GET YOUR SHOT to­gether

Sarah Knight, the best­selling au­thor of The Life-Chang­ing Magic of Not Giv­ing a F**k, is back with her sec­ond book, snap­pily en­ti­tled Get Your Sh*t To­gether. This time, it’s about ‘how to stop wor­ry­ing about what you should do so you can fin­ish what you n

Fairlady - - GOOD ADVICE - By Liesl Robert­son

Sarah wants to get one thing straight right off the bat: Get

Your Sh*t To­gether is not a self-help book. ‘It’s more of a let-me-help-youhelp-your­self book, with “me” here to “help” when your “self” gets in the way.’ She also warns that she has a ten­dency to swear ‘so please do not go on Ama­zon say­ing you were ex­pect­ing sun­shine and kit­tens and got shit­storms and shit­tens’. It up­sets Sarah’s mom when peo­ple don’t ‘get’ her.

So what’s the book about? It’s a ‘one-stop shop for tidy­ing your mind, and mak­ing your life eas­ier and better’, says Sarah. ‘Get your shit to­gether’ is not an ad­mon­ish­ment – it’s a ral­ly­ing cry. ‘Do you ever find your­self… just glued to the couch – when what you really want is to get out (for once), get to the gym (at last), or get started on that “some­day” project that’s been hang­ing out on your to-do list since, oh… the be­gin­ning of time?’

This book is about hoist­ing your­self out of a rut, whether you’re an ‘over­whelmed un­der­achiever’ or a ‘high-func­tion­ing bas­ket case’.

‘As it hap­pens I’ve had some suc­cess help­ing peo­ple make changes in their lives us­ing sim­ple ad­vice, a bunch of ex­ple­tives and the oc­ca­sional flow chart,’ she writes.

Af­ter climb­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der at a pub­lish­ing house, Sarah was one such in-need per­son, and came to a re­al­i­sa­tion: this was not what she wanted any more. So, over the course of a year, she set her bit-by-bit plan in mo­tion to save money to leave her job and move to the Do­mini­can Repub­lic with her hus­band. (She wrote her first book dur­ing that time.) ‘Al­though I’ll tell you how I did it… I prom­ise this book isn’t just a thinly dis­guised guide to quit­ting your job and mov­ing to the is­lands – I’m not sit­ting here try­ing to push my life choices on you like some god­damn ve­gan. Win­ning is get­ting what you want out of your time on Planet Earth, what­ever that en­tails.’

The three-point plan

Let’s say you are bored and frus­trated at work. The ob­vi­ous strat­egy is to get a new job, but here’s where it gets com­pli­cated. ‘To get your­self a new gig you have to ap­ply and in­ter­view, and be­fore that you have to re­search places you might want to work and con­tact a head­hunter, and be­fore that you prob­a­bly have to pol­ish your CV and be­fore that – WHOA, SET­TLE DOWN THERE, BUDDY, THIS IS ALL TOO MUCH FOR ME. I’M OVER­WHELMED!’ In­stead, says Sarah, all you need to fo­cus on is Step 1 – which is ‘Up­date CV’. ‘Set aside an hour on Satur­day for CV up­dat­ing,’ says Sarah. ‘Do not go out for dough­nuts, do not click on the

Daily Mail’s side­bar of shame or check the ten­nis scores.’

The key to get­ting any­thing done, she says, is to do it bit by bit. ‘In this way, life is like an adult colour­ing book. You sim­ply work your way through each sec­tion un­til the big picture ma­te­ri­alises be­fore you.’

Sarah’s ba­sic three-point plan can be ap­plied to al­most any­thing.

1. Strate­gise: ‘Set a goal and make a plan to achieve that goal in a se­ries of small, man­age­able chunks.’ What do you want to change in your life – and how are you go­ing to get there? Some­times this in­volves fo­cus­ing on what’s an­noy­ing you, rather than

try­ing to fig­ure out what will make you happy. (More on that later.)

2. Fo­cus: Sched­ule it! ‘Set aside time to com­plete each chunk.’

3. Com­mit: Chip away at the task you’ve set your­self. ‘Do what you need to do to check off your chunks.’

‘Get­ting your shit to­gether for the big stuff is just get­ting your shit to­gether for a bunch of small stuff, over time,’ says Sarah. The power of neg­a­tive think­ing Sarah’s ad­vice to fig­ur­ing out what you want is the op­po­site of find­ing your joy – it’s ‘fo­cus­ing on the an­noy’. ‘In­stead of day­dream­ing about

a the­o­ret­i­cal fu­ture of be­ing richer, thin­ner or ti­dier, fo­cus on NOT be­ing broke, fat and messy in the here and

now. Goal set­ting doesn’t have to be about aspir­ing to be what you want to be so much as putting an end to what you don’t want to be,’ she says.

By fo­cus­ing on the neg­a­tives in her life (those that made her an­gry, frus­trated and sad) she was able to fig­ure out what she didn’t want: to work in a cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment, to spend her days do­ing a job she didn’t like and to live in a cold cli­mate with end­less win­ters. ‘Rather than chas­ing those pretty, as­pi­ra­tional but­ter­flies that have long seemed to hover just out of reach, stomp a few un­sightly cock­roaches that are right there on the floor in front of you,’ she writes.

Time man­age­ment

‘For peo­ple who don’t have their shit to­gether, there never seems to be enough time. Too much on the to-do list, too few hours in the day.’ This is where time man­age­ment comes in and the first step is look­ing long and hard at how you spend your time. Have you ever mes­saged some­one, ‘See you there in 15 min,’ even though you still had to have a shower, wash your hair, get dressed and do your makeup? She’s talk­ing to you. ‘Af­ter care­ful and com­pletely un­sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tion of friends who have “poor time-man­age­ment skills” I came to re­alise they share a com­mon trait – and it’s not that they en­joy keep­ing me wait­ing or they don’t own a clock,’ she writes. ‘It’s that they don’t ac­tu­ally know how long it takes to do any­thing.’

Sarah sug­gests tim­ing your­self as you do ev­ery­day tasks. Time your ‘get­ting ready in the morn­ing’ tasks for a week – you’ll prob­a­bly be gob­s­macked to learn how long your ‘10-minute rou­tine’ really takes. ‘When you’re star­ing at your times and are forced to con­front re­al­ity you’ll have no more ex­cuses to – as Ge­orge W Bush might say – mis­un­der­es­ti­mate the time it takes to per­form your morn­ing ablu­tions.’

Once you have a more re­al­is­tic con­cept of how long things take, your time man­age­ment will im­prove.

To op­ti­mise your time man­age­ment there are two com­pet­ing forces you need to learn to wran­gle: pri­ori­ti­sa­tion (your best friend) and pro­cras­ti­na­tion (your worst en­emy). Pri­ori­ti­sa­tion is key for get­ting things done. Mak­ing a to-do list is half the bat­tle; pri­ori­ti­sa­tion helps you whit­tle it down into man­age­able chunks.

‘I use a run­ning to-do list as a catch-all for ev­ery­thing I know I have to do in the near fu­ture,’ says Sarah. From there she re­jigs the list, tak­ing into ac­count how much time she has for each task and list­ing the items from most press­ing to least ur­gent. Then, on a fresh sheet of paper, she makes a must-do list for each day: ‘what truly, madly, deeply has to get done TO­DAY’.

That list is much shorter and more man­age­able but this is typ­i­cally when the other ‘P’ comes into play, just to throw you off course: pro­cras­ti­na­tion. It’s time for some real talk. ‘Any­one who says the big­gest rea­son they can’t get any­thing done is be­cause they have “too many things” on their to-do list prob­a­bly has too many things on said list be­cause they keep post­pon­ing do­ing any of them and the list just gets longer and longer,’ says Sarah. Al­ter­na­tively, you spent your time do­ing all the low-pri­or­ity stuff on your list and now the high-pri­or­ity stuff has turned into a cri­sis.

Sarah sug­gests keep­ing a ‘pro­cras­ti­na­tion jour­nal’ to help you get to grips with how much time you spend pro­cras­ti­nat­ing, and to help you curb your time-wast­ing habits – much like a food jour­nal helps you to stop mind­less snack­ing. In sol­i­dar­ity, she even made one of her own on a day that she was sup­posed to be writ­ing. Her list in­cludes en­deav­ours such as ‘watched Ocean’s Eleven for the 50th time’, ‘re­searched var­i­ous skin con­di­tions I might have’ and ‘con­tem­plated the divin­ity of He­len Mir­ren’.

Man­ag­ing re­la­tion­ships

All your re­la­tion­ships, says Sarah, can be di­vided into one of three cat­e­gories: main­tain, im­prove or dis­solve.‘ Main­tain­ing or im­prov­ing re­quires some ef­fort,’ she writes. ‘Of course, you can’t fo­cus or com­mit to any­body if you’re never avail­able, which is why you have to pri­ori­tise see­ing and talk­ing to these folks in the first place.’

Putting time and ef­fort into main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships can be hard, es­pe­cially when dis­tance, kids and fam­ily obli­ga­tions start to take up more and more of your time. At some point you also need to ask your­self: is this re­la­tion­ship still worth in­vest­ing in or do you need to start starv­ing it of at­ten­tion?

‘It’s per­fectly nat­u­ral for some friend­ships to fall by the way­side at any stage of life,’ writes Sarah. ‘The chal­lenge is main­tain­ing (or im­prov­ing) the ones that are im­por­tant to you.’ Sarah ad­mits it’s hard to pri­ori­tise her friends when dead­lines are loom­ing, so she keeps a run­ning list of ‘all the fine peeps I’ve been putting off’ – not be­cause she would for­get that they ex­isted, oth­er­wise, but as a vis­ual re­minder that ‘not only do I want to see them, I need to make time for it’.

With fam­ily, of course, its usu­ally more com­pli­cated, but Sarah rec­om­mends think­ing of your fam­ily re­la­tion­ships as you would your leg hair. (Bear with me, it does ac­tu­ally make sense.) ‘You don’t want things to get all prickly, so ev­ery few days you take a ra­zor to it for 10 minutes (a light email or quick call), or once a month you visit a stern Pol­ish lady who spends half an hour rip­ping it out from the fol­li­cles (Skype).’

Your re­la­tion­ship with your part­ner is a dif­fer­ent story al­to­gether. Sarah takes an un­ortho­dox ap­proach: she treats her re­la­tion­ship with her sig­nif­i­cant other like a com­pe­ti­tion. ‘It’s all about be­ing the best part­ner you can be, back and forth, in per­pe­tu­ity. Like a re­la­tion­ship re­lay. Who can be nicer, more help­ful or more lov­ing on any given day?’ It’s not al­ways easy, but her ‘on­go­ing ri­valry’ with her hus­band means less time is spent on petty dis­agree­ments and more time goes into de­vis­ing more lit­tle ways to do nice things for each other. ‘It’s hard to stay mad at some­one who spon­ta­neously rubs your feet twice a week,’ she jokes.

The ben­e­fits of be­ing self­ish

Af­ter her first book, The Life-Chang­ing Magic of Not Giv­ing a F**k, came out, Sarah gave sev­eral in­ter­views, dur­ing which the topic of self­ish­ness came up – some­thing she lauds as a pos­i­tive. This be­lief, need­less to say, was met with dis­dain. ‘I was ac­cused both of con­tribut­ing to the down­fall of so­ci­ety and of be­ing a mil­len­nial, nei­ther of which is ac­cu­rate and one of which is deeply of­fen­sive.’ Sarah was un­de­terred. ‘I firmly be­lieve that be­ing self­ish – in pur­suit of your health and well­be­ing – can be a good thing for you AND ev­ery­one in your life. If you’re happy and ful­filled, that au­to­mat­i­cally makes you a better per­son to be around. A more re­laxed par­ent. A kin­der part­ner. A more pa­tient boss and a more en­er­getic em­ployee.’

The first thing you need to im­ple­ment is me-time; for Sarah it is a right, not a priv­i­lege. ‘Sac­ri­fic­ing your hob­bies to the al­tar of the mustdo list is no good,’ she writes. ‘They should be ON the must-do list to be­gin with.’ It all starts with a mind shift. ‘To do this you have to con­sider your hob­bies – and the ben­e­fits you get from in­dulging in them – as im­por­tant as the other stuff you “need” to do. You need to get up and go to work, be­cause you need to make money to live on, but you also need to NOT be sad and NOT be fraz­zled and NOT be marinating in a caul­dron of re­sent­ment 24/7, right?’

This kind of self­ish­ness boosts your mood and over­all con­tent­ment with life and you can also use it as a ‘re­ward’ for tick­ing off a few less de­sir­able tasks on your must-do list. As with ev­ery­thing else, it all comes down to plan­ning. ‘Sched­ule them,’ says Sarah.

The same goes for your cre­ative goals. Still dream­ing of writ­ing a book or launch­ing a new ca­reer as a painter? It’s hard to find time for cre­ative pur­suits when you are bogged down in obli­ga­tions, but it’s ac­tu­ally even harder to grant your­self per­mis­sion to spend your time do­ing some­thing ‘friv­o­lous’. ‘It’s not easy to “make time” for stuff that doesn’t [yet or may never] pay the bills,’ says Sarah, ‘but nov­els don’t write them­selves, gui­tars don’t gen­tly weep on com­mand, and per­fect Bakewell tarts aren’t as easy as [Bri­tish food writer] Mary Berry makes them look. At some point you have to get your shit to­gether in or­der to stop aspir­ing to do the thing and AC­TU­ALLY DO THE THING, whether it pays bills or just makes you happy… Hap­pi­ness is a goal in and of it­self.’


Sarah re­lax­ing in her pool (pre­sum­ably af­ter get­ting her shit to­gether!).

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