Making the Most of Your Time — For Yourself, Work, Parenting, and Partnerships
This is part two in a series of posts in which I will attempt to synthesize the ideas from two articles I recently read (Washington Post, Harvard Business Review), followed by a Real Simple podcast I heard while (multi-tasking!) on a jog last week, including some of my own thoughts on the topic of Energy Management.
NOURISH YOURSELF “It is scarcely news that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish people’s basic energy levels, as well as their ability to manage their emotions and focus their attention. Nonetheless, many people don’t find ways to practice consistently healthy behaviors, given all the other demands in their lives.”(Harvard Business Review, see notes)
Schedule in non-negotiable time every day for at least two things you love. My two things are always exercise and reading. Some days in order to fit it in, I have to get up at 5:30am to work out in the basement; other days I have to say no to a tenth round of Candyland with my preschooler (or another episode of The Walking Dead with the hubby) in order to read a chapter of a good book. Either way, skipping my “two things” is not allowed.
Say no much more often. Some of us really struggle to remember that we do not have to give any reason at all for saying “no” to something we do not want to do. You may have time to bake cookies for the PTA, but you will feel much more nourished if you take a bubble bath instead. Traveling for work might be thrilling and give you a chance to network, but sometimes the stress, cost, and inconvenience to your family might be too much to ask. While you’re at it, try saying no to: kids birthday parties where you have to stay the whole three hours; selling girl scout cookies; watching reruns on TV; dinner parties with people who are boring…use the time to go out with just your husband instead. This is not to say we should spend time only on what we want to do, but when the extra tasks start to intrude and cause stress, then we have the right to turn a few of them down.
Get enough sleep everyday, even if it inconveniences someone, means skipping an evening event, or means some tasks must be postponed. Almost nothing is more important to me then getting enough sleep. Every single part of our lives is affected by a lack of quality sleep, so it is critical to come up with a routine that allows you to get enough sleep every single night.
Stop wasting time on “low value” activities. Author and podcast contributor Laura Vanderkaam makes a critical distinction between Low and High Value activities, a dynamic that is worth considering when scrutinizing the activities that make up your day. Everyone swears they have no time in the day, but each of us dedicates hours to Low Value actions such as checking FB, watching TV, or answering emails. We can reclaim every one of those minutes for High Value activities such as reading, talking to our spouses, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or fitting in a 15 minute Pilates workout. (Check out my favorite short Pilates videos here https://www.youtube.com/user/blogilates/featured )
Work out everyday, outside if possible. This is related to item number one, of course, but even if you don’t think you can possibly find time to do a workout you can and should. Exercise is essential for managing stress, improving sleep, maintaining health, and staying sane. It does not need to be complicated or lengthy! I have personally fit in exercise by pushing the stroller while walking the kids to school, taking a hike after school with the kids, running laps around the field during soccer practice, and doing free You Tube workout videos while the lasagna cooks. No excuses! (Bonus: your kids will see you making your health a priority.)
NOURISH YOUR CHILDREN
Remember the Difference between Direct and Indirect Parenting “Transactional Parenting” was the term used by Jennifer Meer in the podcast, which I interpret to mean the millions of time-sucking moments or “transactions” that are required when raising children (attending PTA meetings, shopping for soccer cleats, scheduling flu shots, coordinating carpools). These moments are NOT parenting! Your children may benefit from these actions but only very indirectly (in their minds, maybe not at all). It helps to think of this as “Indirect Parenting.” These things matter but not as nearly as much as one-on-one time. “Direct Parenting” is the time that your children recognize as spent together: reading a book at bed time, laughing at dinner over silly things that happened at school, or walking to school looking forward to the day ahead. Be cautious of how much time and energy you allow the “indirect” actions to take…it can be easy to push aside the “direct” or real parenting moments because we are exhausted from the first.
(NOTE: I plan to steal an idea mentioned by Jennifer Meer and start a book club with just me and my nine-year old son. Every night we pledge to read one chapter of Little House on the Prairie and talk about it at breakfast.)
Less is more, especially in the winter. This is often repeated by parenting experts, but children need time to recharge and we must build breaks and free time into the calendar for them (this includes not dragging little ones to big kids’ activities.) Especially in the dark, cold months of winter, kids need a chance to hibernate at home with just the family. Give their schedules a break during these slow months so they can read more books, get to bed a bit earlier, and play spontaneous rounds of Monopoly with their siblings. (BONUS: During the holidays, kids with open schedules mean they can better take part in those spontaneous moments – ice skating in the park, mid-week holiday movie night – that make the best memories.)
Being with your children does not mean micromanaging their every move –presence and proximity can be enough. We can take a break from what author Jennifer Meer calls, “parenting as a verb, that 24/7 job we can never take a break from.” There are times when you have things to do that do not include sitting on the floor playing Legos. That is perfectly fine! There is no requirement that you have to spend every single moment of the day deeply engaged with your kids. Sometimes, sitting and reading a book while they play at the park is a way to meet everyone’s needs.
Being at every event, every time is not nearly as important as you think. Your kids will be just fine if you do not go on every single field trip or attend every soccer practice and game. It matters much more to my children that I come to the occasional soccer game but give it my full attention, rather than come to them all – grouchy, rushed, and resentful – and stare at my phone the whole time. Quality over quantity really applies here. Drop them off and go do something for yourself or with your other kids! In support of leaving the kids on their own, I once heard a Child Development expert give a talk in which she argued that kids cannot really develop their own sense of self unless they are allowed to do things completely alone. Always being present can crowd them in moments in which they need grow into themselves.
NOURISH YOUR PARTNERSHIP
Use the time you do have together to talk about life, not just chores, work, and kids. My husband and I try to have a quick “home life” catch up session as soon as he gets home from work, and then we talk about ourselves, our interests, world events, or good books. (Yes, we are constantly interrupted.) Just trying to talk about the larger world helps retain a sense of our grown-up selves even while we make tater-tots and check homework. We get the chores done, but we have deep conversations while we do it.
Have “stay at home date nights” at least once a week. This was a suggested to us by our midwife when our oldest son was an infant and has been a staple in our marriage ever since. Once a week we put the little kids to bed, tuck the older ones in with a book or a movie, and have a “date”: grill a steak, open a good bottle of wine, maybe even watch a movie…all without going out, spending a ton of money, often even while wearing sweats! We reconnect, feel pampered, and we are on deck (when inevitably) someone throws up or has a nightmare. We have a modified version that involves putting everyone to bed early on Wednesdays so we can drink wine while we fold laundry, watch Modern Family and chat.
Have at least one thing that you both love and regularly share together. It is easier than you might think to let being parents become the only thing you have in common. But it is so important that you have something that you both love to do (and are passionate about!) so you have a reason to connect during the week on a more personal level. My husband and I both love reading, and we often cannot wait to get together to discuss a book, blog, article, or radio story we have been thinking about. We send each other emails or texts with links to interesting stories throughout the day, and we often have a two person book club by reading the same book and chatting about it while we fall asleep. (Also, whenever we can make it happen we take a run together and chat about books or world events while we break a sweat.)
Chores and errands can be dates, too. More than once we have found ourselves with free time – without kids – during the school day but also with a list of errands or chores that also need completing. By doing them together, we get to spend time chatting (without interruption!) and get the work done faster because we are working together. Sipping coffee while we stroll through Trader Joe’s can be as romantic as a dinner out if we keep an open mind about what a “date” is. Splitting up the “to-do” list means less time together.
Don’t squander the post-kids to bed hours. Laura Vanderkaam points out that no one is coming to inspect your house to make sure is clean at 11pm. Skip the dishes, leave the toys on the floor, and share a glass of wine instead. Jennifer Meer also points out that frantic feeling while trying to get everyone to fall asleep so we can finally rest….only to fill that “rest” time with chores is totally unfulfilling. Leave the clean up and snuggle up instead.
Labor of Love Podcast (Real Simple Magazine on Panoply)
“Making Time for Us” October 21 2015
“Clock Management and Parenthood,” Jennifer Meer,The Washington Post, October 13 2015
I Know How She Does it, Laura Vanderkaam, 2015
“Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” Harvard Business Review October 2007
Tony Swartz and Catherine McCarthy