As some of you may know, I’m a pretty devoted Bullet Journal user. It’s one of the few ADHD methods that really works for me, and I’ve been consistently using a Bullet Journal for close to 4 years now. That’s longer than pretty much any habit I’ve formed, except for morning coffee.
Because my brain is horrible at maintaining a routine, yet at the same time I really crave routine (the joys of being AuDHD), I always start my day by copying the same list of tasks. All the things I need to do every day. It contains mundane stuff like checking my work e-mail and brushing my teeth, but also more abstract things like “move your body”.
One of the things I’d added after therapy was “Meditation”. I wanted to try to meditate for 5 minutes every day, to centre myself and clear my mind. Now, I hardly ever managed to check off every item on my BuJo every day, and that’s OK. However, the meditation item hardly ever got crossed off. Instead, I ended up striking it through (marking it as not-done), day after day. This simply wasn’t working at all.
Then, a friend asked if I wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo with her. For those that don’t know the concept, it’s basically a challenge to write a full novel draft in the month of November. That means committing to writing about 1600 words every day. For reference: when I was working on my novella, that was about how much I managed to write in a week.
Since I’m still in my year of “I don’t need to accomplish anything”, I declined, but it did set me thinking that I’d like to enable myself to write more but without putting pressure on myself.
Then, I stumbled upon an article about Neil Gaiman’s writing routine, which can be summarised as:
“You have permission to not write, but you don’t have permission to do anything else.”
As he described it, he’d sit in his little garden shed, and he didn’t have to write. He was allowed to daydream or do nothing instead. He just wasn’t allowed to read the paper, fold laundry, etc. So, no other productive activity. Either write, or do nothing.
Now unfortunately, I don’t have a neat little garden shed. I have a desk and a lovely armchair, so I figured I’d use that. So, I tried the following experiment:
- Instead of putting Meditation in my BuJo, I put “30 minutes offline” in there.
- I make a nice pot of tea, put on some music and sit in my armchair.
- My phone goes on “Do not disturb”, and I don’t touch it except to skip a track on Spotify. I can do that without unlocking it.
- I have a writing pad (actually my Remarkable 2) in my lap and a pen, so I can jot down whatever comes to mind.
- I don’t do anything, except think, daydream and write.
- I can get up to make more tea, get a snack, etc, but no productive activity. So, no folding laundry or reading articles.
The effect was pretty interesting. I immediately started noticing several things.
I worry a lot about texting people back.
The first time I did this exercise, I went into the kitchen to make more tea. I reached out to take my phone with me, and then realised that there was no point to it. I wasn’t allowed to check messages anyway, so anybody who messaged me now would be answered after the 30 minutes were over. That thought made it very clear how much I normally worry about texting people back fast enough, not making them anxious by leaving them on read. That’s a lot of effort expended at managing other people’s emotions, when none of them ever expected me to do that.
Finding 30 minutes to do nothing was harder than I expected.
This really speaks to how I schedule my days. You’d think that during a day, finding just 30 minutes to relax and do nothing would be easy. Well, turns out it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. That in itself was very eye-opening. I still struggle to just take time to relax, which brings me to the next point.
I have a ton of internalised guilt around laziness
I sometimes come across articles from US, where they claim that the Dutch are much happier because we have the concept of “niksen”, deliberately doing nothing. While that concept certainly exists, it most definitely wasn’t part of my upbringing. In fact, “lazy” was just about the worst insult that could be hurled at you when I grew up, and I got called lazy a lot.
The first time I did this 30 minutes offline thing, it was a late Saturday afternoon and I felt deeply relaxed. Weekends are for relaxing, after all, and I was proud of myself for doing proper self-care.
The second time I tried it, was a Monday evening. That one was very, very different. I’d already struggled to find a good moment to do it, and I ended up settling for 9 in the evening. I managed to do nothing, and even wrote some words on a story. The whole time I was fighting an internal voice saying “Do you really have time for this? You should be doing something useful. There is still a ton of work waiting for you.”
Once things calm down…
I knew this voice all too well. In the past, I’d always say that I was feeling rushed and overwhelmed because work was hectic, I had taken on too many other responsibilities and once things calmed down a bit, I’d be fine. I kept saying that for several years in a row, things never calmed down.
This summer, I took 3 months off work. I ended up spending a lot of that period working on my book, but that wasn’t why I took the time off. I specifically didn’t make any plans, I just wanted to give myself time to relax and recover, and to do whatever would bring me joy.
In many ways, it was a huge success. The rushed feeling however, that didn’t go away. I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough, like I was falling behind, like I should be doing more. There was no external factor rushing me, yet I felt the same. The calls had been coming from inside the house this whole time.
That’s always the big question of course. I’m going to try and keep the habit. I can afford to do nothing for 30 minutes every day. The moment I start feeling like I don’t have those 30 minutes, that’s a signal that I’m overworking myself. A canary in the coal mine. I deserve quiet time. If I get some good writing out it, awesome. If not, that’s also fine. The point is to allow myself time to dream and reflect.
Someday I might actually master the art of Niksen.
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