I had a realization last week, while listening to Sarah on Deep Questions (for a second time, actually- I listened first on my flight home from Texas, but was sort of in a post-food poisoning half-awake stupor, so I listened again with a clearer mind a few days later.)
I keep a calendar, yes. I “organize things”, yes, sort of. I have lists.
But I wasn’t actually planning my weeks, exactly. (<– This was the realization.)
This feels hard to explain.
There is a difference between knowing what time soccer practice is, and knowing how that is going to fit into my broader day. Like, who is driving to/ from. If I’m driving then, when is dinner happening? If I’m going to take a little chunk of my work day and write a blog post, okay, but then, am I working late? When exactly is my workout fitting in here??? What about groceries? When is household admin happening?
I realized that my extreme unease/ floundering feeling of late may be tied to the fact that I/ we are literally floundering most days!! Yes, this is a “busy season”, but I’m kind of over the concept of “busy seasons”. I’ve not yet found a NOT busy season in the past…. oh…. 10 years. So, I think “busy season” just = my life, currently.
May is no busier than holiday season lead up in December, which is no busier than juggling summer vacation and camps in July, which is no busier than packing and planning for spring break in March. It’s all busy.
There is no point in waiting for the “busy season” to pass, because the day it passes will probably be the day of my funeral. Sorry if that sounds morbid, but I’m not really wired to be a “non-busy person”. Even when the kids move on, I’m sure something else will slide into their place.
ACTUAL planning + Time Choices
So, after pondering this, I sat down Friday and did some actual planning…. not just making sure the soccer games were on the schedule. I actually looked at the week and thought about things more deeply.
I figured out which days this week we are physically not even home to make and/or eat dinner.
I figured out which days an evening workout would be impossible, and realized which days I actually could do a morning workout, IF I didn’t flit my morning away on other things.
I realized that, duh…. on days where I need to take off early to drive Ethan to an Orthodontist appt, the rest of the day probably is going to need to shift a little, too! Maybe I can’t write a blog post that day. Maybe that needs to be a shorter, home workout day. Or maybe I need to have Ivan drive kids in the morning, so I can start work early.
This all feels embarrassingly obvious, as I consider myself a “student of productivity” who listens to Cal Newport and Laura Vanderkam and Sarah Hart-Unger, among others.
But I have totally been skating along, winging my days, WAY too much lately. In part, I think, because our days are naturally very varied and ever-changing, so it’s just kind of complicated to plan out all those nuances. So perhaps I was kind of just avoiding it? I’m not sure.
I do know that what we were doing was only moderately “working”. And by that I mean, we were getting things done, we were making it places, we were apparently eating food, etc… but it didn’t “feel” good. It has been feeling hard. Or harder than it needs to.
I also had to face a few uncomfortable realities.
A couple weeks ago now, I sat down and used a template from Nir Eyal’s website to try to draw up an “Ideal Week”. This is a frequently recommended exercise to help people think about their time and priorities.
Basically, you fill in all the things you have to do, like work, plus family commitments, workouts, household responsibilities, etc. and add in things you also just want to do, like, say, reading or TV watching or sitting on your patio. Whatever your “ideal” week looks like, if you were king.
Well, this didn’t go so well for me. When I started filling in my “ideal boxes”, I realized that there were simply not enough boxes. I quite literally ran out of time, in my time budget.
Unfortunately, some of the boxes in my life are pretty fixed- work, for example. A lot of the kids’ stuff is mostly fixed, too. There’s a good amount of household misc/admin that is also pretty non-negotiable currently. When I tried to add in the rest, or “everything else”, I found that my “ideal” amount of other activities simply do not fit. For me, this includes blogging/ blog reading, reading, walking, time with Ivan, etc.
As I did this exercise, I realized that many days I have time for blogging OR the gym, or reading a book OR going for a walk…. but not both. And definitely not all.
I also realized that I have slowly, over time, bumped this blog/ reading blogs/ commenting on blogs WAY up on the priority list. Which on one hand is great, because I love this space, but also…. let’s be real. It’s a hobby. I make zero dollars here. And I also noticed that I was starting to choose “blog time” over “gym time”…. which, when I’m honest with myself, doesn’t align with my core values. EXERCISE = a core health habit/ value that I really want to prioritize over almost everything else (for me). But my actions and choices weren’t really demonstrating this.
(Example… when I’d find myself with basically a single, 1 hour block of open time in the morning, I was choosing to spend it blogging/ commenting, instead of hitting the gym, but then lamenting that I “didn’t have time” to go to the gym that day. I DID have time!!! I just spent it blogging instead. Or similarly, I would say, “I didn’t have time for a walk today”, but yet I spent my lunch break commenting on blogs or writing a post.)
I’m not saying I’m going to quit blogging!!! Don’t worry (well, if you like my blog, that is 😉 ). But I am taking a little closer look at exactly how much time is going to this hobby, especially as the number of blogs I read has increased, too. I love connecting with people, but there’s only so much time in a week. And while I think blogging/ reading blogs is certainly VERY enjoyable, and valuable, it’s like any other demand on my time. It needs to stay in check, too, and it can’t just run away on me, unrestricted.
I’m also looking at my phone use/ social media! That’s been an ongoing thing around here, but I’m actively working on decreasing constant checks/ obvious time suck there, too.
Whew, lots to unpack there. Speaking of time, I don’t have much time to edit this, so, hopefully a few things in there make sense. LOL!
I guess I’m glad I experienced this little wake-up call of sorts (thanks Cal and SHU!). Again, this all feels kind of obvious, but yet, one of those things that’s easy to just sort of keep overlooking.
Can anyone relate to what I’m saying here? (That is, IF I made any sense? 😝)
Side note: Happy Belated Mother’s Day to any moms! I had to wake up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday to drive 1.5 hours to a soccer tournament with Asher (seriously, an 8 a.m. game on Mother’s Day?!), while Ivan drove the opposite direction with Ethan for a different game.
I had fun watching my youngest buddy, though, and enjoyed chatting with him in the car and listening to music together. 🙂 He wanted a breakfast sandwich on the way home, so we stopped at a Mickey D’s together for hot chocolate + an egg mcmuffin:
I also actually did take a NAP on Sunday afternoon (very rare for me!) which was lovely, plus had a good gym session, got some wonderful gifts from my boys + Ivan, and finished up with a Chipotle burrito for dinner!! (My fav!)
It was a good day. ♥
I am grateful for podcasts that teach me things!
24 thoughts on “Planning but not planning, and time choices”
It is probably helpful to do that “ideal week” exercise to realize it’s not a failing on your part that you can’t fit everything, it’s literally not possible! I hope you continue to blog since I have enjoyed getting to know you, but I can always bug you via text, too. I blog pretty infrequently because of time constraints. I just don’t have the time in the day to do it and don’t want to give up time spent reading in the evenings to blog. So I try to post 1-2 times/week and call that good enough. Besides that, I comment when I have down periods at work (like now) or when I’m watching the kids and I don’t have to be an active participant in what they are doing.
Our life is more regimented than yours as I think you’ve mentioned before so that kind of requires more planning or planning is a natural output of that. Like Phil always grocery shops on Saturday mornings while the boys and I go to the library + gymnastics, so I have to have a meal plan discussion with him in the days leading up to grocery shopping so he knows what to buy. And now that I’m back in the office Tues-Thur, I know I need to make meals Friday-Monday unless it’s a very fast recipe, like tacos, that can be made in 20 minutes so the boys can eat at 5:30. And similarly, my workouts need to happen Fri-Mon as I don’t have the willpower to get up at 5 on an in-office day to workout before work. Since you always WFH, you probably get a false sense of flexibility that really isn’t there or not to the extent it used to be now that your kids are in a lot of activities, etc.
I still need to listen to Sarah’s interview but am very behind on podcasts lately!
Yes, I thought of you Lisa when I wrote this, because I feel like you are generally just good at “balance”. Like, besides reading, you don’t seem to stress over necessarily doing all sorts of things every single day, and I know you don’t blog every single day, either. I know you sometimes wish you could work out more, but you also seem pretty balanced there too- you are consistent but don’t over-stress if it has to be a little lighter or shifted around. You seem to be realistic about your time, and that’s inspiring, because you still do a LOT!
I totally get it. I don’t use calendar to plan as you describe either but more to damp my mind of to do list there so I feel less overwhelmed and the feeling of forgetting something all the time. That’s my purpose of journaling and planning.
For filling my days with things I enjoy, exercise is non negotiable, meditation comes next, and if I have time I blog/comment, all before the family gets up. Once i decide this is my priority list, making choices every morning becomes easier and I don’t feel bad if I don’t get to blog for example. I haven’t done the ideal week exercise but I would say im 95% happy with how I spend my time.
Love the comment about really narrowing down your priority list. I think that’s where I had gone a little awry. Without realizing it, I was letting my priorities shift away from where I think I actually want them to be, in some ways. Definitely I can see how it is easier to plan your week if you can just start with the non-negotiables and then fill in the rest as able. Like you said, if some of the lower priorities don’t fit, then they don’t, and that’s ok!
I guess partly because I’m not very ambitious of things I want to do every week, we do limited social/extended family gatherings, so most of the free time is spent on our hobbies or open.
I get this. I really do. Especially the blogging/commenting part, which I struggle with. I love this blogging community and get a great deal of satisfaction and fulfillment out of both reading posts and writing them… but increasing the number of excellent bloggers I read means an increased time commitment. (And I don’t want to give up reading and commenting!)
One thing I’ve toyed with, but haven’t ever implemented because it feels a) difficult and b) overly restrictive is to schedule the things I want to do in my day as though they were work commitments. 8:00 to 9:00 – workout. 9:00-9:30 – laundry. 9:30-10:00 – blog commenting. Etc. I wonder if I can work myself up to trying this.
Oh! Also something I’ve tried briefly but haven’t really stuck with is tying certain activities to others. For instance, my Big Plan this year was to only blog/comment when I was on the treadmill. But… I haven’t set foot on the treadmill in months, so that clearly hasn’t gone the way I intended. (I have been prioritizing walking outside in the fresh air.) Or lunchtime is reading time, laundry time is audiobook time, etc. Still a work in progress lol.
I really enjoy your blog, so I would be sad if you stopped posting. But I do understand. SOMETHING has to give.
Exactly Suzanne! There are just so many great bloggers now and I feel bad not being able to keep up sometimes. I think it totally makes sense to have a
“schedule” even for non-work things. I do try to do this often, and when I do this consistently I’m always amazed at how much more I can fit in, while actually feeling calmer. You should definitely give that a try. Love the idea of tying activities together, too. I should mull that over myself. 🙂
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Suzanne, I think that having a set time for things is very effective; that way you don’t miss out on anything that you like to do and you don’t feel guilty for not doing one thing AND you curb yourself on things that you know can easily get out of control/go over time. I have heard of people using this method for social media and I think it’s a great way to still get your fix without having it control your (or take over your) life!
I agree with all of the above comments, as in, I know time is finite and I definitely want to get a run in, so I only allocate a certain amount of time to other things. For blogging, I give myself about 20 mins each morning to either, read, comment or create posts, so this means I don’t always comment on every post of every person but can still check in with each person about once per week.
I actually took a blogging hiatus for a couple years because I think it got to be too much because I did have a lot of blogs I liked to read and I did feel like I had to comment on everything all the time and also create fulfilling content, but you can’t do it all so for a little bit I did nothing. Now I feel better about still being around but not feeling obligated to comment on every single post everyone I follow posts.
Oh I’m glad you commented, because I was thinking about you and wondering how you handled your blogging. I know you are another one who blogs regularly but not necessarily daily, and also I know you work and are busy and also manage to stay up on other blogs. I think having a set time is totally smart, and probably something I should consider. Also, I think in my case, I have always had this idea that I HAVE to basically start, write my whole post, and publish it all at once. Which is fine when it’s just a quick random check in type post, but sometimes they are longer or require more thought, etc. There’s no reason that I couldn’t, say, work on a post for 20 minutes one day, and then put it aside and pick it back up the next day. Instead, I often push through to finish it then, which may mean spending more time blogging that day than I really “should” or “have”. I can also see how one might eventually feel like just taking a total break, because I have felt inklings of that from time to time! Where it just all can get to feel like too much to keep up with, between writing my own and following others (which again, I love! But it still is a lot of time)… I’ve had fleeting thoughts of like, well, maybe I should just totally step away from this whole thing. But that’s a sad thought, too. I think I prefer your approach- figuring out a way to balance it a bit better/ maybe just tone it down a little in some ways. 🙂 I also think I forget that I first started this blog during the pandemic, when I was home ALL the time, never had anywhere to drive the kids, etc. Of course I had a lot of time to write then!! Now life is 50x busier, yet I think I’m trying to fit in the same amount of time as I was then, AND I’m following many more blogs now! Obviously, it’s going to be difficult!
I guess I kind of approach it a bit like work; you know how sometimes you have so many people asking you to do something and there really is just no way you will be able to get it all done in one day/week/year, so you have to prioritize and just get what you can get done in the 8 hours (or whatever) that you are there. Otherwise before you know it you are staying late, eating crap food and not getting to spend any time with your friends. You have to categorize your time and be realistic with what you can accomplish in a day.
It’s also like IRL friends, if you have one that texts you every hour, you can’t reply to EVERY SINGLE TEXT, you may have to read them all each evening and reply once per day, so that you can also make sure you are maintaining contact with other important people. Personally, I am not offended if you don’t comment on all of my posts, or respond right away; one good back and forth conversation makes it all worth it. Quality over quantity, my friend!
I was actually just thinking about this. We are currently living in Poland for 3 years (just finishing our first year) and my job thankfully let me go on leave without pay- so I am not even working right now. But, I do have 4 school age kids and figuring out living in a foreign country takes some time. In my head, as a SAHM, I should have all the time in the world. But it turns out, I don’t. So I sat down on Mother’s Day to map out the rest of the school year and to come up with some new routines. And also look at my goals again, because when I made them it was with the assumption that I would have long days of leisure. Even though I would say I am objectively less busy than I was this time last year, I am still “busy.”
I agree with this! My kids are younger- 1 and 3- and right now I am home with them full time. We technically don’t have much on our calendar- maybe 1 thing a week- so I feel like I should have time for everything. But I really don’t! I have thought about making a calendar of and ideal week. Or maybe more of a realistic ideal week just so I can see where everything fits and what I need to give up.
I’ve never been a SAHM, but I totally felt this as well bigtime when I switched to WFH. I remember feeling like, oh, I’m going to have SO Much more time now without a commute + flexible hours!! But somehow it didn’t seem to feel that way. It was/ is frustrating sometimes! Things just tend to fill in, I guess. I also felt similar to you when I worked in the hospital and had lots of days off (I worked 12 hour shifts, so I had many days totally off). I’d blink and it would be 5 pm and I’d think, what the heck?! I had this WHOLE day with no work… what just happened?! Ha. 4 kids is busy no matter how you slice it… or heck, even my 2 feel very busy! I think it’s almost more important to probably plan/ schedule things when you ARE home all the time. At least with a work schedule you have some naturally built in structure, but when you’re home, you have to intentionally create that structure, I’d think! 🙂
I’m very happy the episode was helpful, even if it meant owning up to some truths.
I truly think the detailed planning that includes things like workout time, down time, etc is very helpful because it does force the planner to prioritize and strategize. You can’t do everything but you can do a lot.
On a more trivial note, since my workouts have gotten longer I have moved blogging to a mid-day activity most days, either lunchtime at work (usually a short 20-30 min effort) or at home. AND, this kind of detailed planning often shows me why I have such disdain for social media as a mindless time suck when I have soooo many other things I want to do that are truly more important to me and in line with my values!
Yes, I think I wasn’t doing a good job of really narrowing down my true priorities and putting them as ROCKS in my schedule!! And, trying to/wishing I could do “everything” which is frankly just probably unrealistic….Maybe it’s beginner’s luck, but I have to say this week feels better already just knowing when I’m going to do my workouts and having other things scheduled a bit better. I think also bc I work from home, I tend to fall into the trap of thinking I can just sort of go by feel, see how the day goes, etc. But that’s a bad plan. LOL.
Wow! It was interesting for me to read this because we think in dramatically different ways. If I have things on the calendar back-to-back, I’m always thinking about the logistics of how to get there (which are to use? where to park? is there enough time?). The idea that you just sort of wing it is very far removed from the way my brain works!
I will say that one of the reasons I do quarterly goals is to really force myself to regularly think about what I want to be concentrating on and what my areas of priority should be. I really can’t focus on EVERYTHING, so what’s important to me has to be prioritized. So I focus on my health, my relationship with my husband, and my pets. LOL. When I write it like that, it seems silly, but there you have it.
Also, I’m wondering if you tracking your time each day will be able to help you to figure out some of the patterns where you “lose time” and maybe help to open up some more time for you to do the things you WANT to do?
The timing on this is so interesting as I’m about to head into another little blogging break!
A lot of what you said hit home with things I’ve realized in my own life, too. I really appreciate how Laura Vanderkam mentions that when we claim to not have enough time, it tends to mean it’s not a priority right now. If something comes up that’s critical last minute, I can make my schedule work. So…what are my priorities? It’s so, so, so easy to fill our time with things that don’t necessarily matter to us. So it’s helpful to take a step back and ask: how do I really want to spend my time?
I have a different situation than you; my kids are younger, everything they do in terms of extracurriculars at this point is within a 10-minute drive of our house, and I work part-time: 20-30 hrs/week (though since we have no external childcare, I’m in essence a full-time SAHM, too). These have all been conscious lifestyle choices that come with various tradeoffs – good and bad! I do know that my son shows signs of wanting to/being able to play in a highly competitive soccer league, so I see inklings of our future in your schedules.
When I started blogging, I only followed a handful of blogs and almost never commented. Once people started commenting on mine…I started commenting and it is a whole “thing.” Like Suzanne mentioned, I get a lot of satisfaction out of the process (and it’s my main “hobby”), but at certain times it is a lot! Hence feeling ready to take a little break, especially over the summer.
I will say that I almost never write and publish a post in a single sitting. I might spend an hour or two of downtime each weekend day writing up drafts of posts that I then give a final readthrough another time and post. But since most of what I write isn’t time sensitive, I always have a drafts folder.
Hi Kae, I really appreciated your honest look at your time use. I am in a similar boat. I noticed that I always, always pick blogging over exercise because, well, it’s easier and more comfortable, it doesn’t make me sweaty or makes me huff and puff. I feel like I have to remind myself- “effortful before effortless” (thanks, Laura Vanderkam).
If anyone has a link to Nir’s ideal week- I’d love to try it, I can’t seem to be able to find it on the Internet.
This is the link where I found it: https://www.nirandfar.com/schedule-maker/ You have to enter your email to download it but then it’s just a Google sheet template from there!
Got it-thank you!
I don’t even have kids, but I feel this so deeply –> “When I started filling in my “ideal boxes”, I realized that there were simply not enough boxes. I quite literally ran out of time, in my time budget.”
I always feel like there is not enough time in the day for things I’d like to do. I can only imagine that must be so much worse for you with all the commitments that your kids have.
It’s good to take a look and really prioritize your time (it’s a work in progress though)… blogging/reading is a huge time sink and I know I need to pair down my reader, but I don’t want to miss out on stuff either 😉