I don’t do New Year's Resolutions. I've spoken before about how September generally feels more like a fresh start to me; the time to make changes for the better. In January I'm Resolutely Not Making Resolutions, I'm usually exhausted and too full of Christmas cake to do little more than tidy up.
I start teaching creative writing again tomorrow after a year away. I admit, I'm nervous. I was a big sufferer of chemo brain. It's a recognised but misleading medical term as it makes the condition sound quite cuddly and appealing. It isn't. This lack of cognitive function made my pregnancy brain look like Einstein's and the inability to remember the next word in my sentence, or even the theme of the conversation, lost its novelty very quickly. Sadly, I've yet to completely banish chemo brain to the past. Of course, writers tend to be good with words and ask erudite questions. Will I stand in front of my students and wonder what the question was? It would be good to remember what I was doing there, standing in front of a group of adults in the library of a secondary school, otherwise the two hour class is going to seem a very long time for all of us.
My usual solution in this type of situation is to over-prepare. However, this is harder to do these days as I don't have as many hours to play with. My Larkism was a wonderful experiment which turned into a very manageable reality, providing ten extra hours a week. Alas, the cancer fighting world took a dim view of my elected insomnia which knocked that little idea on the head.
So, the only hours I now have are the pre-midnight, post sunrise ones and I could fill each of those twice over. Couldn't everybody?
I can't decide whether I'm not very good at time management or whether it's just tricky juggling lots of jobs, any one of which can mushroom at any time and edge the others out of the question. It's a bit of both, I imagine. Whatever the reason, I decided that to free up some time I had to de-junk. And that meant clearing my mind as well as the rooms in the house.
* I threw out everything to do with cancer. If I need it again, that will be the least of my worries. There were shopping bags full of it – leaflets, redundant letters I was supposed to drop off at the GP (Sssh!) and tips and tricks for dealing with treatments - much of it duplicated information. It was helpful at the time, comforting also, but an obstacle later.
* I had this great idea back in the new-born days of emailing that I would have separate email addresses so that when I was working on one job, I wouldn’t be distracted by an email pertaining to another. This evolved into a separate email address for editing, writing and submitting, teaching, my little business, PA work for my husband, public paranoia (for the likes of Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, an address which wasn't allowed to come within a mile of my bank account details) and life (shopping and friends). My phone, infuriatingly, even after several calls to helplines across the world, as well as visits to that fruit shop in various cities, wouldn't send emails from all those addresses and thus I'd be forced to send some emails from the wrong account. It was carnage. Understandably, not everybody could remember which email address was assigned to them and thus would send me a message in sevenlicate. Every day I would spend several trips to my phone and pc to delete the excess and I'm sure the amount of time spent in this futile pursuit added up to hours every week.
So, I moved all my work and personal emailing to one address. The shopping and paranoia ones remain but have been removed from my phone so I have to visit them specifically.
* I unsubscribed to every junk email provider. It took a little adjustment at first, not receiving ten emails every few minutes. But I reminded myself that the lovely people at Wiggle, although with the potential to add warmth and happiness, were not really my friends (or colleagues) and would still be there if I needed them.
* I splashed out. I bought myself a large desk calculator. It's purple, you'd love it. Now I don’t have to do the accounts on my phone. It saves time and an inordinate amount of stress not having to re-key in a multi-layered addition because my pointer finger was too large for the button and typed the ninth entry incorrectly. It's a small thing, not the calculator, that's large, but I do think that removing the little bug bears in life goes a great way to sorting out the grizzlies.
* This next item is a work in progress. I threw out all the plastic pots which had lost their lids. Now when I need a box with a lid, I can find it. I shredded three box files of tax returns and all the paperwork which goes with them from the early millennium. I decided that if the tax man visited and was disappointed not to find them, I'd probably get away with a slapped wrist rather than a prison sentence. And it means that the information which I do need more regularly than in a blue moon, is now much more accessible. I removed the half eaten bags of nuts and dried fruit from the kitchen cupboard and transferred them into neatly labelled, recycled jam jars. The order pleases me (I do like to be grown up sometimes) and now I don't waste time clearing up spilt food or arrive home from the supermarket to realise that the three bags of pine nuts were an unnecessary purchase. Once I'd sorted the dried food, I felt compelled to move on to the baking accessories and food colouring. I have learnt that opened packets of fondant icing do not survive from one birthday cake to the next, even when wrapped in foil and popped in a plastic bag. OK, I probably knew this before but pre the de-cluttering, I was ever hopeful. The bench seat in the kitchen filled with felt tipped pens, paints and tissue paper from a pre-Instagram age, is next.
Honestly? Forget the New Year diet, I've lost two stone.
I feel better about starting teaching again. I still worry that I'll stand up in front of the class and forget what I went there for. But now that my brain is less of a dustbin, I remember that when I have time off from any job, even for a mere two week holiday, I feel I've forgotten what I do until, oh at least two minutes back in the role. It's interesting how over-loading on the preparation wasn't the key to feeling calmer, but de-cluttering my life – and my head – was.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Meanwhile, I'd love to hear your time-saving and de-cluttering tips – please share!