I was keen to use a permaculture design lens to look at the details of my own life. I chose not to look at aspects like energy use, environmental impact, and food, as I was already fairly happy with where I am (also see Solar Panel design!). I focussed on how I work, parent, and otherwise live my life, and focussed on 4 main areas of my life:
- Creativity and writing
- Health and wellbeing
- Making change in the world
These were the areas I was feeling least satisfied with at the time of starting this project. My aim was to take a broad overview of these areas (Observe and interact; design from patterns to details), seeking to find and create connections between them (overlap, flows, interconnectedness, other connections) to provide more support for myself (Integrate rather than segregate).
Design brief: Look at what is currently going on in my life, particularly in those areas, and find ways to increase my overall happiness.
I used Looby Macnamara’s web design approach (see here for an explanation):
I did mind-maps for each of the four areas:
A few things stood out for me:
- Writing stood out as the most important thing.
- I was also concerned about how I can make space for more ‘world-changing’ (even if in small ways) action/activity.
- I wanted to reduce my time-consuming activities (that didn’t have good outputs/payback) in order to spend more time in both writing and activism (Obtain a yield; apply self regulation and accept feedback).
- I was concerned that I wasn’t spending enough time on my relationships. This was clearly affected by what felt like a lack of space (which led me to consider my limits, see below) (Observe and interact).
Later (New Year 2015) I set some goals for 2015, which also gave me information on my vision:
I wanted therefore to look at:
- Further improving my self-care systems (physical and mental health) (People care).
- Continuing to build in more time for fiction writing (Use edges and value the marginal).
- Finishing the diploma in 2015! (thus one fewer commitment) (Obtain a yield)
- Establishing social systems connected with writing (Integrate rather than segregate).
Patterns (Design from patterns to details) I noticed:
- Pattern of boundaries: finding it hard to say no.
- Spiral of erosion (of energy, to things I may not have deliberately chosen).
- Possible intervention point: allocate time to important things first.
- Possible intervention point: policy of “no” to everything for a period of time (to avoid having to make any decision in the moment.
- Possible intervention point: policy of default “I’ll think about it” (to step away from immediate pressure) (Design from patterns to details).
- Pattern of finding it hard to take time off.
- Spiral of erosion: leads to tiredness, which leads to lack of focus, which leads to feeling under more pressure to do things rather than take time off.
- Tendency also to do “unfulfilling” but easy things to relax (e.g. unhelpful use of social media), rather than deliberately taking time for myself.
- Possible intervention point: deliberately allocate free time, hopefully leading to less exhaustion and the ability to make better decisions (Use and value diversity; catch and store energy).
- Pattern of finding it hard to see my fiction writing as a valid use of time.
- Spiral of erosion: not valuing it leads to taking too much else on / failing to allow time for it, which leads to doing less of it and valuing it less.
- Possible intervention point: deliberately dedicate time to writing, get more done, feel good about it, feel better about dedicating time… create spiral of abundance! (also see above about allocating time to important things first) (Use and value diversity; use edges and value the marginal; obtain a yield)
- Possible intervention point: recognise/acknowledge need to allow time aroundwriting as well.
- Integrate don’t segregate: look for ways to stack the important things.
- My inclination is to divide things up into separate lists more than it is to connect them, which can be limiting.
- Possible intervention point: make a point of looking for connections.
I collected some more ideas in December 2014:
- Calming habit: taking 8 breaths.
- Concept of different selves working on different projects or jobs. Not so much spreading myself thinly as allowing different selves to express themselves. (Whilst also being aware of time and energy limitations!)
- Bringing in and making room for more of what I love (and allowing that to crowd out what I don’t).
- Writing a two-sentence (max!) postcard/summary of the self or situation I want?
- Various options for multi-project “scanner systems” in Barbara Sher’s book. I observe that “set times” systems have never previously worked for me; I like to be able to react to current state of mind, etc. A “this month” and “this year” list has been useful in the past, so a long-term list of projects/plans over the next few years might be helpful to reduce “do it now!” pressure.
- Identification of current problems:
- Wasting time on ‘bits and pieces’ — could try Freedom again on laptop?
- Consider expectations (realistic?) and timing/rhythm of days again.
Sources: ebooks from Havi Bell of The Fluent Self; Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher.
- Observe and Interact:
- Look for intervention points; e.g. schedule free time before I get exhausted.
- Goal-setting / to-do system working well.
- Acknowledge my goal-drive nature; but seek intervention points to move towards enjoying process more as well as finishing things.
- Look for intervention points when feeling stressed or not present with Leon.
- Catch and Store Energy:
- Prioritise sleep and rest!
- Seek to move to working on a more ‘natural’ schedule/cycle (breaths in and out…).
- Consider food/diet/water.
- Be prepared to go with a burst of energy when it does hit!
- Obtain a Yield:
- How can I maximise £ from existing work? Although this may not be a great focus right now.
- Consider what I’m learning from current writing projects.
- Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback:
- How does Leon respond to my behaviour?
- Can I seek more writing criticisms for fiction writing?
- Pay closer awareness to what does and doesn’t work for me.
- Use and Value Renewable Resources:
- Work with my energy cycle?
- Find ways to spend more time in the natural world?
- Produce No Waste:
- Use my time as I want, rather than allowing tiredness to make decisions for me (make time for rest!
- Accept that ‘wasted’ time may be needed/valuable (rest periods).
- Consider resource usage more generally.
- What is ‘waste’ in this context?
- Be more aware of when I am using social media in ways that aren’t supportive for me.
- Patterns to Details:
- Seek spirals of abundance and intervention points.
- Focus on vision.
- Focus on big important aims and desires.
- Integrate rather than Segregate:
- Stack interests and goals.
- Look into the overlap between writing and activism.
- Integrate friendships/social life with other joys and life-aims.
- Integrate parenting more?
- Small and Slow Solutions:
- Don’t hurry projects: a little at a time gets there eventually.
- Slow life down: more space/time, fewer commitments.
- Be clearer about boundaries.
- Use and Value Diversity:
- Accept diverse strands of life, but also seek to integrate them in part where possible. (I contain multitudes!)
- Diversity when writing.
- Read lots! Challenge myself.
- Use Edges and Value the Marginal:
- Tread my own path with confidence (in all things); be aware when this feels hard and support myself.
- Follow my own creative spirit.
- Creatively Use and Respond to Change:
- Now is not Then.
- Fit world-changing into my reality now.
- Accept realities of limitations.
I took a pause in late 2014 to let everything settle, and to allow myself to collect more ideas; and another one in early 2015 after pulling everything together for a tutorial with Looby Macnamara.
Pausing can also be an issue of self-care and can feed back into the design: how do I choose to rest and rejuvenate? How do my family rest and rejuvenate? I observed:
- I find craft (sewing and knitting) restful but find it easy to get focussed on the end-goal rather than the process, which can make it stressful again.
- I also find journalling and time alone refreshing, and was keen to build those into my design.
- Getting more sleep, whilst hard with a toddler around, makes everything else easier; but can be a challenge when time is limited and there are many things I want to do.
- Social media for me can be rejuvenating when it is about making connections, but can also be draining if it’s an avoidance technique.
- Appreciate self and others.
- Appreciate when I do consider things carefully rather than just saying yes — for example, I took a day to decide about a work proposal that met some of my needs (financial, interesting work) but not others (it took time away from fiction writing), and found a way of stacking the work that would reduce the impact on my other writing.
- Appreciate what I have achieved.
- Build in appreciation as part of life.
- Pause to appreciate rather than rushing onto next thing; celebrate achievements.
Observations on things that had changed while I was thinking:
- More integration of my parenting with my social life and my activism (talking more to other feminist parents; building friendships with other parents with similar interests).
- Trying to find a way to balance writing-for-money with writing-for-love (Use and value diversity).
- Planned changes to back garden (new patio and fence) meant I would hopefully feel more comfortable spending more time out there (People care; Observe and interact; Small and slow solutions).
- I had quit one activism commitment which wasn’t working well for me (Apply self-regulation and accept feedback).
- I was working on reducing the number of tasks I set myself each day (Use small and slow solutions).
- I did some drastic decluttering, making it much easier to keep my own room tidy and visibly clear; I found this hugely helped my focus and was keen to extend this as much as possible to other areas of the house (Fair shares: letting surplus stuff go to others who need it rather than storing it myself!).
- Looby pointed out that I could see my Diploma portfolio as a resource for others — giving a further ‘use’ for diploma which linked with my wish to make a change in the world (Obtain a yield).
- Physical: movement and food/drink (Catch and store energy; People Care).
- Mental: free time, better boundaries, easier life-maintenance. (People care)
- Improve my focus when working and parenting (Observe and interact; integrate rather than segregate).
- Create clearer boundaries (links with focus).
- Build and support my social connections, and link them in with the important parts of my life (Integrate rather than segregate).
- Put more time and energy into my fiction writing (Use edges and value the marginal; use and value diversity).
- Value my writing more.
- Find more ways to make a difference in the world (People care, Earth care, Fair shares).
Make a plan to get things done! I came up with this list of interventions:
|Set up a Graze box delivery||
||Expensive (but affordable as trade-off for ease), and too much packaging. Will review in a month to see if I can swap to their larger bags (less packaging) or to DIY.|
|Peppermint tea to replace (some/most) black tea.||
||Use a teapot?|
|Very early night 2 nights a week; in bed before 11pm otherwise.||
||Some weeks/days this is impossible but it is a good aim. I already aim for this so this is a codification of an existing desire.|
|Work on (once again) seeing cycling as default option; observe when I get bus/tube instead.||
||Look again into a child-seat compatible pannier solution (at least big enough to carry regular shoes so I can wear bike shoes when cycling, which are better for my ankles).|
|Look for 1 or 2 minute yoga/meditation/both opportunities.||
||Very small steps are more maintainable than trying a longer practice, and fit better into my day (simplification).|
||It would be useful to think about specific appreciation practices, but simply being more aware of the scope for appreciation will hopefully help.|
|Spend time regularly on the Absolute Write forum.||
||Assess in two months whether this is actually useful.|
|Batch-write non-fiction (write 2-3 articles at once then have rest of 2-3 months ‘off’).||
||Working to finish my diploma has a similar effect.|
|Social connections: continue carefully curating online social activities to make sure they’re positive, and continue pursuing social connections in person.||
||Online interactions can affect my focus; be aware of this and aim to limit it to specific times of day.|
|Writing and activism design.||
This is a long list but most are quite small actions so it seems doable.
There are two categories of these tasks: specific to-do list items, which I added to my to-do list (e.g. looking into pannier options, writing and activism design) or did immediately (Graze box); and ongoing changes. To help my focus I wrote out a brief version of the list of ongoing changes (in nice colours) and pinned it on my board.
Some things to consider further down the line:
- Swapping the Graze box for a less packaging-intensive option (Produce no waste.
- Finding time for a climbing practice once I no longer have [specific commitment redacted]. Currently it’s too much pressure to try to fit it in, despite the disadvantages (Apply self-regulation and accept feedback).
- Look for a regular writers’ group, either online or in-person, to value my writing more and to create more social links around writing.
- How am I progressing with the above interventions? To what extent have I successfully built them into my life? (Apply self-regulation and accept feedback)
- Be aware of the possibility of going on longer (solo) bike rides as Leon gets older.(Creatively use and respond to change)
- I’d like to try to build more garden-time into my days once the new patio and fence are done (Use edges and value the marginal).
A couple of months on, I evaluated how I was doing on my action list:
- Successful: twice-weekly Graze boxes; drinking more peppermint tea and less black tea; cycling (I am definitely cycling more); continued decluttering/simplification (still ongoing though!); batch-writing non-fiction (am only on first cycle of this but tentatively I am pleased); completed writing, activism, and right livelihood design. All of these do feel useful and likely to continue.
- Partly successful: Social connections (doing reasonably well with in-person socialising, and improving my online interactions, but need to keep working on this); appreciation (I am doing it a bit but would like to do more!); more sleep (regular before-11 is working, very-early-nights not so much but even the effort does mean I get a bit more sleep!). I think these are useful and will keep trying with them.
- Not successful: Yoga/meditation (I am simply not doing this and need to think about why); Absolute Write (struggling to find the time and inclination; perhaps this won’t work for me?).
- I an mow spending more time in garden after the installation of our patio/pergola/fence. Some of my diploma write-ups have been done out there!
- I’m following up on a couple of possible in-person writers’ crit groups.
- Not enough time has passed yet to look at the other ‘momentum’ possibilities.
Overall I feel that this design has helped me pinpoint some specific changes I can make to my life. It’s also helped me to appreciate what I am already doing well and what I like about myself and my life. It feels like a useful and successful process, and I will continue experimenting with these changes.
Thoughts on the design process:
- Positive: I found the multiple different anchor points really useful, and I liked the flexibility of the process in terms of visiting and returning to different points at different times. It felt more organic and that it fitted well with the way I was thinking about things already. I also appreciated the focus on integration, which was one of my main goals for this design.
- Negative: More time-consuming than a more linear process! But this can also be an advantage in allowing more time to think and to experiment and wind things in.
- Interesting: I think this process might be overkill for a simpler or more specific-goal-oriented design project.
Reflecting on permaculture design values:
- Earth care: Simplifying my life in various ways stands out as a way of reducing my impact on the earth and also improving my happiness.
- People care: The design highlighted the need to allow myself to value, on a day-to-day basis and when setting priorities, the things that I believe are most important to me.
- Fair shares: Taking better care of myself better enables me to live more sustainably and generously in many different ways.