Friday, June 28, 2013

Working backwards toward peace of mind

As is so often the case, preparing to leave on a vacation this week has been somewhat stress-inducing, despite the fact that I try to keep a sense of perspective. We’re scheduled to board a plane early tomorrow morning, and by midweek that thought had become a source of anxiety rather than the beacon of excitement that an impending family trip should be. But I really wanted to leave for the airport with peace of mind.

So I tried to figure out what peace of mind would look like, and then worked backwards.

And once I broke it down that way, I discovered that some of the tasks I had in mind to accomplish before leaving contributed to the peace-of-mind goal and others, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t. Cleaning the kitchen is important to me; picking up the dry cleaning that we’ll need the week after we get back really isn’t. In fact, I realized, my highest priorities as far as achieving pre-vacation peace of mind fall rather neatly into two categories: being deadline-free with work and leaving a clean and tidy house.

Working backwards toward peace of mind is different from simply writing a To Do list, which is something I tend to do already on a daily basis. The steps toward peace of mind reflect things that will truly make the difference for me in whether or not I start vacation with a sense of serenity. When I write To Do lists, I tend to focus on everything I think should happen, regardless of their intrinsic importance. I tell myself I should vacuum. I should balance the checkbook. I should get the car washed. And so on.

Getting the car washed was a good idea, I realized, but wouldn’t really affect the quality of my vacation. Finishing some work assignments before we leave rather than bringing work with me, on the other hand, will make a tangible difference in how I feel about departing. Knowing that I’m bringing along a suitcase full of clean clothes matters to me, but knowing that all the clean laundry back home has been folded and put away really won’t matter much once I’m halfway across the country.

Now, just 24 hours from departure, I feel like I’m almost there. One of the two articles I wanted to complete before leaving has been written and submitted; the other is halfway done and should be easy to finish later today. I’ve taken trash to the transfer station and cleared off the countertops. I’ve run all the laundry we’ll need for our trip.

A lot can change in twenty-four hours when you’re preparing for vacation – more assignments could unexpectedly come in, for example, or the need for some vital household repair could crop up – but in general, I think this is going to work. My family doesn’t go on vacation often; the fact that we’re all heading out together this week is a big deal for us. And leaving with a sense of serenity is a big deal for me as well. I easily get buried under household tasks, writing assignments, and administrivia, but this time I feel like I’m on top of it. Which makes leaving for vacation an even more joyful and exciting prospect than I anticipated.

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