It is late. A warm bed and a cosy book await, yet I still have a lot that needs to be done.
Or that’s what my mind is telling me.
It has been one of those days. The day went as such days do, with a series of minor annoyances. For a start, I slept through the alarms. Or turned them off in my sleep and given the rigmarole involved in turning off the second alarm, that’s pretty impressive. Especially as I had to get out of bed to do it. Normally I am up before they go off, but they are no more than a fail-safe for the occasional lapse. Thankfully, the dog never sleeps through the alarms and eventually woke me by snorting at the door. It was still long before dawn, but that loss of time would have been a problem any other day. Thankfully, I was due to start work several hours later than usual, so I still got to sit down with a coffee and open the email… where I found a request to start at my normal time after all.
My son’s cat, when I arrived at his home, had been busy too. It liked the new, wood-based litter in its tray and had decided that it would make a good plaything. I fed the cat and swept it all back up, refilling the tray while it ate. I swept it up three times over the next four hours. The cat objected and bit me, but I persevered… then gave in and went to the supermarket in search of the old type of cat-litter to replace the lot.
Grumbling to myself, both about the cat and the necessity of crossing the supermarket threshold at all, I made a bee-line for the pet aisle and grabbed the litter, stocking up with the dog’s requirements while I was there. Might as well but myself a little time…
Which I lost when I finally arrived home to a seriously depleted fish-tank. I dealt with that…again… fed and walked the dog, cleaned all the muddy footprints off the nice, clean floor, and realised I should have bought something for me at the supermarket too. I was about to nip to the village shop for provisions when the phone rang. By the time the call had finished, the shop was shut. I fielded another phone call from one son and sat down to talk with the other, all the while fielding the ball for the deliriously happy dog who goes loopy when one of her boys turns up. And suddenly, the day had gone.
By eight thirty, I was ready to eat and start on work I had hoped to have finished twelve hours earlier. Some of it is stuff I am desperate to finish. I could get really stressed about now, especially with a crashing computer and a brand new set of muddy pawprints tracking across the living room floor… and the level in the fish tank steadily dropping again. I could stay up all night and get it done…or not.
I think not.
What is the point of getting stressed?
The animals taught me a lesson today. The cat, annoyed by my constant interference with her game, sunk her teeth in my arm and drew blood. The dog, over-excited by her visitor, barked and bounced like a lunatic in her joy, making conversation impossible until she had calmed down. Both of them had reacted to the emotions of the moment and neither of them were particularly pleasant to be around, though for opposite reasons. Do I want to be like either of them at this moment? Or fighting like cat and dog, either with myself or with time? There would be only one loser.
There will, inevitably, be more pawprints in the morning. There always are. The inboxes will be full regardless of how efficiently I empty them. There will still be writing to be done even if I finish the to-do list tonight. The PC always crashes and always has. And if the leak in the tank wasn’t solved earlier, there isn’t much more I can do. The fish are safe, the cat is five miles away, the dog is asleep and I have cereals in the cupboard I can have for supper.
There is nothing that has to be done tonight; none of it will shake the world if it doesn’t get done by morning. Were I subtracted from this world overnight to some alternate universe, this world would carry on without me quite nicely.
We acquire this sense of obligation to the tasks we set ourselves quite early. ‘Conscientious’ is a word often used on school reports and a quality prized in an employee. It implies responsibility, both as a duty and a quality. We carry that idea and ideal with us and call it ‘doing our best’, even into tasks and areas of our lives where there is no real necessity for it.
None of us, and few of the things we feel we just have to get done, are really that important. I think that is at the root of much of our daily stress… this sense of obligation to some unwritten timetable that we impose upon ourselves, coupled with the unconscious feeling that we have to meet our own expectations. We can project those onto others too, convincing ourselves that they have expectations where that may not be the case. Perhaps it is partly the ego asserting its own sense of self-importance that makes us feel ‘we have to’, when actually, we don’t. If a few hours won’t really make a difference, really and truly, we can let the stress go.
There are so many tasks we see as important, through a habit of mind or a habit of routine, that are not really earth-shatteringly important at all. Things that could easily wait until we have eaten or rested or slept…and which would probably benefit from our taking time out before completing them.
Stress is a killer, both in physical terms and where the quality of our work is concerned. Things completed under pressure are seldom as well done as those completed with a little time and consideration. Sometimes just letting go is the best thing we can do for that to-do list.
It is late. A warm bed and a cosy book await. They won’t be waiting much longer.