Let’s start this post by saying that it took me 3 whole months to find time to finish this post. Originally, this was supposed to be written before Christmas (the first version mentioned how much I would get done over the Christmas holiday… fast forward to now and well, that didn’t happen at all). Now, mid-February, with all my well-intentioned resolutions already covered in dust, I am serious about getting this post out (let’s see if I succeed).
So, my official request for one more hour. Ideally, I’d like one more hour daily. I’d happily accept one more hour weekly. Hell, throw me one more hour monthly and I’d be satisfied. Anything to chip away at my every increasing to-do list without taking away more time from my daughter.
I realize that I create more than enough work for myself. My personality drives me to always have a million things going on around me. I’m not the kind of person who has one job, one task, one project on my plate. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that “multi-tasker” is a very strong descriptor for me, to a fault. Frankly, I have no one to blame but myself.
But, before I beat myself up about how I am the creator of my own problems, I ask you: how many of us find ourselves in positions such as these? Constantly busy, searching for time-saving techniques and quick fixes for overbooked schedules and ultimately, a general unhappiness about how little time we actually have to just enjoy ourselves. What can we do, particularly as parents, to relieve ourselves of this ever constant nagging feeling that we’re not getting anything done, and more importantly, learn to step back without feeling like we’ve given up?
Recently I heard a podcast from NPR’s Fresh Air that was re-broadcast from last year. It featured a mom and writer who recently published a book on the struggles with juggling parenting and a full-time career. She offers advice on how to slow down and take control of your life. I haven’t read this book (not really confident I’ll find the time to read it soon, considering I just cracked open a new book that I got for Christmas 2013) so I can’t comment directly on the substance, but the podcast did get me thinking: what could I do about my own schedule?
One of the key take aways from this podcast for me was the idea of getting rid of the to-do list and the idea that we can’t do anything for ourselves until everything on our list is done. In a “life’s too short” kind of way, I agree.
I, however, hate to let good ideas go: Once I have a project in mind, I hate to see it fall to the wayside. I’m someone who does actually love to be busy so only doing one thing at a time is not for me. I would not be satisfied to have a boring, relaxed schedule; I’m just looking to feel a bit more as though I’m accomplishing things throughout my week.
For me, a to-do list is essential. It keeps me focus and on-track with all the million little things that I have to do, but tend not to do, because I get distracted along the way with bigger, more exciting tasks. I don’t find a list of things like this overwhelming; in fact, I find it comforting. My personal advice for anyone struggling with too much going on? Keep track of what you have to do and take satisfaction (and pride!) in getting things accomplished, even if you don’t get everything on the list done. Another benefit of writing down your tasks is being able to identify if you’re putting too much effort or time into things that are not really important to you. If you do want to clear your schedule, looking back at your list can help you to identify where your time is going and where you can cut back (much like when people keep food diaries in order to eliminate bad eating habits!).
Not so into writing lists? Find another way to specifically dedicate time for certain activities and then commit to not going over them. I used to have a friend who would decide how much money she felt an item was worth (it could have been anything, canned soup, a mop, etc). She would head to the store determined to find each product within her pre-determined value for those products. She spent an insane amount of time looking for deals but she always managed to stick to her budget (at that particular time in her life, she had extra time to look for deals rather than extra money to spend for convenience). The concept is the same for schedules: if you pre-determine how much time you want to commit to something, you’ll focus on getting that task done within that amount of time. You could apply this to workouts, cleaning, writing emails back to people, whatever. I’m not advising you to become so rigid that your day is controlled by your cell phone alarm going off all day but I do believe that you’ll develop better time management skills if you know that you only have 30 minutes to say, fit in a run. You probably won’t waste 10 minutes of that time just getting your headphones untied – unless of course, you really just don’t want to run.
Finally, just learning to say “no” is probably a good place to start (even to yourself). I’m hardly an expert on this specific strategy but I have forced myself to put my foot down in certain areas of my life these days. As a person who generally likes to please as many people as possible, I have had to recently force myself to commit only to the times that make sense for me for a small reading group that I have been trying to run for the past two years. This is a tiny example of where I used to drive myself crazy trying to make everyone in the group happy by visiting parks around town and offering different times throughout the week. In the end, the only person who was consistently showing up for the group (despite how many requests I responded to) was me! Now, I just receive feedback on the times I’ve offered with a smile and tell them that I hope they can fit the session into their schedule in the future.
These days, it seems as though nobody has enough time. Whether self-perceived, self-created or externally imposed upon us, we are all running around like crazy and few of us seem happy. Do a little life “spring cleaning” and focus on what’s really important to maintain throughout your day. Hopefully, that extra hour in your day will find its way into your life.