Simplifying Life to Multiply Happiness Part 2: Become the Master of My Time

I have had so much wonderful feedback on the first post of this series so thank all of you for taking the time to read. I think so many of us struggle with the same challenges but we don’t always talk about it.

In this post, I wanted to talk a little bit about time. On the whole, time is a funny thing. We spend half our lives wanting it to speed up and the other half wishing it would slow down. I promise I won’t get too philosophical on the topic but one thing is for certain in my view- the more you can become the master of your time, focusing the most on the things with the greatest “happiness ROI,” the more satisfied you will be.

This simple Sunday morning was the definition of happiness ROI

I know I am waxing poetic when I have so much work yet to do in this area but here are just a few ways I am trying to take control of my time, procrastinating less to be more productive, both at work and at home.

How can you make your house feel like home when you’re barely home?

Maybe it’s my stereotypical millennial FOMO but I’m a notorious over-scheduler. I’m also eternally optimistic which sometimes means that I think I can do more in a given window of time than is practical or even humanly possible.

When we crest 5pm on a Friday, I have probably already overdone our weekend plans. We seem to find ourselves at a theme park almost every weekend with other plans sprinkled in as well. As fun as that is, it probably leaves us all a bit depleted and really doesn’t really leave anytime to enjoy downtime at home. When the boys start full time school later this year, it’s going to be even more important that they have time to decompress and enjoy our community.

While we haven’t been perfect, we’ve done a bit better over the last few months. We’ve spent some days taking a walk in our neighborhood, tackling some projects around the house, and checking out our local library. It’s been a nice change of pace that we’ve all enjoyed. As we head into the next few months, I have quite a few house projects I want to tackle so I am hoping I have the discipline to just stay home sometimes. I spend so much time dreaming up ways to match our home with my vision but what’s the point if we never slow down to enjoy it? To start with small, manageable goals, I think trying to spend at least one full day of the weekend at home is a good start. Hopefully this gives us the best of both works – a richness of experience and some intentional time to slow down.

Work It Girl

The other area where I’m really trying to be a master of my own time is at work. Being a working mom is difficult enough. As much as I try to be “present” all of the time, it can be challenging in ways only other working moms can probably fully understand. I’m always thinking about what my kids are up to and have a constant running stream of consciousness in my mind about what’s ahead for them or things on my personal to do list (as an aside – give “invisible labor” a Google. It’s why many women including myself are so stressed all the time). I’m not any less motivated, my focus is just slightly diluted at times so I find myself having to work harder to put processes and rituals in place that keep my focus sharp. I am so passionate about empowering women at work (another post for another day) and quite frankly, I think being a mother fosters skills that make you an integral part of your organization. The fact that we work so tirelessly to find things that help us balance it all is a testament to just how committed, innovative, and adaptable we can be.

I recently purchased an iPad and Apple Pencil which I have been wanting for a long time. I hesitated at the cost but finally bit the bullet and I’m so glad I did. It has been well worth the investment. Handwriting notes digitally at work has been a game changer. I won’t site specific studies here but a quick search will reveal a lot of research into the power of handwriting notes instead of typing when it comes to retaining and synthesizing information. Combining text with diagrams and doodles has definitely enhanced my ability to think creatively while maximizing the advantages of technology like handwriting to text conversion, the ability to search handwritten notes, and the convenience of cloud storage.

Since it’s even more portable than my laptop, it means I have everything I need at my finger tips, all the time and never have to worry about having the right notebook nearby to reference old notes. While this omnipresence could potentially create some bad habits that erode work life balance, it has allowed me to play catch up in the evening when I would otherwise be sitting mindlessly watching TV and watching Instagram stories. It’s also exceedingly easy to capture a thought or idea whenever it sparks and enter it right alongside my running work notes. I’ve also enjoyed the stress relief of digital painting in my free time but that another topic entirely.

I’m trying a new productivity technique that I have seen people online rave about called time blocking. Essentially, you start with your work to-do list every week and actually block specific chunks of time that you designate for working on specific projects as appointments on your calendar. The basic guidelines seem to be this:

  • Only create blocks for tasks that will take 30 minutes or more. If you have a series of short tasks, create a miscellaneous block or blocks for things like checking e-mail.
  • Book more time than you think you will need for a given task and create buffer time between tasks.
  • Keep the schedule flexible – make change whenever you need to as often as you need to. Urgent things come up and that’s ok.
  • Feel free to break larger projects into multiple time blocks spanning different days of your week.

So far, I feel like this system has been incredibly effective. Creating the blocks on my calendar does not take much time and make me more accountable for keeping my to do list up to date. I think we all spend some time at work spinning our wheels – getting distracted by responding to email that comes in throughout the day or bouncing between the numerous priorities we have at any given time leads to a lot of wasted transition time. We’ll see if I sustain this long term but so far it has sharpened my focus and changed the pace of my work day.

Sometimes simplifying your time means being more efficient and sometimes it means simply doing less. I don’t think there’s any one solution or panacea but I am committed to continuing to try. When I boil it all down, the time I spend with my family is what makes me happiest of all. While the demands of life mean I will never have quite the quantity of time with them I would like, I feel like taking control of my time will at least let me maximize the quality, making the memories that make it all worthwhile.

Until next time…part 3 coming soon. I’ll talk about simplifying our finances and how we’re saving for one of our biggest but most important expenses.

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