Time. As a busy parent, it seems like there is just never enough of it.
What we choose to do with that limited time says a lot about who we are. To a large degree, how we choose to spend our days determines what we will accomplish and who we will become in this life.
Today is all about setting priorities, routines, and schedules that will ensure your time is spent meaningfully. This will allow you to become the parent (and person) you really want to be.
Welcome to Organize Your Life Day 3: Organize Your Time.
This is part of a mini-series on overcoming parenting (and life!) overwhelm and stress by organizing your life. Click here to see the introduction and links to other days.
An Object Lesson
I have seen this object lesson demonstrated on many occasions, and every time it reminds me of incredible truths. They are truths that I have experienced myself and seen in the lives of others.
Imagine that your time, your 24 hours per day seven days a week, is represented by a glass jar. Each of your responsibilities or time consuming activities is represented by a rock or a grain of sand. The most important things are the rocks, while the less important things are the sand.
If you fill your jar with the sand first, the rocks will not fit in.
However, if you start with the rocks, the sand will flow over the crevices and somehow, what seemed impossible happens…everything fits in your jar.
I know today’s post will only matter if you take the ideas and apply them to your own life. Decide for you whether each thing you spend time on is really a rock or a grain of sand. Use your work from the first two days of Organize Your Life to guide you. Then you must trust. You must let go of the nagging feeling that says, “That piece of sand has to go in right now or the day will fall apart!” We need to trust our hearts and minds when it comes to what is vital and what can fill in the crevices. I have learned from experience that when I do that, life works out. Often days go differently than planned, but usually the weeks and months go better than I could have hoped.
Oh the Possibilities!
To begin today, get out your notebook or journal. Review your Vision Statement from Day 1 and the thoughts you organized about your important relationships from Day 2.
Now flip to Day 3: Organize Your Time.
First, brainstorm all the possible ways you could spend your time during this stage of life. Include everything from changing diapers and driving carpool to eating and binging on Netflix.
Second, underline those things that you feel are rocks in your life. In other words, underline those activities that are actually the most important for your happiness and fulfillment. Keep that list to the bare minimum.
Third, write all of those possibilities into the corresponding column of a chart with the following headings:
Work or Career
Community or Volunteer
Move your underlines into this chart as well. Where are the majority of your rocks?
Putting the Rocks in First
In order to put the rocks in our jar first, we need to accept a basic principle about time: I am responsible for the way I spend my time.
That might seem obvious. However, we often say, “I’m too busy,” as an excuse for not doing the things in life that actually matter. “I’m too busy to play with my kids.” “We have a lot going on right now. I will focus on my spirituality later.” “I don’t have time to stop and help.”
Without a doubt, there are circumstances and events that are beyond our control. That is when we accept, appreciate what we can take from the situation, and move forward with love. However, even during those unforeseen events, how we choose to spend our time is just that: a choice. A new morning each 24 hours is the gift of this life, and deciding how to spend each of those hours is the gift we give to the world.
The moment you start believing that you do not have control over your time is the moment you stop getting all you can from this life and simultaneously stop giving all you can to those around you.
Take responsibility for your time.
Instead of saying, “I’m too busy,” try the truth, “I choose to spend my time in other ways right now.”
It might seem a small shift, but it truly makes an enormous difference. This is the principle that will allow you to place those rocks first.
Letting Go of the Sand
Once you have honestly determined what is vital, it can still be hard to let go of the rest of it. I have found two things really helpful in my quest to do so.
First, embrace the seasons of life.
After my third child was born and the dust had settled, I chatted with my mom on the phone one day. Almost in jest I told her, “I have figured out how to be a really good mom, just have a really short to-do list.”
I meant it to be a commentary on how little I thought I was getting done during those newborn, toddler, preschooler filled days. Instead, I stumbled upon a truth. There are seasons of life when we ought to do away with to-do lists.
Life is made up of seasons. There are seasons with a lot of personal time, and seasons when you are hiding in the bathroom for a moment’s quiet to regain your sanity. There may be things you are passionate about, but your heart tells you to wait. You need a different focus for now. Find what is beautiful about this season of your life and embrace it.
Second, give yourself permission.
I have a valuable gift for you today. If you haven’t yet given it to yourself, today I am giving you permission. Permission to say, “That’s not for me.”
We often do things because we think we “should” or because “It seems like everyone else is doing it.”
Whether it is how often you wash the bedsheets, which after-school activities your child participates in, using social media, or how fantastic your child’s hair looks that day, if you are not doing it because it is the best thing for your family right now, don’t do it. You have permission to say no. Maybe it is for another season, or maybe it is not for you at all. Either way, do not look back. Do not feel guilty.
When you give yourself permission to say, “No,” it allows you to say a really big, “Yes” to the things that matter most.
Today I am going to share specifically what I have learned to be the rocks and sand in my life. I hope it is helpful for you. However, please do not think that I believe my life is perfect or that I apply the things I have learned without fail. No way! Never for a moment believe that I judge people who choose to spend their time differently than me. I only want to share what has helped me, and I would love to hear what others have learned in their experiences as well.
These are the things that I have found are actually vital to make time for in my daily life.
- Connect with the Divine.
- Care for our family’s and my physical and mental well-being.
- Spend time with, teach, and love my spouse and children.
- Make meaningful connections with extended family, friends, and others, often through service.
Revisit your chart. Have you had any impressions about your rocks? Are they in alignment with what you decided on Day 1 and Day 2? Put a star next to or highlight those things that you now feel are rocks. You may feel even more confident in your previous underlines, or you might want to make some changes.
Now for the Magic
You have determined what is vital in your life and you have a list of everything else. Let’s organize our time to reflect our priorities.
I prefer to use a magical (super simple 🙂 ) system that I call a Weekly Block Schedule. This has two main features: the “weekly” and the “block.”
- A weekly routine that repeats, rather than a daily routine. I might not fit everything in everyday, but over a week, I can accomplish all that I need to.
- Fits better with how most things are scheduled (school days vs. weekends, kids activities on certain nights each week, work deadlines, and so on).
- Activities are scheduled in blocks rather than small, specific time increments. For example, instead of scheduling bills, vacuuming, or doing the dishes, I schedule a block for “Home Management.” Then I spend that block in whatever way is needed at that particular time.
- Flexible (read: realistic).
- Productive because I can focus on particular tasks for longer periods of time without multitasking.
- Prevents the feeling of being over-scheduled, over-organized, or over-controlled by your calendar.
- So simple!!!
Many scheduling systems will encourage you to do a time study in which you keep track of how you spend every minute for a week or two. Then you consider where you can cut back. Next, you determine how long each task with actually take you. Lastly, you figure out where in your week to fit that task in.
Instead, we are taking complete ownership over our time. We do not ask, “How long will this take me?” Instead, we ask, “How much time am I willing to spend on this in the current season of my life?” Then we decide how best to use the time we are willing to give. It is a revolutionary and liberating way to approach your day. It won’t help you do it all. (FACT: Nobody actually does it all.) However, it will help you feel really good about what you do.
First the Rocks…
Either use the Weekly Block Schedule in your Workbook or make your own super basic weekly planner.
Begin with your rocks. Place those stared or highlighted activities into your schedule first.
For me, this looks like connecting with the Divine each morning, daily family blocks (majority of the times when the kids are awake), waking early Monday/Wednesday/Friday to work up a sweat, and weekly activities where I meet up with friends or others.
If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to choose to connect with the Divine everyday. This could be in the form of prayer, meditation, reading inspirational literature, sitting quietly, journaling, reading scripture, pondering the universe, and more. This one habit singularly improves my mood, perspective, and overall life.
A few tips:
- As much as possible, try not to multi-task your family. When it’s a family block, be present. This doesn’t mean you spend every moment all together, but it does mean you are not answering emails or otherwise mentally consumed. You can clean the house together, be available for homework help, or play together at the park. Just be present.
- If you need to work while kids are awake, be purposeful and upfront about it. For example, on days when I teach piano lessons, it is blocked as “Work” and the kids have activities they can do on their own. I also think it is important for my toddler to play independently (and for the kids to play together when they were all home), so I have some shorter Home Management blocks several mornings a week. Don’t call it family time just because you are all in the house.
- Most parents can carve out some “personal time” either before the kids wake up in the morning or after they go to bed at night. Consider carefully how you want to use that time.
Then the Sand
Now that you have the rocks in place, the sand can fall in around it. Personalize your blocks, but you want to be about as general as the headings on your chart.
For example, naptime on Tuesday is blocked for my volunteer work. After the kids go to bed on Thursday night is blocked for Home Management. Friday night is Recreation.
You don’t need to schedule every hour of everyday. (I don’t actually have a schedule at all for Saturdays.) Just make sure you set aside time for each block.
I suggest scheduling each block on two or more days throughout the week. That way if you complete your block tasks on Monday, but something comes up on Tuesday that needs to fit in that block, you have more time scheduled to take care of it on Thursday.
Lastly, you need to create a Living List for each of your blocks. This can be a piece of paper inside a sheet protector, a separate tab for each block in a binder, or lists on your phone. Each of these lists has three sections: Top Priority, Soon, Someday. Throughout the day, when ideas or tasks hit you, add them to the appropriate section in the correct block.
This works well for several reasons. First, you don’t get off-track from what you intended to do. Second, you don’t forget all those great ideas of things to do with the kids, dreams for your next home improvement project, topics for self improvement, or necessary tasks. You will find these lists are a treasure trove. Third, you have a plan ready to go for each block. Scheduled block time doesn’t get wasted deciding what to do.
Live the System
Going forward, you get to live this newly organized time schedule. Each night, check your Block Schedule and regular calendar for the next day.
Trust your choices. When you block one hour for Home Management, take one hour, start with your Top Priority list, and get as much done as you can. When the hour is up, move on. Trust that you have accomplished what you need to and that everything will work out. Time is like a financial budget. Allocate what you have, and plan for when you have more.
If you start feeling overwhelmed or that you just can’t do it all, trust that you have time set aside for everything that really needs to happen. Be willing to not “do it all,” and instead, do what matters most.
Periodically, adjust your schedule as needed. You may find you desire more or less time for different blocks. Additionally, you may realize that deadlines hit on Fridays so you want time set aside on Thursday for work. Your life and stage will continue to change too. Organize your schedule to fit each new normal.
I recently attended a conference, where one of the messages really struck me. The speaker said something to the effect of, “What you choose to feed will thrive at the expense of what you choose to starve.”
I hope that each of us chooses to use our time to feed those things that bring real fulfillment and joy to our lives. As we do so, we can let go of those less important tasks and thrive as individuals and strong families.
Be sure to record any thoughts, impressions, or future action items you have after working through today’s post. Please share any insights or questions in the comments.
Tomorrow we will turn to money matters…Organize Your Life Day 4: Finances.