Time is Not My Friend

It is dawning on me that there are many different ways to think of time. This topic has been much on my mind of late as I seek the elusive goal of “getting organized.” The number one thing I must organize, it seems to me, is time, and I have an adversarial relationship at best with the clock. My traditional approach has been to print out the first page of my multi-page to-do list, hopefully with the highest priorities right there, and then to try to pick my way through the tasks around an increasingly whiny and needy toddler in the morning, and then around him plus three exhausted and emotionally drained girls in the afternoon. How’s that been working for me? I’d rather not talk about it. But if I had to pin down what is most hopeless, I’d have to say it’s the amorphousness of the list, the gelatinous and ever-changing nature of what there is “to do” in real life, and a total lack of clarity on what constitutes a “priority.”

I have mentioned before that I see a lot of value in GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen), and that system has certainly helped me find better ways to capture the whispy threads of what is out there “to do” and weave them into a semi-coherent strand. But mothers, and probably most other people (as Allen acknowledges), are in a constant state of fluidity, so plodding through a list (if you ever even pin it down) is not an option. So here are some other ways to think of time that have worked for me:

1. Think in ten-minute chunks. For example, I tell myself: “This is my 10-minute decluttering chunk of time.” During those 10 minutes, I can surely find a way to stave off the toddler for the greater good of accomplishing something and feeling so very much better. The word “accomplishing,” though, is redefined as “working toward a goal for 10 minutes” (time-based) instead of “cleaning the living room” (task-based). This same approach works for larger chunks of time, too.

2. Think small. I frequently tell myself the next three concrete tasks I have to
do, and force myself to think only of those until they are complete. This again
gives a quick sense of accomplishment because I make sure the tasks are not too
time-consuming. For example, the list could be: empty dishwasher, get mail,
take out trash. Ten minutes at most to feel that gratifying sense of completion. I then make a new three-item list till it’s not feasible anymore.

3. Think big. What can also help, paradoxically, is thinking of time in week-long
chunks. Knowing only too well that no day will go as planned (or even close), it helps to think about what just “needs to have happened” by Friday. Then I can use my other methods to chip away at the bigger picture when it makes the most sense. The one flaw here is that that picture of the week is so much in flux that frequent checking-in with the bigger plan is required.

I am still working on developing more methods, since my house still resembles a landfill, but at least I have a few strategies at my disposal to keep me going. Sorta.


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