We’ve all heard it, and I suspect none of us have liked hearing it, but heard it we have–if you truly want to do something, you simply have to make time. The rational among us say, “You can’t make time! There’s a finite quantity available, and that’s it.”
While there are some in theoretical physics circles who might argue that we can, indeed, make time, most of us agree that we have our daily 24 hours with which to work, and not a minute more. However, we each have a certain degree of control over how we use the 24 hours, and therein lies the problem. How many of us look at our desired to do list (read! write! sleep!), and then remember:
- The dog needs a walk.
- The child needs clean underwear.
- The refrigerator is empty.
- The floor is dirty.
- The counter is hiding under a mountain of clutter.
- The bills should be paid.
- A family of six could eat for a week on the number of crumbs on the couch.
- The child needs a ride to practice/a new piece of equipment/a permission slip signed/etc.
Oh, my. I’m tired just re-reading this list! But, I’ve made a discovery: these are not the things sucking up your time. In fact, I bet if each of us kept a daily log for a week, many would be surprised to learn where all the time is used, and where it isn’t. But before I get to that, let me share with you my family’s quest for simplicity.
You see, we’re tired. Tired of cleaning, of moving piles of clutter around the house, of searching for “lost” things. They’re tired of hearing me complain. I’m tired of not finishing the novel I’m writing. We’re all tired of not having enough time for fun family activities. And so, we’re purging, building, and simplifying. Items we haven’t used in years? Gone. To charity, the roadside (people will snag anything we leave out there!), and recycling. Empty boxes, old papers, gifts we never really liked but feel guilty about giving up, cookbooks we’ve never cooked a recipe from, broken things, and more, are all heading out the door. We’ve set a deadline of the end of summer to be done. (I should mention that I have 1100 sq ft of attic alone that is full to the brim with. . .stuff.)
Next, we’re organizing the items that are left. Our new house rule: if it comes into the house, it has a place where it belongs, or it’s not coming in. No arguing, no debate. Hubby is putting his amazing woodworking skills to use building beautiful built-in shelves, because our house currently has very little storage (and thus the need to move piles around). But, even a nearly empty, well-organized home won’t allow me to do the things I want to be doing. That’s because of the battle between Things That Suck Up My Time vs. Priorities.
Ah, priorities. Priorities are those things that must come first, whether it’s for your own sanity or the safety and well-being of your family or your career. These are the things that have to happen in order for each of us to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted people. They’re different for everyone, of course. For instance, I know that I can’t do certain things, such as homework (when I was in college) and writing, when my personal space is a disaster. Even if I go to the library or a coffee shop, I simply can’t shut the disaster out, and I’ve accepted that my space has to be tolerable in order for me to be focused and creative. Housework? I’ve heard the many lectures from friends and family about just letting things go, that it doesn’t matter if there are dishes in the sink or a sticky spot on the floor. But it does, to me. These things are not sucking up my time; instead, they are priorities. However, there are some slippery, sneaky, time-sucking habits I haven’t yet broken, things that do not belong on the priorities list. For instance,
- Television watching
- Facebook surfing
- News reading
Don’t misunderstand, I’m all for watching a good show! But, watching TV isn’t necessary. It doesn’t help me write books, or clean my house, or keep my family fed. Yep, it can go. I love FB. I love hearing from long-distance friends (I hate phones), seeing uplifting stories from groups like Smart Girls, and so on. But really, a half-hour daily check in is more than enough. Reading the news? So much of what is posted online these days, even via the major news outlets, is so sensationalized that it’s hard to know what’s actually news any more. A quick check of the headlines, a detailed read of any crisis that seems legit, is probably more than enough. Let’s not forget the procrastinating! Oh, my. I am guilty at times of being so overwhelmed by my to-do list that I’m completely paralyzed. Other times, I have a crisis of faith in myself and my ability to do the things that I most want to do, like finish the current work-in-progress, which leads to more procrastinating.
Is everyone depressed yet? I hope not–this is an uplifting post! Our family has decided that we need more time together and less stuff, to spend more time engaged with each other and less time simply in the same space, and that it’s okay to decide what’s really a priority–and ditch the rest of the time-suckers. We’re setting personal goals as well. Mine include spending less time cleaning and organizing (the purge and the shelves will help me achieve this), to write and publish more short stories, attend two conferences this year, and to finish a full draft of the WIP by November.
To help with my writerly goals, the members of my writers’ group and I are participating in a 100-words-a-day challenge. Every day we email the group a copy of what we’ve written that day. No one needs to read it or provide a critique. Instead, just the act of sharing with the group keeps each of us honest and focused, and is helping us build the writing habit. We all work full-time in non-writing jobs, so this is really helpful. What we’ve found is that we almost always write more than 100 words, and it feels so good to send that email! Which motivates each of us to write more. Writing and emailing these 100 words every day is now a priority.
So, with some pruning of the to-do list, a lot of purging and organizing, and a focus on prioritizing, I figure I will have added about two hours to every weekday and even more to the weekends.
Eureka! I made time!
How do you make time? Any great tips for the overwhelmed among us? How do you make time for reading and/or writing?