Flowing With Time, Not Against It

I recently attended a time management seminar for work.  It’s a useful way to meet some professional development expectations, but I was motivated to attend for personal reasons too.  Time just feels so precious and scarce, I want to use it as well as I can, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing that when I registered for the course.

The course offered some useful strategies, like making lists and prioritizing the items according to category of importance and deadline.  It talked about creating measurable and attainable goals, and how to break these down into steps and commit to taking action in your daytimer.  Plus some email and paper tips, like the ‘only handle a piece of correspondence once’ thing.

I found these suggestions useful, and will try to use them.  But in a few months, I may not remember much of them.  What I will remember are Two Big Points the workshop leader made.

Big Point One:  Procrastination is Self-Sabotage.

We only get one life, only a finite number of hours to live.  If you put things off, you’re putting yourself off, and you’ll never get the time or opportunity back, she said.

I can be a good procrastinator.  And nothing that the facilitator said ought to be earth-shattering.  But the stars must have aligned or something when I heard her words, because this truth now clamours in my ears in a way that it just didn’t before.  Maybe because 40 isn’t theoretical anymore, but something I can see in the horizon?  I don’t know.  But already I’m procrastinating way less.

Big Point Two:  There IS enough time.

The workshop leader simply refused to acknowledge the ‘shortage of time’ complaint that most participants in the course made.  What do you mean, there’s not enough time? she asked.  There’s always enough time, because there’s always the same amount of time in a day, every day.  It’s entirely reliable, always the same.  In fact, it’s one of the few things that can be relied upon in our lives.

Therefore if we are not able to do all we wish to with the time we have, we either a) fail to use our time well, or b) we have unrealistic expectations of time.  Either way, you’re supposed to take responsibility for your life and time, and presumably stop complaining about them.

So, there I am listening, and thinking about how I’ve identified and am trying to pursue my life’s key priorities, but how I don’t think I have ever met my weekly goals for these priorities even once. Which means either I am a basket case (distinct possibility, some weeks) or I am banging my head against unrealistic expectations, especially given the current demands of time that come with mothering little people.

When I’m exerting my full strength and still coming up short and exhausted, I wonder whether there’s an alternative to my first instinct which is to throw my hands in the air.  Maybe the answer isn’t that I have to cut out any of the priorities that mean so much to me.  Maybe I could just pull out that daytimer and plan to get done in two weeks what I’ve been trying to do in one.

Is that giving in?  How hard should we push to get what we want?  I have no idea, but I do know that I’m kind of tired of feeling like I’m never quite making ends meet despite my best efforts.  I don’t want to let my life’s goals pass me by because I didn’t try hard enough to get them all in, but truthfully I can’t try much harder than I am now without losing my mind.  And what could be more futile than swimming against the tide of Time?

This post originally appeared at http://thekingsandi.wordpress.com in 2010.

Another Half an Hour

I just need another half an hour.

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I’d have been more present in the moment while helping one child with homework, motivating the other child to practice his piano piece just one more time and cooking two separate dinners (one for eldest child who’d had orthodontic work done earlier in the day and who was having trouble figuring out how to swallow with a new dental appliance in his mouth, and one for the rest of us).

If I’d had another half an hour last night, I might have had time to fit in a run. I’ve committed to a 10km road race in May. I have plenty of time to train for it, if I start training now. I just need to figure out when to slot in some running time.

If I’d had another half an hour, I would have gone to bed half an hour earlier. But the clothes in the dryer were still damp at 11 pm, and I didn’t want to leave them in the dryer overnight, getting wrinkled and requiring more of my time in ironing.

If I’d had another half an hour, I’d have finished this blog post last night, in the time between when I discovered that our old computer had finally given up the ghost and when my husband, working to deadline (in paid employment, need I point out our priorities) needed to use our working laptop again.

Do Laura Vanderkam and her ilk account for those small, incremental events that steal away portions of the day? By my count, I require an extra two hours every night to accomplish everything that I want to do: not well, not perfectly, just adequately. Even if I scheduled every waking moment, I can’t anticipate every contingency, and what kind of life would we all be leading if we kept to such a schedule?

Here’s our evening planned out:

  • 5:00 – 5:45: Commute Home (ETA 6:10 every second day because of transit delays; ETA 6:30 if youngest child needs to use the facilities for “pooping time!”).
  • 5:45 – 6:30: Change out of work clothing into workout wear in vain attempt to fake it until you make it. Commence cooking dinner. Children to commence homework and music practice.
  • 6:30 – 7:00  Dinner. (ETA 7:30 if any of the following events occur: (a) dinner burns because person cooking must also mediate a light sabre battle gone wrong; locate a glue stick needed for homework; engage in interesting conversation with a child who needs your attention; or (b) phone is answered immediately before dinner by child under age 18 who does not recognize that a 1-877 number (or worse, 1-234-567-8900) means someone we don’t want to talk to; or (c) “Pooping time!” delays arrival home to 6:30.  Dinner may be ready in 45 minutes or less on nights when both parents realize too late that they both forgot to defrost the pork chops; use emergency telephone code 967-1111 for rescue option.
  • 7:30 -8:30: Completion of homework. Showers. Reading. Family time.
  • 8:30 – 9:00: Tooth brushing. Pajama wearing.  Lights out at 9:00.
  • 9:00 – 9:20: One more chapter. Parent may or may not fall asleep on child’s bed whilst finishing said chapter; this is optional.
  • 9:20 – 9:30: Change out of workout wear, and into lounge wear (Really, this just means taking off my sports bra, but it’s important to acknowledge the day’s little victories).   Curse the winter for making it too dark outside for running.
  • 9:30 – 10:00: Clean kitchen, prep meals for next day, plan clothes, review work. Optional: talk to spouse about their day. End time may be delayed to 12:00 am in the event of work deadlines, overloaded dryers (12:20 a.m. if you do the “smart” thing and split the load into two) or anything spilled on the kitchen floor that requires more than a paper towel to clean up. Consider going to sleep. Maybe.

Another half-hour? Multiply that by four, and we’d be golden. And lest you scoff, thinking that there’s no way anyone’s schedule can go so continually pear shaped as to necessitate two hours of contingency time, I have two words for you: Stomach Virus. Spilled milk.  Book Report. Hockey game. Stale bread. Dead line (ok, that’s one word, but work with me). Only the book report and hockey game can be planned for with any certainty, but they’re all equally likely to occur in any given week.

I wonder sometimes, whether it’s possible to have a “time deficit” the same way we speak of people having a “sleep deficit” — which, I suppose, is just a time deficit in a disciplined form. Don’t we all have this? A collection of things we should be doing, or want to be doing, in addition to the things that we have to do every day? Writing more. Exercising more. Spending more time with family. If the eventual outcome of a sleep deficit is that you crash, what’s the outcome of a time deficit? I suspect, it’s the same: a sudden, overwhelming urge to just lie down and NOT plan, not schedule. Not do. Just be. Or maybe to take a nap.

A half an hour should be enough.

The Business of Mothering?

Oh, Ms. Vanderkam.  I don’t know what to say.  This message to parents about wasting time is as obnoxious as they come.

Ms. Vanderkam, the mother of a two-year-old son, has written a book about how parents can better spend their 168 hours of the week.  According to her, many parents use their time ineffectively and don’t plan enough thereby gobbling up precious hours.

Don’t worry, Ms. Vanderkam provides parents with lots of ways that they can better manage their time.  Among her suggestions:

–       Plan out your meals for the week so as not to waste time making several trips to the grocery store

–       Buy birthday presents in bulk (i.e. ten of the same thing for your child to take to parties)

–       One parent can prepare and cook the dinner while the other parent tidies up and deals with the dishes

–       Outsource!

What simply makes my blood boil is that people like Ms. Vanderkam seem to have it all figured out for the rest of us.  She has taken the hours of the week and divided them up for work, exercise, cleaning, mothering.  Following her simple suggestions should mean that we could all stop hyperventilating about how much we have to do in such a short time.

In all fairness, I have not read her book – just some interviews – but from what I have learned about her method through her interviews, it’s meant for people with very flexible work schedules, 2 parent households and those with disposable income.

I am the first to recognize that I am so very lucky to have a wonderful support system to help me shuttle my three kids (that I had, by choice, in four years) to various appointments (for which there are many), activities (for which there are even more) and school.  I am so very lucky to be able to afford to go to the grocery store a few times a week for fresh, nutritious food.  I am so very lucky to have the help that I do.

Sure, there are days that I think I could have managed things better.  I could have planned it better.  I could have arranged it differently.

Such is life as a mother.

I am constantly battling the clock – trying to be more efficient, get the boys out the door on time, carve out “me time”, “our time”, laundry time, cooking time, play time, laughing time, silly time . . .

But the reality is that being a mother (single, working or stay at home) does not allow for you to chop up your week and divvy up tasks, allotting hours.

Mothering is not a business.

Our children are our best teachers.  Plans are simply that – plans.  Being a mother calls for flexibility. Understanding.  Patience.  So. Much. Patience.

Mothering can make the minutes feel as though they are hours and years feel like seconds.

Many days it means being so depleted of energy at the end of a long day, all that’s physically possible is to watch mindless TV, read a book, or creep Facebook.

Don’t kid yourself, Ms Vanderkam.  Even when it appears us mothers are wasting away our time cruising the Internet instead of planning out next week’s meals, we are actually engaging in an internal battle with ourselves because we are so riddled with guilt about all that we are not doing.

We are racked with worry.

And we are tired.

We are so tired of women like you pointing a finger.

I have to give kudos to Glennon Melton author of Don’t Carpe Diem, who so perfectly summed up my exact feelings of motherhood.  Glennon’s honesty about the ambivalence towards motherhood is refreshing, heart warming and so real.  There’s a reason that her post went viral on the Internet and that’s because it resonated with mothers.

I love the idea of Glennon’s Kairos time.   And I do exactly as she suggests, even if the moment is fleeting.  I have extended it to include my boys.

Each day we say what we’re thankful for and what our favourite part of the day was.  I enjoy this time because it illustrates to me how meaningful all of the monotonous time-consuming tasks of a day can be.  When my older son tells me about how he thought of the perfect birthday present for a friend or when my middle son cheers with his hands above his head that he’s done it!  He’s made his bed all by himself!!!  I think to myself, that they are learning to be thoughtful, compassionate, independent people.

And that takes work.  And that takes juggling.  And that takes sacrifice.  And it never goes according to how I planned my week.