Piles of Work (Photo credit: Laura Whitehead)
After substituting in kindergarten for the third time this week, I drove home with that relieved, TGIF feeling. I love teaching, especially the freedom of being a substitute, but it makes for a busy day, often with no breaks or time to think.
But the entire weekend stretched ahead of me, with plenty of time to decompress and do the things I wanted to do.
My little fantasy didn’t even survive the drive home. I knew there was a pile of laundry waiting to be washed, plants that needed to be watered, sippy cups to be washed and refilled, and I still had my daily bookkeeping duties for the family business that I’d put off in order to substitute.
When I walked in the door, I discovered more things to do: a book sitting on the kitchen table that I need to read for a class next week; a pair of pants that need to be re-hemmed; a looming trip to the store before my son’s t-ball game. Oh yes, and then the t-ball game itself.
I also took on a new project today that I have to finish before we go on our spring break vacation, plus a novella to read for Fiction Fix, not to mention my personal fiction projects. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to do first when there are so many tasks at hand. Better just to take a nap and ignore them all, right?
If your life follows a similar pattern, you may feel that you’re always behind and rarely or never get to do anything for yourself. And it’s all too easy to give in to a negative attitude.
When Peter started playing t-ball, I dreaded the practices and games. My time is already so limited that I didn’t know when I would ever get anything done.
I had two choices: succumb to despair and have a nervous breakdown, or adapt and make the most of my new schedule.
I chose the latter, and you know what? I’m still able to embrace all the new projects I’ve taken on, and I’m even finding that elusive “me” time. Here are three tips that have helped me, and I hope they’ll help you, too:
1. Use Technology to Your Advantage
I know of people who have gotten rid of their TVs and phones because of the distractions they cause. If this seems a little drastic to you, there are ways to turn your electronics into a boon rather than a procrastinator’s crutch.
Did you know that there are a plethora of apps and computer programs that can help you manage your time? Some, like SelfControl from Mac users or SelfRestraint for Windows, block the internet altogether for set amounts of time. Just search for “time management apps” to see lists of what’s available and which one best fits your needs and personality.
Some of you may be able to control your electronics use by sheer will power. I fall into this category. I used to check my email any time I woke in the middle of the night, and the result was that I always had a hard time getting back to sleep. I finally made a deal with myself: don’t check email at night. It was as simple as that. If someone texts me, I know it’s urgent. Otherwise, it can wait.
Another thing I love is my phone’s timer, which I use in conjunction with step number two.
2. Take Baby Steps
When I have enough projects to fill a mile-long to-do list, I tackle them a bit at a time, baby-step style, and there are two ways to do this. As mentioned above, you can use that handy timer on your phone and work in blocks of time, or you can set goals, like editing one chapter and then moving on to a different project.
I’m currently rotating five projects in this manner, employing whichever method makes sense for each project, whittling away until they’re done. At the end of a hard day, instead of feeling like I’ve fallen short by ignoring one project while spending all my time on another, I can see that each one is closer to completion, even if only by a little bit.
3. Schedule Recreational Activities
It is very discouraging to run into someone on a Monday and have to come up with an answer to the “What’d you do this weekend?” question. I often stand there in utter silence, knowing I was busy but not able to remember anything specific. “Oh yeah,” I might say after a few seconds, “I weeded the lawn all day Saturday.” Exciting stuff, right?
When piles of laundry, flowerbeds full of weeds, grad school projects, and your kids’ sports schedules hijack what could have been your spare time, you feel like you’re stuck in a rut. This is when you can get in trouble by either going off the deep-end and throwing all responsibility to the wind, or you can wallow in self-pity and start hating anyone who did manage to enjoy her weekend.
If, instead, you schedule regular periods of recreation, just as you would schedule all the work that you need to do, you will have something to look forward to every day.
This is easier said than done, I know. Part of my personal promise to myself was to leave work well enough alone after my kids were in bed every night. If I could just hold out until they were in bed, I could read or write whatever my heart desired. But sometimes there’s not enough time in the day to get all my work done, and there’s still quite a bit left to finish after the kiddos are down. But I still make sure that I read or write or watch the occasional movie because my brain craves that break. Afterward, it’s much easier to work.
You may have more time but feel guilty about using it. Don’t! Fit in the occasional golf game or fishing trip or cup of coffee with a friend, if that’s what floats your boat. If you ignore opportunities such as these in order to “save” your enjoyment for a blow-out, two-week vacation that eats up a quarter of your annual salary, think of all the misery you’re subjecting yourself to in the meantime. Wouldn’t it be a shame to turn something you used to love doing, such as being a freelance writer, into a task to which you feel enslaved? I would rather have a few minutes of rest or fun every day, and the vacations, although they aren’t many, are truly special.
However you choose to do it, find time to do something not work-related on a regular basis, and you will be able to attack your projects again with renewed vigor and enjoyment.
Oh, and by the way, your house is patient: it will wait for you to clean it. Wash you underwear, by all means, but I won’t look at your baseboards if you won’t look at mine.
Do you have too many things to do 24/7/365? How do you manage your own workload?