It’s that time of year again…when life returns to its usual hectic pace after the lazy summer months. Four days into the new school year, I’ve finally finished celebrating. Now it’s time to put away my martini glass and batten down the hatches, because we’re about to get hit with a hurricane of homework, extracurricular activities and PTA events.
I’m a person who loves routines–no, needs routines–in order to function well. I find that it helps to be able to go on autopilot for everyday tasks so that I can save my brain power for when I really need it, like understanding what those international laundry symbols mean. (By the way, if you have the same problem, here’s a key that you can print out and tape above your washing machine for future reference.) Routines are a great way to make sure you are squeezing in all of your repetitive, must-do tasks that, if forgotten, could be problematic…like going grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and brushing your teeth. But what happens when you have a one-time or less essential task or activity, like fixing the broken closet door or making time for friends, or getting a physical? Where do they fit in when your day is already packed to the gills with work, housework, homework, grocery shopping, chauffeuring the kids and laundry? Chances are, they get deferred until you have some “free” time. And when is that? When your kids leave home or you retire? (I’ve been told by those in the know that that golden goose is a myth, too.) Or worse, they happen when the fact that you have deferred them for so long leads to some crisis that makes them suddenly essential, like discovering you are really sick.
Time is like money and available calories: limited and once gone, you can’t change your mind about how to spend it. Anyone on a food or financial diet will tell you that advance planning is the only way to avoid wasteful spending, yet few of us put that much advance thought into how we will budget our time in order to fit everything in.
Start with plugging the leaks and becoming more efficient:
- Multi-task by returning phone calls while you are doing something mindless, like laundry or cleaning (invest in a bluetooth if you need to).
- Turn wait time into productive time by storing your reading in a tote you can take with you to appointments or other places you are likely to be kept waiting.
- Carry paper and pen with you so that you are always prepared to write a letter, make a To Do list, or create a shopping list or menu plan during unexpected wait times.
- Keep a “Stuff we need” list in your wallet or phone for those times when you have a few minutes to kill and are near a store.
- Delegate tasks to your spouse or kids or hire some help for chores like cleaning, tutoring your kids, or yard work. It may be the best money you ever spent.
- Organize your home so that you spend less time looking for things, shopping for things you already have, or putting things away. This also makes delegation easier if everyone in your home knows where to find things and/or put them away.
Next, prioritize according to your core values and current needs. Which comes first, health or friends? Financial security or time with the kids? There’s no right or wrong answer, and the answer isn’t always going to be the same for every situation. Sticking to your new diet and exercise program during your lunch hour may be more important right now than having lunch with your co-worker friend, but it may not be as important as lunch with the friend who is moving halfway around the world or was just diagnosed with cancer. And it may not be as important once you feel more confident that you will get back on track the next day. Perhaps your kids are your priority, but the financial security you need to provide them with a key opportunity means you have to work overtime for awhile, even if it takes you away from them for now. My point is to make conscious, well-thought-out choices about your time after weighing everything. Don’t just let life happen to you by default. Grab the wheel and decide what direction you want to go in. It is okay to say no to something!
Finally, stop feeling guilty about spending time on you. (I’m Catholic, so guilt comes really easy to me and I struggle with this one.) You are the most important person in your life. Without you, none of it matters, so you should be a top priority. If you need to exercise or meditate or shop or nap in order to feel refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of your seemingly endless To Do list, then do it! Nothing kills motivation like resentment, and that is what you will end up with if you don’t take time out to tend to your own needs from time to time. Put it on the calendar, just as you would a doctor’s appointment or parent-teacher conference, because it is just as important.
As my mother-in-law likes to say, “You’re a long time dead”, so make every minute count while you can!