January 10, 2011

Time Management - how to make it all fit when it just doesn't

Of all the e-mails I've received since I started this blog, there is one that is asked quite often.  In short, the question is, "How do you get everything done?"  I have promised several of you that I would answer this question in a post and I've put it off for a while.  Why?  Because I don't neccessarily feel like I've completely mastered this.  I am far from perfect, but I am happy to share some ideas with you.

Please keep a few things in mind as you read this post. 

1) As I said, I'm still figuring this all out just like you.  I don't have a perfect solution.
2) Don't compare yourself to me or anyone else.  We are all in different stages of life.  If you have a newborn you are nursing and you feel like you're never getting anything accomplished, that's okay!  There are different types of productivity and there are times and seasons for everything.
3) What works for me may not work for you.

Okay, now that I've got that out, let's get started.  My mom has often told me, "If you have something you need to get done, give it to a busy person."  The idea is that people who are busy are people who get things done.  The family I was raised in is very project-oriented.  I don't have memories of my dad sitting around.  He and my mom have to have something to work on.  Between family, work, and church responsibilities there is little time to be idle.  This seems to have been genetically passed through to me because it's kind of in my blood as well.  (While this motivation can be helpful, it also has to be kept in check.  Sometimes there are much greater things than those that are listed on my to-do list.  I have to watch myself.)

Have you ever heard of Parkinson's law?  It states:

‘WORK EXPANDS SO AS TO FILL THE TIME AVAILABLE FOR ITS COMPLETION’

I heard this in college and I found it to be a fascinating idea.  What does it mean?  It means if I give you an hour to write a letter, it will take you an hour.  If I give you 5 minutes it will take you 5 minutes.  We tend to expand tasks according to the time alotted.  What does this mean to me?  If I have a day ahead of me and the only thing on my list is to do laundry, that's all I will do.  On the other hand, if I know I have 10 things that need to get done that day I will make them happen. 

This makes the step of PLANNING and STRUCTURE very crucial.  I like to make "to do" lists. A visual reminder of what needs to happen helps me focus.  I can then look at the list and prioritize.  What absolutely has to happen today?  Do it first if at all possible.  It's nice to have an overall pattern or plan for the week.  For me, Rex goes to school on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, so those are the times I buy groceries and run errands.  I also try to plan one outing a day.  My boys go crazy if we don't leave the house, so on Mondays or Wednesdays we'll head to the library.  Friday nights we go out as a family.  I think having some consistent structure definitely helps the kids, too.  Weekends give me a little more time to work on projects so I don't have as much to get done during the week.  I wake up at 6 am to guarantee myself a little alone time before the boys wake up.
Beyond just planning, one of the biggest, most important keys is GOAL SETTING.  Really.  If you don't have a plan for success, you have a plan for failure.  I set a goal to post everyday and follow the schedule I have set.  If I hadn't set that goal, I probably wouldn't still be blogging.  However, I made that commitment and I have you to answer to.  So, if it's 8pm and I don't have a post ready for tomorrow I choose that rather than watching TV.  Your goals might be totally different than mine, but they can lead you to where you want to gp just as mine do for me.  I think goals have to be written down and referenced often, for optimal success.  Goals can also help us through the "writer's block" phases.  Some of my best posts have come from moments where I didn't have any ideas and wanted to give up.  Then, I remembered what I had set out to do and I pushed myself a bit further.

Now on a personal level, here are some things that help me get more things done.  My husband and I aren't super social people.  We love to be at home with each other.  We don't have plans with friends every night of the week or even every weekend.  I don't watch much TV and if I do I'm usually multi-tasking and writing a post at the same time.  I don't get a shower in every single day.  Sometimes there is a pile of laundry ten feet high in my bedroom.  We all pick and choose what fits because frankly, not everything we want to do is going to fit.  It's the sad truth.  I want to pursue music more.  I want to pick up a new hobby.  I want to live at the spa.  We have to pick and choose, but that picking and choosing makes us who we are.  Maybe you are more social and I craft more.  That's okay.  Maybe you are Julia Child while I don't find time to make incredible dinners.  That's okay.  Try not to compare yourself to others. 

If we have a POSITIVE ATTITUDE I think we accomplish more.  I try to read my scriptures (the Book of Mormon or Bible) before the boys wake up because it helps me get off on the right foot.  Maybe it's meditating or exercising for you.  If I can start the day right things tend to go much more smoothly.  I'm more patient with my boys.  I feel happier.  I also try to tighty up the house before I go to bed.  Waking up to a filthy house makes me instantly cranky.  Not good.  Emptying or starting the dishwasher, putting away stray toys, and clearing off the table and counters help me feel like I have a clean slate in the morning.

Lastly, as I mentioned I have to keep it in check.  My husband and I try to turn off all computers and the TV at 9pm so that we get some us time.  It gives us time to communicate, which helps us a lot.  We have set times that we spend time with the kids.  (Monday is our family activity night and Fridays we go out together.)  I try not to get so busy that I can't wrestle around with my boys.  I also try to involve them in what I'm doing.  (Rex can name any crafty item :)  My family comes first.

I feel like I've written a novel here and just kind of thrown everything down on the page.  I hope this is helpful in some way.  I'm sure I'll think of a billion other things I meant to mention, but for now this is where I'm at and these are the conclusions I've come to.  Be patient with yourself as you try to do it all.  Sometimes it's easy to get down on yourself and feel like you're never getting anything important done, when you really are.

Here's a quick picture, since this post had a TON of text.  This one helps me remember what's most important.  This is when I became a mom.  Me and teeny, tiny Rex.


Thanks for reading.  Feel free to ask questions or add time management suggestions in the comments. I think we can all learn a lot from one another - especially on this topic.

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