photo: Liz Winfry
Its official: The final quarter of the year has landed at our feet with a thud. It’s easy to buy into a slight sense of hysteria over it. “Where has the time gone? I never got to do xyz! This is what happens when you have a child. Why did I think I’d be any different? I just need to give in to it. Nobody asked me to have a family...” Translated, this rant boils down to one undermining belief: I suck at time management!
Y’know, I think it’s time that this whole Time Management thing gets out-ted for the ruse it really is. Terri Zelenak-Hase uses the phrase ‘Priority Management’ instead, and I love it. Because let’s face it: as parents, it’s not like we have any real control over time. Prioritization and re-prioritization is all we’ve got because frankly, poop happens. Literally and figuratively. Eventually, if not every day. And so, to give you a taste of how I help people navigate this reality, may I submit for your consideration.
10 steps to living the Life You Want:
1. Conduct a week-long time study. First of all, there’s some detective work that needs to be done. This may seem like a long first step, but don’t try to skip it: How aware are you of where your focus and energy goes?
Here’s one way to play:
Set up an 8 column grid with each day of the week at the top (starting with the day you begin this experiment). Under each day should be the answer to this question: What do I care about accomplishing most? (No value judgments here. Doesn’t have to be completing the first draft of a novel; it could be getting a massage. This may be better defined later on by an examination of your values but that’s another blog post.) Decide this when you first wake up. The first column on the left should divide the table into ½ hour time increments, creating rows across the page. (Am I reinventing the wheel here? Doesn’t this sound like an Excel sheet? If that gives you hives, then do it by hand.)
Now that you’ve created the game board, here are the rules: Every half hour or so, just stop and look over your shoulder to see where you’ve been: where have you just focused your time and attention? Make a quick note spanning that time frame. Have fun, merge cells, use different colored highlighters. You get the idea.
2. Analyze the Data. Don’t jump the gun though. Change takes time. Make sure you finish out the week first. Then: do you notice any patterns? Which ones are predictable and necessary? Are you getting to what matters most to you each day? Does something always pre-empt your needs? Is there some kind of traceable set up for that?
3. Trouble-shoot the problem areas: Are you going to bed too late and expecting too much from yourself the next day? Is that because the kids are waking up or not going to bed early enough? Is there something foundational that can be revised to shift this pattern? Are you sharing the situation with your partner and accessing his/her support as much as you may need to? If you’re a single parent, do you need to create a ‘body double’ somehow, by hiring help or tapping into your social resources (friends, other families, single parent or otherwise?)
4. Don’t ‘Yes, but…’ when someone offers a solution; try it on for size and tweak it as you go. After all, you’re smart enough to know that if doing what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked, then to continue on that path is, well, insane. I’m not saying be unrealistic, I’m saying be creative and adventurous!
5. Overcome Paralysis. Paralysis has to do with two things in my book: Overwhelm, and lack of direction. It’s hard to get up from the couch and turn the TV off if you’re not exactly sure of what you need to do next. Even if you thought you did, even if you made a list, somehow, there’s a disconnect. Perhaps because everywhere you look there’s a pile of clutter. Infuriatingly, it may not even be yours! Hence overwhelm. So what to do?
6. Take the pressure off! Paradoxically, most people do the opposite; they beat themselves up, they create false (arbitrary) deadlines, they blame their spouse, you know the deal. If you start to go down this route it’s time to get out of isolation. Sometimes just going for a walk can shift your focus so you can get a handle on what needs to happen next. Better yet, stretch, run, put on some music and dance. Exercise regulates the limbic system and will put you back in charge.
7. Pausing is key. If you start to feel like the day is lost and it’s only 1PM, notice what you’re focused on. Are you obsessing about something? Ask yourself: How is this serving me? Chances are the answer will be: it’s not. So then you get to ask: What would? What’s next?
8. Never forget: you’re a Role Model. Keeping this awareness is perhaps the strongest way to pull yourself forward! A lecture means much less than walking your talk in front of your child. If you’re zoned out to the TV or the Internet isn’t it a bit ingenuous to nag them when they are?
9. Don’t expect a system or routine to stay in place forever. Things get messy. Maybe you need an organizer or bookkeeper to come help you put it back together every few months. Maybe you’ve lost interest in, or touch with what the system or routine is for. Maybe that’s a good thing: We’re not robots; sometimes you have to lose something to finds its value again.
10. Develop a sense of intrigue about your challenges. It’s far more productive than self-flagellation.
One more thing: celebrate your victories! Take time, even if it’s just a moment, to reward yourself for the fine work you just did. Celebrating will actually help you remember how you did it. Not to be disparaging, but adults are not that different from kids and dogs that way. Every time you change a pattern, every time you get up to turn off the television and go clear a small pile of paper, every time you catch yourself obsessing and shift your focus, you’ve won!
Rahti Gorfien, founder of Creative Calling Coaching, is a Life Coach whose practice is primarily comprised of group and individual coaching for artist and freelance parents. Her blogs have been featured regularly in Hip Slope Momma, Momasphere and Sanemom. She lives in Park Slope.