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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Now Showing at the Indiana State Fair!

I've been making an annual trek (or two or three) to the Indiana State Fair for 25 years now.  Good heavens, just seeing that number typed out makes me feel really, really old.  I missed a few years when we were living in Tennessee and couldn't swing a trip up.  I also missed the year Eli was born – not that I didn't seriously consider hauling my 7-day-old baby and post-partum mess of a self down to the Fairgrounds.  I love the State Fair that much.  

For all my love of the Fair, though, I've always been strictly a fair-goer.  I came, I saw, I ate, and it was good.  I'm not sure what inspired me to check into the requirements for becoming a fair exhibitor this year, but I did.  Next thing I know, I've entered three pictures into the photography competition, submitted an essay in the Indiana Humanities Food for Thought project and signed Elena up for a cookie competition sponsored by King Arthur Flour.

It wasn't easy choosing which pictures to exhibit, but in the end I must have chosen well – two of my pictures earned Honorable Mentions.

My baby


Robin Silhouette, Week 12/52


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Elena was a little miffed that it was the picture of her that hung ribbon-less, but she felt better when I told her it was blue-ribbon worthy to me.  My essay (which just happened to be about my favorite little donut shop), didn't place, but a few of the pictures I submitted along with it are displayed next to snippets of all the essays.  All in all, I was quite pleased with myself.

Elena and I were both looking forward to her competition.  The premise was simple: kids 8-17 were eligible to compete.  They were required to use the recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies supplied by King Arthur Flour.  They were to use King Arthur Flour in their cookies and bring along the UPC code from the bag of flour as proof.  They were to arrange 6 cookies on a disposable plate and show up at 2 p.m. on the first  Friday of the fair.  How hard could that be, right?

Well, first of all, it probably wouldn't be that difficult if a certain child's mother didn't commit herself to having a garage sale and attending a birthday party on the very same day.  No problem, I thought, we will plan ahead!  We will be organized and efficient and it will be great fun!  And honestly, things were going well.  I provided minimal supervision on Thursday morning while Elena baked her cookies.  She did a fabulous job and picked out a tray full of her best looking cookies.  We happily shared the rest of the batch with dinner guests that evening.

Friday came and while I tended to the garage sale she picked her six very best cookies.  With the same care I might give heirloom china, I packed those six beautiful cookies into a storage container and we took them with us to the birthday party.  Precious cargo that they were, I brought them into the party with us so they wouldn't melt their pretty little chips in the car.  The plan was simple: enjoy the party, then leave with ample time to get us parked, into the fair, and over to her competition. 

We left the party, and like the pack mule I seem to have become since having children, I was weighed down with countless items: lunch boxes, purse, coffee mug, backpack, party favors, and of course, the treasured cookies.  Children were accounted for and buckled. I gave myself a pat on the back.  We were well on our way to Part III of our crazy day and everything was going according to plan.  

As I left my friend's neighborhood and turned onto a well-traveled street, I heard a loud thunk.  I glanced in the rear-view mirror and let out a shriek.  A plastic container skittered along the road, cookies rolling this way and that.  And then the car behind us promptly smashed them all to bits.

Elena knew right then and there that something very, very bad had just happened.  She knew because I said the word that is only reserved for DEFCON situations.  Here's where you would think that the child would lose it.  In what can only be defined as true grace under pressure (or the knowledge that Mommy might very well lose it), she calmly told me that it was alright, no big deal, this kind of thing just happens.  Remind me around Christmas time to get her a little something extra.

We had just enough time to run back home and gather the last of the batch that didn't make the cut earlier in the day.  I prayed fervently that there would be six – I couldn't remember how many were left.  

There were seven left.  We made it with minutes to spare, turned in her cookies and then the three of us collapsed into a pile and shared that last, blessed cookie.  And it was the best cookie I ever tasted.  

Elena didn't place in her competition, but like me, she was proud of herself.  Proud that she just plain showed up, which is more than most people can say.  

State Fair Ribbon

I couldn't have been more proud of her, either.  For rolling with the punches and cutting her mom some slack.  For seeing the fair exhibits for what they really are: having fun and simply being able to say you were a part of a grand Hoosier tradition.

We will always be fair-goers.  I'd like to think we'd be fair-exhibitors again.  But next time?  Don't leave me in charge of the cookies.

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