Finding Balance, Part 2: Time Management

Last Friday, I posted part one of our Mother's Group discussion on Finding Balance. Today, I'll continue the topic with part two, Time Management. Because there is so much on this topic, I'll be posting part three later in the week.

As part of this, I'd love to hear your ideas, so I'll be including some questions at the end of each section. Feel free to answer one, all, or none in the comments.

* There needs to be a balance between being recognizing your limits and being diligent. I pointed out that there are two parts to this scripture: "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order."

On the one hand, we all need to learn to say no, even to wonderful and good things (okay, usually to wonderful and good things), so that we have time for more important things. We can't do everything all at once, and it is foolish to try.

On the other hand, it's important to be diligent -- to try to be better than we were the day before, to constantly strive to learn and improve.

Only you can discern in your life between the things that need to be done even though they require sacrifice, and the things that need to be put aside. It's tough sometimes, but I think it's meant to be. By making these tough choices, we show our character and priorities.

What have you done to recognize the balance here? What things have you had to say no to and what have you said yes to?

* You can't be 100% during every shift. Julie Beck suggested in a Women's Conference address last year that young mothers are often called to work all three shifts:
In order to prioritize time wisely, I learned something from my father-in-law years ago. He was a steel-worker and spent his life working three different shifts. He either worked the day shift, the afternoon shift, or the night shift. As a young mother I realized one time that I was working all three shifts, and that’s why I was so tired. We can’t do all things all at once, and we have to be careful and safeguard our shifts.

As I have talked to young mothers and mothers with children at home—those with teenagers and young adults especially—they tell me that their most important shift to be at the top of their game, to be the strongest lioness at the gate is the “swing shift.” That’s the afternoon shift. That’s when everyone comes home hungry, tired, needy, and less lovable. It is when you are hungry, tired, needy, and less loveable. It is also the time of day when people are more teachable, when they are most grateful. When we realize and prioritize our time properly, we don’t expect to use all of our strength on the other two shifts so that the afternoon shift can be safeguarded and can be a time of strength and power. We plan for times when the meals are there together, when we can create that home environment and when that family can gather, and you are the strengthening power and force in that family. Remember that influence and power come when we prioritize correctly. If you spend time elsewhere, you don’t have it to give. For other women it might be another time of the day. Some of us have to be on call during the day shift. There are many who need help during the day. Service is needed during the day, but look at and evaluate your life. Ask “Where do I need to prioritize my time?” and “When do I have to be at the top of my game?” I have learned that a good woman with the help of the Lord can usually work two to two and a half shifts. However, no one can work all three shifts. You have to prioritize where you are going to spend your energy.
I work three shifts and I have for many years because of my little ones (none of my babies sleep through the night until about 10 months old). My most important shift is between 3 and 8, when all my kids are home. I've had to make some choices to prioritize this time and not allow it to be taken over by exhaustion or unimportant events. One thing I do is that I (almost) never schedule anything between 12 and 3 in the afternoon. That is the time I have my kids do quiet activities or take naps. When possible, I try to sleep then and when impossible, I do other restful things, like reading or blogging. I don't grocery shop, run errands, or do housework during this time. I need the quiet and rest so I can work that "afternoon swing shift."

What shifts are you working in your life? Which one is the most important and what are you doing to make sure you are at the top of your game during that time?

* Along with that idea, you need to create some boundaries to protect your time. It's okay to schedule things around your circumstances. For instance, I have learned that in order for me to get through my in-box, respond to emails, and prepare for my week, I need to leave Monday mornings completely free. I don't schedule doctor's or orthodontist appointments for that time, and when Eliza's dance class was moved from Wednesdays to Mondays, we dropped it from our schedule.

* Leave some margins in your life. This is an idea that has been discussed a few places recently because of a new book called Margin.

I haven't read the book yet, but I really resonate with the idea that we need to leave some time uncommitted.

We need empty space in our lives, some uncommitted time for two reasons. The first is that we need time to think and ponder and receive inspiration and answers to our prayers. If we are too busy to experience the calm of God's Spirit, then we miss out on an essential part of our mortal lives.

The second is that there are always unexpected things in life. If we've filled every moment, then these unexpected events send us into overload. As mothers, we know how often even the mundane unexpected things can overwhelm us -- a child who is sick, a car or appliance that needs repair, a few too many appointments in a week, a neighbor in need. If we have some time uncommitted, then we have some space to help our neighbor, spend a day rocking the child with the ear infection, schedule that car repair, or do the other urgent things that come up.

Are the margins in your life wide enough? Do you have enough space to breathe? What do you do to keep from commitments overloading you?

* Learn to prepare in advance. You can do a lot in your life, but don't leave things to the last minute. Preparing in advance saves time. For example, when I prepare for my turn to teach preschool a week in advance, then I know what supplies I'm lacking. I can easily pick up a couple of books while I'm at the library that week and I can add some craft supply to my list for grocery shopping. In contrast, if I wait until the night before to prepare (and yes, I do that sometimes), then I have to scramble around and either throw in a trip to the store or library or just make do with what I have at home.

Two weeks ago, I had a very busy week. I taught a class on Organizing Your Life's Story for a Relief Society activity, I taught preschool, and I was going to lead our Mother's Group discussion (but had to push it back a week because my kids got sick). In the midst of the busy week, I was asked to speak in Sacrament meeting (we Mormons take turns teaching and leading in our Church; there are no paid clergy) on Sunday. I didn't hesitate to say yes, even with everything else on my plate. Why? Because I'd already prepared for everything that week. I prepped most of the Relief Society presentation a month in advance, I had my notes outlined for the Mother's Group a week ahead of time, and I prepped for preschool the day before. I had extra time that week, even though it was full.

Some things come up once in a while or as extras. Other things we do over and over again. Some organization and preparation saves time here too. A few examples:
* My husband and I meet every Sunday night to discuss our kids, parenting, short and long-term plans, and other items. I prepared an agenda for us, printed it up multiple copies in a binder, and now we are much better at getting through all of our discussion items.

* Eliza started a preschool twice a week in January. Every couple of days, she is supposed to bring a picture to illustrate the new letter they are working on. I put the
days and what she was supposed to bring on my calendar, but even so, I kept forgetting and felt bad about letting her down. When I got February's calendar, I sat down with Eliza and we picked out a picture for J, K, and L right then. I put it in a little folder in her backpack, and now I don't have to worry about it the entire month.

* Our family cleans the house every Saturday for Family Work Day. Rather than spend time every Saturday writing out what needs to be done, I made a master list last fall, printed a bunch of copies, and now we pull that out to work from each week.

* When I was the Primary chorister, in charge of teaching about 8 new songs to kids ages 3 to 12 in our ward, I prepared a plan for the whole year in February. I had a schedule of what songs we'd sing for opening, closing, and which songs I'd focus on during teaching. I also prepared a binder with materials for several different games we could play to learn the songs, and I tried to find artwork to illustrate the words for each. It took a lot of my time for a couple of weeks, but you know what? The rest of the year was pretty easy. I never had to scramble to decide what we were singing. My responsibility only took me a few minutes of prep time each week from then on.
What do you do to prepare for things in advance? What ways could you organize and prepare for the regular things in your life?

* Having routines and organization doesn't mean giving up spontaneity, it means allowing more time for it. If you have a regular time to run errands and stay on top of things, for example, you save a lot of time in constantly having to run to the store to get milk or eggs or a science fair poster. If your housework is scheduled and organized, you're not feeling guilty about neglecting it when you're playing with your kids or rushing out to a fun last-minute activity.

* Watch for activities that fill multiple functions. Like a good soup or a great stir-fry, some activities fill more than one need in our lives. My friend Amy is our ward's Primary President (in charge of helping kids ages 18 months to 11), and says that most of her time is spent either with that responsibility or with her family. However, a lot of the things she does for Primary also fill other needs. She fills her social needs as she meets with her presidency. Preparing for a sharing time works as her scripture study some days. She also tries to do housework and other activities with her kids. They help her sort laundry, so that task becomes not just "housework" but also "nurturing kids."

In my life, I have many things that fit this category. I'm taking an occasional cooking class with my daughter Lillian, filling my need to spend time with her and also my need to improve my cooking skills. Photography fills my needs in many ways -- I get a creative outlet, a chance to serve others, and time with my son Joey, who likes to go along on my shoots.

Perhaps with some creativity, some of the needs you are lacking in your life could be met at the same time. Maybe you could find an exercise partner and get physical activity and social stimulation at the same time. Perhaps you and your husband could take a class together, improving your marriage and your mind at the same time.

What are some things in your life that fill several purposes at once?

I hope you enjoyed some of these ideas and find them useful. I'll finish up with part three, patience and contentment, soon.


Angie said…
To say that order does not come naturally to me would be a profound and painful understatement. I feel like so much of my life is like the circus clown plate spinning and I can't keep them all spinning at the same time. That said, I recognize the need for order and planning, difficult though it may be for me to manage. Oftentimes reading a blog post such as this finds me groaning in despair because it is NOT easy for me.

I always struggle with that juxtaposition of wisdom and order, not running too fast, yet being diligent. The best advice I ever heard came from my mission president who said that doing your best each day involves a daily inventory with the Lord because your "best" is different each day and only the Lord can tell you when you are in balance or need more or less on one side. Perhaps that's why Sister Beck's talk that you quoted in part resonated so with me because she talked about the most essential thing we need to do is to know the mind and will of the Lord--that whatever we need to do to receive that inspiration is most important in our lives. I have found that to be the most powerful thing in this quest for balance and order--to know where God wants me and then to have the faith to do it.
Maryanne said…
So many great things here! The idea of shifts and not scheduling things between 12 and 3 really struck me-- I haven't articulated this but it's something I've been feeling that I need to struggle against. Now that I've actually thought about it, I can make it a clear decision and not worry about it. Thanks!
Tiffany Wacaser said…
The shifts idea is so true. Like you, I've had to stop doing things between 12 and 3 because I need to be totally there for my family. I cannot do it if I don't rest or have quiet time.

I also like choosing things that fill many purposes.
Tiffany Wacaser said…
Oh, one another thing. I realized this year that I need to add creativity to my life. I had to stop putting it last if I finished all my work. For me, being creative is important and refreshing, so I've added it to my schedule. I have also found that I am not creative when I'm exhausted.
KB said…
I love your blog and all the wisdom you give. I really liked the part about shifts. I think we have to be intentional mothers, and that gave me things to think about in regards to that. Am I really there when my kids need me the most? I also really enjoyed reading part 1 of this discussion. Are you open to new people joining your group? I may live about 30 minutes away if I think I know what city you live in....if that makes sense!
Handsfullmom said…
KB, email me at handsfullmom at gmail dot com. As long as you can reassure me you're not secretly a child molestor or some such, you'd be welcome.
Meagan said…
I just read your blog from your very first post and I just have to say thank you, thank you, thank you!!! My husband and I have been married 3 years and we know we will have a big family. Already we have 3 kids. A 2 year old boy and 10 month identical twin girls. My life is already chaos! Reading about your adventures with your big family has calmed many of my fears and answered many of my questions about managing a large family. Thank you once again! And I will continue to read along. Also, your kids are so adorable!
Anonymous said…
Wow. I love the idea of shifts. I didn't think of saving my energy for the most important shift but it makes sense.
Corine Moore said…
... too tired to really talk about this great post (and thinking I need to get to the sleeping shift ;), but just want to say that I love the way you blog. :D Thanks for sharing.

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