Withstanding the Test of Time: How to get more done beyond kids, work and sleep?

By July 2016, I had given up. I was at my wits end as to how to manage my time better. Sure, I read blogs and articles about time management. There is definite wisdom in them (some of the proffered guidance is frankly table stakes).

But, these articles were mostly written for men, or for women without children, or for women with children and either a village or a fat wallet to buy that village. I was and am not in any of those buckets — currently single earning household in one of the costliest zipcodes in the country, two young kids and closest family living 1000s of miles away. This is our family’s choice to avoid snow and to ascend the technology ladder (hope springs eternal).

Lesson of the day, week, month and year, from these articles, is to ruthlessly prioritize and then prioritize some more. Children, Sleep and Work are my priorities. Where do I begin to swing the sword?.

Where is the time going?

​I love the age my kids are at — 4 and 1. They are cherubic and healthy (yes, I realize how lucky I am!). Tantrums happen but they are both amenable to discipline …ahem! coaching. But they don’t do well without nurture and care. They are like the plant that is thriving, ignore it a tad bit and once it starts drooping/wilting, all the sunlight and water and care in the world won’t bring it back to its former glory.

Ah, Sleep! If someone asked me what my favorite hobby was, I would have said “sleep” except I don’t think it can be classified that way. I found myself giddy with excitement when Arianna Huffington gave her TED talk on why we should be sleeping our way to the top. I could not agree more!

I love all things work, it brings me happiness and fulfillment to enable growth — of a business, division and people. Giving it up, would be akin to giving up my identity. Rising the career ladder and increasing your sphere of influence does not come without investing time.

But there is so much more to get done — where is the time for hobbies? Hiking? Painting? Reading? Going to the gym? What about cooking? Grocery shopping? Getting ready? Driving? House-Cleaning? Laundry? Watching TV? Movies? Family time? Spouse time? Friend time?I multi-tasked: Managing work calls and watching my children. Result: Gave the kids an ipad to keep them quiet. That wilting thing I referred to — it’s very real. It comes with glazed eyes of a toddler and alarming levels of dwindling empathy and patience from adults and toddlers alike. ​

I outsourced: All the cleaning and housework was already outsourced. Outsourced the cooking — figured ordering from restaurants and take and bake pizza would ruin the health coefficient.

Outsourced grocery shopping — didn’t work. Delivery was too expensive or I never received the quality of service I expectedI nearly cut out driving: Gave up on buying a house, and rented within 5 miles of work.

I gave up TV — literally cut the cable.

So, what’s to be done?

Yet, I was still searching for time. And then between one article and one meeting with my mentor/coach at work, I sort of found an answer. Nope there’s no village or the extra money to afford a village. Husband is still very busy and travels (he does help when he can) and like most households I am responsible for 70% child care, and no I didn’t find any silver bullets. But I am more content than earlier.

1. Expand the Window

One of the best articles I have read on actively managing your time is based on findings from Laura Vanderkam’s Mosaic Project. She talks about altering the target time management window to a week of 168 hours as opposed to a day of 24 hours, and then keeping track of time. This was a radical mindset shift. Sure, I planned both work and home life for the week Sunday evenings, but I moved away from believing that there were a few “must-do’s” every single day. I gave myself permission to take longer to get things done.

I was spending 27% of my week with my children — eat, play and sleep included, 30% at work, and 30% for nighttime zzzz’s, none of which I wanted to alter. That left 13% or 23hrs in a week to get a whole host of mundane to wishful things done. It was mind boggling to see it laid bare. 23hrs is not a lot of time — try saying that to the patient who has a day to live (though we should all be living like it’s our last but let’s get practical).

After the changes, (outsourcing what I could afford to in the cooking and cleaning department), I had a window of 2–3 hours where I could get one wishful activity done and done well and done alone (glorious “me” time). I picked one activity a week and rotated or sometimes even did it twice in a row. Be it hiking, painting, reading, an afternoon nap on the weekend — it finally felt like I wasn’t ignoring complete facets of my life. I also knew I had only one shot at it that week so I gave the activity my all.

Expanding the window beyond a week to three months, I had read two fantastic books, completed a 16x20canvas, attended a long family lunch, watched a movie, went on a hike, went to happy hour and went to dinner with my husband. I felt like I got a big part of my “pre-kids” life back!

2. Hustle

I bought 7 clocks and stuck one in every room, bathrooms and laundry room included. Watching time tick by is a powerful motivator to get efficient. I worked in 15minute chunks most times — one of my kids would invariably interrupt me in 15mts. But for those 15mts, I learned to fully focus. (even ignored one kid falling off the high chair, and a fire alarm…ok I am joking…almost joking)

But there is no more browsing facebook, no more reaching for the phone to make/take calls or check email, no more foraging for snacks, no more walking away to try on the dress purchased last week, when working on a task. I try to stick to the task till it is completed even if it was in 15 minute bursts. And it worked, I was spending less time on the same things — dinner took only 40mts to put together. It took a little getting used to but like all unpleasant habits, distraction can be tamed!

3. Single-task

I stopped multi-tasking. I found that it doesn’t work for me. I contend that you can only multitask a mindful activity with a muscle memory activity ex: listening to a podcast and doing the dishes. Anything else is a no-go. Multitasking usually resulted in tasks half done or took longer to correct. I “single-tasked” where I was multitasking with my kids before. No more reading the kindle when putting the kids to sleep, no more taking calls when kids were playing, no more watching a movie with my husband and replying to emails. Humans, young and old like mindful attention. That is time well spent.

4. Work Less

Yes, being seen strategically at work, working remote, working split shifts and over the weekend are all necessary. But this often keeps you in the present and doesn’t set you up for the future — what do I mean? To get ahead its mostly about whether people like you and are willing to give you a chance.

There’s various things that go into why people like you — perhaps you bring some value to them, perhaps you have a dynamic personality, perhaps you have superior skills. No one is born with skills ready to rule the world. That means, we must invest time (and energy, money, patience, willpower etc.) to develop it. If you don’t want to steal time from sleep and kids, you are only left with the time at work to make improvements that will propel your career further. So, I learnt to give myself permission to invest in my career at work.

I love Google’s 80:20 concept, spend 80% of your time on designated work, 20% on other work. I consider reading relevant blogs/websites/articles/books, attending workshops/events/happy hours, meeting/socializing with folks at lunch all 20% work that I now do in my regular work day. It is a conscious action. Perhaps some projects take longer but I was mostly able to carve the time out just by getting more efficient with meetings and spending less time surfing between calls/meetings. I am convinced I am going to attribute 80% of my career progress to this 20% time.

5. Sacrifice

When it comes to time management I think sacrifice plays as big a role as prioritize does. Prioritize fools you into thinking that there is a sliver of hope to get everything done. Sacrifice jolts you into picking the few things that will eventually get done. I say, more power to sacrifice.

I gave up TV, all of it. I have watched every episode of the L&O franchise — Law and Order/SVU/Criminal Intent. Not once, not twice but three times. I will even cop to watching a few seasons of KUWTK. I grew up watching TV with meals. I gave it all up. Zip, nada. Just couldn’t fit it in the 13hrs I had left in the week and I didn’t want my kids picking it up either.

I don’t shop for clothes or jewelry. No more walking the mall floors to window shop or browsing designer sites or fashion magazines for the latest. I have a staple of 3–4 clothes per event type (work, birthday party, indian event etc.) and that’s all I choose from. Hard to adjust to, but I’ve learned to move on from thinking about what might be on Vogue’s cover.

I don’t think there are any shortcuts — sacrifice so you have less to prioritize!

What’s the verdict?

I still spend 87% of my time on kids, work and sleep. But no more crazy pills. I seem to be able to do more. Now that I am acutely aware of the 13% leftover time, I have forced myself to change my mindset and get productive.

A coach once told me to think about things that we want to spend time on as big diamonds we collect from a jar of gems. Diamonds may be your best friend today but pearls could take their place tomorrow. For some, its work and friends that are diamonds, and hobbies become pearls. For others, diamonds are kids and work. The important thing is that this isn’t static. Kids grow up and move out — perhaps then you hold on to your hobbies and friends more. You should give yourself permission to enjoy the few things you care about at this moment.


You can find Laura’s article here, and watch Laura’s TED talk here.

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Originally published at www.aartiskumar.com.