It’s 6am and I’ve just fed our two month old daughter, gone up, made myself a cup of coffee and opened my computer. It’s still dark outside and everything is peaceful.
Early mornings are my favourite time of the day. Before our little girl was born, and before I fell pregnant, I used to get up early, go for a run or simply start my working day at that time when the world outside is still quite and asleep. I didn’t have a set morning routine and took the day as it came but at the start of this year when I’d just found out I was pregnant I needed a way to focus my day and get it off to a good start.
Finding out I was l pregnant was a good thing. It was planned yet a bit of a shock and my body and mind responded straight away. Nausea, tiredness and a few other uncomfortable bodily things. Then there were all the thoughts that ran through my head, from sadness about being far away from family and friends to will we be ok financially and how will I get everything done before the baby arrives, and could we keep on living in our flat, or did we have to sell or move? I’m not usually the worrying kind but the sudden changes I was feeling in my body, the hard 9 months deadline, or rather 8 months as it was then, combined with the intense love that I felt for the life that was growing inside me but also the feeling of being powerless in keeping him or her safe and healthy… it was slightly overwhelming at times. I struggled to stay positive and focused and my usual outlet to clear my body and mind of going for a hard tempo run or giving the boxing bag down at the gym a good pounding wasn’t an option anymore.
How I start off the day has always been important to me. I love reading articles about morning routines and as being mentally and physically healthy became even more of a priority with a tiny person growing inside me, I decided to give a more structured routine a go to find a way to help me tackle the worries and thoughts, to focus on the positives and to get the important things and as much of everything else done as possible. I bought a new notebook that I called ‘Daily notes’ and decided to give each day a page and divide it in three parts.
Part 1: Tackling worries by visualising the day ahead
The first thing I wrote down at the top of a new page each day was how I wanted the day to turn out and how I wanted to feel. As the mind doesn’t acknowledge negatives I wrote down everything as positives. Just try not to imagine a yellow elephant. Sneaky huh? Simple things like writing that I felt in control or at peace in relation to what ever it was that was worrying me helped calm my feelings and also made me feel that how I wanted things to be was a possibility. It got me excited and fuelled me with “I can do this” energy and whenever the worries came back throughout the day, I’d turn to what I’d written down and refocus.
Part 2: Focusing on the positives by capturing what I’m grateful for
Below the written visualisation of how my day would be I wrote down things that I was grateful for as a list. This was a mixture of the little and big things that give me joy in general and with the day ahead. Just as with the day visualisation I also used this section to address what I felt negative or worried about by finding the positive angle on it. For example, as one freelance contract was in flux and I was worried about not having any paid work the week ahead I wrote down how I was grateful for the flexibility in my work and that I could use any downtime for my book and UX courses.
Before moving on to the last part I would read through my day visualisation and the things I was grateful for as a way to reinforce it in my mind but also as a way to give me focus ahead of the next bit.
Part 3: Prioritising my day with a to-do list
The last thing I captured was what I needed to get done in the day, both work and “life” wise. The simple act of writing everything down made me feel more in control and that I had an overview of what I needed and wanted to get done. There are those who advocate just writing down for example the five most important things but I didn’t put a filter on it as most days would have more than five things. Instead I wrote down what came to mind and once I had my list I’d go through and circle the most important things to ensure that I was clear and focused on what was actually a priority for the day ahead. Not everything is equally important or has to be done that day but can actually wait. Even though I wanted to tick off everything on my list, I made peace with myself that those things that were less of a priority and could wait might not get ticked off at the end of each day and how that would be ok. Sometimes I’d write them down again the next day. Other times I’d go back over previous days and tick them off. I wasn’t too strict here but focused on getting things done.
I’d occasionally used this method before but this time I stuck with it for most days and it made a huge difference. The first few weeks of pregnancy was still a struggle as I felt terrible and didn’t get as much done as a result, which if you’re a progress driven do’er isn’t great for motivation. However, it helped calm my thoughts and focused my mind. Throughout the rest of my pregnancy this method worked a treat for me. I noticed a significant change in my mental state and I became more mindful of my day and my thoughts and I did get more of the important things done.
As pregnancy became a joy rather than a worry my daily visualisations and what I was grateful for increasingly revolved around work and life matters, from managing stress with project work and mentally preparing for the conference talks I was booked in for to the day to day things.
There’ll always be things that steal our attention and play on our mind. With an increasing number of distractions and to-dos that pull us in all sorts of directions, having a way to help manage it all can do wonders and this way worked for me.