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Learning, Backwards.

Something clicked this year.

I was working my tail off on projects around the home (the studio, mostly) and adding other projects on top of unfinished items – for example, Exhibit A, the console table. At the end of my work day, I’d find myself feeling unsettled; it seemed nothing was getting completed to the fullest. I was pulling myself in ten directions, poorly multi-tasking and I self-induced my own crazies. If I wasn’t working, I was thinking about work – what I didn’t do and what I needed to do tomorrow.

I like to work, and I’m always going to want to make or do something new – case in point, the living room. I enjoy a full plate (edit: I thrive on it), and that’s okay.

But when it comes to juggling work vs. down time, Scott is always so calm, so collected. (This, among countless other things, is why I love him so.) He’s unflappable, and I wanted that, too. I wanted to relish in my down time, like him. I wanted to allow myself down time, period. When he would see my mind wander, he would ask me if I ended the work day by re-evaluating my lists (rather than stew on ideas late into the evening), and had I kept them do-able? He’d remind me to break my list up into smaller tasks, prioritize, and if the least important items didn’t get done – if those last 3 to dos don’t get the big check mark – in the grand scheme of things, what would happen?

Nothing, really.

He’s told me this many, many times in our 9 years together. And after a mid-week concert a few months ago, I allowed myself the next morning off. We went to breakfast, we enjoyed a moment of unexpected down time together, and when I inevitably felt rushed to get back to the studio, he reminded me again: What have you lost in the last 2 hours? Enjoy this time we have right now.

Finally, 30 years in the making, it clicked. It was my own little a-ha! moment. Is it because I was ready to listen? To learn? Isn’t that what they say?

I’m trying this, oh, new thing where I work to my fullest during the day, and I relax, have fun and unwind (to the fullest!) when I close my studio door. I still have big, long lists, but if something isn’t done by my imaginary deadline, so far, life has gone on. One thing at a time, then move to the next. I’m stepping back and un-learning how to multi-task. It’s learning again, but backwards.

My productivity ebbs and flows and some days are better than others – just like everyone else. And after months of giving this thing a good, hard effort, my balanced days are starting to far outweigh the frazzled ones. (Scott, do you agree?)

How do you handle your long lists and self-induced frazzles?

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  • Claudia7.13.12 - 7:33 AM

    Kim, this is something I’m working on too – I’m on a mission to stop multitasking – to focus on the one thing I’m doing NOW, and not to make mental lists or think about what comes next. This means that I can only do the one thing I care about at a time, not multiple half-assed efforts at once. I also have a husband who inherently does this and is trying (after 12 years) to influence me to chill out!ReplyCancel

  • Julia [Chris Loves Julia]7.13.12 - 8:43 AM

    Oh Kim. I started following your blog a few months ago because I felt connected to you and your blog (all the way down to the way it looks) inspired me. You have been my virtual and artistic mentor. Secretly, I guess. Haha. I am an artist myself and run a little home design blog, we even recently finished up my studio!

    http://www.chrislovesjulia.com/2012/06/stale-nursery-to-lively-studio-reveal.html

    This post is exactly what I needed to hear. Some nights…errr most nights, Chris comes home and we get our little girl in bed and he asks, “What’s on the list tonight.” And I ramble off at least 3 things I need to, NEED to, get done. And I feel bad. And then the thing that I love so much started turning into something I dread. And I realized I needed to take a step back. Just like you. I just need to learn how to enjoy down time. And that it is okay.

    Anyway, all that to say–thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Kim7.13.12 - 8:55 AM

    Claudia, our husbands are such smarties!

    Julia, I just left a comment on your studio, but I’ll say it again – it’s SO beautiful! That painted ceiling is to die for, and I’ve always loved those Flor tiles (we’re thinking of Flor for our living room rug now). Funny, I say Sophistikat was a potential option, too. Great minds think alike, right?

    Learning to enjoy the downtime can certainly be hard, and it sounds like (and from what I can see in your blog) that you totally get it. One step at a time, but we’ll get there! I’m getting closer all the time.

    OH, and somehow I ended up on your Etsy page yesterday. You’re a wonderful artist and inspiring in your own right, lady!ReplyCancel

  • jenn aka the picky girl7.13.12 - 9:24 AM

    I teach during the day, and then in the afternoons/evenings I go home and eat lunch (very late), go to the gym, then come home and edit. Teaching doesn’t pay well, so I edit on the side. I’m working all the time. I love my book blog, but when I’m done with all the work, I write, which, even though I loved to do it, is more of the same.

    Last weekend, I crashed. I was so tired. I was so down. And I realized, I can’t keep doing this. I need a schedule. I need to stick to it. I need to be able to enjoy my life and not feel guilty when I’m NOT working. So thanks for reinforcing that I need to make my plans and get to it.ReplyCancel

  • katie7.13.12 - 9:34 AM

    i could have written this post! well, not as nicely as you did, but i have been feeling the same thing lately. so thank you for putting it in to words :-)

    i think it’s so easy to get caught up in “whats next” and sometimes forget to just be in the moment. i am a huge multi-tasker, and it was always something i was proud of. but lately i’ve also realized that a lot of times, things weren’t getting fully complete, or i’m so frantically trying to do a billion things that i don’t even get satisfaction from checking things off the list.

    so i’ve been trying to only take on one or two big tasks at a time. in the spring i decided to spend 3 months focused on doing p90x and working on our kitchen remodel. and now that i’m done with those things, i’m focusing on studying for my next architecture test. once i realized it was ok to wait on a few items on the “to do” list, i instantly felt better.

    now i just need to be able to keep it up… good luck to you!ReplyCancel

  • Scott7.13.12 - 9:34 AM

    Yay for downtime! For all you Husbands out there, helping Kim to realize the importance of the work-life balance has made us BOTH happier and more easy-going. I encourage you to assist your ladies, if necessary.

    As my Training Director at my 9 to 5 is so fond of saying; “Work at work! Home at home!”ReplyCancel

  • Kim7.13.12 - 10:13 AM

    Jenn, we’ll work on this effort together! I’ve crashed in the past, too, and while it feels good at the time, I have guilt later. Down days are so, so necessary, but they feel better if you know you’ve earned it – as opposed to just crashing, hard.

    Katie, you make a good point. I remember interviewing for jobs out of college, and my ability to multi-task was a major selling point. Like saying, “hire me! I can do everything!”

    We’re also trying to do only 1-2 projects at time. First it was the studio remodel, then it was The Pet Shop site remodel. Now we’re working on a few new products for the Shop (including drawings and pillows!), and we’d like to give this blog a tiny makeover to match it’s newer, sleeker Shop counterpart.

    BUT! Not all at once.

    Scott, I love you!ReplyCancel

  • Jane Davila7.13.12 - 2:34 PM

    I think this is something that all of us in creative fields struggle with. It’s all made worse when you work at home and you’re self-employed, because the work is always there and the guilt or anxiety to get through the to-do lists never gets “left at the office” since the office is usually in the next room. I have a friend who is one of the most centered and present people I know and she gave me a great tip – and when I actually implement it the day goes so much better. She starts off each day by looking at her to-do list and deciding which of the things listed are her three MITs (Most Important Things). If you can focus on getting your 3 MITs done, then the rest is gravy. And if those are done then you can relax at the end of the day without guilt. My days get out of control and stressful when I don’t do start this way or when I start with more than 3 MITs. I’m also trying really, really hard to step away from work on the weekends, although that only happens about 40% of the time. I think we all have to remind ourselves to take a break when we need to, refill the well when we feel depleted, and be present as much as we can.ReplyCancel

  • Kim7.13.12 - 4:24 PM

    Jane, I like the idea of 3 MITs. That’s a good rounded number, and I’ll see if I can implement the idea in the coming work week. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • ann7.13.12 - 4:42 PM

    Kim – I’m happy that this is working for you. Dare I say that Scott is a lot like his father as far as chill time?ReplyCancel

  • Kim7.13.12 - 4:58 PM

    Ann, yes, that sounds about right!ReplyCancel

  • Heather {ModernMealsforTwo}7.16.12 - 11:29 AM

    I also have to take cues from Hubster and cut my INSANE list of to dos once in a while. Judging by the comments above, we’re not alone in the need to feel like we’ve rung every bit of productivity out of every day.

    I think a lot of it comes from building a business. When you start it and are still working you really have to put in a lot of time. It’s hard to know when to throttle back and enjoy the time you have.

    Random days off and breakfast on a weekday are a good start :)ReplyCancel

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