Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fitting it all in (but slowing down)

I often get questions like this: "How do you do it? I'm amazed at all you accomplish." or "How do you ever find time for yourself?" There's a huge perception that if you have a lot of kids, there must never be any down time. But really, while one of the most frustrating parts of having lots of kids is that there is always more to do than can be done, there is also time to rest, time to think, and time to develop talents and work on personal projects.

I've decided that there are two types of approaches to housework and projects. One is the tortoise approach, the "slow and steady wins the race" philosophy. This type of woman approaches her work a little at a time, at a steady pace. She'll do one load of laundry, folding it and putting it away each day. She cleans up after every meal, picks up the toys and books whenever they're out of place, and enjoys the peace of a clean and comfortable home. But while she does great with the day-to-day things, she avoids the big projects and panics when she's in charge of a big event.

(this is Tommy, by the way. He's our desert tortoise hatchling. Do you know they live to be a hundred years old? That means, assuming he survives life at our house, we may even have to make provision for this guy in our will.)

Then there's the rabbit philosophy, the "hurry up and finish so you can rest for a while" woman. She loves to tackle the huge projects. It's so thrilling to clean out the garage in one fell swoop. She loves to do a huge clothing sort or go through all the toys in one afternoon. She'll tackle organizing and scrapbooking her family's photos a year at a time and finish in the course of one week. Then she'll move on to the next project. Her laundry piles up and then gets done one day a week, in a big marathon folding session. But sometimes the day-to-day things get overwhelming. The mail ends up in a huge pile of papers that get ignored until the pile is overflowing and then tackled in a marathon "I'll-never-let-it-get-this-bad-again" session. The pantry gets stocked at the huge sales during the year, but she'll run out of milk or the needed ingredients for that night's dinner. There are always several areas of the house in perfect order, but several more in a great state of deterioration.
(this is a stock photo because no WAY am I crazy enough to have a pet rabbit!)

Most women will probably identify more closely with one or the other philosophy, but will find themselves using both in different areas in their lives.

In general, I'm a rabbit. I love to tackle the big things. I love big organization projects and the satisfaction of really making a huge difference as I create my yearly photo books or clean out the pantry or wipe down all the cabinets. But that approach also has its disadvantages. I'll work really hard to get the family office cleaned and organized just so but then I'll ignore it for months until I find myself facing the same mess again. My garage is very clean right now, but the storage area needs a major overhaul. And then there's the day-to-day stuff that I really should use a better slow-and-steady approach on. I'll get really organized with my menu and my plans for weekly shopping, but then let the daily follow-through slide until I'm facing the 5:00 hour and wondering, "What in the world do I cook?"

It's best as a mother and a homemaker to be both a tortoise and a rabbit, and I've been learning some great lessons from the tortoise the past few months. At the beginning of the year, I was feeling a bit discouraged by all the things I was not making progress on. I was emerging from the forced slow-down of morning sickness and feeling more energy, but also annoyed that the energy wasn't being put towards all the projects I'd been putting off: I’d outlined a series of essays I wanted to write back in September but hadn’t touched it in months; I’d gotten a new camera for my birthday in November and still didn’t know how to use it; It had been ages since I’d scrapbooked or designed anything, and so on.

As I prayed for guidance and tried to set goals for the year, it was obvious I needed to manage my time better. I was allowing my extra time to get swallowed up in whatever felt needed at the moment, using up all my rabbit energy for things that were urgent but not necessarily important. For instance, I felt like I was using up all the time with the twins were in kindergarten just doing housework. While my house was clean and my laundry folded every week, I felt like my personal projects were constantly being put aside.

As I analyzed what I was doing and could to better, I made two resolutions and some plans:

1. I would have my kitchen cleaned thoroughly, including floor swept, first thing in the morning before doing anything else. My goal was to have it done by 9:00 every day. Before, I'd putter around in the kitchen, get it mostly done, then go attack another area of the house, leaving dishes in the sink and crumbs on the floor to be tackled later.

2. I would no longer use the time while the twins were in school to fold laundry or do other mundane projects. Mornings are my best thinking and project time and I was wasting it by folding laundry and doing things that did not require much mental concentration. I know I'm disciplined enough that the laundry would still get folded, but I can always do something like that in the evening when I'm tired, when writing or creating would be impossible.

Next, I wrote down a list of everything I wished I was doing with my life, all the things I felt I didn’t have enough time for as well as my regular commitments. Then I wrote down how often I'd like to be doing them. For example, visiting teaching is a monthly thing, as is my mother’s group, while visiting the library, writing for my blog, writing my Sunday emails, and grocery shopping are weekly activities. Exercise should happen three or four times a week, and scripture study is a daily task. By the time I was done writing, I had a huge list of things I wanted to fit into my life.

Next, I made a weekly schedule, determined what the most important things are, and gave them the best times. Monday mornings, I set aside an hour to write for my blog. Tuesday and Thursday mornings became my volunteering at the school time. Later Tuesday morning became our library day, and Tuesday afternoon, I decided I would bake something each week. Wednesday morning, I set aside another few hours to write. Fridays were for rotating activities, whether mother's group, temple attendance, or design work. And Saturday afternoon, I decided I'd set aside an hour each week to do a photoshoot.

Did I fit it ALL in? No. Some of the things I had on my list just plain didn't fit into my schedule and I had to say, "someday." But I've learned a lot over the last few months of trying to be a tortoise, and I have been so excited by how much I HAVE fit in. I’m learning my camera and improving my photography so quickly, using just a few hours each week. Doing something creative has brought me joy, and I love having something that I can finish each week that doesn't have to be done again (unlike, say, the dishes, the laundry, the vacuuming, the cleaning, etc.)

I've been more consistent on posting on this blog, though I still have dozens of half-written posts I haven't gotten to yet. I'm making progress on my essays, little by little. Until I got too huge with pregnancy, I woke up before scriptures three days a week to exercise and felt so energized because of it. It was also a treat that Joey decided to wake up with me. I enjoyed spending time with him.

As I approach the end of this pregnancy (six and a half weeks to go now!), I'm having to re-evaluate and slow down. I've stopped going to the school so I can have a few more hours at home, I'm resting more in the afternoons, and I'm no longer waking up early to exercise. I have fit in more walking, more outside time with the kids, and a few fun outings, but I'm writing less and I've had to return a few photography books back to the library without finishing them (it feels like the ultimate insult to leave a great book unfinished!).

Once the baby's born and summer's here, I'll have to change the schedule and evaluate again what I have time for and how to fit it all in, and I'm sure I'll tackle that challenge like the rabbit I am, in one fell swoop, giving it lots of thought and energy and plans. But to implement it, I'll have to be more like a tortoise, and that's okay too. I'm learning to make room for that little guy in my life.

Are you more like a tortoise or a rabbit in how you tackle the workload in your life? What have you done to fit in the most important things in your life? How do you manage those months when you have to slow down?


3in3mom said...

I'm a tortoise. I don't feel much joy in filling my life with big projects that make me exhausted. I like the get up and count on a plan kind of a day! I love to know that I am going to get all the plans in.

There are days that the tortoise approach really makes me exhuasted and I have to 'rabbit it' so to speak, but I find those days make me depressed and frustrated cause I run out of energy.

I am glad to see the other way works for some. You are an example of getting all the big things in...including your wonderful family. I so love seeing you as a mother. It makes me happy to see you fulfilled and happy.

It's fun to see you taking pictures. I'd love for you to take some of my kids/family while we are in the area this summer... as I always love other's perspectives.


Natalie said...

Maybe I'm still in the self-discovery phase of motherhood, figuring out which I am the most. I loved this post because it helps point out the benefits of both in a clear and applicable way. I think I resonate the most with a tortoise, but then I get easily distracted by more exciting things. I love how you make time for things you love to do at a time when you are actually awake for them=) That really is a great point.

Dan and Marci said...

Definitely a rabbit! But a procrastinating rabbit at that :( If a project is going to take very long I might as well not start. Sad but true. I started a pieced quilt when Kayleee was 6 mo. old. Still in the bottom of the closet--I think about it now and again :) Hmm maybe I should see to that!

Mostly Diane said...

more tortoise I think. I hate big projects. But I hate laundry too. It is my enemy.I can't seem to be caught up on it with either a tortoise or a hare approach.

Lindsay Ruiz said...

I think I'm a tortoise that thinks it's a hare! I work better as a tortoise and I seem to get things done when I'm consistent. When I take on the big project, it never seems to get finished. It seems like all my big projects are 98% finished. For example: the quilt that is finished except for the binding, the painting room except for the upper corners I can't reach, the bead board that is up on two walls, but not the third. I think my life revolves around, "oh yeah, I forgot about that." So there ya have it. I'm a crazy tortoise! But I bet you already knew that;)

Mama Rachel said...

/Are you more like a tortoise or a hare in how you tackle the workload in your life?/

I find that when I act like a "tortoise," I feel better about myself, and my house is cleaner! But then, there's the part of me that has an unhealthy obsession with drama *eyeroll*, and I end up getting a high after a big "hare" episode. So my goal is to be more of a tortoise, and cut it out with the "hare" routine. We'll see what wins out! (Great analogy, by the way!)

/What have you done to fit in the most important things in your life?/

I have trained my kids to do the majority of the housework in my home. No, they don't do ALL of it, and yes, I work WITH them, but my life has changed so much since I moved out of martyr mode, and into the home MANAGER position. And it's great for them, too. I have come to see that my goal is not to have a spotless home, but is rather to teach my children the skills they will need to be independent adults. As a result, I'm even spending more time with them. :-)

/How do you manage those months when you have to slow down?/

I think this is a hard one for all moms (and sometimes for the cleanliness state of our houses!). I once read a homeschooling article called "The Baby IS the Lesson" by Diane Hopkins. In it, she talks about how the example we set for our children when things are busy, or time is short, or things are not "perfect" is one of the most powerful lessons we can teach our other children. We are showing them that pregnancy and birth are sacrifices, but ones worth making. We demonstrate that babies are blessings, not bothers. We show that our highest purpose is in raising little ones, and not necessarily in "getting things done." I *try* and remember those things when life gets hairy during the inevitable transition times. ;-)

Great post!!! :-D


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