My 7 strategies for creating me-time

photo-271I’ve been re-reading my advance copy of Jessica Turner’s The Fringe Hours. I enjoy her blog (The Mom Creative) and have enjoyed reading her voice and view of the world at more length than a blog post can allow. The subtitle of the book is Making Time For You, and in it Turner explores how she, who works full time in health care marketing, and has three young kids, makes time for scrapbooking, blogging, and other passions (like writing a book!).

Much of the book is written for the woman who believes she just doesn’t have time for personal pursuits or self-care. While I have no doubt that this is a common belief, I realized, while reading The Fringe Hours, that this isn’t true for me. Like Turner, I have a reasonable amount of me time in my life. I have more or less, depending on the age of my kids and how many deadlines I have pending, but it’s never nothing. Some of this is due to life circumstances (e.g. self-employment, having a partner, and having disposable income) and some is due to conscious decisions about my time. While these won’t work for everyone, here are seven strategies I employ to create more me-time in my life.

1. I embrace the “sunk cost” mindset. I love getting massages, and have tried to get one during particularly busy or stressful times during my life over the past few years. However, it was always a one-off thing. Then I went to Massage Envy a few times. If you’ve been, you know they push the membership packages pretty hard. I’d always said no, but after using a gift certificate for a pre-natal massage there last month, I finally said what the hell. I’d found a therapist I liked. The membership price buys you one 60-minute massage a month, and others at discounted rates. Now, getting 1-2 massages per month is about getting my money’s worth. Interestingly, Turner is a member too. Massage Envy knows its market!

2. I make it a habit. I love running. I’ve been doing progressively longer walks as I recover and I’m looking forward to taking my first short jog in another week or two. Exercise is subject to less me-time guilt because it’s really something you’re supposed to be doing, like going to the dentist. I don’t think people feel guilty about going to the dentist (do they? I know people don’t go but probably not because of guilt that they’re doing something indulgent). I like to run during the day, and being self-employed does help with that, though in my few office jobs, I’ve generally used my lunch break for walking or going to the corporate gym. The new ‘mill will enable early morning runs or post-kid-bedtime runs. In any case, it’s such a habit that days don’t really feel right when I don’t exercise. I’m willing to structure my life around this.

3. I assume 50-50. If you’re partnered, then ideally both parties are committed to giving each other space for your own interests. Of course, some people are better at reading signals than others. So I find the best approach is to ask. If my husband has been traveling a lot, then I ask for time on weekends to do my own thing. After all, it is possible that he’s watched a movie or two while on planes…  

4. I hire extra childcare. If you’re in a dual-income family, or if you’re a working single parent, then you’ve likely got paid childcare. Even people who have the resources, though, often feel guilty about paying for any extra childcare beyond what is necessary to cover work hours. I understand that, but I also know that adding just a few extra hours can make a big difference in my mood. See above about the hubby traveling issue, and the assumption of 50-50. If he’s gone for four nights during the week, then having a sitter for one night isn’t outsourcing me, it’s outsourcing him.  

5. I make use of evenings. In general, parents go to bed later than their kids. This is not always the case with me and my 7-year-old, currently, but the rule is he’s supposed to stay in his room. In any case, late night time is easy to use for TV or internet wandering, but it can also be used for things that feel more like indulgent me-time: paging through a magazine while sipping some wine, taking a bubble bath, etc. I often use this time to work, but I’m trying to put a limit on it, and not do it every night.

6. I seize time while the kids are occupied. I’m OK with screen time. Not eternal screen time, but it’s not evil, either. If the kids all want to watch a show, and I want to do something else, I do. That something is usually not picking up their toys. The toys will just come out again in 30 minutes, but I’ll never get that time back. I know this one will be harder in the next few years as I’ve got a baby who’ll need to be watched, but things have been relatively easier the last few months after kid #3 turned 3 and didn’t require as much supervision. So I’m only 3 years away from that being reality again.

7. I don’t fill time. My kids could be in a lot more activities than they are. I could be a lot better about scheduling playdates. I look through the church bulletin sometimes and see various volunteer opportunities that I’m sure would be fun and meaningful — but there’s a limit to how much I can add to my life right now if I want to invest adequately in my career while raising four kids and trying to stay sane. More margin equals more ability to have down time if I want it.

What strategies do you use for creating me-time?

Photo: Current consumer of some quantity of me-time. He kind of looks like a little lumber jack…

14 thoughts on “My 7 strategies for creating me-time

  1. so impressed that you are putting together coherent posts right now! hope you are feeling well!!

    lately, A has been going to bed at 8:30. i get up at 4:50 to run, so i go to bed (fall asleep reading, really) at 9:30. i savor my runs but it really does not amount to much me-time. i think i am going to COMMIT to finding a once a week babysitter for the evenings so i can lengthen that really really narrow window once in a while.

    annabel is going to be 3 in april and agree – she is definitely so much easier now that i can ‘trust’ her in her room playing with toys, or in front of a mickey episode, etc. not wishing c’s babyhood away, but i definitely see how it will be easier in just a couple of years.

    1. @SHU- it is possible I had some rough drafts written ahead of time 🙂

      But yes! The one-night-a-week babysitter. It really does help.

  2. I read an advanced copy of this book too and was wondering what your take was. I also decided that I was not the target audience because I feel I have enough time. So I skimmed most of it. Since my two girls are getting better at playing together for longer blocks of time without needing a referee (ages almost 5 and almost 3). The 3yr old also dropped her nap last month which has made us move up bedtime to 7:30 and we’ve reclaimed a nice chunk of evening time. And it’s nice since I work late 2 nights that they are asleep when I get home which gives me another 30 minutes of me time.
    I too am glad you’re writing during this time. And I love the cute little photos of your new guy.

    1. @Alissa – thanks! Yes, I’m always interested to see what are the common narratives out there that people respond to, and I’m quite sure that the “I put everyone else first and have no time for me!” is a common one. Even though I think the reality is not as dire as people think.

  3. I am a WAHM who homeschools in the mornings and works from home in the afternoon. I get up an hour before everyone else to read books I cannot stay awake with at night (I’m not a night owl). In the evenings (if we’re at home), I listen to podcasts while I knit or go to bed early and read. The hardest one for me (but such a difference it makes) is taking a “lunch hour” AFTER lunch – after I’ve fed the children and they’ve dispersed to their afternoon pursuits. I take an hour to spin (make yarn) or knit or something I want to do. I’m so much more productive in the afternoon when I do, but that is the hardest one to discipline myself to do. Chaos is such a hard thing to tame, and then once I get peace, I feel like I should be working, not playing. But it always backfires if I don’t do it.

    1. @Tana – carving out time during the work day for a break is a hard one, especially if we’re trying to accomplish our work in fewer hours than we probably need! I got in the habit of taking a real lunch break a few years ago when I realized all my kids were home for lunch and we could make it a formal family meal (well, at least with one parent). Now it’s just a habit even though fewer kids are home, and I don’t schedule phone calls for 12-12:30 if I can possibly help it. I also try to exercise in the afternoon when I’d need a coffee break. Much more invigorating, and I come back to work more focused.

  4. Definitely the 50/50 partner split. My husband is quick to push me out the door if I tell him I need a break. Or even just up to our room with the door closed, while he does dinner prep. Frankly, he knows my job (home with the kids!) is tougher than his by a long shot, most days. He’s happy to give me whatever time we can make work.

    1. @Katherine – yep. This is why I’m always interested to see the story format of it being so stressful trying to work when you have little kids that someone decides to stay home. Um, since when is staying home with little kids less stressful? If you have an office job at least you get to talk to grown-ups and go to the bathroom by yourself! I’m glad your husband realizes that.

  5. I’m not the best at finding “me time” (I’ll have to check out THE FRINGE HOURS, thanks for the reccommendation!), but I’ve definitely learned that if I want to do something just for me, especially on a weekend, I have to put it on the calendar. If it’s not claimed right there in black and white, someone else will be happy to fill that time for me…

    Also, one thing that is a huge me-time saving help now that two of my kids are older has been moving to a small town, within walking distance of the schools, library, friends’ houses, and a few stores. My kids can do as many after school clubs as they want without needing rides, and my older son has proved to be useful and very motivated to pick up random grocery or pharmacy items for me, mail packages, etc. (I pay him a small fee). My younger two kids can finally entertain themselves at home for some length of time while I read or work on a project, so cutting down on all the chauffeuring and errand-running suddenly yields a lot more free time for me.

    1. @Anjanette- this is smart. The need for kids to be chauffeured is likely behind a lot of the no-time-for-me narrative. One way around that is to not put the kids in activities, but you’ve found another one. And it’s great that the kids can walk and get some exercise and fresh air.

  6. Yes to the not filling time. There are eleventy thousand things my kids COULD be in, but we’ve purposely chosen to only be involved in a few, partly to keep our lives sane and partly because it’s hard to do a great job at any activity when your life is filled with tons of them.

  7. Amen to not picking up toys and filling up kids schedule with activities. I feel not only I need me time but my children do so as well.

    Although I’m not that great in having regular me time. I mean to make it happen but there is always something else to do.

    Like the idea of making it a habit.

    Thank you!

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