I have been trying to think of time differently, so I don’t panic because I don’t have time to do that. I have a job that requires about 60 hours of work a week. And I homeschool my kids. So the only way to get by is to stop thinking of time in terms of work time and personal time. I don’t have enough time to fulfill the needs of those two categories.
I have to find new categories so that I feel like I have enough time.
Tuesdays my son and I drive four hours to Chicago for piano lessons, cello lessons, and orchestra rehearsal. I used to think of it as a terrible day where I drive eight hours and get no work done. But then I realized I could do work while I drive.
So I recategorized drive time as work time, and then I felt better about getting work done on Chicago days.
Then I noticed that I could also work during orchestra rehearsal. It’s true that parents are supposed to be paying attention. But it’s not like individual lessons where I have to write every little missed note on our list of things to practice. Orchestra is a place where a mom can fade into the audience. And pull out a laptop.
So I wrote a blog post during orchestra and I told myself I can pretty much recategorize Tuesday as a work day with two music lessons stuck in the middle.
At the end of the session, my son brought his cello over to me and he whispered, “Mom, I can’t believe it. That was the longest bathroom break I ever took. Fifteen minutes.”
I said, “You didn’t take a fifteen minute break. We all would have noticed.”
He said, “Everyone did. The orchestra teacher left the classroom and got me.”
So, fine, orchestra is not a place where I can check out and do work. But still, I am trying to figure out how to look at time differently. And here is a list of ways I’ve thought of and none have gotten me in as much trouble as my Tuesday idea.
Work life/Home life
This is the typical divide. It is useless because it’s not helping anyone feel better about themselves. And also, if we really wanted to divide time this way we’d all put away our iPhones. The other thing about dividing life between home time and work time is that there is then clearly not enough time. So we go nuts. And we always revert to overlapping the two.
This is why I started coming up with new ways to think about time: to make enough space that I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed by my lack of time all the time.
Doing time/Not doing time
You can get tons of work done without actually doing it. You can hire people and delegate. One of my favorite things about coming home to a clean house is that I didn’t have to do it. There is something magical about time when I am getting things done and not having to do them.
So I try to have a bunch of things each week that I have passed off to someone else. They have to be big enough projects that when they are done, I feel that relieved sense of accomplishment you get from doing something significant in your work.
Phil Libin, founder of Evernote, writes that you don’t want to be the smartest person in your company. This is because if you surround yourself with bright people they get more done without you. I know that virtual assistants are all the rage right now. I caution you to hire a very smart one. The joy in getting things done when you’re not doing them only comes when it’s done well.
Fun time/ Play time
I hate fun. Fun drains me. But I like ideas. Actually, ideas are fun. Fun to me is reading and writing all day, and every so often, someone pops in to listen to me talk about what I’m thinking, and then I go back to reading and writing. That is a great day for me.
I have a son who thinks fun is play and excitement. It’s a problem for me. I am not the joyous type. But my husband loves fun. When we were dating, he would try to be goofy and it would make me cry. It’s stressful if you don’t understand role playing, which is what I think goofiness is. So he is very happy that I have a playful son. And I am very happy to not play.
We divide our family time between fun and other stuff. I do most everything else. It’s easier for me to do dishes and clean bedrooms than it is for me to play kickball and jump off the rope swing. So I look for times when the family is doing their fun which is play, and it’s a nice time for me to do my fun, which is more like work. Of course.
Nice time/ Critical time
One of the biggest weaknesses I have is making time for a marriage. It’s not natural for me to stop my work to take care of emotions. So I started trying to measure the amount of time I spend with my husband. I told myself if it wasn’t an hour a night, the marriage wouldn’t last. If it wasn’t an hour in the morning, we would have a bad life. I told myself all kinds of time-constrained truisms.
But what I’m thinking now is I can divide the day into positive comments and negative comments. Psychology Today reports that marriages do well if you have at least 5 positive comments for every one negative comment. I can do that. And when it’s difficult, I tell myself I’ll be rewarded for my kindness with the ability to help him perfect one thing.
Engaged time/Unengaged time
People actually don’t mind working long hours when they are engaged. Burnout is not a result of how much work you’re doing but what type of work you’re doing. So instead of organizing time into work time and personal time, you could organize it into time when you like what you’re doing and time when you don’t like what you’re doing. This is actually my big gripe with Tim Ferriss. He says he only works a 4 -hour week, but he really means he only does four hours a week of work that is not engaging to him.
People are doing this with learning as well: binge learning. This is when people take courses that are compressed, and they watch all the courses at once, sort of like watching a whole season of Arrested Development at once.
A lot of times you have a day where you do no work or a day when you do all work. And then you might feel that the other part of your life is in trouble. But instead, you can think in terms of weeks and months. You can have a week where you mostly work, and a week where you mostly don’t work. That’s balance, but in a larger picture. The idea of balance seems impossible hour by hour, but there are other ways to think about having a balanced life.
And you know how you can tell if your way of thinking about time is working? It feels good.