A few weeks back, during one of the first cooler and rainy days that heralded the nearing end of summer, I decided to clean up. Every summer there is a small pile of things that grows bigger as the weeks pass. The pile is usually marked in my mind something like this:
Things I’ll deal with when it gets cooler
Things I’ll deal with on a rainy day
Things I’ll deal with later
Summer is my ‘exhale time’. It’s time to be outdoors, to connect with friends, to do all those projects that need open doors and windows and long daylight hours. It’s not like I’m sitting in my lounger reading and sleeping all summer. I’m gardening, renovating, socializing, swimming, hiking, etc. But I’m not as keen on deep cleaning, sorting files, mending drapes, and other such things. As a self-employed therapist this pile of “things I’ll do later” also includes work-related things. And so it grows quite steadily all throughout the summer months.
But when fall arrives with it’s cooler evenings and more frequent rainy days, the pile is tackled: later has arrived!
This year, though, I felt rather overwhelmed as I was about to start on my little pile. It wasn’t just the usual feeling of “oh no, it’s fall already”. There was a sense of not knowing where to start. There was house related stuff, practice related things, personal questions and tasks. There also were family issues, friends’ concerns, and our cats. As I sat in front of all this, the thought that came in was “There are way too many loose ends here. I don’t have a clue where to start”.
Images can be powerful support in understanding and solving a problem. In the situation at hand my thought of “loose ends” provided me with the image I needed to tackle my work: loose ends can be sorted and woven; and a lot of loose ends woven in the right way can create a beautiful tapestry. As I moved forward I tried to stay aware of two things:
1. I can’t weave six threads at once in different patterns.
Sometimes when we get to the point of finally tackling a long avoided task or situation, we can become overzealous. Suddenly everything needs to be done right now. But if things have been waiting for attention for a couple of months, letting them sit there for another week will likely not result complete chaos! However, it may be helpful to sort each job into new, smaller piles, creating more clarity and order. That could be sorting them by area (house, family, office, etc.) or by priority. This way we can more consciously pick up a new task when the opportunity arises.
2. To create a truly beautiful tapestry it needs to be balanced.
Work-life balance is important, even in cleaning up. It is easy to become resentful when all of a sudden one is spending several days only doing paperwork while other things are still sitting undone. Balance is important to maintain a sense of overall accomplishment as well as to stave off boredom or resentment. Doing a bit of this today and some of that tomorrow helps us see that we still have a life. And opting for a day of not working on the task at hand at all because it is an exceptionally beautiful day outside is like adding that one strand of pure gold to our tapestry: it adds sparkle and makes us smile.
These two little rules aren’t worth remembering only when cleaning up summer’s left-over work piles. They hold true with almost anything that otherwise threatens to overwhelm us. Unfortunately, life does not consist of only enjoyable things. However, rarely is it made up of only the difficult stuff, either. Your work-life balance will look different from that of your sibling just as a tapestry you weave would look different from the one someone else creates. We all have different colours and threads given to us. But recognizing which of those threads bring us some joy, which are easier to deal with at what time, and allowing ourselves to weave in the occasional surprise thread can help tremendously with making a difficult task easier.
As I am typing this, intent on getting it done so I can check off ‘newsletter’ on my office pile list, our cat Lenny comes over and decides it’s time to cuddle. He won’t take “no” for an answer, clearly declaring that for right now my lap is better suited to him than to my laptop; and suddenly the tapestry of my afternoon has an unexpected and glimmering coppery red thread in it that makes me smile.