Toddlers are mercurial creatures. The other day, my little guy elected to skip his afternoon nap. He was miserable (and violent! Oh, the hair-pulling!) for much of the rest of the day before crashing at 6:30 p.m. Quiet reigned in the house for a while, which I appreciated, but I paid for it with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up the next morning. I tried a bottle. I tried rocking. I lay next to him. He would not go back to sleep. So I was up, and none too happy about it.
I know in the grand scheme of human suffering, this is minimal, but here is the larger point: even in a good life, there are moments that just have to be endured. These pre-dawn wake-ups are in my mind whenever I hear that saccharine advice to “enjoy these days! They go so fast!” There is little enjoyable about being sleep-deprived and tending to the needs of an incredibly mobile child with zero common sense. In case anyone is wondering, the hours between 4:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. do not speed by. However, I do believe that even in bad situations there are often small things we can do to shift a mental state from sheer endurance to tolerance or even mild pleasure. Pleasure is a good thing. Smart time management is about seizing opportunities for pleasure when they present themselves. Today’s foundational time management strategy:
If it has to be done, we can try to enjoy it.
For me, a string of early morning wake-ups prompted me to start buying better coffee. I use real cream in it. 5 a.m. is no time for skim milk. (I also won’t be a martyr. If my husband is home, he gets his assigned days to be listening for the baby and waking up with him too. If I’m up first, I’ll hand him over at a time of my choosing.)
There are many things in life that can be likewise improved. If you’re folding laundry, you can call a friend to chat. One of my favorite entries from an I Know How She Does It time log was “Floor play with my twins. This is part leisure when I have a drink.” Another woman had little parties with fellow soccer moms in the car during those pre-game waiting periods that accompanied an intense travel team schedule.
Study after study finds that people hate their commutes. While we get used to most things that are good or bad over time, the highly variable nature of traffic means that every day is a new hell. You can wallow in sorrow and anger about this. Or you can pack a favorite CD, download a play list to your phone, listen to podcasts, or audiobooks (including mine!), or carpool with a friend or spouse and turn these lost minutes into quality time.
(Or get out of the car when you can! People with car commutes hate them; people who bike feel bliss. As Melody Warnick writes in her book This Is Where You Belong, “The litany of daily errands that are stultifying or stressful by car become exhilarating on a bike.”)
There are plenty of jobs that, on the surface, are no one’s idea of a good time. While I do think it’s wise to figure out, over the long haul, if there are ways to move to something else, there may be reasons to stay put. In that case, the mental benefits of shifting from clock-watching to at least partial engagement can be huge. Try to have real conversations with customers and colleagues. Aim to make someone’s day. If nothing else, meditate in the parking lot while taking fake smoke breaks.
I thought about this topic a lot last year after writing a post on The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter (which became one of Fast Company’s top stories of 2015). The basic idea is that despite the sun never rising from November to January, people in northern Norway don’t view winter as this horrible thing. Instead, they have a word, kosselig, which means a sense of coziness. They light candles and have favorite foods. It’s the best parts of Christmas without the stress. They revel in winter-only activities such as skiing. And a sense of community, that we’re all in this together, helps tide people over to spring.
I think there’s a lesson in that for any stretch that could be tough. Little lasts forever, so eventually you will be on the other side of your dark days, but since time is limited, wishing for it to pass feels like such a miserable bargain. I am eager in many ways for my little guy to be older. Yet there are so many good moments still, mixed in with the 4:30 a.m. wake-ups. I do what I can to protect my sanity, and I try to enjoy what I can too, even if it’s just getting 5 quiet minutes to surf the web before he gets bored with his toy trains.