My own sweet time

2689834121_da937c9b97_zI spent some time last night watching my daughter play with dirt on Amanda Steinberg’s deck.

Steinberg, longtime readers may recall, is the founder and CEO of DailyWorth, a financial newsletter and website for women. She’s raised millions in venture capital. She’s created a dozen or so jobs. She lives in Philadelphia, and we have kids about the same age, so we decided to get them together to play at Amanda’s new house. She had a project to distract the baby while we chatted and the older kids ran around playing hide and seek. This project involved my daughter shoveling dirt into little pots so Amanda could plant the flowers she got on sale for $1.

My daughter enjoyed it. It wasn’t dandelions — but add in a glass of white wine (for me) and it was a pretty relaxed way to spend a summer Tuesday evening.

Sometimes when we talk about time management, people bring certain baggage to that phrase. There’s a belief that the management of time involves planning every minute, and such planning leads to a regimented life. Then follow the moralistic statements featuring false dichotomies: Personally, I prefer a more relaxed existence. I like to slow down and ponder a clementine.

Maybe it’s the nature of what I do, but I find that I have a reasonable amount of clementine-pondering time, or its equivalent. I read from 9:30-11:30 p.m. the night before last for pleasure. I spent some time that evening playing dress-up with the kids. I cooked roast chicken with vegetables. I went for a trail run.

I also spend at least 8 hours a day working on a career I care plenty about.

I am not crazed. Neither is Amanda. Neither are many other people. The other day I interviewed a novelist who’s also got a full-time day job and a young son. She described her life. It wasn’t a crazy juggle either. 168 hours, as KJ Dell’Antonia put it in Slate, is a “playground of possibility.” She wrote it a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I like the image anyway. To me, time management is about managing life so there is space for all your dreams and down time too. You build your life so you can enjoy your own sweet time on a porch on a summer evening while little feet patter around the house and a little girl giggles and dumps dirt all over the place.

How do you create space in your schedule for your own sweet time?

In other news: I enjoyed this piece in Fast Company on scheduling your day for work, play, fit and push time.

Photo courtesy flickr user downing.amanda

28 thoughts on “My own sweet time

  1. Just thinking about your daughter’s “activity”: my cousin gave our 2-year-old a very important job when a wedding was held at her house: he was to cover the electrical cord that crossed a stone path with rocks so people wouldn’t trip on it. He was very diligent. He’s 14 now, and when we mention that wedding he clarifies with “is that the one with the rocks”?

    1. @nother Barb – I could do a whole post on moving rocks. What is it about moving rocks that can entertain kids for hours? We rented a house once when my oldest was 1 that had a rock garden, and I just hope those rocks weren’t too carefully arranged before hand…because they certainly weren’t when we left.

  2. I really do love the description you give here. And, theoretically, I buy it. But in practical terms, I don’t really think about my life in 168 hours. I think mostly of weekdays 9-4:30 and nights (hopefully) from 8:30-10:00. I’m a working single mother of two. So the time I have that’s flexible is the time I have paid childcare and the time my children are asleep. (They don’t always comply, as the other day when they didn’t go down until 10:30) Yes, I could stay up later, and occasionally I do, but I also have a toddler who wakes AT MINIMUM twice a night; going to bed later just means less sleep for me, and that means a less productive day to follow. This is temporary, I know, and I certainly chose my life choices (to have kids as a single woman). But, really, not everyone has the luxury of leisure time. And with that, I need to stop writing this and write the real work of the day.

    1. @gwinne – yes, it should get better – the toddler won’t be waking up forever! The time with Amanda was leisure time I had with kids — it becomes more possible as they grow. A playdate with another parent you like can become fun time for you too (once you get to stop hovering because the kid might stick stuff in her mouth…)

      1. not going to lie/sugar-coat – looking forward to those times even though i am finding things to love about toddlerhood as well!

        liked this piece, and see value in what ana says, below. i tend to be an over scheduler/planner but having a 15 month old has made me much more likely to go with the flow, simply because things are less predictable.

  3. This—the ability to take 2 hours to read for pleasure, or pause to play dress up with the kids—is exactly what I mean when I blather on about keeping margins in my schedule. I am most certainly not against schedules—I couldn’t function without them—but I want to leave the space in for the inevitable setback, spontaneous opportunities for fun, and also to prevent that feeling of being rushed. I think you do a great job with that in your life. I do, however, know people whose lives necessitate much more rigidity, by the nature of their career and commitments—where even “free time” is strictly scheduled & one setback can throw the whole thing off track. Some people thrive on that level of busyness, but I don’t want that for myself—I’ve spent too many years living like that and I”m over it!

    1. @Ana- we may be getting at the same thing. I plan to leave time open. That means making a conscious commitment not to put something in it. I could always be working. There are always projects to be done, and probably other things I enjoy doing that I’m not doing, but that’s part of leaving time open. Also, with something like reading, I have to consciously choose to do it — having a book I”m into, for instance. Otherwise I surf the web and I don’t enjoy that as much — it’s just easier to fall into.

      1. Yes, I think we are indeed talking about the same thing—I am scheduling “breaks” into my day, I just never thought of it as scheduling. I am trying very very hard not to get into that unsatisfying internet surfing in the evenings.

        1. @Ana – of course, that late night internet surfing time is often when people leave comments on my blog!

  4. I’ve been thinking about something related recently. I came back from vacation and two days later a major problem erupted at work, which we’re still working very hard to solve. Just getting agreement on how to solve it has been a major undertaking. Plus several other projects are about to release first versions of software or major updates, and that always takes a lot of attention from me. Work is hectic right now and it shows in my behavior at home- I don’t have the energy or patience I need to really have fun with the kids in the evenings. My work hours haven’t gotten longer- right now they are rigidly bounded by the necessary logistics of getting my older daughter to and from her summer day camp and my younger daughter to and from day care. But the hours have gotten more intense, and that is making it hard to enjoy the time I’m not at work. I don’t know if there is a solution to this- I haven’t found one yet, but I haven’t given up. I’m good at putting boundaries on the amount of my time work takes, but I guess I need to figure out how to put boundaries on how much of my energy it gets, too.

    1. @Cloud – a good point. I don’t know if Amanda will stop by to comment, but certainly running a business with a 12-person payroll involves some stress that carries over. I think she’s still figuring it out — can you have a major setback at work, then leave it in your inbox, and relax for the evening? It probably takes some practice.

      1. I can’t and absolutely admire those who can. Is it the flip side about caring about your work and caring about doing a job? (Or just a lot of self-justification on my part).

        Cloud, I read your e-book and really enjoyed. Thanks to Laura for bringing it to everyone’s attention. As I said elsewhere, I’ve just changed job recently and am now trying to put your book and Laura’s e-book into action. One of the things I am struggling with is that to avoid a chaotic pile-up later, I should take advantage of those little pockets of time. (e.g., a few minutes before, a few minutes at the end of the day). Those are perfect dandelion moments — though I probably wouldn’t use mine for something as memorable. It reminds me of the legend of Anthony Trollope finishing one novel in her alloted writing period and then just starting the next.

        1. I’m glad you liked my eBook! Thanks for mentioning it.
          On setting boundaries protecting your energy- I do OK with this generally, but there seem to be specific types of work crises that break through my boundaries. I’m starting to see a pattern- I think it has to do with what I call my “mental load,” i.e., the number of problems and logistical issues I’ve got active in my brain at any one time. Basically, if I spend my day solving problem after problem, and negotiating resolutions to multiple issues I am completely wiped out when I get home, and I just want to retreat into a cave (which of course my kids don’t like). But I haven’t figured out a solution yet. Perhaps this will get better as the kids get older and stop bringing all their problems to me… but I sort of suspect not. So I think I need to figure out what I need to do to protect my energy, or recharge, or whatever.

          1. Seriously. Willpower by Baumeister suggests that one answer is eating more chocolate. In my experience, chocolate ice cream helps.

            I’m eagerly awaiting the day when DC2, who is quite decisive, can be relied upon to tell us what we are going to have for dinner on the days when nobody else can think or make a decision. (DC2 says to order pepperoni pizza! Make it so!)

          2. It’s interesting that everyone focuses on how things get easier when your kids are older. I’ve found that things are physically easier for me, now that they are 3 and 5. However, I’m beginning to feel more mentally overloaded by their issues. My friends with older children tell me that it increases as kid’s issues become more serious.

          3. @WG – I guess easier isn’t the right word, but I’m trying to get at the ability to do other things — and perhaps relax — when they are around. With a 15-month-old, for instance, you’re constantly fretting he’ll stick a fork in his eye. A 6-year-old may cry about something that happened at school, and may require a lot of comforting in that case. But you can be in the same house without constantly supervising him. If you go to a cook-out, you’re not hovering over him to make sure he doesn’t touch the grill.

          4. I’m unsure as to whether the particular issue I’m experiencing now will get better or harder as the kids get older. I’m finding parenting less physically exhausting but more mentally challenging as the kids get older- they sleep, can do more things for themselves… but the logistics of school and summer camp are waaay harder than the logistics of day care (although getting them both in one place again will help- that is two years out) and the parenting issues are less straightforward.

    2. I’m apparently late to this thread, but I read an article by an author a few months ago where she deliberately scheduled “transition time” to get her head out of work and back into stuff at home. I think she chose some activity like gardening, or a walk, I can’t remember exactly, but I suspect you could use the drive over to pick up the kids to decompress?

      I find when I’ve been doing something with intense concentration, it’s almost *painful* to switch gears and focus on the kids so I try not to do that thing until the final last minute.

      1. I think that might work if my commute was less traffic-filled! I’m toying with the idea of saying I get 10 minutes of alone time after dinner to decompress and transition. As it is, I go from decision-intense job to annoying traffic jam commute to listening to my daughter talk non stop to quickly getting dinner ready (while daughter continues to talk non stop….) to dinner (where both daughters try to talk non stop). I think I just need a little breather after that!

        1. OMG the talking, YES. Hubby often “takes over” when he gets home from work so I can go sit quietly for a bit. I’m not sure what I’m going to do when the baby starts talking… 🙂

        2. @Cloud – Dinner time is my tough spot, too. Since I work from home, there’s no transition. Usually I’m racing to get stuff done by 5:30, and trying to make dinner before our sitter leaves (since it’s even more unpleasant to make it with a 1-year-old clutching my leg). I would love to use the time from 5-5:30 to read, like I would on a train, or go for a walk, run an errand, or just sit quietly somewhere with a beer for my own personal happy hour. Still trying to figure out how to make that happen.

  5. See I find myself falling into the overwhelmed/anxious category when I really shouldn’t be. Yes, I work a 40 hour week with a kid and balance a pretty intensive sport schedule with him (hockey/lacrosse). However I always feel that I’m losing my mind….

    Thoughts on changing that mindset?


    1. @arden – what do you mean about losing your mind? Like you feel you always end the day with important things undone or with things you can’t remember, or worried you made a bad decision or…

      1. Good point! Generally everything that needs to get done gets done I just feel frazzled because I feel like I”m running all day. I do try to get some quiet reading time in at the end of the day but that is generally because I’m ignoring the state of my house.

  6. Thank you for the recommendation to Amber’s article. I’ve started to map my week and days in a similar fashion. It is extremely helpful to see the categories for the week and plug in activities and to-dos accordingly.
    Example: It is Thursday and I already feel like I’ve had a successful week. I’ve managed to workout, cook dinner, blog, write, read, and meditate .. daily. Tomorrow is scheduled for cleaning the apartment and tidying up loose ends. I no longer say “It is Friday? Where did the week go?” I calmly look at my Weekly Goals Planner and give it a nod of success.

    On a separate note, it has become extremely helpful to value my yes and no. My calendar is no longer full of obligations that I have no desire to fulfill.

  7. Now that I have the luxury of time, and am trying not to squander it, I definitely see the value in scheduling everything, including breaks/downtime.

    I’ve now got a rough “schedule” where I do any house-related chores in the morning and don’t touch them again after noon (laundry/dishes/etc). (Which isn’t to say I’m doing them UNTIL noon, just that I can’t use the kids’ naptime or after-bed time for them.)

    I’ve also found that *one* activity in the morning and one in the afternoon with the kids is the max of what we can handle without feeling like we’re “running around”.

    But that’s definitely my temperament (and apparently my 3yo has inherited this too).

    1. @ARC – I love the idea of a cut-off for chores. They can expand to fill the available space, so giving them a designated window is smart. The window will come again if things are left undone.

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