In the distant past, I remember playing in the back yard, bored to tears and struggling to find something to keep me entertained. I was a single child with two teachers for parents, so I had to learn the masterful art of self-entertainment at an early age. Those long summer days seemed to me like time had the consistency of chilled molasses. It’s amazing how kids’ perspectives on the time when school is out are magnified, yet for adults, there’s never enough time in the day, which is a year-round misery. Being a parent tends to put an underscore on this vast difference in time availability as we often get assaulted by those innocently (or not so innocently) repetitive inquiries, “So what are we doing today, Mom/Dad?” or the ever faithful, whiny “I’m booooooored!” that sends panic up and down a parent’s spine. Thoughts of how much we can bend child labor laws admittedly do cross my mind when this happens.
The added joy (or as some people see it, challenge) that I face is not only am I a stay-at-home dad, I also function as a full-time senior web developer while trying to run a photography business on the side. Anyone who has children (or their own business) will be able to relate to the, “Where the heck did the day go?” syndrome…even more so when you throw multiple kidlettes in the mix. Lately, I have struggled with better managing my time and submitting to the fact that under no circumstances will I be able to redefine the day to a 36 hour time period. Time management has become even more critical to me, as everything that I am involved in, I am very passionate about and need in my life for varying reasons. I need my family because they are the most important aspect in my life. They enrich my soul and spirit in ways that nothing else could. I need my web developer job so I can provide for my family. I need the photography because it satisfies the creative passion that defines a large part of me and allows me to share a part of my soul with others. While there are many days where I end with a successful sigh of relief, there are those days where some aspect of my life gets unduly neglected. And that bothers me… a lot.
I spend a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to please those around me. Whether it’s involving a messy diaper change, making a challenging website proposal a reality, or repairing an otherwise damaged photographic memory of a wedding long past, I can’t seem to get enough of that wonderful feeling when I’ve done something to make someone else’s life better. But what do you do when those “To-Do” list items from the multiple fronts of your life overlap? How do you keep the peace when one aspect of your life demands immediate firefighting regardless of the needs of the remaining parts?
While I have by no means found the “Holy Grail” of time management, I have stumbled across a few techniques that have provided pressure relief:
- Organization. This has to be one of the most common requirements I have for all aspects of my insanely busy life. Something as simple as putting your keys in the same place every time you walk in the door can result in a savings of 15 minutes per day! Keeping your receipts in a filing area of your office means you’re not tearing apart your whole house two weeks down the road looking for that receipt for the one item that you need to return because you got the wrong kind and you’re just realizing it now. Having things put in a specifically exclusive place has made the world of difference for me and saved me countless hours of panicked searching over the years.
- Consistency. Being organized only stands true if you are consistently organized! I have procrastinative tendencies and therefore must resist the natural desire to leave something on the kitchen table while saying “I’ll put that down in my office after dinner.” Yet it never fails that some bizarre emergency comes up that delays the well-meaning intent of putting said item away long enough to where it gets covered by junk mail, diaper bag or circus tent and thus disappears into forgotten land for an arbitrary period of time…and never manages to re-appear until the day after you desperately need it. Do it now before you forget. Simple enough when you beat back your procrastination shoulder devil.
- Limits. For those of us “Work-A-Holics”, it can be extremely difficult to pry ourselves from a challenging task appointed by our boss or clients. If not careful, your personal life will suffer due to your physical or emotional absence! I find that I need to know how to “Punch out at quitting time.” This is even more difficult when working from home as there is no clear line of demarcation to the end of your work day like the evening commute and getting physically out of the office provides. Something as simple as defining your workday in your online calendar can make a difference. Blocking off the time before and after my normal work hours helps curb the arbitrary meeting request from clients outside of my time zone and thus grants me better control of my out of work time. Setting alarm clocks or reminders also helps providing that I dedicate myself to actually prying my backside from my office chair when the klaxon clangs.
- Make frequent fun time. All work and no play makes me one cranky SOB to be around! My grandfathers lived by a fantastic motto, “Work hard, play even harder”, and it’s one that I admittedly do not follow as much as I would like at times. For me, play time frequently incorporates my family AND my photography. It’s a nice blend of two of my favorite aspects of life. Many of my favorite photos have come from relaxation time with my family. We try to go off on a road trip every so often that takes us to a non-touristy place that we haven’t visited before… taking fellow New Hampshirite Robert Frost’s words from “The Road Not Taken” to heart. This is even more important to those of us who work and live out our homes! MUST… NOT… BE… A… HERMIT!
- Communication. Absolutely, positively make sure that you communicate your intended schedule with your boss/client(s)/family!!! Failure to do so allows incorrect assumptions to occur and that’s when all hell breaks loose and the stress compounds exponentially! Communication also helps you plan out your day and prioritize what needs to get done first, thus allowing you to keep better organized. But most of all, positive and proactive communication leads to a heck of a lot less daily stress which ultimately affects your productivity!
- Self-Discipline. None of the above will work if you are not self-disciplined. Period. No arguments! You either make the commitment, or you resign to being utterly discombobulated in your life. It’s up to you to make no excuses and take no prisoners! You need to be your own boss that is constantly peering over your shoulder. Carpe Diem! [insert additional motivational cliches here]
It honestly is a tough challenge trying to successfully juggle work and personal tasks. One cannot be successful without putting in the conscious effort or by fooling yourself with excuses. If you haven’t given it a try, I highly recommend using the above mentioned techniques! And if I missed any that work for you, please share in the comments below! While I can’t bring back those carefree days of childhood, it’s an ongoing process that requires constant adjustment which gets me as close as possible.
Oh and for those of you who are still wondering about the title of this article, it’s Latin for what I strive to avoid being on a daily basis!