After years of using the heat of the fire as the major means of prioritizing my work, my life feels a little strange these days. For the past decade, I’ve made decisions about where to put my time and energy by looking at the never ending list of ought to dos and prioritizing those whose deadline was looming, or whose absence would create more work.

I don’t think I’m alone. Lots of us use a looming deadline or a current crisis as an organizing and motivating principle. It wasn’t always this way, for me. But, I’ve become so accustomed to this fire and brimstone approach to living that without it, I feel a bit lost. I’m struggling to put order and structure into my day.

I have things to do, but more than that I have time. I have space to create, to make new things, to imagine what could be instead of only doing the next thing that must be done. This feels open and vulnerable, like standing in the meadow with no place to hide. It’s a bit unnerving, if I’m honest. I’ve lived with some serious taskmasters for the past few years. Now, time just stands there. It doesn’t demand nearly as much. I’m not sure how to adjust to this new reality.

For much of the last few weeks, I’ve been living against deadlines. I have something that must be done by a certain date, so I put it off until it’s due and then miraculously, things happen. But, that isn’t how I work best. Even in school, I had a rule where all assignments needed to be done 1-2 days early, so I had time to edit and revise (and to ensure if my family needed me, I could adapt). Deadlines stress me out. I know, this isn’t how most people live, but it is the system I created to lower stress and build margin into my very scheduled life.

I think I’m realizing that the stress in my life right now is a lack of structure. I have a lot of things that need my attention, but I don’t have a clear sense of how to prioritize my time. I also have quite a bit of learned panic that I need to decompress from. Although I don’t function best in a world where I am constantly putting out fires and getting things done at the last minute, it has been my style for the past few years.

Today, I found my anxiety rising. I want to work ahead, but I’m struggling to adjust to my new environment. There isn’t enough structure. There are so many things I could be doing. Squirrel…

I took a moment this afternoon and thought, what would make me feel calmer? What could I do right now that would help lower the stress? And then, I did that. When I finished that task, I asked it again, What could I do right now that would lower my stress? I repeated this all afternoon. I am happy to report that I got lots of useful things done, I took a walk with my puppy, and I made dinner. I’m going to try this again tomorrow.

What could you do right now that would lower your stress? Why don’t you do it?

simplethings I hope you are enjoying this exploration of simple things that make life special. This is part of the Write 31 Days challenge. Click here to follow along.

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