How one woman calmed the chaos

Emma Johnson, a Queens-based independent journalist, is one busy woman. She’s the custodial parent of her 4-year-old and 2-year-old. She also manages to earn a hefty paycheck in the 30-35 hours per week her children are in daycare. Plus she works out regularly! She’s got her act together as well as possible in the circumstances. She just had one question for me: where could she find time for her own projects and for personal time in the midst of all this?

You can read the long version of the solutions we devised in Emma’s essay called “6 steps to calming chaos and being happy” over at (a coupons and deals website where she’s a regular contributor). You can read my short version over at CBS MoneyWatch in a post called “The secret to successful mornings.” But here are some tips for anyone looking to put time for personal projects and fulfillment into their lives:

1. Create a buffer between work and home. People with traditional jobs have a commute, which naturally gives them space between work life and home life (at least in theory). Try to use this time to think calming thoughts and focus on what went right during the day, and what you’d like to do with your evening. Emma’s problem was that her children’s daycare was 2 minutes from her home office. Solution? Create a “commute” featuring 20 minutes to read, doodle, do yoga poses, or whatever would help her unwind. 

2. Designate a time period each week for nagging tasks. We all have stuff we know we should do, but don’t want to. The problem is that these tasks then nip at the back of our minds, preventing us from enjoying the time we do have to relax. Better to create a specific time to attend to these tasks. That way you can tell yourself “there’s a time for that — and now is not that time.”

3. Go to bed on time and get up earlier. Those of you reading What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast know all about this one. Try to limit the cyberloafing or TV watching to less than an hour, then ease yourself into bed. In the morning, most people have the self-discipline to tackle projects that require internal motivation. In the evening? Not so much.

4. Seize longer pockets of me time. Emma had been heading to see her boyfriend as soon as her ex-husband took the kids for a while on the weekend. But another solution would be to head out to see him a little bit later, and enjoy that 1-2 hours of quiet time in her apartment with a magazine, a glass of wine, a long shower, or whatever she wanted. When you’re a single parent of small kids, you don’t get much time alone.

5. Let some stuff go. When we first talked, Emma said she wanted to spend 20 minutes alone with each child per day. We soon realized that not only was this going to be difficult logistically, the kids didn’t want it. They were pretty much constant playmates and expected to be around each other. Maybe that will change later, but sometimes things that sound like good ideas in theory aren’t good ideas for us right now.

How do you make time for fun and me-time in your life?

In other news:

  • UK and Australia readers: I’ve seen screenshots now that Amazon is offering What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast in these markets. I apologize for the delay; please let me know if you’re now able to order the book.
  • If you don’t own an e-reader, no problem! Amazon offers a free Kindle app that you can download to your smartphone or computer. With the Kindle Cloud reader, you can read ebooks right in your browser. You do not need to purchase a Kindle or Nook or iPad to read What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. 
  • Thanks to everyone who’s ordered the ebook! We’re up to #38 in the paid Kindle store, and #3 for non-fiction. I am absolutely thrilled by the response. If you haven’t ordered the ebook, please do! It’s only $2.99.

Photo courtesy flickr user MrB-MMX

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