Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Time & Management

First off, I have to say this is not something I have mastered.  At all.

Time management is a constant battle for me.  Some days I feel like I have conquered and slain the dragon clock.  Truthfully, most days I get to the end and sigh, wishing I felt more productive.

Sometimes I think the biggest dragon I have to slay is that of my own expectations.

Almost exactly two years ago I made the very difficult decision to resign from my position as a marketing manager at a local firm.  Before that point, my life was very organized, my days were scheduled out and packed full, and I worked hard at a fast pace each and every day.

When my son was born I felt completely lost - like a fish out of water.  All of a sudden my days were unplanned.  The basic plan was, of course, feed my child, change my child's diapers, cuddle my child, watch him sleep, lather, rinse, and repeat.  It sounded easy.  But after the first month or so I realized it wasn't quite that simple.  I would go in circles trying to finish just one task.  Easy things like applying mascara...I very clearly remember the day I left to do an errand and realized I had mascara on one eye and not the other.  My brain felt like it couldn't think in a straight line anymore, and even though I would line up the day's tasks, the constant interruption of someone else needing me left me chasing my own tail.

And I felt overwhelmed.  At first it didn't bother me if I didn't get to shower until 3 or 4 in the afternoon.  But a couple of months later it really started to wear on me.

I wish I could say that I then figured out the secret to staying home with my baby, getting everything done, and staying sane all at the same time.  The truth is it took a LOT of time for things to work out and it's still not a perfect system.

That said, here is what I have figured out so far...

You have to order your priorities, and then stick to your guns.

When I resigned, it wasn't so that I could read all the books I wanted, or sew, crochet, and knit to my heart's content.  Or even to repaint and redecorate my house.  Or to keep an immaculately clean house.  Or to blog.  Or to start my own business.

I resigned so that I could be the primary care-giver of my child.  So my number one job every day is to take care of him.  To invest in him.  To read him countless Thomas & Friends books no matter how tired of them I am.  To teach him how to count and recite the alphabet.  To cook 3 meals a day for him and give him snacks and sippy cups.  To teach him how to use a big boy potty.  And failing that, to change his undies, again.  To teach him not to hit and throw tantrums.  To help him learn how to slide and not throw sand.

It seems basic, but it took a while for me to realize this.  Of course, logically I knew I was staying home for him. I just didn't realize how much my attention and focus would need to shift to him in order to achieve my purpose.  And I didn't realize how much that would feel like I was giving up little things I wanted to do in my daily life.

Until I really thought about my priorities and what I was there to accomplish, it felt like I was getting interrupted every time I started a naptime project only to have him wake up.  But of course he woke up! He was only napping.  And he was the real reason I was home, not me and my books and crafts.  Once I realized that he was top priority, it was easier to put aside what I wanted and focus primarily on him.  I  wasn't thinking in circles anymore.  Basic things like showers got moved up the list a bit, but I realized I already was accomplishing what I was there to accomplish every day.  Anything else that got done became a bonus.

The thing is, to the outside world this doesn't look like much.  And that is hard.  Good friends would ask me "so what do you do all day?".  My answer?  A lot.  And a lot that is hard to measure by our culture's standards of productivity.  But it doesn't diminish the fact that it is a lot.

Regardless of your situation, mom or not, once you decide what is top priority, you need to make that your top priority and not waver.  It will come under the scrutiny of others, and you need to be okay with that.  This is your life, not theirs.  These are your priorities, not theirs.  At the end of the day you need to be satisfied with the work you've accomplished, not them.  If others insinuate that they could do more...more power to them!  But they don't live in your shoes.  Remember that.

Once you have your priorities ordered, plan your day accordingly.

Again, it may sound simple, but it is so easy to get distracted with peripheral things.  For me, this meant that I needed to focus on what my child needed daily first.  Basic things stayed the same (eat, sleep, poop, repeat), but as my child got older his needs became more varied.  He needed play time, could interact more, and eventually moved to one nap a day.  In each stage of his life, I have adjusted my expectations for everything else.  For instance, when he took a morning and an afternoon nap I had more time to read, crochet, and write - things that left me feeling refreshed and productive.  As soon as he stopped taking his morning nap I lost two hours I previously had counted as "me time".  But the knowledge that I really only had 2 hours at naptime and anything after bedtime to do things for myself allowed me to schedule things lightly.  Did it still bother me that it took a really, really long time to get any one project done?  Yes.  But my expectations were set more appropriately to my daily life and I learned to celebrate my accomplishments more and to not focus on the things which went undone.

Are you over-scheduling yourself?  Do you need to pare back your project list in one area of your life in order to better focus on your primary goals?  It's so easy to be distracted and to try to jump in and do everything at once.  But it is so much better to accomplish one or two things well than to start five or six projects and not complete anything.

Work your plan.

Once you have a schedule that allows for top priorities to take center stage, do not back down.  Carefully consider any requests for your time and do not add anything to your weekly life that will take away from that top priority.

I think this is the hardest part.  At least, I know it is for me.  I like to say yes to people and I'm a somewhat reformed people-pleaser.  For me, my weakness is church activities.  I like to be involved and help, but with a toddler and a newborn on the way, and with the Hubster's work schedule, it's not feasible for me to be super involved.  Truthfully, it is huge that we are able to attend one worship service every week.  Huge!  Growing up I was at the church every time the doors were open.  And even when they were closed, I was most likely doing something church related.  So for me and my family to only attend once a week feels a lot like failure.  And yet, I know it's not.  To constantly be saying "no" when I'm asked to come to activities that coincide with my child's bedtime feels like failure.  But it's not.  I am serving my family.  And right now, that is what I'm supposed to be doing.

Do you find yourself adding in extra activities when you should be saying "no"?  This is such a struggle for me!  I have to guard my family's schedule so carefully.  When I don't, it results in an overtired toddler, a stressed out daddy who's trying to pick up the slack for me, and a frazzled me...who once again bit off more than I could chew.

Give yourself space and grace.

But little mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
-"To a Mouse, On Turning Up in Her Nest with the Plough" by Robert Burns, 1785 (Standard English Translation)

As I said at the beginning, this is not something I have mastered.  I am not perfect and (so sorry to point it out, but) neither are you.  Failure is inevitable at some point.  Falling short of our goals is inevitable at some point.  It's a fact of life.  This is one of those things that we all know, but at times it seems magnified.  Nothing in my life has magnified my short-comings and daily failures the way that being a stay-home mom has.  Even if I manage to do everything on my list, I struggle with doing everything on my list and doing it cheerfully.  Or with patience.  Often times, both.

I know what my daily "must-get-dones" are, and I try to add only one or two "extras" with a couple of "bonus tasks" thrown in just in case I'm able to get to them.

But there are always going to be the days when not. one. single. thing. gets. done.

On those days I encourage you (and myself!!) to slow down.  Take a deep breath.  Give yourself the space to think "what can get done?", the fortitude to do it, and the grace to accept that you've done what you could do.  And that is enough.

I'm linking up today with Edie @ Life In Grace.  If you have the chance, please click over to read lots more thoughts on using time intentionally.


  1. EXCELLENT perspective, girl!

    I coach stay-athome & work-at-home moms that I interact with to embrace this same thing;
    Focus on progress, not perfection - using your own unique and individual priorities as your guide.

    Keep up the great work! :)

  2. Great ideas. We will never be able to accomplish everything we want to do. But we need to step back and see what is truly Important.

  3. Your heart shines beautifully through all of this...your little boy is lucky to have you as a mom.


  4. Love this, you always seem to write about things I need to "hear." Thank you for sharing:)

  5. Are we not the most fortunate of women, the highest called, the trainers in the way they should go? i am so glad for you as a young Mommie to realize that saying no to the Church sometimes means saying yes to God !
    Well done,