A Resolution I’m Eager to Make


Four years ago, I wrote a post entitled “I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions”—and I don’t. Or didn’t. Anyhow, the point is that I’m not one of these people who is eager to start the new year on a new foot or new shoe or new path or whatever. (Actually, the post was about books—and you’ll see my 2017 update in a couple days.)

In general, I’m very happy with my life, and when I want to make a change, I go ahead and do it, no matter the date. So maybe that’s why I’m making my change today—two days before the new year. How very gauche of me.

It started with a video I saw on Facebook. In fact, I get a lot of my blog fodder from Facebook, so before I trash social media, I owe it a big thank you. Before you read on, please watch the video below. It’s well worth the 15 minutes.

There is so much here that applies to my life and the lives of people around me. I find it interesting that the guy (sorry, don’t know his name) brings responsibility back to corporations. I hope that I do the job I’m supposed to do as a parent, and my children won’t have a lot of these issues. One friend remarked that it’s not just Millennials who are the problem, and I would have to agree, although when I was growing up, I never received a participation award. (Or if I did, it ended up in the trash because it wasn’t worth squat.) I can’t help it that my son’s baseball team gives him a trophy every season for just showing up, but here’s what I can do something about: my own participation on social media.

One of my former clients wrote for people who were self-employed, and many of his articles centered around time management. There are apps that can help people limit the time they spend on social media or that will post for them on a predetermined schedule. Basically, it’s all about us managing rather than being managed by the social media that we use. He also wrote about only checking email at prescribed times because as soon as someone sees that you’ve answered an email at 11:00 P.M., they’ll start expecting you to be available then.

I fought getting a smart phone for a long time; I was a latecomer when I purchased my first iPhone in mid-2012. That was also when I was new at being a mom of two and deeply post-partum depressed. Overall, it was kind of a perfect storm. I got sucked into all sorts of games (that I have since deleted) and stopped doing a lot of things that I love. Did I become addicted, as the guy in the video says? It certainly is easy to just sit and scroll through posts on a phone when you’re exhausted, but I’m not exhausted anymore. I have the energy and motivation to do other things now, but the simple act of opening my Facebook app (itself an amoral action) can suck valuable minutes and hours from my life and the lives of my loved ones. That’s not to say that there aren’t great things on Facebook (after all, you might remember that that’s where I found the above video). The problem is that logging on to wish a quick happy birthday to a friend or to check my notifications can lead down a rabbit hole that costs me an entire afternoon—and costs my children my attention.

So here are some things I’ve decided to do:

  • Use an alarm clock

Yep. I can’t remember how long it’s been since I threw my old one away after being swatted to the floor one too many times. Fortunately, as the guy in the video says, they’re cheap. I’m going to start leaving my phone charging in the kitchen at night. That means that if you want me, you’d better call or text before 9:00 because I go to bed early during the school week. It also means that I should get better sleep, which will lead to better energy when I wake up, a rested brain, a nicer Sarah, etc.

  • Leave my phone in my purse

Yes, I do carry it with me everywhere. I like to take quick snapshots of my kids, and I use my calculator and dictionary apps almost as often as anything else—so it does have its uses. But there is absolutely no reason to check emails or IMDb or Facebook when I’m out to eat with my family. If I show my boys the attention that they deserve now, I hope they will learn that habit and carry it forward in the (far distant) future when they have their own phones.

  • Not post to social media the minute something happens

I was going through photos recently, and I found one from my younger son’s first trip to Disney World. There we were, all in a row: Thomas holding the baby and our older son sitting in between us—and me on my phone. I can tell you exactly what I was doing, which was posting photos from the trip we were on to Facebook. Instead of just enjoying the trip. What difference would it have made if I’d waited a few hours? I’ll tell you: I would have been looking at my children instead of my phone. No more! Take pictures, yes. Post to social media? It can wait until later.

I don’t want to be one of those people who is oblivious to what’s going on around her, sporting a premature dowager’s hump because I’m stooped over my screen. I want to enjoy people watching (it’s funny—admit it) instead of my husband telling me I just missed something hilarious. (Or if I do miss it, I want it to be because I was in my book, not in my phone.)

I hope that by implementing these small changes, I will help address some of the other issues mentioned in the video. Being a good example is key. Not to mention that I think I will be a happier person. I’m a bookworm who loves scrapbooking and adult coloring books, but while I still do read a lot, my other hobbies have suffered in recent years. That photo I found from Disney World? That was from New Year’s 2013—and I rediscovered it because I’m almost ready to start on my 2013 scrapbook. Part of the reason I’m nearly four years behind is because I’m a busy mom of two, but I can’t use that excuse for everything. I can reduce a lot of my busyness by limiting my time on my phone. And after all, the recipes that I love and the videos that are so funny will still be there later. And if you think that it’s something I absolutely must see, tag me. I will look at it after getting my kids to bed and before plugging my phone in—across the house—for the night.

Did October Come out of Nowhere or What?

With so many big projects from late May through early July, I almost felt like the summer months didn’t happen. I was busy enough that I always felt like I was on the brink of falling behind. And although this has been a great school year for my first grader, I feel the press of responsibilities and obligations getting ready to pull me under again.

Whenever I see my grandmother, she asks how I’m doing, and the inevitable reply is, “Busy.” I recount to her my projects – currently, a memoir for one client, an eBook for another, and a book I’m co-writing with a friend – and she asks me how I’ve gotten myself into this. “Well, I’m getting paid,” I tell her. It’s not like I’m giving my time away.

Finishing my first set of three big projects at the end of June wasn’t good enough; I immediately picked up a bunch more. It was great for the summer because the number of paying projects I took on more than made up for the substitute teaching jobs that I only get during the school year. My days were full, but I didn’t have to get up hours before dawn, didn’t have as many pressing deadlines, and could block off time for myself and still get things done.

When school started back, though, the early alarm clock became part of my routine again, as well as lots of substitute teaching, karate and t-ball practices for my elder son, preschool Sunday school, my Education for Ministry class (which comes with a 1000-page history book this year), and my recent move to assistant editor for Fiction Fix. I warned all of my clients that, while I would have plenty of time during the summer, everything would slow down once school started again. “Does that mean that I need to find someone else?” one of these clients asked. Of course not! I need the work, and I can’t leave her with her project half-done.

Even so, I’ve had less time than I thought I would. Whole weeks have slipped by without me touching some of my work, and when it was August, it was all well and good, but somehow October snuck up on me.

It comes down to time management, as usual. There are only so many hours in a day, and sometimes I don’t have more than five or ten minutes to devote to one person, in order to give time to everyone. A few days ago, I started to feel the pressure when I realized that the book I’m co-writing needs to go to the printer the last week of the month, and I still don’t have all of the material. The memoir needs to be finished before Christmas, and the eBook is set to publish in mid-December, but we’re having all kinds of technical issues with the conversion for e-devices. To get all of these things done, the only solution that I can think of is to give up some of the weekend time that I’ve tried to set aside to read and edit for myself – you know, for my sanity.

And I made this decision on a weekend when we were going out of town for a mini vacation, naturally.

On Friday afternoon, I spent an hour hunched over my MacBook, bound and determined to finish the latest chunk of the memoir. My husband took care of all the last minute details, as well as our two-year-old. I finished and called my client from the car, promising to get the material to her next week.

One of the wonderful things about freelance work is that you can do things like this – type from your house right before leaving town – but if you don’t have the discipline to do it, you could easily get sucked into your favorite TV show or lose an hour on Facebook. There’s no boss looking over your shoulder to tell you off or remind you that October, in fact, started four days ago.

And if you’re married and working freelance, it also takes an understanding spouse. Sure, it looks like I’m having a great time, sitting in my comfy glider and typing away in my bedroom slippers, but I really am working, and there is a client who is counting on me to give my best. But that understanding only stretches so far. The free time that I afford myself on weekends needs to include my husband and kids.

Cinderella's Palace at Disney World

Cinderella’s Palace at Disney World

As I write, I'm out of town with my family. My in-laws offered to take us to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World. The kids knew we were going to visit their grandparents for the weekend, but Disney was a surprise. And so worth it. It's what I consider the last hurrah before I knuckle down and get serious.


And, of course, I have another motivating factor (aside from keeping my clients happy): NaNoWriMo starts in less than a month, and I can’t wait to write the sequel to last year’s NaNo book. I can’t do that with all these looming projects, so October, look out! There’s going to be a whole lot of productivity going on around here.

Mommy’s Summer Break

Flagler Beach

Flagler Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer, I’ve been more aware of the passage of time than ever before. I think part of that is due to updating the calendar with my six-year-old every day. It’s something he did in kindergarten and will continue to do in the first grade, and I figured it was an easy way to sneak in a little learning all summer long.

So when we turned to August, and I saw that the first day of school was less than three weeks away, I felt like our summer break had evaporated without me taking much notice. Then Peter asked me how many days were left, and I turned it into a quick math lesson. We counted the days of summer break up to that point, then counted the remaining days until school started, and we added them up for the total number of days.

Eighty-one. From the day after he finished kindergarten to the day before he starts first grade are 81 days. Not even three full months. I have to admit that I feel a little cheated. When I was a kid, we were out at the beginning of June and didn’t go back until the day after Labor Day.

A little past the mid-point of July, we were invited to a play date at the beach. I was talking to another mom, whom I hadn’t seen since early June, and she asked me about our summer. I was at a bit of a loss and had to admit that standing on the beach with her and our children was the first “summery” thing I’d done. Yes, my kids had occasional play dates and day camps or classes, but I hadn’t taken them to do anything that smacked of summer.

Before I had kids, I was rarely asked the “What have you done this summer?” question. After all, if you don’t have kids, you’re not in school yourself, or you’re not a teacher, summer is merely a hotter time of year. And when you live in Florida, it’s hot about eleven-and-a-half months, anyway, so it all kind of runs together.

But this summer, I’ve encountered this question a lot, and I’ve finally resorted to the, “It’s been very busy” answer. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I have completed three big projects since the end of the school year, but for every one of these projects, I’ve picked up at least one more. So my busy-ness has just shifted into other areas.

I’m not complaining. I love freelance writing and the flexibility of being able to go to the store when I need and to be available to take my sons to their various activities. Even being busy isn’t all that bad, except that I’ve had to utilize to-do lists more than ever in my life the last couple months because, otherwise, I might forget to brush my teeth or something.

I will have to say, though, that some things have suffered. Like the house. Because of my husband’s odd work hours, it seems that the only days he’s available to mow the lawn are when it rains. Consequently, our grass grows so thick and so high that we run through lawn mowers like candy. We finally gave in and hired a lawn guy (something I’d been rooting for since last fall), and when he showed up one morning this week and did what would have taken Thomas two days to accomplish, I said that my dreams had come true. Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration. He wasn’t publishing my book, cleaning the house, potty training my toddler, and mowing the lawn, but I’ll take what I can get.

Ick – do we live like this?

Ick – do we live like this?

As for the interior of the house, it’s been the pits since before spring break, which was in March. People say that trying to clean while you have kids is like trying to shovel snow in a blizzard, which is true, but still. I have a nice little shelf with bins that will hold toys, if only the kids will use it. Then my elder son decided he wanted to sleep on the floor over eight months ago, and he’s slept there ever since. (Really – check out the picture.) So his floor is mostly taken up with a sleeping bag, which never gets picked up. Every once in a while, it gets so messed up that I straighten it, only to find a number of toys that we thought had disappeared.

Sleeping bag… and no more sleeping bag :)

Sleeping bag… and no more sleeping bag 🙂

With my summer dwindling – and although I’ve been busy, I have more free time now than I will when I start substitute teaching again – I need to take care of my house before it gets even more out of control. So this weekend is my opportunity. My in-laws are taking the kids for a couple days, and although I swore I would clean the last time they kept the kids, I didn’t. But this time, I’m tackling the mess. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like being able to vacuum at three in the morning and not bother anyone, except for maybe the cat. (And sleep late because no one’s going to yell, “Mommy!” at six A.M.) It’s also nice to be able to pack away toys that my boys will never miss and donate them to children who will actually play with them instead of leaving them in the middle of the foyer.

So my life has come to this: it makes my day to pay someone to mow the lawn and to get rid of my kids long enough to clean up after them. Am I nuts, or what? My mommy-cation is not glamorous, nothing to write home about (although it does make for a convenient blog topic). And after all, my six-year-old gave Thomas and me his blessing to go out and have ice cream, see a movie, and have a romantic dinner. So, who knows? We may take him up on it… and come home to a house that looks like it belongs to civilized people.

The Happy Ending

The Happy Ending

Pacing Is Everything

Unscheduled meeting

Unscheduled meeting (Photo credit: Roger Smith)

Have you ever read a book that has such a slow pace that it puts you to sleep? You feel like you should get a medal for reading one page. Maybe you save it for nights when you have insomnia. I can certainly appreciate a slow pace if it makes a scene feel just as excruciatingly slow to the reader as the characters involved, but it’s hard to read an entire book like that.

On the other hand, have you ever read a book where you feel like you’re panting with exertion after a few pages? Just like the slow pace, there are places where this is appropriate, but it’s hard to sustain for the duration of a novel. And I have to admit, I often keep myself so busy that I feel like I’m living a fast-paced novel kind of life. There’s a reason my workout program and even the Bible prescribe a day of  rest. You can certainly go too far with this concept, but the original idea is a good one. It helps us recharge and keep from burning out – or running head-long into a brick wall.

Can you tell what I’m working up to? This week, I started getting a cold, something that happens to me when I’m entering burn out-mode. It was my cue that if I didn’t slow down from my break-neck pace, I would crash soon.

I go through cycles of taking on so much that I drive myself and others around me crazy. Then I regroup and work at a slower pace for a while before ramping up again. One time years ago, I had so many things on my plate that I worked my body into stress-induced acid reflux disease. I took a pill for a while, but I didn’t want to live like that. Something had to go.

Usually, I find a rhythm, a happy place. But adding first one and then a second child complicated things. I don’t work full-time outside the home any more, but that doesn’t make me any less busy. In fact, I think that many stay-at-home parents would agree that we tend to get dumped on because full-time workers assume that we have all this unused time on our hands. I wish that were true.

I have gotten better, though. Several times recently, I’ve said “no” when I might have given a “yes” without a second thought – like turning down several volunteer opportunities. It’s a hard thing to do when people who know I’m dependable ask me to do something. The last one I turned down – and it was a biggie – was met with: “I had to give you the chance to say no. But I think you’re making the right decision.” This person knows how busy I am and gave me a gift – the honor of offering a position with lots of responsibility, yet understanding from a fellow parent who also had two young kids once upon a time.

It’s really hard to say no to work, though. My husband and I both have this problem. We’re penny-pinchers, and if we turn down paying work, we feel guilty. That could be an extra car payment, money for a future vacation, or savings for our emergency fund.

I recently received a query regarding proofreading. I can proofread in my sleep; it’s my favorite kind of work. It was a good-size project, too. The only problem was that I was getting ready to launch a client’s website (see last week’s post) and knew that I needed to devote all my work time to that project. I didn’t turn down the potential client, but I was honest about how long it would take me to complete the job – a week longer than usual. My turnaround wasn’t quick enough, and the client took the work elsewhere.

I missed out on a nice paycheck, but if I’d taken on that project, I would have missed out on more time with my family. My elder son is already used to me taking a couple good chunks of time out for work every day, and I didn’t want to sacrifice any more of my time with him just to get ahead on the budget. If our electricity were at stake, sure, I would have. But it wasn’t. I stuck to my work-at-home covenant as best I could.

But it also sometimes means a sacrifice on my kids’ part. This is where I feel most guilty. Vacation Bible school was coming up, and this is one volunteer job for which I will always rearrange my schedule. It was a full week right on top of two big projects, a weekend full of birthday parties, a grand opening for a bookstore where my children’s book Hero is being sold, and all the usual mom stuff. Then Peter got an invitation for a play date.

“Just email me,” the mom said. I’m glad she gave me that option instead of asking for an answer on the spot. I knew Peter would have fun, but the timing was all wrong. It was a swimming play date, and I would have my toddler with me (always a challenge). It turned out that it was also my ten-year wedding anniversary. Whoops. I sent a quick email turning down the offer, and I’m glad I did. It was a busy day, and even though I know we could have squeezed the play date in, I saved myself a lot of stress. And when Mama’s not stressed, everyone’s a lot happier.

So how do you know when enough is enough? How can you achieve that perfect pace?

Well, if you’re writing, start by avoiding passive voice and past perfect tense.

Unfortunately, real life is not quite as easy. But I will say this: if you say yes because you’re worried that someone will think you’re lazy or a bad parent or will judge you in any way, you’re likely saying yes for the wrong reason.

And if it’s going to cause unwanted stress (like signing your kid up for yet another sport because all his friends are doing it – or taking a job that will make you hell to live with for a week or two), you need to give it some serious thought first.

Now does this mean that my summer is going to be full of relaxation and stress-free days? Not hardly. I’m still plenty busy. And quite honestly, I like it that way. But I’m going to make sure I enjoy my kids and live at a pace that the whole family can manage. I’m picking up two new projects to replace the ones I’ve just wrapped up, but the people I’m working with know that we’re making long-term plans with no firm deadlines. There’s even the chance we’ll still like each other when all is said and done. winky emoticon


Free Time? Not on My Watch

Keep up and blog on

Keep Up and Blog On (Photo credit: futureshape)

A couple months ago, I blogged about time management, and a friend joked with me that he would read it when he learned how to manage his time.

I know the feeling, and I’m the one who was giving advice.

My problem isn’t procrastination but, rather, taking on too many projects at once. (My husband is probably applauding me for admitting this.) I have no idea what boredom is because as soon as I check one item off my to-do list, something else takes its place. Currently, I think of them as “The Big Three” looming projects.

First, in September I took on a job with a client that doesn’t quite fall in my area of expertise, but she was desperate, and I knew I could handle it. It’s the end of May now, and I’m just grateful that she’s patient.

Second, in November I participated in NaNoWriMo – a huge time hog but the most fun I’ve ever had writing – and I’m still editing my manuscript, getting ready to claim my two free paper copies from CreateSpace.

Third, in January I decided to pull an old writing project off the back burner, figuring I would finish it within a month. That didn’t happen. In fact, it’s this project that is making me so tardy with this post.

And a bonus – my dad started a blog for the family business. I’ve contributed one article so far (and thanks to my patient readers for reading it a couple weekends ago instead of my usual post). I edit each blog, even when I’m not the writer, and I’ve posted most of them, too.

These are in addition to substitute teaching, reading and editing for Fiction Fix, bookkeeping part-time, and being a mom. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. The wonderful news, however, is that The Big Three are finally wrapping up. I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – and I think I’ll get there in time to have a breather before school gets back in session. And then I’ll be in for it because this mama hopes to go back to school some time in the next year. I mean, what else am I supposed to do with my free time?

Now it’s time to get back to it, so the next post you read can actually include an announcement about finishing something for once. Until then, back to work…

Enhanced by Zemanta

Three Ways to Manage Your Busy Schedule – Instead of Letting It Manage You

Laura's work desk 13/05/2008

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?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Ah, the Infamous To-Do List


list (Photo credit: macwagen)

I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists. As an organized, goal-oriented person, there is little more satisfying than checking off item after item: Done! Done! Done! But, on the other hand, as an extremely busy person, there is little more frustrating than looking at my list of goals and realizing that I’m not going to finish nearly all of what I need to do, and just forget what I want to do. Then I feel worthless. I mean, how hard is it to wash a load of towels, scrub a couple toilets, and unload the dishwasher? And if I can’t take care of my home, then why should I get to indulge in my favorite vice–a good book? Those items that aren’t checked off mock me; they nag. So I get discouraged and quit making lists. But then I forget about the toilets. I know there’s something I needed to do. . . what was it? Okay, make a list again. Just a little reminder–no pressure. Then I end up with sticky notes all over the place and scraps of paper–reminders to check my reminders. And don’t forget the alarm on my iPhone. I have a series of alarms that go off during the day, telling me to wake up, pick up my son from school, go to the doctor, and so on. (But just in case I can’t remember why the alarm is going off, there still might be a little slip of paper with early dismissal 11:00 A.M. written on it).

Are all my lists and reminders and alarms just bits of refuse that get in the way of actual living? Are they wasting the time I’m supposed to be saving by making them to begin with?

Recently, I got fed up with all the work with comes with. . . you know. . . being an adult. Worn out from going to bed too late and getting up at 4:30, one bit of advice I get quite often is to get a nap when the boys do. But that’s usually not an option. Naptime is when I do all the things I can’t do when they’re awake. I mean, I guess I don’t have to change the cat’s litter box. . . but ignoring it for too many days in a row is just plain gross, and cleaning it when my touch-everything-and-put-it-in-his-mouth toddler is up and about qualifies as both gross and unhygienic.

My pattern was to come home, put the boys down, then get to work. I had a mental list, even if I didn’t have a written one. With so much to do, I often ended up frustrated; if I was able to sit down at all, there was little to no time left to write. Yes, I realize I sound selfish. But there remains the fact that, if I’m going to make a living writing, I have to be able to actually write and not just complain about never having the time to do it. (Although I probably could make a living complaining if I dressed like trash and let a camera crew follow me around all day; it seems to work for enough other people.)

So over the past couple weeks, I’ve changed my methods slightly. That handy little timer on my iPhone became my friend in a new way; it saved me from completely frustrating myself with chores. Whether it’s true or not, I believe there’s something to working in concentrated increments. If I know I only have ten minutes or thirty minutes or whatever it is, I become more focused. So I allowed myself half an hour to write, then half an hour to do chores. Or if I had a specific goal, like editing a chapter, I made myself do a chore as soon as I was done with that chapter. Done and done.

This weekend is the big test because we’re moving. The condo that we never thought we would leave—they would have to bury us under the patio, and we would haunt the residents who came after us—is about to be a part of Cotchaleovitch family lore. We put it on the market, figuring why not? No one’s going to want it, anyway, not in this market. We knew we would have plenty of time to save money for a new place, look for said new place, and continue to regret buying the condo almost seven years ago while we waited. But twenty-one hours after we put a sign in our window, we got an offer. Not just a bite, a real offer. Thomas and I walked around in disbelief for the rest of the day. Talk about wrecking an organized person’s day. But it’s a good kind of wreckage.

Now, weeks later, we have a house. Less than a week after seeing it for the first time, we were in a property manager’s office, signing papers. Thomas and I really never thought this would happen. We dreamed about it, sure, but we couldn’t actually imagine moving. Nor did we want to face the amount of work it takes to move.

It’s overwhelming to look around and not know where to start. This is where a to-do list comes in handy. I only wish the list would do the hard stuff for me. It doesn’t go to work or exercise or take care of the kids, after all. I still have to do those things, plus pack, too. Oh, and change our address, get the power turned on—all those little things that people would rather forget about but cannot, ultimately, ignore. Fortunately, when I moved in 2004, then again in 2005, and finally in 2006, I got fed up with trying to remember all the places I had to inform and call that I made a list and squirreled it away, finding it again a week or so ago—a to-do list that is actually worth something, and that something is my time. I’m sure I would have thought of everything on that list eventually, but each item would have come to me in the middle of the night, stealing my sleep and making me paranoid about forgetting before morning.

So I looked at my list and figured out which things were most important, like forwarding the mail and turning on the electricity and water. I’ve gotten through maybe half the list, which is slow-going for me, but I think it’s actually an improvement over what I think of as my natural Martha-ness. And I’m not stressing, either; I won’t allow it. It’s all spelled out, and I’ll get to everything on there in the next week or so. As for the packing, that has more of a deadline. But as with splitting my time between household chores and writing, I’m spending tiny bites of time for me (like this blog) and then spending a little more time packing. (When crunch time comes, I’ll be all about packing and moving, of course.)

This week’s chapel leader at my son’s school quoted the Bible verse below, and it was just what I needed to hear when I felt particularly bogged down by thirty hours of things to do in a twenty-four hour day. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10) How refreshing to think that there’s a plan for me, and I’m not required to check anything off on a list to follow it—or to be a worthwhile person.