E19: Create peace in chaos with easy routines
This is a podcast transcript. If you would like to listen to the show in full, please find it on our podcasts page here.
Life is hard! It’s chaotic and sometimes the ongoing chaos can cause us to feel unwell. Today’s podcast details my recent struggles as a pregnant mom and how I plan to create order where I can, while still accepting the things I cannot change. Though we can’t always change our emotions, we can change some things around us. We can bring order out of chaos, develop healthy routines and habits, and utilize rest and reflection to recenter ourselves.
In today’s episode:
How to get your head above the weeds
Routines are helpful habits
Organize your day - block scheduling
Don’t neglect to care for yourself
Reflection and trusting in God
It’s been rough lately. I had to stop and do a gut check of myself this week. How am I really doing? Lately I’ve been extra emotional and I’ve attributed it to being pregnant. That’s partly true. I am pregnant and have been pregnant 3 times in 3 years so my hormones have been on a roller coaster. This is a very emotional pregnancy for me for some reason, too. While that is a factor in how I’ve been feeling, it would be ignorant of me to assume that it’s the main reason I’m not feeling well. It doesn’t paint a complete picture and it leaves me with no recourse for improvement. So I had to take the time to really analyze what’s wrong. Why am I moody, upset, and snapping at people? Why do I feel unfocused, aimless, and listless?
No doubt most people have felt this way at some point or another. For some people, it manifests itself as anxiety or depression, for others, it makes us bitter or frustrated, and others respond by feeling so overwhelmed they procrastinate and don’t do anything. Regardless of the way it presents itself in your life, the root of it is feeling out of control of what’s going on in your life.
Sometimes we can point to very specific reasons like some acute trauma or event that altered our lives like a death, job loss, or divorce. These are storms. Storms are acute, climactic events that immediately and dramatically affect us. But, more often than not, we feel just as terrible as we might in the face of a storm, but we can’t point to any one big reason. So instead of diving deep to understand what’s wrong or find a constructive way to get through it, we accept our new normal, attribute our mood to something like PMS or being busy or tired or pointing to the pandemic and we just try to power through.
Then time goes by as you continue to feel unwell and never slow down long enough to figure out why and exactly how you can help yourself. I’m going to walk through what I’ve been dealing with and how I am planning to regain order in my life in hopes that it will help you the next time you’re feeling disordered, chaotic, out of control, or frustrated with everything.
I’m not immune to going through these seasons but I have been fortunate enough to have ample time to think deeply about why these seasons of overwhelm happen and how to get back on track. It takes a lot of thought and intentionality but a few weeks of hard work is worth it to prevent potentially several years of hard times. First of all, I have to separate how I’m feeling from my actions. I have to accept that, no matter what I do, I might not feel better. I just might not. Hormones are a tricky business, pregnancy is weird, and my anxiety might not calm down. However, on the flip side, I can recognize that there are certain things in my life that certainly aren’t helping - things that are contributing to my sense of overwhelm, losing peace, losing control, and feeling emotional. Those are things I can fix and should fix, while remembering that the outcome still might not impact my mental state. I’m telling you this so you can start to consider how to accept how you’re feeling and what’s happening while still making a plan to change. This compartmentalization is hard to do but it’s important to set the right expectations for yourself so you don’t end up frustrated.
I’ve been aware that something has been off for maybe 6 weeks now. In addition to feeling very emotional, I’ve felt tossed in the wind, like I’m reacting to life and getting randomized by it. On my website, I say that my message is for “busy seasons, chaotic days, and women who do it all.” In the intro of this podcast, I say that I’m a formerly overwhelmed human being. While that’s still mostly true - I am far less overwhelmed than I used to be - I have found myself slipping back into overwhelm and anxiety lately.
After weeks of confusion and wondering why I’m feeling this way, I had to get to the bottom of it. Instead of wallowing in how I’m feeling, I asked myself, why am I feeling this way? This truth is, I have once again found myself in a chaotic season, doing it all, working and spinning my wheels, and getting nowhere. Though I’m pregnant and that messes with your emotions, there are specific things that have happened that have made things harder for me and have put my life into disorder.
It started when Calvin became more mobile. We didn’t baby proof our house prior to him learning to crawl because I wasn’t sure what I would need to baby proof. By waiting until he became more mobile, I could see what he was most likely to get into and react accordingly. While I’m glad I waited to baby proof and it has worked out fine, that one event set me into reaction mode more than I realized. For the week or two I waited for the 17 foot long baby fence we ordered to arrive, I was disordered. I was chasing him around, keeping him out of cat litter boxes and off stairs. I had no rhythm and the constant interruptions took a toll on my productivity.
Then, almost as soon as we set up a baby safe area for him, we lost propane for a month. We had a debacle with our propane supplier that resulted in a month without central heat, hot water, or a stove. Everything from showering to cooking to keeping my baby warm at night became a struggle. For that month I was once again thrown out of my rhythms and reacting to new circumstances. I also couldn’t sleep well at night because, in addition to some pregnancy insomnia, I was constantly worried if Calvin was warm enough, if the electric heater near his bed wasn’t making him TOO warm, and when the power went out and his heater shorted, I couldn’t sleep for hours after because I was making sure he didn’t get too cold. Our propane was filled a week ago and, though I’m thankful for the ability to shower and cook with relative ease, the bad habits I’ve acquired as a result of the chaos have persisted.
In the meantime, I have the weight of a fast approaching due date for another baby on my mind. I don’t worry about it per se, but I find myself planning far in advance for how to tackle the new family dynamics that will arise.
In the short 6 weeks since my life has become more chaotic, I’ve lost all good routines. This has to be contributing to why I’m feeling so out of whack. I realized that instilling routines might be the antidote to my problems when I started to find myself yearning for routine. What good routines do you have? Do you feel like your time is in order? We haven’t gone to church in person in a year because of Covid but suddenly I wanted to find a way to go back every week. I see the piles of laundry and know that I need a system to manage it. I’ve been watching hours of videos on YouTube about scheduling, organizing, and productivity. Though I have not made much time to implement the techniques I’ve been watching, I still find myself watching them, as though by virtue of absorbing the information, I’ll feel momentarily better about my circumstances. So something inside of me is searching for a way to bring order back into my life. It can be overwhelming to figure out where to start though and it can feel like the chaos is insurmountable at times.
I’m not without answers, though. I’ve been here before. I’ve been aimless and overwhelmed before. I’ve lost all peace before. I’ve tried things that don’t work and I’ve found what does work for me.
So today, I’m partly talking to myself. I’m talking myself through the things I know I need to do to feel better. I can’t change my pregnancy hormones or the fact that my child falls and cries every 60 seconds so I’m going to set those challenges aside. But there are a few simple things I can do to bring order out of chaos. I’ll share what works for me with you today. I know you’ll face a chaotic season at some point or another - we all do. I hope you hear something that helps you find peace in the midst of chaos as well.
First things is to get your head above the weeds. When you’re in the weeds, it’s like you’re stuck in a metaphorical field of tall grass. You’re heading in a direction, but you’re not sure if your path is right, where the end is, and if you’ve wasted much time along the way. You’re moving, but you’re not seeing the whole picture. Continuing to power through in times like this is a great way to spin your wheels, waste time, waste energy, and get frustrated.
If we are flooded with too much going on, it’s easy to feel pressured to start working on everything right away. This is what people do when they try to power through. But if you’re still lost in the weeds, this usually isn’t an effective approach. If you stop for a moment, find a way to get your head above the weeds, you can see what’s around you and plan a better route.
You’ll end up with too many things “in flight,” meaning, you’ll have multiple projects running simultaneously and won’t make effective progress on any of them. And if you don’t have a plan, you might go too far down the wrong path and waste time, getting lost even further in the field of weeds.
Maybe you can relate, but right now I’m halfway through purging my clothes so clothes are everywhere. I don’t have a laundry system in place so more clothes are everywhere. I am in the process of setting up a play area for my son in the living room so he can stay out of my bedroom so toys are everywhere and he still gets into everything he shouldn’t in my room because we haven’t installed a baby gate there yet. I am halfway through reupholstering dining chairs so fabric is everywhere. I have no control over my schedule or understanding of where my time goes so chores and household tasks happen haphazardly, rather than in an orderly manner. And my cat is injured so every time he accidentally jumps on something, I have to help him down. It’s a lot, it’s disordered, nothing is finished, everything is in flight, and I know that I need to step back and figure out a system and schedule that works for me but I don’t know how when there is so much going on.
Getting above the weeds requires an analysis of where you're at and where you need to go. First you take a step back and take a break from spinning your wheels. Yes, in order to make progress on anything, you have to stop what you are doing and rest. This is where I’m reflective, where I talk to God, and where I reassess where I am at and where I need to go. If I tried to power through, I’d never get anything done. There is too much happening and I don’t have anything in order. So I need to give myself a day off or some time off from doing anything other than the bare minimum. A day where I just give myself a pass on housework and projects so I can rest and think.
Then, I write down everything that I need to do or that I’ve neglected to do. This isn’t only about tasks or work you’ve neglected. It could be things you’ve neglected to do for yourself or others. Often, when things get out of control, I also neglect self-care, exercise, and my relationship with God. Writing everything down reduces my mental load and helps calm my emotions. Then, I make a note of things that have deadlines or need to be completed imminently to indicate priority order. Next, I make a decision on what to attack first and start moving again. Of the things that I need to do in the very near future, I pick something to drive to completion.
This part is key. The first goal is to get anything done. Getting anything completed quickly is very important for your peace of mind and for your overall productivity. It launches you into a productivity snowball where you pick up steam as you complete projects.
My first project is to organize my days into a block scheduling system. I’ll talk more about my routines in a bit. Putting everything into an organizational framework helps me think even more clearly. Then, project-wise, I got the toys and clothes out of my bedroom. For my peace of mind and my ability to think, I needed my bedroom clear. Then I could focus on bigger stuff that I’ve been meaning to do for awhile like implementing a laundry system or remodeling the kitchen.
I’ve written a blog on my website, youruncommonlife.com, titled “Get your head above the weeds” so feel free to read that quick blog for more information on this concept.
I know that having a clear view of what I need to do for myself, my house, and my life will give me the ability to cut through chaos and get me organized enough to slowly eat away at the other lingering projects.
I previously mentioned organizing my days. This is where routines come in. I highly recommend implementing them in your life. And if you balk at that word or think it sounds too formal and rigid, just know that you already have routines. Routines are habits and some of us lead habitually chaotic lives. If you tend to leave dirty plates on the dinner table until the next day, that’s a routine. If you let all housework and chores pile up until they’re overwhelming, that’s a routine. What I’m talking about here is instilling helpful routines. For me, routines aren’t about making everything perfect and having a super regimented schedule. They’re about solving problems by creating good habits.
I have a problem. It’s laundry. Laundry piles up and is everywhere. I can feel the clutter of laundry choking me and it adds to my feeling of being out of control. It’s not helping my current situation to have such a big laundry problem. So I know I need a routine that’s better than my current routine of letting it pile up until it feels like it’s too much. After a month of watching laundry organization videos on YouTube, I’ve found my solution. It’s a daily laundry routine. I’ll do a load every morning, no matter how small it is. Then, during my child’s naptime, I will fold the laundry. Since it’s just one small load, it will only take a few minutes and will never become a large enough pile to become insurmountable. That’s a really obvious example of a routine. There are less obvious routines that are more like habits or rhythms. For example, another problem is clutter on the bathroom counter. So here’s a helpful routine. Every time I go to the bathroom, I just wipe the counters and put things away. Since I’m doing it constantly, it only takes less than a minute to do. A routine I’m quite proud of and have had for a while is cleaning the toilet while the water heats for my shower or bath. It made me realize how quick and easy it is to clean a toilet!
You can see how these simple little alterations in our behavior can prevent anything from piling up or becoming overwhelming. Tasks feel smaller when you squeeze them into moments where you’re already occupied, like waiting for water to heat up. And the more you do them, the more they become habits that you don’t even have to think about.
Routines aren’t limited to household chores. I have routines that help me feel centered and at peace. Lately I haven’t been practicing them, though, and that’s likely why I’m feeling off-center and chaotic. They are reading my bible every day, preferably in the morning, exercising, self-care, and organizing my time. The best I’ve ever felt was when I was able to read my bible every morning, alone and uninterrupted. I haven’t had that for a while because I haven’t made time for it in this crazy season I’m in. In order to implement these much-needed routines for myself, I need to get organized with my time.
I’ve chosen a block scheduling system to plan my days. With this system, I’ll be able to block off time for these priorities. If you’ve never heard of block scheduling, check out Jordan Page at funcheaporfree.com. I’ll put her link in my podcast transcript. She’s phenomenal. She has 8 kids all 10 years and younger and manages to run businesses and generally be highly productive. Essentially, with block scheduling, instead of having a list of tasks for the day that, let’s be honest, you don’t usually get through, you have chunks of time devoted to groups of tasks. It’s highly personal and customizable and will look different for each person. For example, my day is organized around my son’s naps. So I have blocks that correlate to his awake times and sleep times and different priorities assigned to each block. For example, his first nap is a block called daily devotional and writing. His second nap is a block called exercise and dinner prep. I’ve put the priorities that are hardest to focus on while he’s awake into his nap slots. The awake blocks are dedicated to things like housework and projects or, on certain days, errands or other outings.
You don’t have to do block scheduling but, if you’re feeling like your life lacks a little order and control, consider implementing an organizational system that works for you. Some people just write down 3 daily priorities each day and others fill every minute with something to do. Some people rely on planners while others use their phones. Find something that works for you and do it consistently. Even if you’re not interested in block scheduling, it couldn’t hurt to watch Jordan Page’s video on it (again, it’s linked in my podcast transcripts), because I bet it will give you other ideas for how you could organize your days in a way that works for you.
This level of organization is yet another thing that will keep my head above the weeds, even if projects mount or life gets even crazier! I’ll always have a framework that I can use to slot in things that come up.
One thing I love about having daily routines, rhythms, habits - whatever you want to call them - is that it reduces the load and burden of constant decision making. We already make thousands of decisions a day. From decisions we don’t even notice to questions about when we should prep for dinner or when we can fit in exercise, life is full of decisions. When I block out time for my priorities each day and I start to build these more constructive habits, I can spend less and less time on wondering if, when, or how I’ll make time. It’s already been done for me! Ugh, why wasn’t I doing this all along??
When I got my head above the weeds and asked myself what I was neglecting and what I needed to do, one thing that was missing was self-care. I need to schedule in or it will never happen. I can fit it into my new schedule system. Let’s talk about self-care for a second because it gets a weird reputation. I feel like it’s often associated with pedicures, bubble baths, and expensive spa days. If that’s your jam - great! But that doesn’t have to be what self-care is. I think self-care is whatever you need to feel like your optimal self. For me that’s unstructured time spent outdoors, reading, doing creative things, baking, and, true, a bubble bath here and there. I have a hard time forcing myself to do these things that I’d enjoy because I feel like there are so many bigger and more urgent priorities. However, the fact is, that if I am not taking care of myself first, I’ll be suboptimal in all other areas. I’ll be a less cheerful and charitable spouse and I’ll be less eager to fold laundry for the 18 millionth day in a row.
When you take time to get your head above the weeds and right down what you need to do or when you schedule out your day, remember to prioritize doing things that bring you joy, too. There is no guilt in taking time to take care of yourself. You need to so you can turn around and take care of others. You can’t give from an empty tank. Practice self-care that helps you feel your best, even if only for a few minutes here and there. Just don’t neglect yourself.
Finally, I’d like to encourage you to use these challenging and chaotic times to be more reflective. This will look different for everyone but it’s part of getting your head above the weeds. If you journal, do that. If you pray, definitely do that. I feel like I’ve learned the most about myself and about my relationship with God during my most challenging seasons. When I stop to get my head above the weeds and truly survey how I’m doing and survey my surroundings, I often find that I’ve neglected key things. For me, I get most lost and flooded when I neglect to make God a priority in my life. During these times, I can see clearly how, as things spiral out of control, I frantically try to keep them in control on my own. My trust in God means that I shed my pride and false belief that I can hold back the tides of the coming storm and instead lean back and paddle slowly as I trust that God won’t let me drown. It doesn’t mean I do nothing; it means that I recognize that I can’t do everything or change anything. Sometimes I need these crazy seasons to remind me of this. In a way, it’s healing and comforting for me to remember that I can’t control everything. And isn’t that a good thing? Life is complicated and I’m glad I’m not the architect of it.
I try to look for the lessons and opportunities God has in the harder moments. I have an opportunity to get more organized than ever because I’ve been forced to do so. Life is forcing me to sink or swim, so to speak. Everything from the way I clean to the way I work will be improved. My lesson is to not fight how I’m feeling or what’s happening to me. Rather, it is to accept how I’m feeling and then to step back and rest while I try to get a clear picture of a path through the weeds. My actions may not change how I feel, but I know that they will be good for me and will set me up to get through future chaotic times better.
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