You Have More Time Than You Think: How a Time Study Brought Balance Into My Life

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2016 was the year when it seemed that my productivity goals all seemed to fall into place. I’m an odd mix of a productivity junkie (anything with the keywords “be more productive” or “get things done” is like click-bait to me) and a dreamer. Sometimes I dream about big things, sometimes I’m a fiend about getting little things done, but rarely have those big dreams and little things intersected into anything that resembles a balance of accomplishment.

Something clicked when I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. For years I told myself that when X, Y, or Z happened, I’d finally have time to do the big (and little) things I wanted to do. When Eli goes to school full-time, I’ll be able to really launch my blog. When I stop spending so much time blogging, I’ll get my photos organized. When I finish this project, I’ll get my writing career off the ground. I know we’ve all said similar things, only to find that we’re no further along. Those extra magical hours never materialized.

Vanderkam encourages readers to conduct a time study on themselves. For a minimum of one week (which contains 168 hours), you are to write down everything you do and how long it takes you to do it. Sleeping, eating, watching TV, commuting, housework, scrolling through Facebook … it all gets accounted for. I did this for a week last summer and it was so incredibly informative. Some things were good. I get an average of 8 hours of sleep a night. I exercise roughly 4 hours a week. I don’t spend excessive time in the car or watching television. On the flip side, I spent more hours than necessary on housework, email, social media and, oddly enough, socializing.

After you conduct a time study and know where you can cut back to create pockets of time, Vanderkam suggests making a list of 100 dreams. These are things you’ve always wanted to do, from the very big (Go to Paris!) to the very small. (Put our Disney photos in an album.) Creating extra time in your week is wonderful, but what purpose does it serve if you don’t spend it intentionally? And how can you be intentional about the way you spend your time if you don’t identify what’s important to you?

Once you have your list in hand and a general idea of how you spend your time vs. what can be minimized, Vanderkam recommends planning your week using the strategy of block scheduling. Listing out the hours in the day, you give a name to how you’ll spend those hours. For someone who lived by a never-ending to-do list, this was revolutionary. I’d make lists with items like fold laundry, meal plan, write, email Lisa, call Amy. Then the laundry would never end, or the email would turn into 10 emails, which would bleed into a few minutes on Pinterest … you get the idea. Things that had to get done got done, of course. We always had meals on the table, clean underwear, and phone calls returned. But those nebulous, dreamy plans or those someday maybe projects never got started. I mean, who has the time, right? It’s one of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood: “Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.”

How block scheduling helped me organize my days and reach my dreams.

I’ll go deeper into block scheduling in a future post, but for now here’s the gist. I plan out the week with goals in mind for my 4 necessary life categories: work, home, self, and relationships. I have 3-4 goals for each, and as I plan out each day, I schedule blocks of time to work on those things – and only those things.

Making my list of 100 dreams was both a fun and useful way to get a bigger picture of what really mattered to me. What stood out was that my big dreams involve travel, creating a cozy home in which we are surrounded by meaningful things, getting the most out of my time with the kids while they’re still around, and finding creative work that satisfied me while helping us reach our financial and travel goals.

When those things are laid out there, you have a more clear picture of how you want to spend your time. I keep coming back to housework, because apparently I have a strange issue with doing too much housework. (I spent a whopping 24.75 hours in a week cleaning, cooking and doing laundry. AN ENTIRE DAY OF MY LIFE EVERY WEEK. Even I recognize that’s not normal.) Would I like to spend 6 of those 24 hours folding every last sock and polishing the toaster? Or would my 6 hours be better spent on a baby step that will get me closer to my big goals and dreams?

I started block scheduling on a (mostly) regular basis in mid-October, and a few months in I see a dramatic difference in my quality of life. I feel more balanced. I feel a satisfaction in my work and personal life I haven’t felt in, well, ever. I have a sense of peace about my days – I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing at exactly the time I’m doing it. It’s far from perfect. I still have weeks where it feels like I’ve been derailed and nothing gets done. I still have to fight urges to engage in time wasters. But I feel progress and hope, which feels pretty darn good.

Just for fun, I’ll share my list of 100 dreams in the next post. Then I’ll do a deep dive into my block scheduling process so you can give it a try as well. For now I’d love to know: what would you do with a few extra hours every week?

 

 

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2017 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge: What I’m Reading

My 2017 reading list for the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. My goals this year include both reading for fun and for growth. See my picks for a great mix of books!

For the third year in a row, I’m participating in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge. I’ve found this challenge to be very impactful on my reading life. It’s easy for me to be a slave to my To Be Read list, listening to some cranky librarian’s voice in my head that insists I Must! Read! Books! In! Order! At that rate, I’d be reading 2017’s hottest and best books in 2027. I appreciate the challenge for getting me out of that rut. Without it, I’d have probably never tackled Pride & Prejudice, Friday Night Lights or Harry Potter – all books that have made my reading life incredibly richer.

This year Anne Bogel offered up two different challenges in a choose-your-own-adventure style, based on what you might like to be different about your reading life. Wishing for more fun and escapism in your books? Choose the Reading for Fun Challenge. Looking to be challenged as a reader in the year ahead? Pick the Reading for Growth Challenge. In that spirit, I ended up doing something different as well. I’d like to see a mix of both fun and challenge in my reading life, and so I picked 6 categories from each challenge and blended them into my own. Here are my categories along with what I’m (probably) reading this year.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.

A Newbery Award Winner or Honor Book:

A book set somewhere you’ve never been but want to visit:

A book that’s more than 600 pages:

A juicy memoir:

A book of any genre that addresses current events:

A book in the backlist of a new favorite author:

A book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author:

A book recommended by someone with great taste:

A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner:

A book about a subject you already love:

A book published before you were born:

A book in a genre you usually avoid:

I think 2017 will be a wonderful mix of fun and thoughtful reads, don’t you?

With the end-0f-year hubbub and best-of lists, I never got around to sharing my December Must-Reads. I definitely slowed down during that last month, but there are a few titles I’d like to share.

How to Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach

I’ve been a fan of Jenny’s from the moment I first stumbled upon her blog, Dinner: A Love Story. Her love of the family dinner, combined with her realistic view on just how difficult dinner can be as a parent, makes for a comforting, practical and useful resource. I own every one of her cookbooks (the others are Dinner: A Love Story and Dinner: the Playbook), and they show the signs of love and everyday use: stained and splattered. You might wonder how a cookbook ended up in my reading list. Isn’t it just recipes? Not this one. Jenny goes through the rituals of life, big and small, sharing her family’s traditions and encouraging you to create your own. Buy this now, make the Shredded Pork Lettuce Wraps and Chocolate Pudding Pie, and tell me you don’t love it as much as I do!

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

This was my pick for the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge for “The book you should have read in school.” I approached this book with trepidation. I’ve wanted to read it for years, as it feels as if I’m missing out on so many cultural references by not having read it. At the same time, I was scared that I’d hate it and wonder what all the fuss was about. I’ll tell you up front, it’s not an easy book to settle into. Anything written in the 19th century is going to have some language barriers to overcome. There were two keys for me that got me over the initial hump. One: Choosing the annotated version of the book. Having footnotes handy to explain words, phrases and traditions of the time helped tremendously. Yes, it can make the reading slow at time, having to go back and forth between the novel and the notes. It clarified things which helped me get into the story and have a deeper understanding of the characters. Two: Giving it time. Normally I would ditch a book that I wasn’t really into after 75 pages or so. I gave myself more time with this one, which was needed both to get into the groove of reading a completely different style of writing and to become invested in the characters. Once I did, however, I couldn’t get enough. At one point, after Lizzy’s scathing rebuke of Darcy, I said out loud, “Girrrl!” It transcends time, and I’m so very glad I read it.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for Shauna Niequist’s newest book. Her previous book of essays, Bread & Wine, made my Best Of list in 2014. It’s a book I return to often, and love to give as a gift. I found Present Over Perfect to be just as lovely, but with one caveat: it won’t appeal to women as broadly as Bread & Wine does. Niequist writes with a certain woman in mind: the overworked woman who feels spread too thin. Niequist tells of her own breaking point, when the responsibilities that came along with a successful writing and speaking career threatened to overtake her health and her family. I found every part of Bread & Wine relatable, however there were a few essays in here which I couldn’t identify with. I still love the book as a whole, though, with its message that so many of us need to hear: you are enough.

I think I’ll continue to post book reviews as I did last year: a quarterly wrap-up of my favorite reads with year-end Best Of lists. It worked for me in 2016, so why change? As always, thanks for reading along with me. So many of you have told me that you choose many of your reads based on my recommendations, and that makes my bookish heart incredibly happy! In return, your recommendations have enhanced my reading life as well, so keep them coming!

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Looking Back, Looking Forward: What Worked for Me in 2016

Leaf Unfurling

Photo credit: Elena Six, who has fallen in love with my camera much to my delight!

As I head into 2017 I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on 2016. I’ve always been one to set some intentions or goals for the year ahead, and I really enjoy the self-reflection that goes hand-in-hand with planning for a new year. This year I took it a step further and gave myself a little end-of-year review before coming up with new goals for 2017. It was a good reminder to think about what didn’t go so well in 2016. What didn’t work? And more importantly, do I want to put the effort and energy into making those things that floundered work for me in 2017? I thought it might be fun to share what worked for me in 2016, what didn’t work, and what I hope to carry into 2017.

What Worked For Me in 2016

List of 100 Dreams

This comes directly from Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. It’s an exercise the author learned from a career coach. The idea being that in order to do more of what you love in your life, you should know what you love and what you’d liked to do. Think of it like a detailed bucket list. Some people like to divide theirs into categories (personal, work, travel, etc). I just wrote mine out, and continue to add to it as I think of things. (If there’s any interest, I’m happy to share my list.) Having this list made goal-setting easier this year, and knowing what I’d like more of in my life gave me something to actively work towards when I started using the next thing on this list …

Block Scheduling

Block Scheduling Journal

Which is block scheduling, another handy tool I implemented from Vanderkam’s book. I’ve tried lots of different time-management tools, from lists to timers to apps. None of them have stuck, but block scheduling is here to stay. Monday through Friday I spend a few minutes the evening before planning the next day. In a little journal I list the hours of the day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in 30 increment blocks. From there, I fill in how I’d like to spend my day. I started doing this after I did a week-long time study on myself and realized I spend too much time doing some tasks (like housework, looking at my phone and email), and very little time doing things that really matter (creative work, unfinished projects, quality time with my spouse). It help keeps me on task, and requires me to be intentional about how I spend my time. If there’s something I really want to accomplish from my list of dreams, I know I need to take baby steps towards them by scheduling in time to work on those goals. It also keeps me balanced. As I schedule my time, I’m cognizant of making sure I schedule time for relationships, work and self.

Personal Training

Speaking of self, I took a step in a new direction in the fall. I’ve done a good job making exercise a habit in the last year or so. But after doing several rounds of Bikini Body Mommy challenges, I was starting to feel a little frustrated about my progress. I was also starting to get a little burnt out. My neighbor organized a weekly morning workout in our cul-de-sac with a personal trainer last September, and these workouts kicked my butt! The trainer mentioned that she was going to organize a 5-week holiday boot camp starting the week of Thanksgiving, so I gave it a try. She emailed me 5 workouts per week and gave me nutritional goals to strive for. As an obliger, knowing that someone was expecting me to work out and check in with my nutritional wins and losses really helped me stick to the program. As a result, I got through the holidays feeling really strong and healthy. I’m sticking with it through the new year and I think it’s going to make a big difference in my health and fitness.

Bullet Journaling

I love my paper planner, but when I finished my last one in July (it was a weird school-year one) I bit the bullet journal bug. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a regular planner. I love how bullet journaling is so flexible and completely customizable to exactly what your needs are. My bullet journal isn’t fancy or pretty, but it serves me well. I keep a weekly spread, a monthly task list, and a log of the books I want to read. I’m trying my own Happiness Project this year, so I just set up a spread to keep track of those goals, but otherwise? That’s it. If you’ve been thinking about making the switch my advice is to just jump in. It might not be pretty in the beginning, but you’ll figure it out.

Taking a Break From Blogging

This was so good for me. I didn’t realize how much time and energy I’d put into blogging, nor how much the task of keeping up with social media was draining me. It’s helped me clarify what I want going forward – more on that down below!

Shouldless Days

I plan on continuing this vital piece of self-care. My goal in 2017 is to schedule one Shouldless Day per quarter.

What Didn’t Work For Me in 2016

Accumulating Stuff

I’m normally great at purging, but this year my plan went awry. For the longest time I participated in a local kids’ consignment sale, and I’d get rid of most of the kids’ outgrown clothing and toys this way. It started to feel like too much work, and so I quit. I also didn’t have a garage sale last year. I have a hard time sending things to Goodwill I feel like I can get some decent money back for, so I started accumulating things thinking I could sell them on the Facebook Marketplace. The only problem? I have the worst luck with Facebook Marketplace. As I write this, I have a pair of Bogs boots I can’t get rid of – every single person that says they want them flakes out and doesn’t pick up. Of course, this plays out over several days and takes forever! This year I need a better plan. Any ideas?

Tracking Steps

I set a goal of getting 10,000 steps in at least 5 days a week. I was doing really well with this goal – most weeks I’d hit 10,000 five or six days a week. The problem? I took 10,000 steps as a justification to not push myself physically and as a license to eat whatever I wanted. I mean, I was moving every day, right? I now know that I need to focus on nutrition and more challenging workouts if I want to really improve my health.

Stitch Fix

I ordered a couple of Fixes this year, as well as peeked into the offerings in my neighbor’s box (we’re about the same size). Every time I’ve been disappointed. I’m not sure if the quality has fallen off or if I’m just getting better and buying my own things. Often I end up feeling like I need to keep at least one thing so I don’t lose my styling fee, and then I end up not wearing the one thing I bought. I’m done with subscription clothing boxes in 2017.

Red wine

This one is so sad! Red wine and I are not friends anymore. Anyone else over 40 notice this? If I have more than one glass, I wake up with a raging headache the next morning. It’s only red wine. (Thank God!) I can still have enough white wine or beer to make me fun.

Looking Forward

In another first for me, I came up with my word for the year: essential. In 2017 I’m striving to organize my days around what is essential to me: relationships, contributions (work or otherwise) and self. When choosing how to spend my time, money and energy I hope to be able to sift through the excess and allow only the essential things to filter through.

I’m also going to give my own yearlong Happiness Project a try, focusing on career, health, possessions, organizing, marriage, parenting, finances, time, writing, challenge, atmosphere and friendship (one category per month).

As for the blog? After stepping a way a bit, I realized that this little space and community are important to me, but in a different way than it was before. For so long, I wanted this to blog to define me as a person and as a career. Now I see it for what it started as: a creative outlet and a way to connect. I’m cultivating some wonderful freelance clients with whom I can use my writing and social media skills to further my career. That leaves me with this lovely little corner to fill as I like, without pressure to make money or sell myself as a brand. I’m full of hope and enthusiasm for what lies ahead!

What worked for you in 2016? Is there anything that didn’t work for you that you’re ready to shed?

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