A few years ago I transitioned from a pretty demanding full-time career to a part-time flex arrangement. The general plan was to have more time with the kids and begin building regular writing time into my day.
At first, gaining 20+ hours a week made the achievement possibilities seem endless. I thought there’d be time for everything; the house, the husband, the kids, the writing. Heck, I thought the dogs might even get walked.
All I can say now is it’s a good thing my dogs are old and can’t walk very far because things didn’t come together exactly as planned.
I imagined great quality time with the kids, getting everything else done around the house then writing in my ‘free time’. But between the job that actually pays money (and doesn’t always flex my way) and the kids and my horrifying, inefficient domestic skills, the days flew by and at bed time I’d say, “Okay, tomorrow. I’ll have time to write tomorrow.”
But I didn’t find time the next day.
Or the next.
So for me its writing. For you it may be scrap booking, running, get togethers with friends, card club, church, elephant training. Doesn’t matter. I’m talking about something you do just for you that (probably) has no direct benefit to anyone else. Something that makes you happy, that’s part of your good days.
How do you fit it in?
As a partner and a parent and an employee there are responsibilities and obligations to meet at every turn and the last thing I want is to be a constantly frazzled mess who doesn’t enjoy anything ever. The over-stressed-on-edge-too-much-on-the-go-go-go-uptight-spastic freak I become when I put too much on my plate is about as far from happy as a human can get so I knew right away trying to cram writing in on top of everything else wasn’t going to work.
And I didn’t believe for a second there was really NO time. A lot of writers have all the same demands on them (at least) and still get their writing done.
There are some things in my life I can’t get out of and others I wouldn’t give up even for writing, but I knew for the sake of my good days, something had to change.
Initially I prepared for something semi-drastic like maybe the kids don’t really need to eat three times a day, but after taking a closer look at how I actually spent my time, I was able to make some less severe changes that yielded a good bit more time for what I wanted to do.
Then… I started making progress.
Below I’ve outlined a few steps that help keep passive little time wasters and things I don’t care about from stealing my good days and derailing my life’s goals.
1) Pay attention. I kept a (somewhat nerdy, but very enlightening) record of what I actually did during the day, an adaptation of my “Have Done” list. I noted the things that added to a good day and of course, the opposite. What had I done on the days when I felt less satisfied or even really frickin’ frustrated? There really weren’t any surprises here. Playing with kids. Doing something nice for my husband (sometimes nothing but picking up his dry cleaning, but at least something). Writing. Exercising. Maybe walking the dogs. Time with friends.
I learned my time can generally be divided into;
- Necessities (AKA Grown Up Stuff) – dishes,laundry,trash,doc appointments,housework. Basically all the stuff I wish my Mom still did for me.
- Time Suckers (Wasters) – non productive internet surfing, catalog perusing, Watching TV shows I only sort of like.
- Actual Down-Time– time validly spent unwinding, relaxing, watching movies or bad tv or internet surfing or catalog browsing
- The Good Stuff – spent on what matters most, stuff that makes the good days
It’s important to note the things on someone’s good stuff list might be exactly what’s on someone else’s time waster list and it doesn’t matter. It’s not a judgment. What is important is that you know what goes where for you and that you feel good at the end of most days.
2) Be Honest & Specific. Once I was generally aware of what I did during the day I wanted to see how much time I actually spent on the good stuff. For this, I used the trusty “Have Done” list in a slightly different way, not only listing what I’d done but also detailing the time spent on these things.
The results forced me to face facts about how much time I wasted on things like TV, internet, looking at catalogs (I CAN NOT believe how much time I spent looking at catalogs) and sleeping in when I could have been up early before the kids and working in peace.
I found two to four hours. Wasted. Every day.
Two to four hours spent on things that were not necessary or important to me.
A half hour leafing through the catalog pile, a half hour watching a show I don’t even like, sleeping til seven when I could have been up at six. There’s two hours right there. No wonder I wasn’t finding time to write.
3) Make Changes. Necessities must get done but I found ways to streamline as much as possible. I do not hand wash dishes that can go in the dishwasher (even though I’m sure it shortens their useful life). I do not turn all the laundry right side out (this remains a highly controversial issue I’ll discuss more later). I do not look through every catalog that comes to the house (which has saved time and money). I cut out most TV shows, eventually even ones I like (but still not the one or two I love).
And (the toughest part so far), forcing myself out of bed by five-thirty at least four days a week. I know this isn’t that early to some but to me it’s pretty much the middle of the night. Right now, though, that doesn’t matter. What’s important is that it’s a great time to write. I’m fresh minded, rested and I can get a couple hours in before the kids wake up.
In the end I ‘found’ 15 – 30 hours a week (in addition to job/kids/house/husband/everything else).
Would I love to have more?
Heck yeah, but writing full-time is a privilege I have not earned.
I can’t add more hours to the day (excluding the idea of subsidizing sleep with meth) (considered it, prefer to keep teeth). But I can be sure to get the most out of most days.
For me the good day guarantee comes down to understanding my priorities, goals and what makes me happy, then working to spend as much time as I can on those things. I’m done wasting time (life!) on stuff I don’t care about.
And don’t get me wrong, there are A LOT of things I’m not getting to (seven years of incomplete photo books, more volunteering, basement storage room overflowing, half decorated house… the list goes on). Occasionally, these things sneak in and derail me but I remind myself as long as I’m alive and healthy I can do everything I want. I just can’t do it all today.
Right now, above all else, I’ve little kids to cherish, a husband to care for, and a compulsive need to put words on paper. Add in house stuff, the job that pays money, a little time for exercise, friends and family, and I’m full up.
Actually, I’m better than full up. With all those blessings front and center in my life, my cup runneth over.