New year, new…?

So, as I write this, it’s 13th January. How are we all doing so far? How many resolutions have you already thrown in the bin or accidentally (or deliberately) revoked? How many puns on the word ‘January’ have you seen to try to get you to do something, or stop doing something, to better yourself or the rest of the planet? And – be honest now – how much chocolate have you eaten?

I got back from my holidays last Wednesday lunchtime to a series of busy inboxes which I’d be studiously ignoring for the week. (Great joys of freelancing include having five inboxes rather than just one. And yes, I could have them all arrive in a single account but frankly I prefer facing them in bits than giving myself a nervous breakdown by looking at the combined ‘unread’ total after some time off.) I’ve made a lot of lists. I’ve even made a few resolutions, though obviously I won’t be telling you what they are, else there’ll be actual documentary evidence that I made them. One has to be careful about such things.

And this very afternoon, amidst the usual run of endlessly depressing new stories about the British government continuing to make a hash of everything (some things, alas, don’t reset on 1st January), Facebook was kind enough to provide a sweet little inspirational message which seemed to me like the best kind of advice for the start of a new year that I could possibly imagine. It says:

Reminder to everyone that “your best” doesn’t mean pushing yourself to your breaking point. “Your best” means the best you can do while being the best you. Get enough sleep, give yourself breaks, listen to your limits. “Your best” is better when you’re happy and healthy.

New years are almost always an excuse to come up with new ideas about how you might want to run your life: things you want to try that you’ve never done before, things you want to stop doing that you know aren’t good and wish to change, and so on. In the desperate scramble to set yourself up as the Most Noble Healthy-Eating Environmentally Aware Balanced Human you know, certain things tend to get forgotten. Getting new regimes to stick is difficult, for one thing. And the busier life gets, the easier it is to drop things on the way.

Open day planner

But the big one for me, I know – and it’s something I get a little better at with every passing year, so that’s encouraging – is remembering to leave enough time to eat, sleep, rest, walk, spend time with friends and just breathe. Exciting projects and ideas land in my various inboxes with enormously cheering regularity. Flattering invitations from swanky venues. Intriguing proposals for research projects. If I said yes to all of them, I’d be absolutely incoherent by Easter. And something else would get lost, too: time to find out what I actually want to do, when people are suggesting things for me.

So in the spirit of ensuring that 2019, whatever ghastly international developments it may bring, doesn’t actually floor us all at the first hurdle, I’m suggesting three basic premises for the year. Which are:

  1. Time off every week. NO excuses. This must be a minimum of half a day and it can only go that low in times of dire emergency. One day as standard. Two days as often as humanly possible. And ‘off’, to clarify, doesn’t mean the time in which you do any chores you didn’t fit into weeknights. It doesn’t include grocery shopping, collecting dry-cleaning, getting the car serviced, or any of those things. It means nothing that can be described as a useful job, at all.
  2. Food has to be nice, and not just functional, at least one meal a day. I’m sure we’ve all done that thing of grabbing the nearest item which could vaguely be described as ‘breakfast’ in an early-morning stupor, and lunch can be in danger of becoming an automated fuel recharge on dull (and probably unhealthy) things you can easily get in the nearest corner shop. But once a day at least, something nice. Something tasty, ideally healthy and good, which you actually have enough time to eat slowly and contentedly.
  3. Once a week, consider your options. One of the things I love best about my life – though I know others can find the concept of it quite stressful! – is that I am constantly reassessing the balance between the different strands of my career and considering if it’s time to drop some, expand others, seek out new ones, and so on. I always have one eye on the bigger picture, work-wise. But it might be something rather smaller that occupies your time. Did you have a good week? Was there a rubbish bit? Is it likely to happen again, and how could you avoid it? Is there something you wished you’d done but didn’t, or something you’ve spotted that’s happening in the future, that you’d like to go to? Take a little time, let’s say on a weekly basis, to mull it over.

You’ll notice that none of these things seem outrageously ambitious. In fact, you might be looking at some of them and feeling slightly horrified that they’re on the list at all as a potential ‘target’. But the point is, they’re all achievable, sustainable and helpful. And at root, they’re all about one thing: don’t let The New Year be the only time you take, between now and the summer holidays, to think about where you’re at, and what the day-to-day – and bigger picture – actually looks like. Little, often, and gently does it.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and see about those resolutions. And then make something nice for dinner.

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