Burning Desire For FIRE

Financial-Independence-Retire-Early(er). Achieved the first two letters of FIRE, now onto the rest!

Category: Enjoying life right now. (page 3 of 3)

Add some fun on your way to FIRE!

Best teacher ever! (meme)

Something I’ve learned from teaching that I’ve taken into my FI/RE life is that life is a whole lot more interesting if you add some fun along the way. I have to teach boring things like grammar and language analysis, but if I add in some silliness every now and then it’s really motivating for both the students and myself.

Spend a few minutes on a game! It only has to be vaguely related to your subject – mine’s English – but it changes up the routine and adds some fun to an otherwise humdrum lesson. Sometimes I spring ‘The Food Game’ on them. They line up around the room and they have to come up with food or drink starting with the letter ‘A’, then when someone freezes, repeats an item, (or can’t spell) they move on to the letter ‘B’ until we have one man or woman left standing.

The next level up – which we normally start in term 2 once they’ve mastered the basic game, is something I call ‘The Food Game on Steroids.’ The last letter of the food someone says is now the first letter of the next one. It keeps ’em on their toes!

Another welcome change from the regular routine is a quick spelling bee in teams to get them up and moving around a bit. My kids actually ask for them, which is something that you wouldn’t expect. For some reason, thinking on their feet is something most kids really enjoy.

Card with 'Ms Jones is jumping for joy. Today you did brilliantly in English!
Strange… Where did my name go on this card??? (heh heh)

I shamelessly stole the idea for these cards from my dear friend Scott, whose plane is probably touching down in Melbourne even as I’m typing this. They’re just business cards from Vistaprint, so they’re as cheap as chips, but they’re worth their weight in gold.

I give out these cards whenever someone earns an ‘Outstanding’ on their work, which is the equivalent of an A+. I hand it to the child, we shake hands and the rest of the class applauds. The kids love them. They take them home to show their parents and sometimes a kid will excitedly come to school the next day and tell us that they received a monetary reward. That doesn’t happen all the time, though.

Once, I was in a year 12 class observing the teacher and a kid I taught back in year 8 or 9 said that he’d earned one of these cards.

“No way!” I said. “You’re not bright enough!”

The joke was on me when he fished a battered “Ms Jones is pleased with you‘ card out of his wallet and proudly flashed it at me. He’d carried it around with him for years…

How does this equate to FIRE?

Remember how excited you got when you first discovered the concept of FIRE? I know when I first read about the 4% Rule it changed my world!

I'm more bored than this slumped over cat.

Surely it’s not just me who’s found that it’s sometimes hard to keep the fun in the FIRE journey after we’ve been on the trail of it for a few years. We’ve got the frugality down pat, we’ve negotiated our bills and we’ve automated everything we can to gain the most bounce per ounce with all of our income.

Then we settle back and over time all of this new exciting finance FIRE stuff becomes our new routine. It’s hard to keep the excitement up.

One thing that worked for me for at least 3 years was when I worked out how much I was taking home per teaching period every day. I’d teach a period and think, “There’s another $50!!” It made teaching seem that little bit more rewarding, especially when you had a PIA class.

As a side benefit it also helped when I was looking at buying something. Was it worth half a day’s teaching? Was it worth a period and a half? Sometimes it stopped me buying things I didn’t really want.

Update on my goals chart.

Some of you may have been around when I posted how I was going to track 7 behaviours that I wanted to turn into habits. Here’s how it’s been going so far. Funny how as the term dragged along, the more yellow and white squares began to appear! Hopefully, once I get a few nanna naps under my belt then the green will surge back.

For me, the reward is in colouring in the squares on Saturday morning. Interestingly, the only habit I’ve kept up without a break is the only one that doesn’t require action every single day – the column second from the left which is the ‘Post 3 times a week’ habit for this blog. (The other figure in this column refers to how many times I post on my personal blog.)

Why not take this idea and tweak it to your FIRE habits? Colour in a square every time you add to your Emergency Fund, or make an investment, or bring your lunch to work to save money.

It’s strangely satisfying to actually see your achievements laid out on a chart. All of a sudden, you’re adding fun instead of plodding morosely on into oblivion, all by yourself, with no one to notice your actions.

Add some fun – whatever works for you. You’re already attempting something extraordinary by reaching for FIRE – encourage yourself by rewarding yourself and smiling along the way.

Now I’m thinking about Opportunity Cost.

Hey girl, you look good when you pay your blls

Of course, as soon as I wrote a post about possibly going part-time at work, I immediately started to think about the Opportunity Cost of the 20K/year I’d be missing out on if I dropped a day. There’s also the extra year or two I’d probably be adding to my work life.

So what’s Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost of not studying

Opportunity cost is usually talked about in economics, but it basically applies in every area of life. It refers to all the choices and directions that you choose to give up when you make a decision to do/spend something.

For example, I chose to keep 50K from the money I received when I sold my original house to use for landscaping. That money could have been spent on more investments to bring me more income in the future. (At 7% interest, I’m missing out on an extra $3,500/year.) It could have bought me 3 or 4 trips to Europe. It could have paid for a new ensuite, shiny new kitchen appliances and a new car.

But instead, by using that money to pay for wicking vegetable garden beds, brick paving and an automatic watering system attached to my water tank, I’ve turned away from those other alternatives. This is the opportunity cost of my decision.

The opportunity cost of talking to me
(“Fallacy of composition’ means the error of assuming that what is true of a member of a group is true for the group as a whole.

What could I do with the 20K that I’d be giving up if I only taught 4 days a week? There’s no doubt that my work/life balance would be far better if I worked fewer hours. But there are items on my ‘to do’ list that I could quickly knock off if I gritted my teeth and worked full-time for another year.

Below is a list of things that I want to put into place before I leave work. I’ve already achieved the major one, which was the landscaping job. However, there are a few more things I want to get done.

Opportunity cost of being good at your job.
  • I have an ensuite – the first one I’ve ever had. I never realised how much I love having one, but it’s not really suitable for old people. It has a shower over a bath. I’m definitely not a bath person, but even if I was, the main bathroom has one. I can visualise Old Lady Frogdancer trying to get herself in or out of the bath a couple of decades from now, slipping and breaking a hip. An ensuite renovation would probably be around the 20K mark, wouldn’t it?
  • I want to get the inside and outside of my house freshly painted. This isn’t a huge priority, because I’m pretty sure the house was painted just before I bought it 3 years ago. But they painted everything the same colour and used the same paint for everything. This means that the window ledges, skirting boards and doors are all in matt paint, not gloss. This makes them much harder to keep clean.
No opportunity cost to saving money right now!
  • I still need to get the verandah roof put on at the back part of the house. When that’s done I’ll have an outdoor room, looking out towards the veggie garden. I’ll get an old couch and a table, and I’ll loll on the couch and read a book out there in the shade, drinking a glass or two of shiraz while watching my organic food grow. 20K would more than pay for that, wouldn’t it?.
  • Does anyone know if a Tesla battery can be connected to existing solar panels? This house came with an impressive array of solar panels, but ever since I found out from a friend that not only does she have zero bills for electricity since installing panels and a battery, she’s getting money paid to her by the electricity company for the power they’ve passed back to the grid! In around 6 months they’ve received nearly 1K in payments! That sounds very enticing for someone who intends to be a crazy dog lady in retirement. Those dogs need to be fed.
I need a part-time job that pays 20K a week.
  • Speaking of dogs, my dogs bark every time another dog walks past. I know that they’re only doing their jobs, but it gets a bit annoying. I’m thinking I might replace the open-view fence with a more solid one, to stop the dogs from having so much fun. I’d have lots of change from 20K if I started with this one!
  • Another thing that will need to be replaced is the ultra-cheap oven and cooktop that the previous owners put into the kitchen when they were selling. They’re stainless steel, so they look ok, but the oven is terrible. I’d like to get an induction cooktop, so I could put the thermomixes on it, under the fan, and there’d be no chance of them melting. I’d also like to get a better quality oven.
  • I’d also like to put some money aside for things like a car upgrade down the track… expenses that I know will be coming one day, but don’t have to be catered for just yet. There may even be weddings for the boys in the future, though they’re fairly unattractive so maybe this won’t happen…

There’s no denying that my work-life balance would be improved if I went part-time. There’s also no denying that, if I want to get these things knocked off my ‘To Do’ list, I’ll be increasing my work life by another one or two years. Still, as an extroverted introvert, that mightn’t be a bad thing.

When I’m at home, I’m very solitary and I love it. But when I’m at work, I’m surrounded by people and all that goes with it. This morning, I walked into The Danger Zone, (our section of the staff room) and it was filled with people wearing party hats, balloons on the ground and a couple of toddlers blowing bubbles. Someone’s mum was coming to pick up the grandkids and it was her 70th birthday.

Five minutes ago I was holding a baby who had come in with her Dad, who is taking paternity leave for a year. Last year he and his husband went to the US, organised a surrogate and now this little girl is a much-loved and doted upon Aussie.

Last year my year 7 English class threw me a surprise birthday party, while back in 2015 my Theatre Studies class threw a surprise dinner party to farewell me when I took a term off to go to Europe. These things are very special.

The Opportunity Cost of working full-time and leaving work earlier may be the loss of the human interaction I’m so used to. This is without taking into account the day-to-day laughs and general interaction with the students.

If I go part-time then the Opportunity Cost is the money and the continued lack of freedom to have total control over how I spend my time.

I guess I just have to work out which is the most valuable to me going forward…

Live in the moment.

Live in the moment - Dog. Worrying - Man. Dog is happier.

I just finished a pile of year 7 persuasive essays about whether or not to ban plastic. I read 28 of these, with varying degrees of neatness, correct spelling and originality. A couple of them made me want to throw myself out a window, but others made me smile. But truly, none made me smile more than Toby’s one – because it was the last one.

I have a choice for the rest of the day – I can live in the moment and be happy that I’ve finished that marking, or I can look forward with dread to the end of the day. This is when my year 9s are due to finish their ‘Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘ essays and hand them in.

Why do I use the word ‘dread’?

28 essays all on the same topic, using the same novel and written to pretty much the same formula. Most of these kids have very bad handwriting since they spend most of their time using computers. This is why God invented the chocolates for sale in the staff common room. When I get a couple of bad ones, it takes a sugar hit to get me through.

So what should I do?

Ryan Gosling - Hey girl, live in the moment

Call me crazy, but Ryan here seems to know what he’s talking about.

I have three hours before the next pile of essays lands on my desk to be marked. I also have period 4 off – what will I do with those 48 precious minutes of freedom now that I’ve chosen to live in the moment?

The possibilities are endless…

Well… as endless as the possibilities are when you’re stuck at work. I could:

  • Begin the book that the school library bought and reserved for me. It’s been sitting on my desk for the last couple of days, untouched, unopened, unread.
  • Write a blog post or two.
  • Have a chat with someone else who’s also free.
  • Do some lesson prep for next week. (Though who am I trying to fool? This probably won’t happen…)

I can guarantee that Mr Gosling’s right – each of these will be far better if I immerse myself in the moment and just enjoy them. Those year 9 essays are going to come at me whether I focus on them or not.

So why on earth would I poison the last 3 hours of freedom I’ll have before they get here?

I admire people who live in the moment.

Should I go part-time next year?

Even typing that title was a bit confronting! But yes, I’ve started to wonder if life wouldn’t be better if I stopped working 5 days a week and started a part-time teaching load.

This wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be considering yet. I assumed that I’d be working full-time for another 3 years or so. This was already a HUGE step forward.

Before I sold my original property and geoarbitraged 20 kms away, I thought I’d be working full time until I was eligible to receive the Age Pension (in another 11 years.) By moving down to The Best House in Melbourne by the beach, I already shaved around a decade from my working life. So I’m already in a better position.

And yet…

I’m really tired. All the damned time. So tired that I went had had a full bloodwork thing done to make sure I wasn’t low in vitamin B or suffering from a medical condition. (Fear not, frugal friends. I’m in Australia so it was free.)

Turns out I’m as healthy as a horse.

Which is great, but I’m not sure I want to spend the next 3 years running breathlessly towards my FI figure, while not feeling full of vim. I’d like to get more things done around here, instead of squeezing in a nap every weekend. I have a life to live, people!!

I was having a chat to Dee at work a couple of weeks ago. Her kids are the same age as mine and she’s been working part time for a few years now.

“Don’t you get tired?” she said. “Sometimes I think about going back to full time because the money’d be good, especially since we built the new house, but I don’t know if I’d be able to do it.”

I know how she feels. Being a teacher is a high-octane job. I’m lucky this year – I only have 4 classes and 3 of them are lovely. They’re full of kids who want to work and are keen to do well, so it’s easy to get them on task and doing what they should.

My year 8 class? They take a lot of energy. There’s a group of around 7 boys who need constant monitoring. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. They seem to like me, but I don’t know why because I’m an absolute witch to them.

But even when you’re in front of the good classes you need to be on your game. That’s how it should be – you want your students to have your best – but when it starts leaching energy from other, more important areas of your life, something’s out of balance.

I’ve always said that I don’t live to teach – I teach so that I can do all the things for myself and my family that I want to do. This is why I rarely bring correction home, as I prefer to keep my work and home life separate. Sure, sometimes I go into school on the weekends to work with my year 12’s when we’re doing a play. This year it’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest‘ and I’ll be going in for 2 or 3 days in the Easter school holidays to run rehearsals.

That’s part of the job. I’m ok with that because the kids this year in particular are amazing and are working so hard to bring my favourite play to life.

But do I want to feel like this for the next few years?

If I dropped a day I’d be losing around 20K/year. Is a little more freedom worth that? Will an extra day a week make me that much happier?

My cunning plan was that I’d keep working full time so I could get to my FI number quicker. Then, depending on how I was feeling about life, the universe and everything, I’d THEN go part-time. O maybe I’d resign, or do casual teaching when people were away. I’m a naturally long-term thinker, so it seems sensible to get the hard work out of the way up front, and then once that job’s done and things are as secure as they can be, to then reassess the situation.

But a thought occurred to me today…

What if the “hard work” I was thinking about wasn’t working full-time now? What if it was the 20+ years I was raising the 4 boys on my own AND holding down a full-time job? (AND in the later years, running a Thermomix business as well?) Those years were full of hectic juggling. I worked damned hard.

What if this means that it’d be ok to slow the pace down a little now and have a bit more ‘Frogdancer’ time to do what I want to do in the present?

What if this was the time to start enjoying The Best House in Melbourne, the beach, the dogs and my hobbies a little more?

I won’t deny – the thought is enticing. I think it’s around September when we have to fill in a form stating what time fraction we want for next year and which subjects and classes we’d prefer to teach.

I’ll be mulling it over. I’d like to hear from other people who’ve decided to work part-time, or who made the decision to go the other way. It’s a strange thing to start thinking of abandoning a perfectly good cunning plan when I have only a few short years before I’d be at the finish line…

It’s the little things…

All 3 trouble-makers are absent on the same day.

Sometimes it’s the little things that turn an ordinary day into a good one.

Normally, I practically have to carry a whip and a chair into my year 8 class to keep them quiet and able to learn. But today? Three boys were away.

I was able to read ‘The Outsiders’ to the class without a single interruption.

I love my job today!

Anyone have any other ‘little things’ that make an ordinary working day seem special?

A mindful way to think about FI/RE.

I had a busy weekend. My blog post came second place in the Rockstar Rumble and I went out to see two plays with Evan22, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night. I did a lot of reading on Saturday – when I start a new book I can’t help but gallop through it till the end. (This one was NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. It wasn’t bad.) Sunday I Got Practical Things Around The House Done.

This meant that I didn’t do much writing. Those of you who’ve read my post on my ‘Goal Setting’ chart might remember that I have a goal to write on this blog 3 times a week. I dragged myself into work today feeling as if I didn’t want to be here and cross that I didn’t have an article ready to post today.

Every Monday for the first 10 minutes of the day we have ‘Mindfulness Mondays’, where the teachers direct their classes in a Mindfulness session. Up until now, I’ve been doing sessions totally directed by me, where we concentrate on feeling how they’re breathing, how their feet feel in their shoes, how their bodies feel in the chairs etc.

When I run out of things to talk about I direct them to look at the ‘Mindfulness Tree’, which is a gum tree outside our second-floor window. I get them to look at the leaves, how they’re blowing in the wind, how the sky looks behind it and so on. But I was getting a little bit tired of doing the same old thing every week.

I walked into the staffroom and decided that this week I was going to do something different. The kids were going to colour in!

This is actually quite a good mindfulness technique. While colouring in, you’re effectively in the moment, focused on the selection of colours and what the pencil is doing. I passed out the sheets and the Tibetan bell chimed over the loudspeaker to begin the session.

The kids were silent. Engrossed. I’ve never seen this group of 12-year-olds so intent.

The minutes slipped by. They were totally absorbed by the task. Each child started at a different spot on the design and used different colours to fill in the spaces. Vikki wanted to keep reading instead, but I made her put her book away and start colouring. “We’re here to be mindful in the life we’re in now, not escaping to other worlds!”

I wasn’t sure how much they would finish in the ten minutes. I haven’t coloured in anything for decades! When the Tibetan bell sounded at the end of the session, hardly anything had been finished. But the kids had been working so hard.

“Can we keep colouring?” one little optimist said.

“No, we have to get on with work,” I said. “But how about if everyone puts their name on the top and I save them for next week?”

They liked that idea… well, probably everyone except Vikki! I collected them up and we went on with the lesson.

It’ll take another 3 or 4 lessons, no doubt, until the pictures are complete.

It was when I was wandering around the room as they worked that I saw a parallel to our FI/RE treks.

Given time, all of the children will complete the task.

They all started from different spots, with different materials. Some had only a couple of pencils, some had heaps; one boy had a single grey lead.

Now that they know where they’re headed, some kids will prepare and make sure to bring extra pencils to class next week. Just like someone finding out about FI/RE and beginning to educate themselves by reading books and blogs, going to Meet-ups and rearranging their finances.

When the time is up, it won’t matter what they started with or where they started from.

They’ll have finished the task and they’ll have a beautiful picture to enjoy.

Want to be happier? Try this!

A few days ago I read a blog post by a reader here. It was exploring a corker of an idea called ‘Homework for Life’, which sounded a little bit like a Gratitude Journal. It’s a simple idea, much like the things I talked about in my post about The Secret to Happiness about taking time to notice the little things, but it takes it a step further by getting you to actually write things down.

I read the post through a couple of times, then posted it to Twitter, tagging in a couple of my teacherly friends, saying, ‘Wouldn’t this be a fantastic thing to do with our kids?

A few days ago I tried it with my year 7 English class.

I asked them to sit silently for a few moments and think back across their day so far. I asked them to recall any pleasant moments that have happened. They could be big if they were desperate, but preferably they’d be really tiny. Things like noticing a pretty flower in someone’s garden on the walk to school, or patting a cat and hearing it purr, or laughing with your friends about something funny that happened.

The point is that it should be something that was a small thing in the scheme of things… something so small that it would soon be forgotten if it wasn’t written down.

Little smiles began to appear on people’s faces as they began remembering.

I set the timer for a couple of minutes and we all began writing.

After we’d finished, everyone read out what they’d written. There were some beautiful moments.

  • One little girl said that as she got out of the car as she was being dropped off at school, her grandpa called her name. She turned around and looked back in the car. “Have a great day, love,” he said. She said that made her feel warm and special.
  • A boy said that his best friend has been away sick for a few days. When he got to school today he saw his friend at the lockers and it made him really happy.
  • One boy said that he solved a really hard Maths problem in class and he felt proud of himself.
  • A girl took my flower example to heart and described in great detail one that she’d noticed that morning, right down to the bright yellow pollen in the centre.
  • Another boy said that when his friends turned up at his house this morning to walk to school he was ready for them and they didn’t have to wait. He felt really good about that.
  • (The background to this last one is that whenever I call the roll for a class, I mix up the order and whoever is last I say, “And the hideous Joe Lunchbucket… or whatever the name is.) A girl said,” I haven’t been hideous all year and I’ve been waiting to be. Ms Frogdancer called me hideous today and it made me smile.”

Of course, this is something that we can all do.

As we’re going along the path that leads to financial freedom, it’s all too easy to put all our focus on the future and forget to enjoy all of the little things that make each day a good one to be alive.

Why not jot down one thing that made you smile each day?

My friend Blogless Liz has kept a Gratitude Journal for years. At the end of the day she lists the things that have brought her pleasure that day. She told me that she told her year 8 class about this, and then a few days later one of the boys hung back after class and said, “Ms Blogless Liz, After you said that, I’ve started keeping a Gratitude Journal too and I’m feeling much happier.”

I’m going to start doing this. I fall into the trap of becoming impatient with the pace of my impending Financial Independence and I want it to happen NOW!!! I have the feeling that I’m not the only one.

Having something concrete to leaf through when we’re feeling like this will probably be helpful in making us remember that yes – our present lives are actually pretty darned good and we should enjoy it more as we finish off the job of becoming FI.

Even having the discipline of knowing that we have to have at least ONE thing to write down at the end of the day will make us notice the little things more – which of course is The Secret to Happiness.

**Just an update on Scout after her surgery. It’s now been two weeks and you’d never know that she was so sick. Her stitches are out, she’s still ball-obsessed and life is back to normal – but with an added dollop of thankfulness every time I look at her.

I travel – so why do I love Staycations?

I love Staycations, even though it’s no secret that I also love to travel. I’ve blogged extensively about my trips to the UK, Europe, North Korea and Thailand on my personal blog, while this blog has 4 posts summarising what I saw in North Korea. I wtote about how the regime holds on to political power by using the power of advertising with sculpture, art, education and making everything appear bigger and better than the rest of the world.

Even though I have a hankering for more freedom I’m choosing to continue working for another few years. It’s mostly because I have a number in mind that I’m working towards, but the number is based on my love of travel. When I eventually pull the pin on my job, I’m planning to travel overseas at least once a year. Australia is pretty isolated, so international travel is often very expensive. My FIRE number is higher to account for this.

So, even though I love to travel overseas, most of my holidays are Staycations. I’ve always been a delayed gratification type of girl, where I’ll put off what I want to do today to REALLY enjoy it tomorrow. But having said that, the truth is that I LOVE a Staycation.

Honestly, if you don’t like hanging around in the place that you live in, then you’re doing it wrong.

Your home is the place where you can be yourself – a place where you shut the door behind you and you can simply “be.” And after all, a holiday doesn’t have to be a time to run yourself ragged – it can also be a time to regroup and chill, enjoying what’s around you.

Home is the perfect place to recharge batteries and do -(or not do)- all those little things you’ve been meaning to get to but couldn’t when your time was taken up with a job. Little things like reading a book, lunching like ladies and sorting through that filing cabinet, one drawer at a time.

I had a 5 week Staycation at the end of the school year, right at Christmas time and then on into January. I was so tired when that holiday started, I’m pretty sure I looked like Moon-Moon here in the meme below:

Yes, that’s an accurate representation.

When the holidays start, I take the first few days slowly. I sleep in for as long as the dogs allow me to. There’s only so much ‘claws scratching against floorboards’ noise that I can take before I get up. They probably circle the bed like sharks around a shipwreck victim, waiting for me to wake.

I need downtime. Time to slowly move through the day, doing whatever seems like a good idea in the moment. That’s why I love a Staycaion.

I indulge myself with gobs of freedom.

I leisurely move through the first few days, reading, taking a nanna nap after lunch if I feel like it. Aw, who am I kidding? I usually do feel like it – those Spaniards are onto something with the siesta! If I have the energy and inclination to tackle a task that needs doing, I’ll do it. Otherwise, I’ll ignore it until later in the holiday. I have the time to either use or squander, depending on my mood.

Later on in the holidays, whether it’s the 5 week summer break or the regular 2 week breaks between terms, is when I tend to Get Things Done.

Bigger tasks that need some extra time or boring things that still have to be done whether I like them or not – they get knocked off my mental ‘To Do ‘ list.

Well, mostly. I made soap for Christmas presents in the September holidays and I was going to make more in the summer. We’re down to our last bar of home-made soap and I still haven’t made more. I’m not saying a Staycation makes you perfect – just more rested and chilled.

And probably better looking due to all the relaxation.

I remember when the kids were younger. Life got pretty frantic at times, particularly when you add a young family into the mix. I was working, the children had their own schedules of school and activities and socialising to be worked around; life was lived at fever-pitch and was scheduled out to the minute.

So if every holiday is lived at that frantic pace as well – how is that doing anyone any good?

Revel in a staycation. You’re definitely not depriving yourself. They’re wonderful.

The key to success.

This morning I got up when my alarm went off at 5:55 AM, let the dogs out and then fed them their breakfast. I fed Scout her chicken neck in the front yard and Poppy and Jeff in the back yard. This started from when Scout was a puppy and was so much smaller than the others and the routine has simply continued from there.

When I let her in and she started trotting down the hallway to get to the doggie door to the backyard, she stopped and looked around at me, her eyebrows raised. She’s been doing this for the last week or so. When I said, “Outside!” she turned and raced up the hallway to the doggie door, tail wagging – the picture of joy.

‘Well, I guess this is a new part of the morning routine,’ I murmured as I went to put the kettle on for coffee.

This got me thinking about how much we humans rely on routines to set up habits – both good and bad – and to get us through the day.

Scout’s new ‘thing’ in the morning is harmless. For some reason unclear to me, her new ‘wait for the instruction and then dash out the door’ is fun. If only all routines were like this!

The best, most productive routines are the ones that you’ve put in place for yourself, knowing that they’re most likely going to get you the results you want.

The routines that work best for me are things like:

  • Taking the dogs for a walk as soon as I get home. If I sit down to check emails, it’s fatal. Once my backside hits the couch, I’m not going to go for a walk. So I try to grab the dog walking bag as soon as I walk in. As soon as they see me with that bag, I have to put the leads on them. Works like a charm!
  • Making my lunch for the next day while dinner is being cooked. Then all I have to do the next morning is grab it as I head out the door. I didn’t do this last night – Ryan23 made pizzas for dinner and I forgot to get him to make me a salad while he was doing the pizza toppings. So today’s lunch is a microwave rice bowl from Aldi. Not nearly as nice as a fresh garden salad, but honestly, it serves me right!
  • Before I go home for the evening, I look at the first 2 classes I’ve got and put whatever materials I may need, in a pile at the end of my desk. In case something happens and I’m running late, I don’t need to get my head around what I’m going to be doing – it’s already organised.
  • As soon as I get paid each fortnight, the first thing I do when I log in is to transfer 1K across to my credit card. This ensures that there’ll be enough to keep running it as a debit card, but I still get points and the lights and water still stay on. Then I decide what to do with what’s left.
  • A glass of wine at 5 o’clock (‘wine o’clock’) as a reward for making it to the end of another day. This may not be the most productive routine, but it’s one of my favourites!

Routines like this are great because they’re aligned with your personal values and there’s an intrinsic motivation to keep to them. I’d love to hear in the comments about any routines that you’ve made yourself stick to.

It’s not quite the same when a routine is imposed upon you.

Work routines are like this. Being a teacher, my work days are defined by bells. Classes start at set times and finish the same way. I know that Mondays and Tuesdays will always begin with my year 7 classes, while the last 2 periods of the week will always be with my year 12 Theatre Studies kids. Unless there’s a fire drill, there’s usually no surprises.

Lunch is at the same time each day, as is recess, whether you’re hungry or not.

It takes a month or so before I know which classes I have on which days and which rooms they’re in. The working week takes on a familiar ebb and flow for all of us. But these routines are dictated to me by the timetabler. She has decided that Wednesday and Thursday are my frantic days, while Monday and Friday are cruisier. Personally, I prefer to start off the week busy busy busy and then ease off as the week goes along. But I have no choice in the matter.

To mix things up a bit, because I’m a wild and crazy rebel, I drove a different way to work this morning. It took 5 minutes longer but I got to nod hello to ‘Maisie’, a beautiful little tree on a nature strip on a busy road that I used to see every morning until I found a more optimised route to school. Tomorrow? Odds are I’ll be back to the usual routine. It’s quicker.

There’s nothing so wonderful as when a bolt of inspiration hits, or you get into the flow of doing an activity and time seems to vanish. Moments like this are golden. But, as William Golding, (above), said; it’s a matter of getting into the habit of hammering out the material. Every day, making sure that you’re doing something to advance you along the way to where you want to be. Stephen King, the novelist, writes about this in his fabulous book On Writing. He writes 2,000 words every day, without fail. He won’t switch off his computer until those words are done… and coincidentally, he’s completed over 65 books.

Remember my chart of productive habits that I started at the beginning of the year? It’s now March and it’s working like a charm. It’s become a habit to mentally tick off the categories as I do them. For example, in today’s first lesson, I used the 10 minutes silent reading/writing to read from an actual book. *details at the end of the post. I can now tick off the ‘write every day’ box. I wiped over the bathroom before I left home this morning, so the cleaning one’s been done too.

It’s now become part of the dogs’ routine to expect a walk when I come home from work. Their delighted expectation makes this one easy to tick off.

The chart is a simple way to make sure that the habits I want to instil in myself are going to be formed.

We all have routines that are placed upon us. But if we have the self-discipline to impose routines that are meaningful and relevant upon ourselves, we’ve immediately optimised our chances of success.

*The book I was reading is called ‘The Gay Galliard’ by Margaret Irwin. It’s about the relationship between Lord Bothwell and Mary Queen of Scots. 

Yes, I know that the title hasn’t passed the test of time well, (it was written in 1944), and it’s very long-winded, but I’ve wanted to read it since I was young. 

It’s a shame that Ms Irwin has the unfortunate gift of turning the Interesting into the Dull-as-Ditchwater…

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