A very strange thing happened in my life recently. I hesitate to tell you because I’m afraid that you’ll hate me. I hate me a little. Of course if I don’t tell you, this post goes nowhere fast, so…
I have free time.
In fact, I have quite a bit of free time. I’ve found myself with entire afternoons free of obligation and no unfinished to-do list muddying the waters.
It’s strange. Foreign even. The bulk of what I’ve written here at Work It, Mom! over the last few years has been about my never-ending struggle to get more done in less time. In fact, I just wrote two weeks ago about whether or not it was even possible (or necessary) to achieve a sufficient level of productivity! And then, all of a sudden, I was meeting deadlines, zeroing out my inbox, working on craft projects, volunteering at my kids’ school and still having time to wander around a botanical garden by myself.
I’ve been asking myself that question. I did not hire an assistant, start sleeping less, or find that elusive 25th hour in the day. My husband didn’t win the lottery (he’s the only one who plays) and my bills did not go down. So what, I keep wondering, has changed?
A few things…
First, I quit blogging on my personal site. Then, I decided not to quit blogging, but to stop worrying so much about how often I wrote or how well I was “marketing” myself. I turned a hobby that had become a source of stress back into a hobby for which I occasionally make time. This was actually just one in a series of decisions I’ve made in the last few years about removing unimportant things from my life (or relegating them to their proper place on the priority list.)
I started spending less time on Twitter and Facebook. This was a lot easier to do because I decided to stop pimping my own blog as much, but also because I realized that I often went to those social media sites to fill small holes in my schedule - like the “downtime” during which a new web page is loading.
Mostly, though, I was going to those social media sites when I was lonely or bored and needed someone to say “hey, I see you!” Ironically, the less validation I got from those platforms, the more time I spent refreshing my feeds in search of it. I decided to make a point of connecting more often with the key players in my life. I call my mom in the morning, sit down with the kids while they do their homework after school, and try to remember to ask my husband how his day went.
I mapped my energy levels. As I mentioned in a recent post, a productivity coach suggested I map my energy levels. What I discovered is that I am most focused for about four hours in the morning, and then I get a second wind later in the afternoon. After I stopped trying to use that second wind to DO! ALL! THE THINGS! I began to think of it as my personal bonus round. I’ve been using my morning hours to focus on deadlines, the bread and butter items on my to-do list. Knowing I’ll have another round of energy in the afternoon to take care of things like long-term planning, scheduling doctor’s appointments, or doing laundry has helped me to just relax and really focus on work during work time.
It’s also given me a more realistic sense of what I can get done in any given day. My to-do list is almost always completed, but it’s generally quite a bit shorter than it has been in the past. I know how many work projects I can complete in Round 1 and how much “other stuff” I can handle in Round 2.
Of course, the biggest changes in my life recently has been the absence of big changes. I’m not organizing a state-to-state move or an ongoing road trip. I’m not trying to find my family a place to live or worrying about where my husband will work. Apparently major life transitions can eat up big chunks of your schedule.
This relative calm and freedom, while probably temporary, is nice. I’m resisting the urge to fill up my free hours with a bunch of obligations and am trying instead to selectively add in a few things I’ve always said I wanted to do but never had time for (like volunteering more, taking on long-term career goals, and organizing my closet.)
Naturally, I’d love for you to experience some of this serenity. However, I don’t expect you to follow my footsteps to get there.
You might not have a blog to quit, for example. But, you might have your own “hobby” that has become more of a time and energy suck than a form of nurturing self care. Perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of turning fun activities into things you have to do.
Likewise, you’re probably much too emotionally mature to waste away your hours on things like Facebook or Twitter, but maybe you have your own “time fillers” that you turn to out of habit. Instead of using small moments of downtime to just breathe and be still, are you eager to distract yourself with a mindless activity? Are you being purposeful about how and when you connect with people? Are you losing hours of your day a minute or two at a time? Maybe small changes can uncover big chunks of time that you can consciously spend with the people you care about most.
In regards to energy mapping, don’t have enough experience to recommend it, but I do think we could all benefit from planning our day and being a little more realistic about what we hope to accomplish. Going into my day with a set purpose that’s in line with both my goals and my personal strengths and weaknesses has proven to be much more effective than hoping I’ll “do better” and reacting to whatever demands come up.
As for eliminating transitional stages from life, I’d never suggest that (and we couldn’t even if we wanted to.) I adore unexpected events and new experiences. In fact, I anticipate being back to my typical harried state next month as I try to balance two out-of-town (and one out-of-country) trips with regular life. I am, however, beginning to see the value of mixing change and adventure with a healthy dose of simplicity and stability.
I read recently that President Obama only wears blue and grey suits because he doesn’t want to be distracted with unnecessary decisions. The goal is to eliminate extraneous choices and meaningless “trivia” from his life so that he has the energy and mental focus to make all of the important decisions required of his job. It struck me that we can take the same approach to how we spend our time in order to have more of it: cut out the trivial to make room for both the meaningful. The more meaningful things we want to spend our time on, the more diligent we have to be about protecting ourselves from the trivial.
Someone remind me of all that when I’m pulling my hair out next month.