Please, thank you and tidy up – a way to live

When my son was little, and I was on older mom (I had him when I was 40), my mantra was to pick my battles. I decided I didn’t care if he used the couch as a jungle gym, or refused to eat anything but noodles and apples and bacon. I did care though about safety and teaching him not to hurt other people. And manners. Manners were important.

So I made him say please when he wanted things, and thank you when he got them, using that old trick of asking for the magic word. He has always been a quick study, so pretty soon the magic word was an emphatic “please and thank you”, said really fast. He figured if he said all the magic words at once he would get results.

When he went to primary school it turned out manners were not the only thing required – there was in fact a colour-coded wall, emphasising kindness and respect and responsibility, among other things. Those all seemed to me to be good things, but perhaps overly complicated for small children to comprehend and encompass.

Codes of conduct

I thought a lot about codes of conduct then – after all, they are everywhere. Many shops have versions of them enshrined at check-out counters, and big institutions spend lots of money on staff get-togethers where such things are workshopped. Even (and this will give you pause) South African public servants have one.

And yet all around us people are plainly not living according to codes of conduct. That might be because none of us are all that good at living according to complex sets of externally imposed rules.

So, based on my experience as a parent I suggest something much simpler. A code of conduct that works in any set of circumstances I can think of goes like this:

Say please – that means you don’t expect things to be given to you with no work on your part. So no entitlement, no stealing, no grabbing. No commanding people to do things for you. No expecting someone to have sex with you when they don’t want to. No expecting people to keep house for you with no recognition of their work.

Say thank you – that means living with a sense of gratitude, of humbleness and of respect for other people. Taken together, please and thank you mean that you have truly looked at the other person, and seen what they give to any situation, and that you have fully bedded down the idea that things are not due to you just because you exist. Think how that might transform situations in which privilege is at play!

Tidy up after yourself – that means tidy your room, tidy the communal kitchen when you have made a sandwich, pick up after a picnic. It means corporations thinking about the environment. It implies taking responsibility for your actions, in everything you do in the world. You leave things better than you found them.

Of course, these ways of interacting with the world have to go deeper than a surface appearance of good manners. When we teach small children manners, we start with the externals, but a central parenting project is to bed these attitudes down so that they are second nature, and are a reflection of respect for people and for the planet.

And that’s it. I would suggest that if everyone, from the president down, lived with these three things at the centre of everything they do, we would not be the mess we are in.

As to my son, to this day people tell me he has beautiful manners. We are still working on tidying up though.

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media).

Main picture: Courtney Hedger on Unsplash

How to make a list that lasts

I come from a family of list-makers. My mother, my sister and I make lists for all sorts of reasons – sometimes we even make lists that list our other lists (think particularly about moving house).

I maintain a system of to-do lists for my working and personal life – I currently work for three different clients and could not possibly keep it all straight in my head if I didn’t have a list for each of them.

Those lists are simple affairs – the things I need to do on any given day, in my diary, ticked off as I do them. The key thing about them is that they differ from day to day.

But what about when the list doesn’t vary much over time? Think for instance of grocery shopping. If you do a big monthly shop, you’ll probably be writing the same list every month: washing powder, tinned tomatoes, rice, noodles and so on. For those, I would suggest another organising tool: the recurring list.

One list to bind them all

Instead of writing that same grocery list every month, I keep a master list in Excel (or Google Sheets) which I print whenever the dreaded Big Shop is due. Then we look in the cupboards and check the printed list: if we have enough washing powder, then it gets crossed off the list. If we need noodles (we always need noodles), it stays on the list.

Because we generally shop in the same supermarket, I also have the list organised to reflect the layout of the shop. For instance, there’s a category called “Side of Shop” which contains such varied items as frozen peas and bread because in our local Checkers, the bread is right next to the freezers where the frozen vegetables are kept.

If I find something in the shop that we need, and that is not on the list, I write in on the paper list in my hand. I keep that piece of paper and when I next print the list out, I add that item.

Other kinds of recurring lists

I have use for recurring lists: holidays.

I have a camping list and a self-catering list, because those are the two kinds of holidays we are likely to undertake.

Before each holiday, I print the appropriate list and stick it into a bulging hardcover book, which then goes on the kitchen table and is used as we get ready. The holiday book then goes in the car, and while we are on holiday any essential item we discover we need but didn’t pack gets written in the book. Back home, it gets added to the central list.

Dear reader, before we had these lists we once went camping without the duvet, and once managed to forget the tent pegs. With the lists, we have forgotten things – but never anything as vital as the tent pegs. (Though we did once leave the tent’s flysheet behind: we thought it was in the tent bag but it wasn’t).

It takes a little work to set up a recurring list the first time you do it, but over time they get more and more refined – until they feel like an old friend, just waiting to help you get things done.

And who doesn’t need one of those?

Main picture: David Ballew, Unsplash (the caption reads: It’s always fascinating to read a stranger’s shopping list. I found this one in the parking lot of my local Walmart in Carthage, Missouri. Between the odd assortment of items, the notepad from a New Orleans hotel, and the contrast of white paper on paint and asphalt, it made a really interesting picture.)

Contact me if you would like to chat about how I can help with all your organisational or communication needs (coaching, editing, writing, social media).

My business and personal theme for 2020: Abundance

April 2020 update: I wrote this post in February, when the world was as it was. Pre-pandemic and pre-lockdown and pre-catastophic economic meltdowns. The world is now a very different place, and I hesitated before sharing it, but I think it still has validity. The world has become a much smaller and scarier place for all of us, and much of that is out of our control. But we can control how we think about things. We can  hope for a better world, and give thanks for what we have now. There is still abundance, if we choose to look for it.
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A system for getting things done

Moleskine diary on desk

My Moleskine diary for 2018.

I have a working system for getting things done. It wasn’t always that way.

Years ago, going back to work after three years at home with a baby/toddler, I was overwhelmed.

I am widely thought of as an organised person, but being a working parent meant I needed to up my game. I started out with complex task lists in the systems that come bundled with Windows, and added similarly complex calendars that linked to my email and was still swamped (and spending a lot of time just maintaining the lists).

I went looking for help and Google found me Bill Westerman and his GSD system.
He says of his system:

I wrote it up and gave it a name: “Getting Sh-t Done”, or GSD. It’s quick, it’s dirty, and it doesn’t require a lot of preparation, special materials, or rigorous thinking.

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Shoes – yes, shoes – are a freelancer’s most important tool

Freelancer tools: Dog, shoes, gas heater

A freelancer’s essentials: a dog, a heater and pair of sturdy boots.

Years ago, when I both a freelancer and immersed in the chaotic life induced by having a small child in the house, I complained to a friend about how I couldn’t find something in my kitchen (or, in fact, anything in my home, most of the time).

Flylady, she said. You need Flylady.

So I looked up Flylady, signed up for her emails and slowly, slowly, regained my organised life.

Most South Africans have never heard of Flylady. She is Marla Cilley, who lives in the United States, and runs an email service aimed at helping people deal with clutter and getting their homes more organised. Her business model is based on selling cleaning tools and organising aids, like a fabulous calendar, so that her website and emails remain free. She offers gently bossy advice, systems thinking and a sense of humour. (FLY stands for Finally Loving Yourself). Continue reading

Things I have learned from being retrenched (twice)

In 2002 I was at last pregnant.
After two years of fertility treatment, we had done it. Things were going well. We owned our own house, our relationship was strong, I had a good job. I was worried about how I was going to manage a baby and a career but I thought I would figure it out.
That was not how it was going to pan out, though.
At about the six or seven months mark of my pregnancy, I found myself in the boss’s office being told that my job was being made redundant. I was given a good package and a generous baby shower, and shown the door.
My therapist was a little unsympathetic, pointing out that being retrenched was not as bad as, say, losing a baby. With hindsight, she was of course right.
But retrenchment is not nothing, either. Continue reading

When breakfast becomes deskfast

Plates of food and mug next to a laptop

Breakfast at your desk. Picture: StockSnap, Pixabay

I ate breakfast at my desk today, as I have done on most work days for the last 20 years or more.

This is because of the odd hours dictated by work in online news (and, where they still exist, by afternoon newspapers). And these odd hours are one of the things that most people don’t grasp about journalism… that in order for there to be something to read, someone has to have been up and about making that something to read.

Years ago, an acquaintance was expressing outrage that his morning newspaper was not going to be available on December 26. When I pointed out that for there to be a newspaper on December 26, people would have had to be working on December 25, he was genuinely taken aback. He had never thought about what it takes to make a newspaper.

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