Regular blog readers know that, over the past few months, I’ve been having dozens of people log their time for me. Some of these are going in the paperback version of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (out in September!), and some will be going up here.
First up? Lisa Lane. This mother of two boys (11 and 13) said she normally worked about 20-25 hours/week for an outsourced CFO company. She also did the books for her husband’s business (about 6 hours per week) and was taking two college courses at night (10-15 hours, depending on how much she studied). That schedule sounds busy, if doable. But when she sent me her log, she added this cavalier little note: “To put a kink into the schedule, starting Feb. 18th I will be working from 2-6 pm on Monday, Wednesdays at a CPA firm, working 9:00 am until 2:30 pm on Friday and 10:00 am until 2:00 pm on Saturdays.”
Yes, to a schedule that featured, the week she recorded, 30 hours of work at her first two jobs (hereafter “CFO” and “HB”), 14 hours of school, and 13 hours running around in the car, she planned to add another 18-19 hours of work at a place that was 30 minutes away. One of the schedules overlapped, so she had to move a 3-hour shift on Friday from the CFO job to somewhere else in the week, though she had flexibility on that, and that particular client could be handled from home.
“It may be that you give up on me right now, just let me go insane, and revisit my schedule when tax season and my school semester is over,” Lane told me. “I have hired a lady to clean my house every other week during tax season. My husband is doing grocery shopping and will cook Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and maybe Mondays. I still want to meal plan so the family is not eating ramen or Spaghettios every night. My main concern is that I have food around that I can eat (gluten and dairy free). I will still do laundry.”
She identified a few problems: “I realize that I use Netflix as a crutch to help me to get to sleep, but end up watching longer than I should.” She also said that “I would prefer not to skip church on Sunday, but not sure how to do all that and get my studying in.”
I told Lane that I liked a challenge, so we chatted on the phone about how to fit in her 60 hours of work and school work without going crazy.
We came up with a few ideas for her:
Keep practicing the piano. Lane and her boys took lessons. When we get busy, things like this are easy to dump, but they are also often critical to one’s sanity. Exercise would be a nice addition. In her first log, she had gotten up early one morning to run, so adding a second run -- even just 20 minutes -- would help a lot. She and her boys could try to do active things on weekends, too.
Think about travel time. With 13 hours spent running from place to place, she needed to be conscious about using that time to decompress, interact with her children, or listen to something she loved
Give yourself a Sabbath. With 60 hours of committed activities, she wasn’t going to get huge chunks of time off, so she had to recognize when downtime was happening, prepare for it, and enjoy it. She was looking for where to move her Friday CFO work, and she figured she’d plop it on the weekend somewhere, likely after her 10-2 shift at the CPA firm. I suggested, instead, that she get up early and do it from 6:30-9:30 on Saturday morning. That way, when she got home from the CPA firm at 2:30 on Saturday, she was done with paid work until Monday morning. She could get half a day Saturday and all of Sunday off. Sometimes it’s better to batch activities than dribble them out into what could be leisure time.
Savor little breaks. Lane was either working on HB or going to class Monday -Thursday nights. However, she had Tuesday afternoon between the end of work (3:00), and whenever she chose to start working on the books for HB, off. It’s not a huge amount of time, but she needed to seize it as a little respite during her week. She could do some fun activity with her boys -- or consciously chill -- and start work on the books a little later. She also, at least in theory, had Fridays after work off, too.
Think mini-dates. Time with the hubby was in seriously short supply during the week. The two of them could try to block out 9-9:30 some night for a chat.
Catch up on Sundays. She wanted time for food prep, and this was going to have to happen on Sunday. The good news is that with the schedule we came up with, she had this day off from work, so she could enjoy a different sort of work in the kitchen.
Give up Netflix for Lent. Yes, we all need to relax, but she didn’t have that kind of time in her schedule at the moment. She had to read fiction for one of her college classes, and she kind of enjoyed it, so that was something she could do before bed to wind down instead. The good news is, come April 15, her life would be much more calm, with 20 or so hours of work and travel time freed up. Then she could relax and catch up on her movies.
So how did it go? She sent me a new time log a bit over a week later and reported that “It was a slight failure.” She ended up working more hours than she planned. She chose to spend Friday night with friends, which was a good thing, but she also crashed early on Sunday and “the extra time with work and with friends took away time from exercise, church, and school. My weeks feel like I am borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.” Indeed, the amount of time devoted to school work in her second log had fallen from 14.25 hours to 8.25 hours -- not a good long term trend if she valued finishing her program.
Her solution? “This week, I have a test and am not going to do work for my husband's business, so I can catch up on studying. I am probably going to miss my one class to study for the other class as well. But I will have time to exercise. Bathroom breaks have become a great reading time for my short fiction class.” She was only partly kidding.
She was using her travel time, however. “While driving, I am going to make that my devotion time and listen to scriptures. Driving boys to school is being counted as family time and am trying to rub their backs and focus on them before they go to bed at night when I am home. Thursday night has become my extra night to spend time with Mike. Friday after school has become the special time with the boys.”
Despite what she deemed her failure (her word, not mine!) she reported that “This study has helped tremendously. ... Writing everything out and keeping a schedule has been helpful in keeping me focused during family and husband time, as well as being able to separate functions into their allotted spots. I did not realize how much time I actually wasted before this project. When school and tax season is over, there is no reason why I cannot cook healthy, spend more time with kids and spouse, and keep the house picked up and clean while still having me time.”
People often talk about “balance” as a desirable goal. Looking at Lane’s schedule, I’m not sure that “balance” is the word that comes to mind. But sometimes balance isn’t possible for short seasons of our lives. We have new babies or ill partners. We’ve started a new job or have picked up an extra shift for financial or career growth reasons. Rather than pursue balance in any given day, or even any given week, balance over longer periods of time might be possible. Come April 15, and then summer break, Lane might not even know what to do with all her time!
What makes this work is to figure out your non-negotiables. What has to happen to make your life feel doable, even if it’s not balanced? For many people, that’s exercising a few days a week, connecting with a partner for 30 minutes, going to church, or a hobby like practicing an instrument. The key to surviving the storm is making sure those things happen. They don’t take much time but they’re important for realizing that this, too, shall pass.
Photo courtesy flickr user enanon