That Pesky Time Management

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Time management is a difficult subject. Like everyone else, I have too much to do and too little time to do it in. The moment I’m writing this, I could be working on my fiction (the adventures of Dez and Jaxim), writing one of 15 topics for Fortress Peschel, sewing fabric tote bags for the upcoming Winter Craft Fair (Nov. 1, 2014, at Hershey High School, if you’re interested in attending), sewing any one of the hundred other projects begging for my attention, particularly the beautiful velvet coat a la Koos van den Akker, the mountain of boring and mundane but useful mending, weeding the yard so it looks like a planned natural garden and not an unkempt, neglected wilderness, researching storm water management so I can answer questions about it at the program I am arranging, doing more cooking from scratch and less peanut butter sandwiches and canned soup for dinner, learning better food preservation of the garden harvest, maintaining close ties with family, friends, and neighbors, walking Muffy . . . the list is endless. And I don’t work outside my home!

Everybody gets twenty four hours a day. You never get less, but you never get more, either.

Everybody gets twenty four hours a day. You never get less, but you never get more, either.

Subtract 10 hours a day for sleep, eating, and basic hygiene and you are down to 14 hours a day. If you work outside your home, hopefully at a job you like rather than one you hate, subtract out the time spent at the job, including commuting back and forth and time for meals. That is, if you work an eight-hour day with a one-hour meal break and your commute is one half-hour each way, subtract out ten more hours a day (8 + 1 + 1/2 + 1/2). You have four hours a day left with which to maintain close family ties, cook slow food like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman recommend (do they really do this on a daily basis? I doubt it), exercise, garden, learn new skills, sew your own clothes, train your dog, be active and involved with your children’s school, participate in the neighborhood watch, be politically active, run some of your church groups, etc, etc, etc.

It is exhausting, overwhelming, and never ending. The only possible cure is to say no all the time and delegate whenever you can. We watch very little television (we don’t want to be educated into being dissatisfied with everything we have), I go on-line about twice a week to catch up with what is most important to me, I don’t do any social media, I don’t go to movies, I don’t go shopping; in fact, I don’t do a whole host of activities. I can’t do any of these things and still come anywhere close to doing what I think is most important for me to do.

I don’t think anyone can do all the things they want to and should do. You have to say no. If you say yes, yes, yes, you end up not sleeping enough (which eventually makes you unhealthy, overweight, psychotic and suicidal; this is certainly how it works for me) and doing all the things you want to do in a half-assed, lick-and-a-promise way.

To accomplish what you say you want to accomplish, you have to set goals. Then, look at the activity you want to do (or someone tells you what you should do). Will it help you reach your goal? Yes? Then it needs to be done. If the answer is no, then you better ask yourself why you are doing it.

No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently.

No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently.

If your goal is to be financially independent, out of debt and owning your own home, then shopping for recreation — no matter how you do it, the thrift shop, the mall, online — has to come off of the to-do list. If you leave it on the list, then you are saying that you don’t really want to be financially independent. No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently. Time spent in recreational shopping is time not spent cooking from scratch, which will save you money. This becomes rather circular.

Want to improve your job skills? Then take classes, ask for help from people you want to emulate, find out from the boss what work is waiting to be done. Study, pay attention, focus. Learn how to do better at whatever you are working on. Drifting along aimlessly says you don’t want to do any better. Your actions demonstrate what you really want. Time spent surfing isn’t time spent working. The work still waits for you, building up, while you waste that time on things that don’t make you a better employee.

If your goal is to be an artist, then you had better be drawing or painting. All the time. That’s what artists do. If you are busy watching other people’s creativity on YouTube, or reading pirated manga online, then you aren’t serious about your own art. Hanging with your friends does not equal time in the ceramics studio working on your technique at the potter’s wheel.

Want to be a musician? Driving around in cars with boys does not equal skill at the piano or violin. Hours and hours of focused practice will get you to the stage. Music and art are both hard ways to make a living. You will need talent, drive, and ambition to compete with all the other artists and musicians out there. If they all work harder than you do and are more focused on their goals then you are, then guess who gets the prize? It won’t be you.

II. Learn to Want What You Want

That was the easy part. Don’t do the things that keep you from achieving your goals. The harder part is deciding which of the things that you need to do to achieve your goals can be done in the little time you have allotted. It helps me to write things down in a daily log. My logbook reminds me to do things, it provides me a written record of what I have actually done, and it helps me keep focused. I use it to keep the family focused on their jobs so they get their stuff done. I get, as you can imagine, a lot of resistance on their parts to this approach. Nonetheless, I persevere as my kids would do even less if I let them. My family (including the pets) are a part of my time management problem as I use some of my time to keep them efficient, focused and on the job.

Having a clear idea of my goals on a daily, weekly, monthly, lifely basis helps me to prioritize. Removing aimless behaviors and time-sinks gives me a little more time to get things done. It does not give me anywhere near enough time to accomplish what I want to do.

I like to cook. Cooking from scratch is better for our health, better for our pocketbook, better for the planet, and better for our emotional well-being. But if I am going to write Fortress Peschel plus the fiction I want to write (which may actually make some money) and edit all of Bill’s writing, then I can’t spend several hours a day cooking. I am a very skillful cook, able to walk into a kitchen cold and produce a meal for four in an hour or two. It is hard to chop that time shorter without eating out of cans or from the freezer case. You find yourself eating a lot of eggs, toast, and raw vegetable trays. The alternative is to set up stews in the crock pot at dawn. So I cut back on the finer cooking. The time I spend writing is more important to me, now, than the time cooking. That may change.

The wedding quilt. You won't believe how long it takes to sew a cat in place.

The wedding quilt. You won’t believe how long it takes to sew a cat in place.

I like to sew. I do all the household mending and repair and I do mending and repair for pin-money. I make quilts; the most recent being a wedding quilt for Stan and Michael. I got it done in time for their first wedding anniversary. It will be a long time before I get to make another one. I have wonderful ideas but I don’t have the time to execute them.

The other wonderful idea is to make insulated fabric bags lined with ironing board material. This is an updated haybox in that you bring your homemade soup (which you got up at dawn to make) to a boil, then put it into the heavily insulated bag so it can cook slowly with residual heat all day. At dinner time, the soup is ready, without heating up the kitchen (good in summer!) or spending precious dollars on cooking fuel. Boy does that meet some of my goals. And, it won’t cost me anything to make as I have a salvaged metallic ironing board cover, wool batting, and a lifetime supply of the fashion fabric. All it would cost me is time. Time I can’t spare now, even though this bag will, eventually, save me money and time babysitting soup or stew.

The big sewing project now is making fabric tote bags for the upcoming Winter Arts and Crafts Festival on 1NOV2014 at Hershey High School. Bill and I will be selling his books and my tote bags. I make these from heavy fabrics like upholsteries and they are sized to hold groceries. Each bag takes fifteen steps starting with cutting the fashion fabric into as many bags as I can squeeze out of the yardage. The original plan was to sew a set of bags, then work on another sewing project such as the wonderful velvet coat ala Koos van den Akker, then tote bags, then a lined jacket, then tote bags, then the mending mountain, tote bags, the haybox-insulated bag. That plan went by the wayside as I just couldn’t make up more time. Now it is all tote bags and writing. My velvet coat (a 1950s’ vintage swing coat with funnel neck) will have to wait. So will the jackets, the mending, the stylish tops, the insulated cooking bag. I can’t do it.

The garden has largely gone by the wayside. Younger son has taken over a lot of the vegetable portion but he doesn’t have the knowledge or skill set yet for the ornamental portions. Because the yard is very naturalistic and heavily planted, you have to know that the plant you are pulling is a weed and not Virginia Bluebells. You don’t want to guess and be wrong (which did happen). Weeding is very Zen for me and I like doing it. I can’t do it now as the writing and sewing have taken over.

Some activities are seasonal. Eventually, winter will come, and we won’t be doing much weeding. There may be snow shoveling, but older and younger son will be doing that. Sewing and writing can be done anytime of the year. Other seasonal jobs are painting doors and kitchen cabinets. Those are best done in spring or fall so you can paint outside without weather issues. Laying the patio is a spring or summer job. Insulating the attic is a fall, winter, spring job. You don’t want to be up there in July when the temperature is 125 degrees. Insulating all your pipes should be done right now so they are less likely to freeze this winter. Made those insulated quilts and drapes for all the windows yet? That can be done anytime but you really need them ready for the winter. Cooking, of some sort, has to be done year round as everyone has to eat. So does laundry and basic housekeeping. Laundry and cooking and housekeeping have to be done on a daily basis as if you don’t, you end up with mountains of work. Unless you can afford a housekeeper or you like living in a sty, this is work that can’t be put off for very long.

How do you choose? What is the most important thing to do? Good habits help some. I don’t shop for recreation so I don’t spend money I don’t have so I am better able to reach our family goal of financial independence. I do make time to exercise almost every day as better health and fitness means I sleep better. When I sleep better, I function much better and I am not psychotic and suicidally depressed. I say no. I say no. I say no.

I say no. That can be so hard. So many books to read, movies to see. I have seen almost nothing of all the great must-see TV out there. I don’t have time. I see the supermarket magazines and I don’t know who most of the celebrities are. It is hard to let go. I know that I’m totally out of touch with the culture. But keeping up with the Kardashians will not help me reach my goals. It is kind of horrifying to me that, even though I have never seen their TV show(s), I know who they are from seeing them on the magazine covers at the supermarket! My precious brain space being spent on Kardashians instead of hundreds of more worthwhile things.

What are your goals? Do your activities help you reach your goals or do they just get in the way? Only you know. Only you can decide what to say no to. And your nos will change. Time management is so difficult. I would like to say that practice makes it easier, but I don’t know about that either. I look around at everything I am not doing and wonder what am I missing? What is going to jump up and bite me, saying “you didn’t do me and now you’ll pay! Bwah hah hah hah.” Arrgg.

I won’t lie. It is always and will always be a challenge. Establish your goals, try to instill better habits, compare what you are doing to what you say you want to accomplish. Say no, adapt, say no again. Stay out of step with the tidal wave of media, stuff, everything, trying to come in your front door on a minute by minute basis. Reassure yourself that you are doing what you have to do, to meet your goals. Say no some more. Unless you can get someone else to do it, this is what time management is.

Next Week: Basic Home Security