Lately, on my runs, I’ve been listening to Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It. In her book, she shares the habits and secrets of successful working moms and how they manage to get it all done while still creating time for family and life. I find this idea fascinating.
I thought I’d have more time now, since I decided to take a year off of teaching, but I still struggle with this. With four kids, one of whom is an infant, I have found that my time is even more precious, and I still seem to run out. But I want to make the most of my time (hence the multitasking: running and listening to a personal development audiobook). I’ve noticed, with myself at least, that if I’m not intentional with my time, an entire day can pass and the most I’ve accomplish is making my bed. That doesn’t make me feel proud of myself.
I think most of us struggle with this on some level. Maybe you manage to find time for work and kids, but you and your husband haven’t had a date night in eight months. Or you find yourself so “busy” you can’t get a haircut. Or the most common thing we don’t have time for: working out.
But here’s the reality: we have time. Our Heavenly Father has blessed us with time. And just like all the gifts he gives us, we need to get better at managing it.
Let Go of Expectations
Expectations, whether self-imposed — “I should be making cookies from scratch for my kids.” — or put there by others –“Well, my mom always had supper on the table by 5 o’clock.”– (Note: my husband has never said that), can really overwhelm and cripple us. “I should help out at school more. I should really go in to work early. I should make my daughter’s birthday cake from scratch. I should… I should…”
Pretty soon, we’re chest-deep in a great, big, stinky pile of “should.”
The truth is, most of those “shoulds” don’t even exist. Some, like keeping children alive do exist and need to happen. Some, like your mother’s expectation that you should come to Christmas dinner, are real and need to be addressed. But most of the other expectations that take up precious space in our brain are lies that we don’t actually have to listen to. You’re not a bad mom if you bought the birthday treat or a horrible wife if you made pancakes for supper. Pull an Elsa and let it go.
Figure Out Your Priorities
One huge hurdle that most mothers face is trying to balance all the things in a given day. We have meals, cleaning, laundry, school runs, field trips, and – if you’re working – meetings, emails, projects, client lists, deadlines, etc. This is a lot to keep track of. Forget about having personal time!
Most of the confusion and stress comes from simply not having our priorities clearly defined. Faith, marriage, and family should take top priority (in that order), and if they don’t, you need to take a cold, hard look at your priorities. After those three things, you get to determine what’s important.
If kids take priority over cleaning (and they should), then maybe the kitchen is just going to stay messy so you can read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus before bed., and that’s perfectly okay. Don’t hesitate to decide what’s important to you and to build your life around those things, ignoring or postponing all the things that you’ve decided aren’t priorities. And if others don’t agree with you, who cares? (See: “Let Go of Expectations” above.)
Don’t Overestimate Time
One of the biggest hurdles I’ve encountered in my own life is my assumption that things are going to take much longer than they actually do. Let me give you an example:
I put off folding laundry like the queen of procrastination because I think I need to sit down for an hour and fold. Now, sometimes, if I’ve put it off for so long that it piles up, it can actually take that long, but most of the time, folding a load or two of laundry might take, ten or fifteen minutes. That’s it. That’s not even a full episode of FRIENDS.
We avoid or push off so many things because we assume the time we need to dedicate to doing them is too much. We think a workout will take too long, or that stopping in the middle of a project to play with a child will take hours. This is simply false. I’m willing to bet that most anything you want to get done, you can get done in fifteen minutes. You can run about 1.5 miles in fifteen minutes or do one of these quick workouts. You can clean a bathroom or two in fifteen minutes. You can play a game of Candyland, read three pictures books, edit a three-five page paper, cook a pot of rice, start a load of laundry while emptying the dishwasher, write about five emails, call a client, mop a kitchen floor, or mix cookie batter all in about fifteen minutes. Try it. Set a timer and see what tasks you can do within fifteen minutes. You might surprise yourself.
Find What Works for You
I’m not going to name names, but I know people who struggle with working out, because they can’t get up early to get it done, so they decide they just can’t workout, because you can only workout in the morning.
Who said that in order to be successful you have to be up at 5 am, workout, drink a smoothie for breakfast, hustle kids to school before killing it at your 9-5, and then wind the day down with a glass of wine, and a good book? That might be a great recipe for some people, but it’s not the only recipe!
What if you figured out how to make a successful life base on your personality, patterns, and personal preferences? Maybe you’re not a morning person, but actually hit your stride and are the most productive at 9pm, winding down for the night at midnight. Early mornings don’t even make sense for you! What if you drag a little in the morning, but by noon are ready to go and find you get the most done in the afternoon?
Stop thinking there is only “one way” to do things and work with your own style and schedule.
God has given us more than enough time and the blessing to manage how we spend it. Once we let go of any expectation of how our life is suppose to look, make time for our priorities, and find what works for us, you’d be amazed at what you can do in the time you’ve been given.
I Know How She Does it: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam