Wondering how to get at least some of your focus back and keeping everything from falling apart when you’re feeling scattered? Like on those scatterbrained weeks where you cannot settle down? You just want to flit here and there, hoping to do everything, accomplishing nothing?
Well, that’s where I am right now.
Only it’s not just a scatterbrained week – the whole month has been scattered.
Rewind to last month. I was in a groove, hitting marks left and right.
House in control? Check.
Everyone getting regular(ish) meals? Check.
(Unless you believe Toupe. He would swear on his tiny kitty Bible he’s never been fed in his life.)
Even when there’s still food in his bowl.
I can’t believe it was only a month ago that I felt as peaceful as that guy in “The Night Before Christmas” right before Santa shows up. Relaxing in my cap (or maybe my kerchief?) with my brains all settled.
What a weird poem.
Anyway, there I was – house, work, self-care, family time and friend time easily balanced.
I know, right?
This month…not so much.
Maybe If I Had Two Darrens, They Could Do the Yard Work?
Blame it on emotional whammies. All positive, true – only someone forgot to tell my anxiety button that.
One of my kids just learned he’s going to be a daddy (oh my!), one’s in a third world country, and the youngest (please God, keep him on track for these last two weeks) soon graduates from high school.
Then there are the never-ending outside spring chores (trust me – do not ignore your yard in April and May – the dirty, exhausting jobs don’t disappear on their own and a Samantha-esque nose wiggle helps Not. At. All.) and a looming kitchen reno (goodbye, 27-year-old laminate countertops held together with Scotch-tape).
For someone not great with distractions, no wonder my brain is back in pinball land.
If You’ve Seen My Fantasy World, You’d Know “Realist” May Be a Stretch.
But even without outside factors, these regularly irregular (predictably unpredictable?) internal bumps are nothing new.
There is no even keel inside my mind. When I get a period of peace like I had at the beginning of this year, I milk it. ‘Cuz I know it won’t last.
I’m not a pessimist. I’m a realist.
Three Analogies For the Price Of One. Don’t Ever Say This Blog Is Not an Exceptional Value.
As soon as the wind changes, the sails start whipping around, and the jib breaks, everything could fall apart.
But this time, I’m not letting it. Because I have a backup plan.
I’ve been through this mind blizzard so many times, I own a generator that keeps the heat on and the pipes from freezing.
My “emergency” plan guarantees:
- Important deadlines or appointments don’t get missed.
- My house won’t fall apart. Fray at the edges like a moth-eaten sweater, maybe, but not unravel.
- I will move forward in some way. In other words, I won’t end each week totally defeated, eating chocolate in bed and / or shrewing (don’t bother with the dictionary – that’s a Joni word) at my family.
Some light planning, (very) basic routines, and a bit of self-awareness keep me afloat until my boat starts sailing again.
Wanna know how I keep the pipes flowing, the sailboat careening across the bay, and the sweater from disintegrating into a pile of yarn?
Playing To Do List Russian Roulette For Real Would Add Excitement To Those Boring Chores, Though, Don’t You Think?
First, I make it tough to miss deadlines. No matter how hard I try.
You probably know my lists are always an important part of keeping myself on track.
But I’m feeling rebellious and slightly self-destructive right now.
Russian Roulette, anyone? Let’s see how long I can go without actually looking at my lists before a bullet pops into the chamber.
Why on earth do I do that? And it’s totally on purpose.
Did I mention the self-destructiveness?
So even though I continue to make lists, I have to make them Joni-proof.
I sit my butt down, tie myself to the chair, and force myself to do my Weekly Paperwork Review. This is when I peruse my paperwork pile, calendar, etc. to see what’s in store – good, bad, or otherwise.
IF I DO NOTHING ELSE ON TIME, I DO THIS.
Many moons ago, I took birth control pills. Even though I was a disorganized mess and frequently winged (wung?) my every day, you can bet your bippy I took that pill on time!
My Weekly Paperwork Review day is birth control level priority. Because the alternative will take energy, time, and money I don’t have.
Although it probably won’t spit up on me or need a diaper change.
This week took all I had to get through the review. I was fighting myself all the way.
So I only did the minimum. I:
- Checked my action/pending box, old lists, and email reminders
- Scanned the calendar
- Made and highlighted my to do list.
- Pinks – must dos,
- Yellows – important but not crucial, and
- Non-highlighted – can wait.
I included my pink list at the end of this post in case you’re feeling nosey. It’s super boring – the interesting stuff is, unfortunately, never the most pressing.
After the list is made and prioritized, here’s the very important part that makes it Joni-proof.
I SET ALARMS FOR EVERY SINGLE PINK ITEM
Do I have too many alarms?
Will I check my list every morning this week?
I’m thinking not.
Therefore…thank you once again, alarm app, for being my savior.
I Will Pretend You Didn’t Ask About the Cat Hair
I also keep my house under control. She’s (yes, she – my house is a girl) opportunistic and will jump at the chance to sink into slobdom.
Before I got wise to her, she’d use times like these to dissolve into an utter wreck (to match my insides).
But I’m not letting that happen.
As I sit here writing at my dining room table, this is what I see – a tabletop devoid of mess, clear kitchen counters, a clean sink, and a neatly arranged family room. The living room behind me is also shipshape.
Are the floors perfectly vacuumed and mopped?
Are the bathrooms spotlessly clean?
Do I see a few spots on my white kitchen cabinets and fingerprints on the black dishwasher?
Definitely -more than a few.
So my house isn’t perfect BUT the minimum has been done to keep me feeling as calm as my reverberating brain will allow.
Grace Is My Way Of Saying I Put My Hands Over My Eyes
To keep environmental distractions from multiplying my internal distractions, I follow a solid daily routine.
Not my “unscattered, super Joni” daily routine for when I’m unstoppable.
No, this is the time for my “I can breathe, the basics are done” minimal routine.
(I also have a comedy routine but it takes at least two drinks for me to share that one.)
The minimal routine is much smaller AND I’m okay with not getting it done right away every morning.
By the way, don’t you love that word? It sounds so mature and peaceful. But it really means “hey, if you’re going to screw up anyway, you might as well not beat yourself up about it. And while you’re at it, go have some mint chocolate chip ice cream. Grace said it’s okay.”
During these scattered-brained weeks, here’s what I make myself do every day.
Oh – and if it sounds like I’m wrestling with a toddler when I keep saying I “make myself” – know that I am.
- Morning Ablutions (aka The Great De-Smelling)
I used to procrastinate on this. Being Mrs. All-Or-Nothing, I didn’t do much until I could get around to the whole shower / hair / makeup / fully-dressed shebang.
But clean teeth, and a hoodie over PJs are not enough, people! Feeling dirty and having straw hair is demoralizing. And let’s face it, my “beauty routine” sometimes didn’t happen til evening, if at all.
So now, the first thing I do every day is wash up.
(First after feeding my cats, I mean – I can’t concentrate when I sense a nearby creature plotting my death.)
A quick humanizing does wonders. Cold water on the face; moisturizer; eyebrows penciled in; teeth brushed; soap, water, and deodorant; tame my hair, and some real clothes. Real as in jeans (or fresh sweats – I’m not a model, after all), a proper shirt (i.e., not a waffle weave pajama top with Eeyore on it), and, most importantly, a bra.
I call this being “Walmart-presentable.”
Although, if you’ve ever Googled “people of Walmart,” an Eeyore PJ top and bra might be overdressed.
However, if someone shows up at my door, I’m sure they are more than thankful for the bra.
My Inner Toddler Could Use a Timeout. That’s All I’m sayin’
- Make the bed. I don’t even argue with myself anymore about this one. It’s just a done deal.
- Clean my kitchen every night. Even if my inner toddler is on her belly, legs flailing.
That doesn’t always mean wiping everything down, scrubbing out the sink, and cleaning the floors.
Before bed on a hanging-by-a-string week, I make sure:
- There are no dirty dishes.
Where do the new ones waiting on the counter for me every morning come from, anyway?
It’s possible we have a very well-mannered raccoon living in the basement.
- The counters are gunk-free, and
- The dishwasher has started his make-believe cleaning routine (he’s not fooling anyone – he doesn’t know it yet but he’s on his way out with the patched together countertops).
- I will not play make-believe here and claim to unload the dishwasher every morning.
It’s one of those chores that trips me up. It’s 5 minutes, Joni – suck it up!
But I don’t, so…there it is.
However, a full dishwasher is a house-cleaning bottleneck (she gets downright gleeful when she sees a chance to schlump). So I:
- Ask my husband to do it (I’m not proud).
- Tell my son to do it.
- Ask the raccoon – however, I’ve heard they lick each clean dish as they work.
- Count to 100 and challenge myself to put away as much as I can.
- Unload it all onto the counters. At least it’s empty again, right? Then I put away a few dishes each time I walk by.
If you’re wondering, yes, I’m aware this is pathetic and makes it a longer, less efficient process. However, I can be a real baby sometimes, refusing to do my chores. Sometimes, I gotta go with the long, drawn-out, whiny process. Better than not at all, I guess.
- I also do a 100 second or “25-thing” rescue of my house. That means I straighten 25 things or count to 100 and pick up what I can once or twice a day.
You’d be amazed at how a 100-second or 25-thing pickup will counter your house’s sloppy tendencies.
- Keep an eye on the bathrooms, watching for grossness.
What I don’t worry about is a lot of real cleaning.
Dusting, deep vacuuming – all that can wait. For now, I try to keep as much off the floor as possible, clear the hot spots, and ward off any real, obvious filth. This keeps the house from disintegrating to a point where I’ll need to expend real energy on some big shoveling-out process later.
Kidding About the Political Rants. I Will Unfriend You. You’ve Been Warned.
The final part of my emergency plan helps me move slightly ahead without giving in to depression* or shrieking at my family like a banshee.
I intentionally try to make forward progress. Any forward progress.
When I do get around to checking my to do list, here’s how I approach it:
- I get all the pinks done. Those are not up for debate. I use the alarms I mentioned above so that even if I ignore the entire list all week, disaster is averted.
- Then I do the yellows if I feel like it. They are yellow. Nobody will die if they don’t get done. For now, they can be ignored.
When and if they ever reach pink, we’ll talk.
In the meantime, I might do the non-highlighted stuff or even some old backburner items if I I’m so inclined. Anything is better than going back to bed or mindlessly scrolling on Facebook.
However, If I legit need more sleep, then I’ll nap. And if I need downtime with my phone, I’ll do that. If that’s the case, then bring on the brag posts, new baby pics, and political rants. But I only do those things intentionally, not to escape.
I Didn’t Say It Makes Me Nice. Just a Tad Nicer. Let’s Not Get Crazy Here.
Occasionally, my unfocused inertia stems from crushing “to do” overwhelm. Too much to do so I can’t do anything.
Isn’t that the worst?
If I can’t seem to get anything done at all, even started, I might as well take a real break and fill up some love banks.
I didn’t mean that to sound creepy. Love banks. I’m hearing Barry White say it. Creep-city.
By filling love banks (not sounding any better, but I’m going with it), I mean I use this time as extra family time, couple time, friend time, or even me time.
If I can’t get myself to deep clean my carpet (yellow priority) or work on an old project (backburner), then maybe I can:
- Sand those barnacles off my heels.
- Spend some time hanging out with my craft-brew-obsessed hubby at a local pub.
- Suggest a family game night.
- Work on something creative. Maybe something I avoid because it usually sucks me in and I lose track of time. If this is you when you crochet or make crafts, then unfocused weeks give you an excuse to have some quality time with your hobby.
- Have lunch or drinks with a friend. Not that I do this very often. I’m inherently anti-social.
If you’re not a hermit, you could even have one over for coffee. And if they are judge-y and you’re anxious about your house, maybe it will inspire a little cleaning focus.
I mean, might as well use your low self-esteem for something, right?
- I also love to daydream and plan. Browsing touristy sites for an upcoming trip is a productive way to channel my spacy daydreaming.
- Or I might sketch out a flower bed or read articles online about interesting things that I normally don’t have time to get lost in.
Feeling like I’m moving ahead in some respect, even with low level priorities, instead of seething in frustration and spinning my wheels, de-shrews me. It makes me a tad nicer than I would be otherwise.
Never Look Under Things. It Always Ends Badly.
What I have learned not to do on weeks like these are:
- Sleep in solely to avoid starting my day.
- Get lax about hygiene and appearance.
- Make a ton of lazy messes.
- Start a new, unplanned project I will regret later.
As in, maybe I shouldn’t have impulsively pulled up that one vinyl tile in the bathroom to see what’s under it, even though we had 10 other unfinished projects and couldn’t afford a new bathroom floor anytime soon.
- Cancel pinks or skip them, thinking I can make them up later. If I start doing that, a dark cloud might be looming. Time to ask for help.
“I Am Inevitable.” “I Am Iron-Man.” (Sorry, Geek Flash)
Flaking out is inevitable.
Before I faced up to this fact, I would go all-or-nothing. In the “nothing” weeks, I’d forget or ignore important things and disappoint everyone (me included). Then when I finally got my mojo back, it would be a royal pain to dig out and make up for lost time.
- Reviewing my week even when I don’t feel like it (remember, birth control priority),
- Prioritizing my to do list, and
- Setting alarms for every single high priority item,
…I ward off disappointment and missed deadlines.
With a minimal daily routine and an eye on the scarier areas of the house (hotspots, really dirty bathrooms), I can duct-tape-and-paper-clip my home to keep her limping along.
And by intentionally allowing myself to go off-road with my chore list or even ignore most of it, I can move ahead in some other way. Either
- Personally, or
- By balancing the scales with family or friends, or
- By finally getting around to a low-priority project that makes me happy.
Then I won’t emerge later as if from a cave, blinking at the sun and feeling like this was a “lost week.”
I don’t always have to fight the temper-tantrum-throwing-2-year-old version of myself who just wants to play in the sandbox and eat candy (not a recommended combo, by the way). Sometimes I can work with her and let her have her way a little – then she’ll be more willing to eat her veggies when I tell her to.
I’m kidding. You totally can’t give in to a 2-year-old. It would be sandboxes and candy all the time.**
But it does seem to work for me. Maybe it will work for you?
*I’m not talking about regular depression that I address here. I just mean I try not to let myself sink into despair solely because my lack of focus led to my house falling apart.
**Other than the sand in your candy, don’t you wish you could go back to being two years old??
Here’s my pink list this week (told you it was boring):
- Keep one cat from eating food Sunday night/Monday morning (avoiding the glares that range between “I’m-dying-don’t-you-love-me?” and “I’m-going-to-cut-you” from her perpetually starving buddy)
- Vet dropoff / pickup
- Various appointments
- Lunch money to son
- Keep the belated mother’s day gift plant alive (and hopefully pretty) until it gets to my mother-in-law this weekend
- Trash to curb
- Light paperwork (light as is not heavy – not light as in “on fire”): update calendar, important phone calls
- Get son back and forth to school and work
- Dinner ingredients / prep (thawing meat, starting crockpot, buying ingredients for Saturday cookout)
- Pack for, show up for (always recommended), and unload after cleaning job
- Errands: prescription, returns
- Fill the pill boxes for the week.
How To Hang On and Focus When YOu’re Feeling Scattered
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