You know those people who can just get into the “zone” and have unwavering focus on the task at hand? I am not one of them. The ones who can easily get lost in a book or down the rabbit hole that is Instagram and even (God help me) Tik Tok? Those are my people.
On the one hand, I crave schedules and routine and believe that is the true key to productivity. On the other hand, I can’t actually commit to a schedule. And that is because I can’t handle the concept of “everyone has the same 24 hours in a day.” The knowledge that time is finite and that I can’t stop it from moving forward gives me heart palpitations and makes me want to get into bed and pull the covers over my head.
When my kids were babies, scheduling was an important topic – what should the schedule be, how to stick to the schedule, what to do if you want to go out but it interferes with the nap schedule, etc. And, while it was true that they were calmer when they had some sort of schedule, the stricter I would try to make the regime, the more frustrated and stressed I would become, which was not good for anyone. I eventually found the middle ground and the right groove (which was not, I should say, the same for each kid) that worked for our family at the time.
As they got older, our family schedule continued to revolve around the kids – when they would wake up, when they needed to be at school and picked up from school, when their activities were, and when they needed to eat and go to sleep. Without even realizing it or thinking too much about it, my days were structured around their needs. It was a very basic structure, though, and could easily be adapted when needed without anyone being majorly thrown off.
And then one day, seemingly all of a sudden, my life no longer was completely dictated by the 3 smallest humans in the house (and not all of them could even be called the smallest in the house anymore). No one needs me to physically lift them out of a crib in the morning, everyone is fully capable of getting dressed on their own, and even, if they really have to, can make their own food. This change coincided with career changes, and I found myself working for myself from home, with full control over my own schedule and the ability to choose when I would work and when I would do everything else.
Juggling building a business from scratch and everything that goes along with that, combined with still raising a family and running a household, while also wanting to maintain a strong marriage, relationships with friends and family, and being involved in the community meant a very very long to-do list every day with no chance of ever crossing everything off.
The renowned and amazing life coach and dear friend of mine, Andi Saitowitz, once said something that has always stuck in my head. She said “show me your calendar and I’ll tell you your priorities.” You can say that you prioritize working out, for example, but if you look at your calendar and realize that you have not worked out once in the past month, then sorry to say but working out is NOT a priority for you (no judgement!). It’s not enough to simply prioritize tasks in your mind, you have to also actually do them or else you need to stop pretending that it’s a priority.
This was a game-changer for me. My priorities were clear inside my head, but based on my calendar, what was happening inside my head was definitely not translating into real life. I was trying to just do little bits of everything instead of sitting down and really thinking about what I wanted to accomplish and what I needed to do in the hours given to me each day in order to achieve my goals.
I started to read about productivity and different methods of time management. The one that first stood out to me was time-blocking. In very simple terms, time-blocking means that you block out times on your calendar for every single thing you want to get done in a day. Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this post? About how time being finite freaks me out? So you can imagine what happened when I sat down with a blank calendar one day and started blocking off hours and scheduling in items from my to-do list. Seeing in clear black and white how there quite literally were not enough hours in the day sent me into a panic. My thoughts devolved from – “oh no, I’m never going to get all my work plus the laundry and the grocery shopping and coffee with friends all done today” to “oh my God in just a few more years I’m going to be 45 and then 50 and then 75 and I’ll never get anything done and my life is over and I’ve accomplished nothing.”
I would love to be able to write here how I found the magic solution. But the truth is that I have not. My heart still races when I start thinking about how another day has gone by and my to-do list is still growing and not shrinking. I am in denial that it is August, that 2020 is more than half over (although as far as I’m concerned this disaster of a year can’t end soon enough!!) because when I let myself think about yet another year passing, my anxiety rises as I think about all the things I didn’t do.
But, I am making myself stop for a second. I’m looking back at my calendar (let’s be honest…who even uses a calendar anymore…does anyone know or care what day it is??), or more accurately I’m just thinking back over what I’ve done during the last few months and weeks. I’ve spent significant quality time (even if some of it was forced, thanks coronavirus) with my immediate family and I’ve spent probably an equal amount of time locked away in my office building a business. I have taken naps – for anyone who knows me, that’s obviously a given; I have completed one challenging workout program and am halfway through another; I have stopped going to large social gatherings but cherish the time I do get to spend with those I love the most (whether in person, via Whatsapp, or on Zoom).
In short, I still struggle with time management. I still freak out when I think about how fast time goes by and how there is so little of it in the grand scheme of things. But, I know what my priorities are and I will continue to make sure that the way I spend those finite hours reflect these priorities.