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
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.
‘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’.
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.’
FOR MORE NO-NONSENSE ADVICE FROM THE ANTI-GURU HERSELF, CONSULT GET YOUR SH*T TOGETHER BY SARAH KNIGHT.
Sarah relaxing in her pool (presumably after getting her shit together!).