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Mental Health Time Management

October 9, 2018

I think I may have just discovered something very important about how I live my life.

I’m a person who rarely stops. I don’t have time to waste. As a result, my life currently contains all of these things:

  1. Stained clothes. I don’t wear them because it’s too much of a faff to soak them.
  2. Creased clothes. I don’t wear them because I can’t be bothered to iron them.
  3. Coats piled on the playroom sofa. Why put them away? We’ll only have to get them back out again tomorrow.
  4. Books piled up next to my bed. I’ve started all of them and finished none of them.
  5. Kitchen counters with clean items I haven’t packed away. See 3.
  6. Dead plants in the garden. It’s such a lot of work to care for plants
  7. Dead plants in the house. See 6.
  8. A cluttered work desk. Well I haven’t finished with this stuff. See 3.
  9. 14 unread text messages.
  10. 364 unread emails
  11. 2 school forms I haven’t yet taken the time to read

There’s more but you get the gist.

This morning something potentially life changing occurred to me. I care about all of these things but force myself to ignore them in favour of whatever work task or blog idea is whirring in my mind (ironically, this morning it is this blog!)

There has also been something of a snowball effect. My buzzing, whirring mind is ON. All. The. Time.  I don’t go for walks or runs without listening to podcasts or audiobooks. I don’t listen to music or read for pleasure anymore. I hardly sing anymore – something I used to love doing. I make more mistakes, forget more, feel more disappointed with myself and have to apologise to people a lot more for messing them about.

I’ve been telling myself that I’m prioritising but I’m clearly not prioritising my mental health. I’m ignoring more and more. I’m switching pace less and less and I’m getting stuck in thoughts that go round and round.

Today I remembered something I read about that I think might help.

Paired Tasks

Pairing tasks is not multitasking. It involves using one task to take a break from another task. It’s a way of giving your brain a break from a particular type of thinking. It allows you to change speed and change focus.  It’s actually a time management tool not a mental health tool. The idea is that, even when your brain is tired, you can keep going and get things done, but I think it has great capacity to contribute positively to mental health.

Here’s an example of how it works. You write a blog and then sweep the floor, water the plants or iron a shirt – any task that isn’t about language, communication or words. Phoning friends, texting or emailing would not be appropriate tasks because they require the same type of thinking as the blog requires – you need language and have to think about how you’re communicating so there’s no brain rest there.

It occurs to me that pairing tasks has three advantages – firstly, if the theory is correct, I’ll be more efficient. I’ll handle those 11 things and end up with clearer cupboards, clothes in better condition, clear surfaces in the kitchen, a sofa I can actually sit on, up to date school paperwork, friends who know I value them and an email inbox I can actually stomach looking at.

Which leads me to the second advantage – I’ll have more mental energy because I won’t be using so much of it to ignore things or pretend I don’t care about things.

That feeds into the third advantage – if I learn to change pace, shift focus and value tasks other than those currently associated with whatever my mind is whirring about, I might achieve greater balance. I might even learn to relax!

It seems to me this idea is a brilliant time management tool with the capacity to offer fantastic mental health advantages.

A side note

I’m on day 9 of my 66 days of meditation. I haven’t yet developed the ability to calm my mind and focus for any longer than a few seconds during meditation but the intervals seem to be getting longer.

The pairing tasks revelation came to me shortly after this morning’s meditation. Coincidence? Or might my mind subconscious mind have found a way to share an important insight about a pattern that’s affecting me but that I have been ignoring?

I guess time will tell.

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