Moving the tiles around

photo-120There are no typical weeks. That’s what I always tell people who keep time logs for me. We move the tiles in the mosaics of our lives around in interesting ways, and atypical weeks can generate insights into our lives, too.

This past week was atypical in that our nanny had jury duty. Given the particular case she was selected for, I’m grateful she was only gone for 4 days. It could have been a lot longer.

I’ve obviously handled sick days and vacations before, and since I work from home, I feel I’m familiar with my children’s schedules. Nonetheless, there were some humorous moments. My son missed the bus once. I thought it didn’t come — we waited outside for 15 minutes before I raced him to school — but it turned out it had came 6 minutes early that day (!) Then, on the coldest day of the week, it was 10 minutes late, after I made my kid come outside with me 10 minutes early so we wouldn’t miss it again. Brrr.

I enjoyed seeing aspects of the kids’ lives I normally don’t, like the library story time my 2-year-old attends regularly. When the librarian went to her cart to get out the little cut-out monkeys to sing “5 little monkeys jumping on the bed” my daughter was right up there to get her monkeys before the librarian had even announced what we were doing. I chatted with various parents at pick-ups. My husband brought the 4-year-old to school all four days and got to be a regular part of that routine. I also gained some fascinating insight into our community. I took the 2-year-old to the YMCA on Tues and Thurs AMs so I could get a quick workout in. I’d assumed we’d have the place to ourselves at 10 a.m. on a workday. Boy was I wrong. The parking lot and nursery were absolutely packed. Who knew? 

Figuring out work was a wee bit more complicated. I worked less this week than usual, if not hugely less. But it was at strange times. We have a few other sitters, mostly college students. I had 19 hours of sitting over 4 days, but not all of it during the day. So there was a lot of strategizing. If a sitter is there from 5:30-8 pm, you can do calls with west coast people during this time. East coast people need to be shuffled into the 12-4 pm time slot that a sitter can work on another day. I actually did the thing I tell other people to do, and got up early to work. Two mornings, I worked from 6-7:30 a.m. I worked from 9-11 p.m. several nights, plus some time earlier in the evening while my husband had the kids. I probably did about 4 hours last Sunday, too. Nap time turned out to be completely unreliable.

I stayed on top of things by being very efficient with my time. I continued to make progress on long term projects. I even wrapped up some loose ends! This is because I had every single time slot I had available mapped out. It’s possible to do for a while. It’s good practice! I recommend trying it some time as an exercise. If you only had half your normal work hours available to you, and they came at unorthodox times, what would you focus on?

But this week did remind me why — even though my work is “flexible” — I find it difficult to do without regular, reliable, covering-normal-work-hours childcare. I am trying to use that flexibility a bit more frequently to do things like take the 4-year-old to the Y’s indoor pool during “PFD free swim time” (2-4 pm) to practice. On the other hand, I am not tempted to limit myself to, say, a 24-hour workweek. I admire people who can do it, but I can’t do it and work the way I want to work with the mental space I want to have. If somebody I’m trying to interview needs to move the call by 2 hours, it’s nice not to have it be A Big Deal.

To be sure, I also noticed this week that good things sometimes happen in my work now without me doing anything. On Monday after I got off the phone with my editor at Penguin, she sent a note saying she’d just gotten news that they’d just sold the Thai rights to What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. I asked for sales figures, and I’m happy to see that the various ebooks and the paperback in that franchise are continuing to sell. But for that to happen, I had to write the books. And the books I write tend to involve talking to lots of people. Which can’t all happen from 6-7:30 a.m., 9-11 p.m., and during unreliable naps.

Today’s discussion question: As posed above. This question doesn’t make much sense if, say, you’re seeing your dental patients at their scheduled appointment times. But if you have the sort of job that isn’t entirely time-specific — if you only had half your usual hours available, what would you focus on? What wouldn’t you do?

2 thoughts on “Moving the tiles around

  1. If I had half the time I am used to having, I would apply the 80/20 rule and to the 20 percent of the work that would deliver 80% of the results. In other words, the highest impact, most important tasks.

    I would also try to figure out what can be outsourced, short-term or permanently. When you are short on time, you tend to get a little more creative about what can be done by other people.

  2. I almost always prioritize the stuff that has a deadline where someone is waiting for me to do something. Even if it’s someone I know who would probably understand if I let it slide, I still do that first. I don’t like to call in those favors unless I absolutely have to.

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