How an Hourglass is Making My Life More Fulfilling

Work-Life Balance on 09.10.12
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Photo: Doug Belshaw / Creative Commons

I have a confession to make: I'm terrible at managing my time. Well, when left to my own devices, anyway. I've not been blessed with an internal timekeeper. It's strange but true: in my mind, the time is always what it was since the last time I looked at my watch.

That said, it's very difficult for me to use my time efficiently unless I use timers. If I'm going to tidy up the house, I need to designate about 5 or 10 minutes per room and hustle my buns off until the timer beeps and I can move to the next room. If I don't do it this way, I'll plod around the kitchen (I always start with the kitchen) for an unlimited amount of time. I'll finally look up at the clock once the stove has been taken apart and I've completely scrubbed every square inch of the inside of the refrigerator. (Or more realistically, made a sandwich and forgot why I walked into the kitchen in the first place.) And then there's no time to do anything else.

Imagine running your life that way. You'd get absorbed in meaningless tasks and never have time for the big things, like playing with your kids, doing things you find meaningful or pursuing activities that are purely enjoyable and make life worth living.

How I Sweat the Small Stuff

I have one timer upstairs, one downstairs, one on my phone, and one on my computer. I use these timers to limit the crappy little things that need to get done without letting them take over my life.

The flipside is that the small stuff might never get done at all without my timers. I don't need to devote my big, meaningful chunks of time to dealing with my messes. I can be motivated to spend 10 minutes on a decluttering mission without feeling overwhelmed or annoyed by it.

And Now for Sweating the Big Stuff

So this isn't to say that my timers are foolproof and that now I'm such a glorious and perfect genius because I've figured this out. Quite the contrary. I'm still an amateur when it comes to time management. I'm easily distracted and I have difficulty keeping routines.

That's why it's extra important that I remember to sweat the big stuff. Your life is only as good as what you spend your time on. When it comes to my day-to-day life, the two most important things are writing and my daughter. Not necessarily in that order.

It's important that I fully immerse myself in being with my daughter when I'm with my daughter. That means letting the small stuff slip while we play and read stories. But I'm learning the value of sometimes ditching the timers and tidying up as we go so that we're both being together and taking care of the house at the same time. So I'm allowing for a tiny bit of multitasking there. I won't sue myself over it.

The other big thing, writing, is something that I can't do during my daughter's waking hours. I find writing to be very engrossing, and I don't feel it's fair to my daughter to be completely absorbed by something at her expense. It's also not fair to me and my love of writing to do it in a way that makes me feel guilty or distracted. When Alex puts on the music and starts jumping around, spinning, and dancing, it's not like I'm going to keep my nose glued to my laptop. That would be idiotic on many levels, not the least of which is ignoring the magnificence of daily life.

So my challenge is this: in the few hours I have each day to myself, to set my 60-minute hourglass. That way I will have a completely substantial visual reminder that this is the time I have to write. In my distractibility, it might feel like an eternity of keeping my butt glued to a chair without flipping over to Facebook, without getting up to snack or pee or entertain a million other useless distractions. But this is my life we're talking about. And I'm going to do whatever it takes to get to the big stuff.

How about you?

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