Why and How to Keep Important Things in Order
Let me tell you a story.
“He Sleeps in a Storm” from a sermon by Rabbi Albert Lewis, 1975, as read in “Have a Little Faith” (page 93) by Mitch Albom.
A man seeks employment on a farm. He hands his letter of recommendation to his new employer. It reads simply, He sleeps in a storm.
The owner is desperate for help, so he hires the man.
Several weeks pass, and suddenly, in the middle of the night, a powerful storm rips through the valley. Awakened by the swirling rain and howling wind, the owner leaps out of bed. He calls for his new hired hand, but the man is sleeping soundly.
So he dashes off to the barn. He sees, to his amazement, that the animals are secure with plenty of feed. He runs out to the field. He sees the bales of wheat have been bound and wrapped in tarpaulins. He races to the silo. The doors are latched, and the grain is dry.
And then he understands. He sleeps in a storm.
If we tend to the important things of life and behave in line with our principles, our lives will not throb with unfulfilled businesses. We will never wallow in the agony pool of I could have, I should have, I might have… We can sleep in a storm.
This above short tale is neither as funny as a Wodehouse novel nor as thrilling as Superman DC comic books. But the more I read this story the more I get inspired to stay ahead of life. I also want to sleep in a storm. Well, who doesn’t?
I have been taking care of at least some of the life matters regularly.
Whenever rain pours over Bengaluru(or wherever I’m traveling), I have already brought my laundry inside the house(or my room). I don’t have to rush to the balcony at the last minute, soaking and slipping. And these are the days when I switch the geyser on when I go for my morning run. For power is unpredictable in rainy Bengaluru and I don’t want to shower in cold water, or worse, wait sweaty while the best thriller story leaves me for I haven’t sat down to write yet.
For some different kinds of rainy days, I always have unfinished drafts on my WordPress blog which I can turn into long articles rather than starting from scratch. When I do end up editing articles all day long and finally get to dinner, I chop extra onions and tomatoes along with the regular okra and eggplants. The next day I might be finishing an essay at dinner time and those chunky tomatoes and long onions help me whip up juicy spaghetti or prawns Thai Red Curry quickly.
I prioritize basics over everything else to keep my life in order.
Fixing a hung laptop takes precedence over the day’s tasks for a slow machine would make me pull half my hair. I visit the dentist regularly. I keep my power banks charged. I travel with insurance.
Insurance aside, I care for my mental and physical health on an ongoing basis and never leave them for year-end resolutions. Last year I postponed an important project to do a ten-day Vipassana course in which I handed over my phone, computer, and Kindle in exchange for meditating 16 hours a day in the Himalayas.
If something can infiltrate my life negatively, I keep it under check.
The idea is to keep our things going smoothly so we don’t have to worry about an issue popping up announced.
And I am not a superwoman who does everything perfectly and is now boring you with her flawless lifestyle. But I have been using the superpowers of habits for the past few years.
I will soon tell you how we can incorporate tiny good things into our daily routine to put our life on autopilot.
But you might say, hey, all these things are so small. I don’t care if I have charged power-banks or clean laundry. Who chops vegetables for tomorrow’s dinner today? Are you mad? Lady, you are talking some crazy sh*t.
I hear you.
Enough about the sculptured segments of my life that make me look like a disciplined maniac. I can prove that the only way to stay sane and comfortable is by doing the smallest things right and sometimes doing them before time.
Shall I tell you about the time when I got my periods in a small hotel while I was on a multi-day religious bus trip with my parents(don’t ask me why). I wasn’t carrying any sanitary napkins. It wasn’t until 3 pm the next day when I could replace the temporary pad my mother had made from the mattresses’ cotton with a normal sanitary pad. Imagine the discomfort and the unsealed bloodshed while I walked through the greatest Indian temples.
But the discomfort was nothing as compared to the time when I procrastinated paying my credit card bill that I ended up paying a hundred dollars in interest.
Let us also blame procrastination for the times when I don’t withdraw cash or fill my fuel tank on road trips. While we drive through rural Indian villages and go off-road on to obscure steep mud paths and the fuel sign blinks and we are cashless, we can only pray that a villager would be kind enough to give us some petrol in exchange for our kidneys.
And about those dentist visits, I can say that once I couldn’t feel my mouth due to bleeding gums in the middle of nowhere in South America with a religious vacation shutting down all dental clinics. Since then, the dentist first, the husband later.
Preparing ahead is not boring or uncool but our readiness makes life easier and us cooler. Like publishing on my blog regularly and lending a power bank to someone in need and having sanitary napkins when I bleed. Otherwise even the universe wouldn’t be able to save me from forgotten periods, unpaid bills, and empty fuel tanks.
Jokes aside, small things are small. But tiny things matter, sometimes even more than bigger stuff.
Big tsunamis come once in a while and are, mostly, out of our control. But small tremors come frequently — especially when we expect them the least. These trembles aren’t so strong that they would shake us up but not so weak either that we wouldn’t notice them.
Running on low petrol on steep rocky paths through the wilderness could be dangerous. Paying a credit card bill on time is not as important as finding the right job but it might cost thousands of dollars over the years.
The Domingo of small issues fall one after another and we feel that the world is stacked against us. When things go wrong, the what-ifs hang above our heads while we try to get the situation under control.
How we react to small issues also adds to the worry.
Daniel Gilbert describes our reactions to smaller setbacks in his book Stumbling Upon Happiness¹.
Daniel says that our psychological immune system protects us from the aftermath of big tragedies, such as a close one’s death or a job loss, by giving us a positive view of the situation so that we can recover. But the small problems may bother us more and for longer as our immune system doesn’t help us in dealing with tiny issues.
If you are that underdog who can rise above a situation and handle it calmly, then you do not need to pre-plan. Instead, you should wait for storms to show us all that you are the one who will eventually save Gotham. But if you lose a sense of control and panic when things fall apart, then try being ever-ready for the storm.
Related Read: My personal development ideas and introduction to the topic might also help.
Let us see how we can keep our crucial things in order.
Break up the four big pillars of your life — health, work, relationships, and regular chores that keep life running — into smaller manageable chunks and task items.
We need to disintegrate these important pillars into smaller items.
Start by asking the right questions.
Does your relationship suffer because you work overtime? Does your ceiling has seepage? Is your laptop charger fidgety? Have you been waiting to change your job? Do you have pyorrhea but you haven’t visited the dentist yet?
I’m sorry about the last one.
Make a list of important items. Check-up routines, insurance, phone calls, friend meetups, developing new skills, house chores, eating more pomegranate because you are anemic — things that are vital to you to live a good life.
It is your list, go crazy.
Sort the items by priority. Pick the top five or as many as you can do. You will overestimate at first but you can go back and shrink the list if you feel overwhelmed. Don’t worry about the things you cannot pick now for they will marinate in your mind.
And if you think that avoiding the dentist’s visit or fixing a computer would save you time that you do not seem to have right now, then think again. Delaying the essential tasks would not only cost you more time but more energy, money, and peace of mind when you finally get to them amidst the chaos.
Ignore the iCloud space-full notification the next time, update your iOS, and risk losing all your notes (speaking from experience). Or get up famished from work at 7 in the night, with none of the dinner ingredients ready, and realize that the business suit you needed tomorrow is drenched in the balcony with other clothes.
Related Read: Here are 23 Small Habits that I recommend including in your daily schedule.
2. Build these small things into your routine.
Include the chosen activities in your daily routine. Start small. Even a one percent increment every day can make anything 37 times better in a year.
Exercise could be ten minutes, calling an old friend every other day would stop taking so much time after the first conversation, a dentist visit or formatting a laptop would take half an hour or an hour every once in a while.
Fixing a broken window glass could literally act as your windshield in the storm.
Let it be your inspiration that willpower is overrated, habits work.
This don’t-leave-things-for-the-last-minute and do-things-ahead-of-time is a life lesson I have learned from my mother.
But she had taught me something even more important. More often than not I see her obsessing over a task to a point where doing the activity beforehand becomes stressful thus making the pre-planning (directed towards the end goal of staying peaceful) futile.
Pre-plan, include your important things in your daily routine, but don’t obsess so much over getting things done that you rage a storm every day in order to sleep during one a week later. It is that same vicious circle of not being able to sleep while thinking about sleeping as quickly as possible which in turn makes it harder to doze off.
We should live every day as it is our last day is sound advice but mostly not practical. Instead, we should live every day as we have a beautiful life ahead that we have to be prepared for.
Start now. Start small.
Recommended Read: All My Life Learnings: Everything I’ve learned so far
1 — “The psychological immune system is a defensive system, and it obeys this same principle. When experiences make us feel sufficiently unhappy, the psychological immune system cooks facts and shifts blame in order to offer us a more positive view. But it doesn’t do this every time we feel the slightest tingle of sadness, jealousy, anger, or frustration. Failed marriages and lost jobs are the kinds of large-scale assaults on our happiness that trigger our psychological defences, but these defences are not triggered by broken pencils, stubbed toes, or slow elevators. Broken pencils may be annoying, but they do not pose a grave threat to our psychological well-being and hence do not trigger our psychological defences. The paradoxical consequence of this fact is that it is sometimes more difficult to achieve a positive view of a bad experience than a very bad experience.” From Stumbling Upon Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.[Go back]
Feature Image Courtesy: Winslow Homer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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