Friday, February 08, 2013

Not Finding Twenty Minutes, Taking Them

Until I reached a point where I thought I had no time, I didn't realize the luxury of time I had when I was single. Parenting, with its additional demands on time, taught me the value of time and of being willing to let go of absolute plans. As a parent, I can't (and no one should) focus solely on the successful completion of a schedule.

Today I came to the realization that I still had that mindset; I equate success with a successfully completed and adhered to schedule. Unsurprisingly, that mindset is at direct odds with being a parent and of finding time for one's self.

You won't find twenty minutes for yourself if you don't take them. Schedule twenty minutes daily.


Do you ever find time for yourself in your schedule?
Or do you intentionally make time for you?

Parents will never find time for themselves. We have to take it. And we especially need to take it when our meticulous plans lay shattered at our feet. And when we take it we need to not think of that time in terms of "lost productivity" or wasted time.

Years ago, I participated in a pilot program for managers. Its focus was on work-life balance.

First some context for why a company--a tech company no less--was putting its managers through a work-life balance program. From my first two start up experiences, I had learned to measure my value in productivity and how well I did towards knocking of MBOs (Management By Objectives). As the MBOs became crazier and crazier (their intent is never for one to actually hit them; it's a way to give an employee the promise of a higher salary without having to pay them the salary.) I scheduled days to the minute, forgoing sleep or personal time as a quarter ended, if I was in spitting distance of completing an MBO. Now I was a manager where one's value to an organization isn't measured in individual accomplishment. I, like my peers, had been overachievers who'd advanced into managing teams. And we were bringing all of our bad habits into how we were motivating (and demoralizing) our teams.

Taking 20 Minutes for Yourself and Not Feeling Guilty: 4 Steps to Reset Your Mindset.


One of the books in the curriculum was Take Time for Your Life: A Personal Coach's 7-Step Program for Creating the Life You Want(*affiliate link). Similar to financial advice to pay yourself first (and get rich slowly), Richardson recommends putting yourself at the top of the list when allocating what you spend your time on.

If you're a parent, putting yourself at the top of the list when it comes to how you spend your time is easier said than done.

A Challenge to Find Twenty Minutes a Day

Until January, I thought other mothers had mastered work-life balance and that eventually I too would learn their secrets. During a Life List session at Alt Summit led by Laura Mayes, I discovered I'd been wrong. As part of the session, we started our life lists thinking big. Whether an item was "realistic" or not wasn't important. And items didn't need purpose other than to make us happy.

Don't waste your 20 minutes. Be sure you're doing what you need to do for you.


We went around the room sharing one of our items. The item I shared was about bringing strangers together for a fancy dinner at Burning Man. After the woman next to me, a single parent of one, said hers mine felt small. She wanted to be able to have more intentional time with her daughter.

We talked about how we were all strapped for time. How we all felt like we were failing.

We all dreamed of what we'd do with twenty minutes all to ourselves. Twenty minutes a day we could spend any way we wanted.

We brainstormed about how we could find twenty minutes in our schedule. We could wake up earlier. We could go to bed later. Many of us were already trying to wake before our families. Many were also staying up after our families went to bed. We could cut down on our social media consumption; we could be more intentional with our social media consumption.

When put in context of cutting down on social media consumption, finding twenty minutes seemed like an easy task. We all agreed we'd find twenty minutes a day for self-care.

When you're single it's easy to waste twenty minutes. When you have kids, twenty minutes of uninterrupted time is a luxury.


The Need to Reset Expectations

Finding twenty minutes a day was easier said than done. It became an item on my to do list, prioritized lower than work and family. An item that got pushed from one day to the next. An item that didn't bring me joy, just a sense of overwhelming failure.

I remembered what my twenty minutes on February 1st--just seven days ago--felt like and how energized I was afterwards. The fact I was unable to find twenty minutes more than once was disheartening.

I realized I was guilty of the worst type of comparisons: comparing the me of today with the me of yesterday. Me of today married with a ten month old. Me of yesterday single.

When the me of yesterday got behind or overwhelmed, I holed up in my apartment and pushed through until I'd vanquished my to do list. For the me of today, with an under-the-weather teething toddler, holing up and pushing through is not an option.

Have you ever compared who you are today
with who you were yesterday?


Sometimes you just need a do over. Before you grant yourself one, be sure your priorities are the same.


To Do List Management

Many of us manage our time with to do lists. We look at each task and the date by when it needs to be done and tackle those with a fast approaching deadline.

Depending on the size of the tasks we may be able to cross off many or a few. On a bad day, we may not cross off any.

That rush we get from crossing off an item. A sense of accomplishment. Is felt just as keenly when we don't cross off items. When we carry them forward from one day to the next. A sense of failure. We're busy, but we never seem to get anything done.

Have you skipped making time for yourself?

All week I've been so frantic just trying to catch up that I realized I hadn't carved out twenty minutes over the past few days.

Then I started to wonder if I could succeed at anything these days, not having submitted one photo for the 2013 Photo Challenge, forgetting to think about what one thing I was most thankful for in my 365 Days of Thanksgiving project, getting off track with my editorial calendar, and now forgetting the 20 minutes of intention I had committed to through Go Mighty.

Go Mighty's Twenty Minutes of Intention project sprung out of the Saturday Life List session at Alt Summit. It's premise was simple commit to just 28 days where you "tak[e] 20 minutes every day to do something that moves your life toward where you want to be at the end of this year, or the next five years."

Rather than taking twenty minutes for myself--intentional minutes--I was consuming what limited time I had throwing myself a pity party and wallowing in failure.

Are your priorities the same?

When you have a child your life changes. Where you see yourself at the end of a year, or the next five years, changes. And I didn't realize how profound this change was until I saw today's self standing next to my past self.

In the act of comparing my past self with today's self, I was beating myself up for having different priorities. Different priorities aren't right or wrong; they're just> 

It's important to recognize what is a priority--everything else can be let go of.

It's equally important to recognize where you want to be at the end of a year, or the next five years, may not be the place you were heading to before you became a mother.

Does your to do list serve your current priorities?

Each project or person you say yes to means less time for yourself. While this sounds obvious, pause for a moment and really think about that.

When you're a parent you're splitting your time across your partner, your child, your work, your family, your friends, and yourself. Depending on the age of your child, you're also splitting your time across their school or child care and their friends.

Before you say yes to any project, answer:
Is what you're about to do going to feed, house, or cloth you or your family? Advance your business? Or make you happy?

Before you say yes to any project, answer:
Is what you're about to do going to feed, house, or cloth you or your family? Advance your business? Or make you happy?

Are your expectations realistic?

I have a rough idea of how long I expect a task to take. And have been known to pack a day full of tasks with little wiggle room.

In a perfect world this time management practice might work. In a corporate environment with a team helping with various tasks on a project, the time management practice might still work.

When you're running a business by yourself, tasks take longer as you're doing pieces you used to have help with.

Now add in being a parent and running a business by yourself. Are your expectations of a perfect day going to stand a chance? Think about traffic. Stopping to chat with your little one's teachers. Fellow parents.

If you don't add in a healthy bit of buffer to your day, you're almost always going to be behind.

When you're spiraling out of control. Stop. Grab a timer. And take 20 minutes for yourself. Grant yourself a do over.


Reset with a Do Over

Mid panic I stopped and thought back to the Life List session. I remembered their advice that life lists were the permission one needed to explore the corners of your life. And for purpose-driven people sometimes you just needed to do something purposeless.

So, I granted myself a do over. Instead of rushing to catch up, I stopped.

I stepped back and thought about what would make me happy. Because being happy would be the one thing I could do right now to drive myself closer to my goals.

I then spent the next twenty minutes, instead of feeling guilty and running around like a chicken with its head cut off, happily crafting a coupon book with things I'd like to do. Have a hug. Catch a sunset. Have a day off.

Doing something special for cubes for Valentine's Day made me happy. I'm notoriously bad about having nothing planned. He'll have the perfect card with the perfect sentiment and I'll have been so busy that I have nothing. By taking twenty minutes, I was able to do something I usually can't find time for. I was able to just create. I was able to think about where I want to spend more time. And I would be able to communicate that desire to cubes.

genuinely eden

Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.

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