Carpe Diem: Ten ways to give new structure to your days

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You would think that having all our routines disrupted since March would enable us to seize the day. We have more hours now that we’re not taking trips or socializing with friends over lunch. One would assume we would be able to instill healthier habits and more structure in our lives. Carpe Diem…seize the day, live in the present moment, right?

At least some of us are writing our memoirs or autobiographies, taking photos and nature walks. We’re composing poetry, taking time to sit at the piano or bringing out the dusty guitar. During this pandemic, we should at least try to enjoy life a little more, once we get our chores out of the way.

We used to mark time with wall calendars and analog wrist watches. Maybe the fact that our lives are all on digital demand explains why we lose track of time…or not .

Yet last weekend I looked at the calendar and expressed shock and outrage that we were almost out of October. Where was my time going? It was October 1 just yesterday!

I somehow frittered away the hours and the days of the month. I binge-watched a Netflix series. Instead of cleaning the house, I told myself that required too much effort. Besides, no one came to visit (the only reason for cleaning, right?)

I didn’t wear makeup. Why bother? I don’t see anyone anymore. I only go to the grocery store once every two weeks, and then I’m incognito with a mask over my face. I stay in my pajamas until 11 a.m. some days. And sometimes I skip taking a shower. (Sorry. Too much information?)

Please tell me I am not the only one with newly-discovered lethargy these days. And now that it’s getting darker earlier, the potential for slipping into depression is huge.

Not sure if I would know what day it was without my handy supplements kit. The important thing is remembering to fill it.

Monday wash day, Tuesday ironing…

How do you structure your days and weeks now that we’re all forced to be homebodies? I used to define and structure my weeks with Mondays being laundry and cleaning days, Wednesdays being a travel day when I drove to Kansas City to spend time with my grandkids and then visit the nursing home to see my former stepmother-in-law. The routines at both those places included reading and playing with the grandkids and playing a few hands of gin rummy with Rosie at the nursing home. But the nursing home is still on lockdown and due to multiple concerns about family members with health issues, my son is still on virtual quarantine and outside communications limited to FaceTine and Zoom. Like so many other American workers, his company’s physical space has been closed, possibly for good, as everyone shifts to working from home.

As a writer and retired newspaper publisher, I made the work-at-home shift six years ago. But making much headway with housework or writing has suffered greatly since March. It seems the hurried I go the behinder I get. Time slips by with little progress.

I need a system and a structure like my own mother, and her mother both had. Their days and months always passed quickly with the help of structured routines and chores. Remember the tea-towels they embroidered with the days of the week and the names of tasks they had to accomplish each day?

Dish drying towels used to help us keep track of our days and our chores. Now the only time we use these things may be during holiday meals, when all those extra dishes won’t fit in the dishwasher. Then someone washes while someone else dries. Usually there is a carpe diem moment and conversation actually occurs.

The spinning wheels principle

Confession: I missed the day my mother or my grandmother’s DNA and work ethic got distributed. Today, Into the vacuum of time I used to devote to visiting family, comes a combination of Murphy’s Law and the Peter Principle. I tend to rise to my own level of incompetence, wherein anything that can go wrong usually does. The day gets filled up somehow, but sadly lacks any visible results.

A few days ago, when I began to feel overwhelmed with all the tasks and responsibilities, I needed to do, I recalled and began doing something I once tasked my newspaper employees with: I started keeping a time log. I wanted to figure out exactly what was happening to my hours and my days. At the same time, I came up with a list that I think can provide a better structure for my days.

I’m going to share it with you in case you are in the spinning wheels mode too.

Ten ways to structure your pandemic schedule

1. Clean or reorganize something

Even if it’s just a countertop or the wastebasket. Did any of you have a mother or grandmother who spouted little proverbs? Like “Cleanliness is next to Godliness?” Talk about guilt-inducing! But cleaning just one thing will make you feel less guilt.

This morning, when I got out of the shower (no, that did not make it on this list) I took the time to spray a shower cleaner on the walls and shower fixtures. That led to seeing the need for cleaning the bathroom countertop. It took all of five minutes–time enough for my hair to drip dry. Efficient, yes?

2. Bake or cook or make something

This morning, after emptying the dishwasher, I hauled out my cousin’s old bread machine and started baking a loaf of honey whole wheat bread. In a few hours it will fill the house with wonderful smells. Yesterday I cut apart those packaged cookies you buy in the dairy case at the store and baked those. Later, I made sloppy Joes in one pot and chili in a second pot by dividing three packages of ground beef. Now I have leftovers and two extra meals.

3. Learn something

In these Google, Covid, Zoom-filled days, as businesses scramble to reach customers in the virtual sphere, we have no excuse for not learning new things every day. And any new bit of trivia counts as learning.

This past week, after watching a report on the Kansas City Chiefs, I wanted to learn a little more about the players who formed the 1970 Super Bowl team coached by Hank Stram. A Google search uncovered a name from my youth–Jan Stenerud. My eyes opened wide in surprise to learn this gifted Norwegian kicker was not a U. S. citizen when he played for the home team. Even more surprising? He was an active duty member of the Army National Guard while he played football.

In addition to sports trivia, I find myself clicking the “Join” button on free seminars and workshops dealing with the craft of writing. There is no excuse these days for failing to pursue our quest for new knowledge to improve or enrich our lives. It’s all out there with just the click of a mouse or the tip of your finger pressing on a link.

4. Read something

Imagine my smug satisfaction at putting that task on the list! My favorite activity since childhood was to step away from reality and go on mental adventures in the pages of a book. When I ran out of kid lit, I ransacked my mother’s bookshelves. Even read a thick historic novel on Benedict Arnold at age 11 and actually enjoyed it.

However, to the above simple admonition to read, I need to add: Finish what you start and only read one book at a time. (That will never happen. I blame Amazon and my voracious book appetite for that failure).

5. Write something

If you are not a lifelong writer like me, not to worry. A grocery list counts. An email works. A love letter to your honey will do really well. And if you don’t write something every day? Count yourself as one of many helping cursive writing to die a slow, painful death. How’s that for inducing guilt?

6. Do an act of service for someone or something

If we have assumed a late-life role as a caregiver…if we live with someone…if we have elderly relatives…if we do volunteer work for an organization or belong to a church…we have multiple opportunities to do an act of service. I am lucky to have a husband who serves as a wonderful role model of service. He goes about his selfless acts quietly, without need for recognition. But then, he began doing that while growing up on a farm. He continued it with a 32-year career in the military.

7. Pray for someone or something

When I start to feel sorry for myself and my disrupted routines, I look around and know others who really have a reason to be sad or depressed. They may have lost a loved one this year. They may have lost a job or a home. Their mental illness may have worsened. If I know them, or know about them, they make it on my prayer list. Today I returned to an old habit of writing down my prayer petitions. I know how powerful the practice of writing is to make our wishes manifest. And we all know how much our world needs prayers for healing during this pandemic.

8. Find a reason to laugh or cry about something

Sometimes, when we numb out in depression or lethargy, we need reminders that we are still part of the world; that this requires our participation. Nothing does better as a reminder than to find a reason to laugh. Or to just let it all out with a good cry. Both are soul cleansers. My husband reads the joke section of Reader’s Digest. I laugh at my own jokes. Then I cry because I’m such a slow learner.

9. Exercise something

This was a total afterthought…added only because I knew it should be. I hate exercise. So, if you hate exercise too, find things to do that count for exercise without realizing it’s a workout. I like the theory that even short bursts of activity count. Thus, going up and down the stairs in my house will get me a 71-year-old’s “good enough” badge; as will walking to the road to pick up the mail or the daily newspaper. One of these days, when I’m feeling extra ambitious and energetic, I’ll look for the link for the chair yoga class I purchased a month ago and only accessed once. Most days I will probably give myself a pass by exercising my brain (see numbers 3,4 and 5 above for that rationale.)

10. Enjoy someone or something

Not much need to expound on this final, but important, item on the daily list. Visit an elderly relative and listen to her sage advice. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long while. Look through your high school yearbook. Go through all those greeting cards you’ve collected over the decades and smile at the memories. Pick up the needlework you used to enjoy and finish that creative project. Color in an adult coloring book. Get on Pinterest and dream about the things you could do if you only had the time and the money. But then stop cold when you realize you do have the time now. At least you do if you take the time to put the things and the people you enjoy on your new daily list.

And now that my list is appearing in this blog, I will be able to check off the Write Something category for today. Plus, I will be leaving a permanent record of my organization skills, (or the lack therof), so my family will have a resource to help when I’m gone and they’re feeling overwhelmed. I’ll also leave them the family tea towels.

Enjoy something every single day. No matter if it’s a quick sunset or a phone call with a friend.

4 thoughts on “Carpe Diem: Ten ways to give new structure to your days

  1. Linda Harte

    I ordered a daily “to do “ list on line and it worked for awhile; then I got lazy. Now I made each page last 3 days so I could move the various chores around, like in case a friend invited me to lunch. Nothing supersedes lunch! The other movements on the list define procrastination!

    Like

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