05 Jan

a year of being a *real person*

A year of being a real person

I think it’s kind of fitting to start my first work day for 2015 with my new year goals post. Ironically though, my goals in 2015 are all about working less and being a *real person* – a three dimensional, present, engaged person who isn’t defined by work.

There are lots of things I want to do this year. Big things. Big goals to hit. Big changes to make. A thesis to finish. A new degree to implement. New units to design.

But when I started thinking about what I wanted to do this year, I realised those big ticket work goals weren’t at the front of my mind. Yes, I totally want my PhD to be done. Yes, it’s also time for me to think seriously about my career trajectory and decide if I’m still following the right dream. But when I thought about what I wanted to do this year, I found myself returning over and over to those things I love doing that fell off my radar in 2014. Not work. Not career. Not PhD. But the little things I love to do that keep me sane and happy.

In 2014, I didn’t read a single book. I went about eight months without sewing, finishing a total of two small projects all year. I did very little non-work writing. I hardly baked at all. I didn’t do enough making, and making is really important to me. Because really, as American graphic designer Saul Bass once said, ‘I just want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares’.

I was pretty much a hermit this year too. I hardly saw my friends at all. I spent a lot of time saying, ‘I’m sorry, I have to work’ to everyone around me, including the twins. I followed my sorries with, ‘It’s just one more year’, and then, ‘It’s just a few more months’, and then ‘I just have to get past this intense phase of writing’, and, ‘My thesis will be done by the end of the year and then I’ll be back in the land of the living’.

Recently my sister called me out on this. She said there will always be a ‘I just have to…’ I realised my family fully expect that, once the PhD is done, I will find other projects that become my ‘I just have to…’ excuses. And I realised that although this is definitely not what I want, if I am not careful, I will do it. Because that’s how I roll. I see the shiny, pretty, exciting things I could be doing as part of my job and I want to do them all. And then I take on all of those things and I lose all capacity to be a friend and a daughter and a sister and an aunty and a maker and a reader and… a person.

2014 was a pretty unfun year. I let the things I love go out of necessity; work was stressful; I got caught up in trying to get myself into a permanent position at work; and I jammed an incredible amount of thesis writing into a very short period of time.

I get to be creative at work, and I found thesis writing to be a creative process too (especially because I struggled with the linearity of thesis writing, so I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about the design of the final document). This helped to balance out the lack of sewing and non-work writing and the fact I didn’t really make anything beautiful at all (except some pretty slidedecks). But no matter how much I get to flex my information design muscles at work, it’s not the same as being creative for fun or being creative for the sake of being creative. I miss reading, I miss sewing, I miss writing for pleasure, and I miss my friends and family. These are things I want to focus on this year.

Doing all of these things means having (or making) time. I know that the single most important thing I need to do to make this stuff happen is to reclaim my weekends.

I’ve been reluctant to set goals for 2015 (and maybe even more reluctant to share them) seeing my 2014 goals were great big flops (more on this in a later post). But I really want to change the balance in my life and I know I can’t do that without giving myself a framework for what I want to change and how I might make it happen.

I questioned whether I should share these goals here. But I think in two ways: with my fingers on the keyboard, or by creating a visual narrative. I sensemake by creating a story in words or images or a combination of both. So writing these things down is about planning and making sense and working out how to get to where I want to be. I’m naming these goals here as a way of claiming them and thinking through how I’m going to achieve them.

I don’t want to set myself up for a series of fails so I’m setting goals that I think are definitely achievable. There are four of them, with the first being the condition for the other three.

In 2015, I am committing that I will

  • work weekends as an exception
  • sew one thing every month
  • read one fiction book every month
  • spend time with the people who matter most.

Work weekends as an exception

Over the last five years, I’ve gradually gotten into the habit of factoring Saturday and Sunday into my work schedule every week. Having a weekend off is currently the exception, not the norm. I don’t mind working weekends to meet deadlines, but I am pretty over working a full day every Saturday and every Sunday. I’m sick of missing out on doing fun stuff and it’s really exhausting.

I made a single resolution last January: to take a day off every week. That seems like a pretty simple, achievable resolution, but it went out the window by the end of January. I had days off, but not as regularly or as many as I should have. And in the second half of the year, I basically worked non-stop, juggling the usual family commitments and curve ball after curve ball on the personal and family fronts with my very busy job and writing my thesis.

I know that shifting my mindset to see weekends as separate from the work week will be the hardest change I make this year. It’s also the most important because all the other changes I want to make hang on reclaiming some downtime.

To help me reclaim my weekends I’m going to do a number of things:

  • Set boundaries and stick to them. Mostly, this is about telling my students I’m unavailable on weekends and then actually following through. Over time, I’ve learned that students generally respect boundaries as long as I respect them too. Once I start engaging during my designated off-the-radar time, I send a message that I’m available. In short, my students aren’t the problem here. I am.
  • Set aside one hour every Saturday afternoon to respond to social media posts and email from students. I don’t feel I can be completely unavailable on the weekends because I know part time students in particularly do most of their study on the weekends. But I can restrict my availability to a certain timeframe.
  • Define types of work that I will and won’t do on weekends. For example, everyday, operational work should fit within my Monday to Friday work week. Unexpected, time critical or one-off work might need to be done on the weekends. For example, I often need to work weekends when I’m marking. I also expect to put in weekend time on my thesis. And I invariably need to work weekends when grant applications are due.
  • Manage my workload better by distinguishing between what actually needs to be done and what I’d *like* to do. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. (Haha! A bit!) I’m also heavily invested in my students and my teaching. I also have lots of interests and a fear of being bored. Together, these things mean I generate heaps of work, all of which I see as important, and all of which I want to execute perfectly. I need to rationalise my workload by looking at what I’ve got on and working out which bits of it actually don’t need doing (and I know there’s quite a lot of stuff that falls into this category). To get started with this, I need to spend some time with my current project list and my to do list and work out what really matters.
  • Ask people to hold me accountable. I’m going to need help to do this, so I plan to ask my family to help me by calling me out on working weekends if I’m doing too much of it.
  • Track my progress. I’ll note my weekend activities on my planner so I can keep an eye on how I’m going with this.

Sew one thing every month

I’d like it to be a garment for myself each month, but that might be more than I can manage, so I’m calling it ‘one thing’, whatever that thing may be. To help me achieve this, I’m going to:

  • Organise my office / sewing room. I’ve almost finished doing this. I now have a cutting table set up all the time. After today, my sewing machine will be out on my sewing table all the time too, and I’ll have all my supplies to hand on my sewing table. Less set up means I’m more likely to sew.
  • Add projects I want to make to my sew in 2015 Pinterest boardThere are a few on there already:Follow Kate’s board sew in 2015 on Pinterest.
  • Track my completed projects on my sewn in 2015 Pinterest board.
  • Work through the tips in this blog post about transitioning to a mostly handmade wardrobe (this is such a good blog post – I highly recommend it) to help me get started with sewing clothes for myself. I’m going to start by working out what my favourite fabrics are (by checking out what’s in my wardrobe) and creating a wish list of items of clothing I want to add to my wardrobe, which I’ll add to my sew in 2015 Pinterest board. Then I’ll plan my first item (I think it will be the Staple Dress from April Rhodes).
  • Use the tips in this post to make sewing more fun (including limiting myself to only one or two projects at a time – having a million unfinished things hanging around is not productive).
  • Buy fabric for specific projects, not just cause I like the fabric. I also plan to go through my stash and sell off anything that’s been there for a while without being used. I have SO MUCH fabric in my stash that it gets overwhelming. It also makes me feel like I can’t buy more fabric when I need something in particular for a particular item.

Read one fiction book every month

Reading for as little as 6 minutes reduces stress by more than 60%

Yep. It’s been proven that reading lowers your stress levels. And it’s just fun. This year I’m going to read a fiction book a month. I used to read significantly more than this, but over the last few years, the number of books I got through each year steadily declined, and then plummeted to 0 last year.

I’m going to make this happen by:

  • Building a 2015 hit list bookshelf in Good Reads. I’ll fill my hit list with the latest offerings from my favourite authors.
  • Tracking my reading progress by adding books I read to a things I read in 2015 shelf on Good Reads.
  • Choosing a tried-and-true, easy-to-read author for my first book – I’ll read the latest Marian Keyes novel The Woman Who Stole My Life.
  • Reading in bed at night. Which means stopping work at a more reasonable time and choosing to read instead of trawling social media.

Spend time with the people who matter most

This is about catching up with my friends – especially those that have patiently stuck it out with me through my PhD, with seemingly unending understanding. I’ve been a shitty friend a lot over the last four years. I’ve been there for the big stuff – for the births and the deaths and the crises and the happiest moments (although not always in the way I would like to have been) – but not for all the little moments. My bestie’s little girl is almost two and she hardly knows me. That’s something I want to change.

It’s also about saying ‘yes’ to the twins as much as possible. It’s about being more available to them so they default to assuming I’m going to be there for the important things, rather than defaulting to assuming I’ll have to work.

It’s also important to me to be a bit selfish with this. I’m a massive introvert and I can’t be endlessly social or I end up exhausted and unhappy. I need to manage my energy and be social when I can and in the ways that work best for me.

Most of all, it’s about being present when I’m with the people I love, so that I’m not half heartedly engaging with them while I answer email, or stressing about what I should be doing.

So that’s my grand plan for learning to be a person again in 2015.

Happy new year! May your year be full of fun, as I hope mine will be too.

4 thoughts on “a year of being a *real person*

  1. Oh my – you sure have been working too much! I think what you have set up for yourself in the way of guidelines sounds very sensible. I hope you stick to it! I think being more balanced people makes us better managers and workers in the long run. Good luck 🙂

  2. Great post Kate! Some of your thoughts regarding the year ahead are very familiar, as I also have big plans for a new year focusing on different priorities. I really like some of the strategies that you’re preparing to put in place. I wish you all the best for 2015, and I think you’re off to a great start 🙂

  3. Thank you Kate for sharing your thoughts. I always enjoy reading what you write and often find some similarities to my own thoughts. I have my own non-work big plans for this year and have been thinking of ways to implement them without setting myself up to fail. I think the use of guidelines will help. Good luck and I can’t wait to see what sewing projects you do.

  4. Pingback: Watched and read list of 2014 | Sonja Barfoed

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