’m starting to carve each day into morning, afternoon, and evening, and as I fill it in, I’m mindful of my priorities – of my own personal “mission”. Starting with a devotion to “Powerful Goodness!” (I love that), I’m trying to make sure that I allocate time first to what is most important, my family, and then to other areas of decreasing importance. Some things I’m restricting. To others, I’m giving more space.
As for the complaint of my 20-year-old self when she (I) said that following a schedule was “self-subjugation to authority; taking your actions out of your own hands and forfeiting your free will” – Stephen Covey offers an answer: “You’re the programmer . . . Write the program . . . Run the program. Live the program.”
As I face my challenges in scheduling and priorities, I hope to put things back in alignment. All things debt-reduction are important – but not the most important. They’re subordinate to and in service of deeper goals and values – just as my schedule will have to be. And as balance is re-established, as I “figure it all out again”, I’m hoping that there will be greater contentment, a slower pace. And flowers in my flower garden.
Financial fitness and debt-freedom are great goals, but have you ever found that you’ve struggled, in your pursuit of them, to keep a balance with other, more important goals? Your comments are welcome.