I’m finding that the older I get, the more protective I am of my time.
Years ago, if there was something going on within a ten mile radius, I would go. I just would. Getting out of the house felt like a real treat–which it really, truly is when your husband’s away at work all day and you’re homeschooling several small children. And on Sundays when Kevin was watching football (yawn), I’d opt instead to jump in the car and go browse Target, or head to the mall or the thrift store. (I don’t particularly like football, just in case you didn’t know. And if it’s even possible, I like it even less after all the trash-talking and assorted shenanigans on display post-Superbowl. These are adults, making millions of dollars, acting like little kids. Also, racial bias is for real. But I digress.)
So as my dear children are getting older (I have a kid who just turned TWELVE, people!), and now that we no longer homeschool (all praises be to a merciful and loving Jesus, who saw fit to send me a wonderful K-12 school five minutes from my front door), I find myself being a little more choosy about going out and doing stuff, just for the sake of going out and doing stuff. I find myself reflecting more on the things I really like to do, and the people with whom I really like to spend my time.
Then since more or less abandoning social media, I am engaging more freely and happily with my kids. It doesn’t hurt either that a large portion of my home is basically off-limits right now because of our remodel, and we are spending most of our time squished together in our basement, or at a plastic picnic table in our kitchen. I also have multiple kids involved in multiple after-school activities, like geography club and a musical production and a soccer season about to start. So I spend a fair amount of time with these small, chatty people, getting them to and from where they need to be, making sure they have what they need for this or that, and just plain being there. To listen, and to talk.
Maybe mastering the art of time management is no big thing for you, but I confess it’s something new for me. Over the past few months I’ve felt compelled to not only really evaluate where my time is going, but also what my priority activities really are. I belong to a couple of monthly groups at church, for example–one is a group of women, the other a group of couples. Both of these communities are important to me (and also include some of my dearest friends), so I’ll stick with them. Which means I don’t have plans to join up with any other formal groups, tempting as it may occasionally be. Why? Because I’m discovering that I love my life so much more if I’m not doing too much!
There are countless benefits, I’m finding, to be gained from intentional and simple living. So I’m sharing five things today that I’ve found personally helpful in managing my time and, ultimately, making me a happier person.
1. Getting organized with a good calendar
Okay, this is an easy place to start. You’re probably already doing this. But for a long time I resisted, because I felt confident keeping track of stuff in my head (and apparently didn’t mind lots of random slips of paper all over my house.) Now though, I have several kids involved in different activities, assorted doctor appointments to keep track of, and I’m presently contending with what I shall call “pregnancy brain”, where I don’t always remember things if they’re not written down. I’ve tried various planners and calendars over the years, but I gotta tell you, my all-time favorite and current go-to? The Erin Condren LifePlanner. It’s personalized with my name, it’s cute, and it can fit into a purse. I know a lot of folks prefer a digital calendar on a smartphone, but I am not one of them. Primarily because I like to be able to jot stuff down and really see what my week looks like, plus my kids can easily access it to see what time they need to be at soccer practice or drama club. In the past I would have scoffed at the $50 price-tag, but I’ve learned that it’s really a very small price to pay for something that works, is of good quality, and simplifies my life.
2. Cutting out the clutter
If you ask my husband, who is the one person on the planet privy to all my rantings and opinions (and who just last night had to listen to a VERY DETAILED description about the two TV shows I watched yesterday, 20/20 and Curb Your Enthusiasm), he will tell you I have a number of soapboxes. Which is true. But this right here? One of my very most cherished. As I have purged and donated and organized and culled over the past few years, I have discovered a beautiful freedom that comes with a clean and simplified home environment. I never realized how much stress an overabundance of STUFF inevitably causes, until I started getting rid of that stuff. This process has also helped me discover what I like and what I don’t, and the crazy thing is that I’m so much more content now than I used to be, when my closets were overflowing with things that were rarely used. Maybe the greatest benefit of all, though? More mental and emotional space in my life. There is definitely a connection there. Trust me. A great place to start if you’re new to decluttering is with Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. That woman is a genius. So give it a read, grab some garbage bags, and get busy–I really think you’ll love it!
3. Knowing yourself and your priorities
The details will ebb and flow and change, but as a general principle, it’s essential to making good decisions about how to use your time. And it seems so obvious and easy, but how often have I committed to things that I’m not really all that interested in, simply because I could? Or because I felt obligated? If someone invites you to join a book club and you don’t like to read, don’t join the club. If you want your kids involved in after-school sports, don’t feel bad about keeping Saturdays free for going to the games. When you as a family (and as an individual!) know the direction you want to go in and the way you want to do things, it is SO much easier to say no to the other stuff. For us right now, we value church activities (the groups I’ve already mentioned plus one my husband attends, Religious Education for our kids, altar serving for my sons, a formation group for my daughters), time with close friends and family, and assorted extra-curricular activities: soccer, drama club, geography club, and honor choir. (Plus swim team in the summer.) And that’s pretty much it. We spend a lot of time at home, together, just hanging out. I often joke that we are a really boring family, but it’s actually kind of true. And, we love it that way. Because I know myself well enough to know that I hate feeling like I wasted my time doing stuff I didn’t totally love.
4. Fighting for margin
This pretty much goes hand in hand with discerning your priorities, but I am giving it its own number. Why? Because I think it is so, so important. It would be totally possible to fill up every single little moment of my day or weekend or month with something. Because there are so many good things out there, things to join or attend or commit to, for both me and my kids. But I’ve discovered that, on those rare weeks when we are going pretty much constantly? I start to lose my ever-loving mind. Thankfully this doesn’t happen too often (usually in December, with multiple school programs and parties, and then every once in awhile throughout the rest of the year), but when it does, I really have to take some deep breaths–and give thanks that, normally, our life really isn’t like that. We leave a lot of space for rest, leisure, and getting-stuff-done-around-the-house. Sometimes this takes some effort, because it entails saying no, which is just plain hard. But I’m learning that saying no to one thing is really just saying yes to something else, and when you look at it that way, it’s really not so very bad at all. Plus, in a day and age when so little value is placed on taking time to think and process and imagine, I want my kids (and me!) to have the experience, on a regular basis, of just being still. It makes for a well-balanced life, and also contributes to health and well-being. For all of us.
5. Limiting social media and screen time
Last but not least, and yet another one of my (admittedly more recent) soapboxes. But this one here is gold, pure gold, I tell you! You already know that as of December, I don’t spend much time on Facebook anymore. This has absolutely made me a happier, more productive and healthy person, even in just a month and a half. Not only does it free up a bunch of my time, it has allowed me to spend that time doing other things, or sometimes nothing at all. (Possibly my favorite thing to do, or not do as it were.) I’m reading good books (right now, Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project and Diary of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska), chatting more with my kids, and apparently watching really high-brow television shows. (I was sick in bed with a cold, if that matters. And gosh I’m sorry, but Larry David is a brilliant writer and comic.) But even beyond all of that, I was a psychology major in college–and am just naturally interested in behavior patterns, brain function, and group dynamics. And the more I read about smart phones, social media, and the way technology trends are actually changing our culture one brain at a time, I’m completely terrified. And no, that is not an exaggeration, or pearl-clutching hyperbole. I actually just got a book that I can’t wait to dig into, on this very subject. I also recently read this excellent piece by Rod Dreher. It made me feel good about the direction I’ve taken with social media in my own life, and it has also reinforced my resolve to severely restrict device usage among my kids.
Who got tablets for Christmas, which are super handy for homework (I wish they didn’t need technology for homework but alas, they do), and the occasional living room gaming session. We have taken many precautions here–every single tablet is password protected (so only mom or dad can enable usage), they are permitted only in common areas of the house, and aside from homework? My kids don’t get much time on them at all. It’s a treat. Something fun. Every once in awhile.
But I’m now thinking more about the social aspect of what they do–my twelve year old daughter, for example, enjoys sending little emails and texts (via a free texting app, since she has no phone) to her friends and her younger sister, and to me. Lots of “Hi”s and “Bye”s, and “Are you coming to the church potluck?”s. The occasional poop emoji. All very silly and innocent. But. I am really considering ways to limit this, too. NOT because she’s doing anything bad, but because of the research coming out about how this form of communication can really change the way relationships form, and how people are able to communicate in real life. I want her to one day be able to hold an intelligent conversation at a dinner party without feeling compelled to check her phone, and to get the most out of her friendships. I also don’t want her down-time punctuated by incoming texts, or wondering when the next little text will come in. This is an ongoing conversation in our home, and my daughter was actually really interested in the things I’ve been reading about, so we’ll see. In any case, no matter who you are–adult or child–stepping away from the glow of the screen can absolutely revolutionize how you spend your time, and lead to better time-management.