Posts Tagged ‘priorities’

Start Planning, Now

The only way to survive the warmer months of the year when you have kids is to be two steps ahead of the game — but you can go a long way toward guaranteeing a more enjoyable break for everyone if you are willing to a) plan ahead and b) draw some boundaries. Let's start with the planning first. Don't wait until the last bell rings before you plot out your schedule for the summer. Sit down together as a family and discuss all the activities that you want (and need) to fit in before classes start back — that includes out-of-town trips, incoming visitors, work projects, and kids' programs (at the library, the YMCA, the local community center.) Put in your vacation request at work early, and don't forget to factor in those long weekends like July Fourth or Labor Day. Then plot everything out on a calendar, and scan the horizon for time crunches and scheduling conflicts. Remember, compromise is the key to harmony in any family, so each person needs to be wiling to give a little to make the whole thing work.

However, even with advance planning, children will still run you ragged unless you set some limits. When unencumbered by classes and books and teachers' dirty looks, kids are hit with a sudden rush of freedom — they want to do anything and everything (usually all at the same time) to make the most of their days off. But it just may not be feasible for your child to take swim lessons, play in the summer baseball league, spend two weeks visiting relatives, AND participate in that really cool kid's science program at the university. It's up to you as the parent to keep this year's agenda under control — but let your child make the choice. Allow him to select maybe two weekly activities and one trip to take, making sure that nothing overlaps or conflicts. Remind your child that, if it won't fit in the schedule this time, he can always do it next year. You'll be helping him not only strengthen his decision-making muscle, but also start to decide what's really important and what he could live without (powerful skills to have at any age!)

And while you want your kids to enjoy their time off, there's no reason why children should be excused from a basic level of responsibility, just because they're out of school. I remember summer vacations, when I had the house to myself while my parents worked. When I had friends over, we might pull out the paint and clay and get creative. Or decide to splatter an elaborate picnic lunch all over the kitchen. Or rearrange the furniture to build a fort. Or even set up an obstacle course using lawn chairs and step ladders in the yard (it's a wonder I didn't break my neck before the age of 18!) There was just one rule. I could make any kind of mess I wanted during the day — as long as it was gone by the time my mom got home. Just because your kids have a huge chunk of time off, that doesn't mean that you do — nor are you required to spend your precious hours at home cleaning up after them (wouldn't you rather be enjoying their company and making memories, instead of sweeping and putting their toys away?) I'm all for kids having adventures during their summer breaks, but there's no reason they can't also be made responsible for picking up after themselves at the same time!

Learn How To Say “No”

Have you ever been asked to do something you really didn't want to do for your job — work late, take on a new project when your plate was already full, or attend a completely pointless meeting? You probably felt it would be disrespectful to say no — so you agreed, even though doing so caused you tremendous stress. Why are we so afraid of the word “no”?

“No” means that you understand and accept your own limits, and don't want to do a shoddy job by taking on too much. It's an indication that you recognize where your talents lie and want to put them to the best use. “No” is actually a good word! The trick is to say “no” without feeling guilty or making the other person think that you are unwilling to help out. Instead of seeing a situation in which you are being forced to disappoint another person, turn this into an opportunity to be of service. The best way to tactfully dodge a request while still making a contribution is to offer an alternative solution:

  • offer to help later — “I'm sorry, I don't have time right now. But I'll be free Friday afternoon, if you still need me.”
  • offer another resource — “I'm busy, but I have a colleague who has been wanting to get involved. Let me call her for you.”
  • offer to take on a different task — “That's not my strong suit. But I would be happy to help out with (drawing posters, setting up the meeting room, working out a budget, etc.)”

Stop Carrying The World On Your Shoulders

So much work-related stress is caused by the thought, “If I don't do it, it won't get done.” Yes it will, if it's really important. Somehow, somewhere, the company will find someone to take care of it. I promise that, no matter how fabulous you are at your job, you're not completely indispensable!

Ask yourself, “If I got hit in the head with a tree tomorrow, how would this job get done?” When the answer is, “So-and-so would help out,” you can  feel more comfortable asking “so-and-so” to help out now (before you end up in the hospital!) If the answer is, “It wouldn't get done — it's not that important,” then ask yourself if that task is worth your time in the first place. A life and death situation (imagined or real) sure gives you a sense of perspective! You just have to keep in mind that there are different degree degrees of “no,” and you should be able to find one that lets you maintain control over your time while still assisting the other person.

It's going to be hard for you to set these kinds of boundaries in your work life — especially if you've been accustomed to letting other people dictate how you use your time. As you reclaim your schedule, you will hear comments like, “You never had a problem working weekends before.” Your answer is simply, “My situation has changed. Sorry, but I can't do it this time.”

Learning To Work Together

When Matt and I first got married,  I was highly anal-retentive about my living environment (big surprise!) I wanted no visible clutter anywhere. My hubby on the other hand, while far from a slob, had a much more relaxed attitude about putting certain things away — like the clothes he would change out of at the end of the day. He left a trail of wardrobe items around our house that used to drive me up the wall. I tried everything to get him to hang up his clothes as soon as he took them off (pleading, cajoling, threatening, bribery), but nothing worked — because that simply wasn't important to him.

Now if I had kept pushing and he had kept resisting, this could have very well ended our marriage (I've seen breakups happen over less!) But we decided that it was silly for us to get so worked up over something so relatively insignificant. However, we also realized that it would be unbalanced for one of us to simply “give in” (God knows that when a spouse surrenders a single battle, it feels as if you've lost the war!) We talked about what we each valued. I wanted a tidy-looking home without piles of clothes everywhere — but at the same time, I didn't want to be constantly picking up after him in order to achieve that. He on the other hand, wanted to come home from work and immediately relax, without having to worry about spending his precious down-time putting things away (this was back in the day before self-employment!) — but he promised he would get it all where it belonged once or twice a week.

Fortunately, we each had a divided closet — so we agreed that when Matt shed his skin at the end of the day, he would pile his clothes in the floor of his side (rather than the floor of the bedroom or living room or bathroom) and shut the door. That way, I didn't have to see it or deal with it. And when the pile got to big for him to stand, he'd hang everything up (or do laundry) and start over again fresh. It was the perfect solution, because both our needs were met at the same time. And that arrangement has followed us into the Airstream and around the country — of course, it's a smaller closet, but we still each have our own section, and Matt's got a series of “cubbies” where he can easily stow his clothes as he takes them off. A good system (one built on give-and-take) is adaptable enough to last you forever!

I always say that compromise is the soul of family harmony — and it's doubly true when you're talking about getting organized. The best way to fail at your organizing efforts is for one family member to lay down hard-and-fast rules, expecting everyone else to just fall in line — ain't gonna happen! Instead of each person insisting that it be done “their” way, recognize that there is no one “right” way to organize. Talk it over, discuss each person's needs and expectations, and find someplace in the middle where you can all be happy. It works with kids, it works with life partners, it even works with mothers-in-law!

Efficient Versus Effective

There's a lot of confusion out there about what it means to be “efficient” — some see this as the holy grail of time management. But there's more to using your day wisely than just how much you accomplish. Efficiency means getting a lot done in a short time — effectiveness happens when you also invest your energies in projects that matter to you.

Think back to a time (maybe yesterday) when chunk of your day was eaten up by a menial task, like checking email. You may have gotten through hundreds of messages, even emptied your in-box, yet still felt vaguely dissatisfied with your effort. It didn't seem as though you actually accomplished much — because it wasn't a task near and dear to your heart. As the old saying goes, you can run as fast as you want, but if you're going in the wrong direction, you still won't end up where you intended.

Good time management helps you find your way. I'm a caver, and I really enjoy crawling around in dark holes underground. I don't know if you've ever been in a real cave before, but it is PITCH black — you can't see a thing. And without my caving light, it wouldn't matter how fast I went — I still wouldn't have a clue where I was headed. I might be going in circles, I might be going backward. However, as soon as I turn on my light, I can see where I am, the passage ahead of me, and any obstacles I'll need to go over or around. And most importantly, I'll be able to recognize it when I'm nearing the end of my journey — getting close to accomplishing my goal. That's what good time management is all about.

Where Does Your Time Go?

How much of your life is spent on “time wasters” — activities that do nothing to enhance your quality of life, and actually prevent you from accomplishing more important goals? Facebook has become my major time-waster these days. While I get a tremendous amount of joy and satisfaction from staying connected to all the people in my life, if I get distracted into playing Mafia Wars or taking any of their stupid “what kind of tree would you be” quizzes, I'm in trouble!

Each person has his or her own “time traps” — but you know you've been seduced by a time waster when you find yourself:

  • watching TV shows you don't really care about
  • checking email over and over throughout the day
  • surfing the internet or cruising chat rooms with no purpose in mind
  • endlessly checking status updates on social networking sites
  • wandering around stores, just looking for bargains
  • spending a few hours every day running errands
  • shuffling the same papers back and forth on your desk

Drawing The Line

Some days it can feel as though, despite your best efforts, you haven't accomplished a dadgum thing. Quitting time rolls around and all you have to show for it is hours and hours down the drain, blown on activities that gave you little or no payoff — not to mention the fact that your to-do list is still sitting there staring at you, waiting to be tackled tomorrow!

It can be very hard to curtail these time-wasting behaviors (isn't it always hard to break a bad habit?) Sure, it's fun to goof off on the internet when you have a few minutes and your brain needs a break — but how good are you at drawing the line and saying, “Okay, time to get back to work?” Do you automatically turn on the television when you get up in the morning or come home in the afternoon? Maybe it's time to give your remote control a rest! The good news is, it's easy to change these mindless habits — all it takes is a conscious choice to spend your time differently, and a little planning:

  • when you come home, leave the TV off and find a more meaningful way to decompress (go for a walk, read a book, play with your kids) — review the TV schedule once a week, find those shows you really care about, and record them to watch later without commercials
  • get into a routine of checking email no more than 3 times a day (morning, noon, and end of the day) — turn off the “you've got mail” alarm and program your system to only download emails on command
  • if you lose track of the world while web-surfing, set a timer to go off in 15 or 20 minutes — then make yourself get up and turn off the computer when it dings
  • for 30 days, shop only from a list — only go to stores that carry the item you need, and if you don't actually need anything, don't go to the mall in the first place
  • set aside a single “errand day” each week and sit down with your family to plan your list — put everything you need in one basket by the door, and plot your route in advance to avoid backtracking — if someone forgets an errand, either insist that it wait until the next errand day, or let them do it themselves
  • take 5 minutes to sort through incoming papers every day — put “to-do” papers into a tickler/action file, and set aside time once a week to file and handle to-do's — set up a spot for papers you're currently working on, and take 5 minutes to clear your desk before you leave each day

Look around your life and see what other daily routines and chores eat up your day. You may even want to keep a log for a week or so, recording how you spent your time and what sort of value you received from each activity (just don't let keeping your log become a time-waster!) You'll discover your own personal time “issues” (spending 2 hours trying on outfits before deciding what to wear that day, taking forever to make up your mind about the brand of orange juice to buy at the store, whatever) and find ways of dealing with each.

See if you can't trim some fat from your schedule — just a few simple changes will free up hours each week. But don't waste this bounty — be sure to put that bonus free time to good use. Block off room in your calendar for those important projects you've been neglecting — and don't allow anything to interrupt you. If someone asks for your time during that slot, let them know you can't because you already have another appointment (you do — with yourself!) And enjoy the satisfaction you get from spending your time effectively!

Getting On The Same Page

I spoke recently about the idea of setting up a “family calendar,” and I'd like to explain that concept in a little more detail — because it's really the only way to avoid scheduling conflicts and last minute scrambles. Start by setting up a wall calendarin a centralized place, so you can review the entire household's activities with one glance. You'll want to write each person's appointments, deadlines, and other responsibilities with a different colored marker — blue for mom, green for dad, red for Sally, and purple for Johnny. Keep this in a high-traffic area of the house (kitchen seems to work well, because everyone goes there daily) where everyone can see it.

However, hanging a calendar is less than half the battle — the most important step is to take the time to coordinate your schedules. Family members these days are often like ships passing in the night — you see each other for a few minutes at a time on the way from one activity to the next, and it's no wonder so many time-management conflicts occur! It helps if you have a “family planning session” at the start of each week. Ask each person what they have coming up in the near future — extracurricular activities, days that your kids need a ride somewhere (as well as days you have to work late and can't pick them up), school project due dates, parties, vacations, dentist appointments, meetings, social engagements, sporting events, you name it. Everything should go on the calendar. If you carry a personal planner or PDA, this is also the time to update your portable calendar with the current info (it doesn't do you much good to plan out the week if you can't see the schedule while you're out of the house!)

Then from that point forward, every time someone brings home a birthday invitation or permission slip for a field trip, write it down. Every time the school sends out a calendar of upcoming days off, transfer it to the family calendar. When your boss asks if you can work late or your child's piano teacher wants to switch from Tuesday to Wednesday, change the calendar. Add the week's chores to the calendar. Get in the habit of putting EVERYTHING related to your family's schedule in one place. You're trying to accomplish two main goals here — to address any conflicts and to avoid last-minute rushing around. So when you know that mom's got to work late and Jimmy needs a ride home from the game, you can instruct him to make plans to go with a friend, rather than having him sit around waiting 3 hours for mom, when she has no idea she's supposed to pick him up. When Susy agrees to bring cupcakes for the school party, dad knows that they've got to go grocery shopping at least a day or two before so there's time to do the baking. When Bobby (don't ask my why I've chosen such Brady Bunch sounding children's names) has to put a diorama together for history class, he's not popping up at the eleventh hour, asking for shoe boxes and paint after all the stores are closed. Your stress level will drop by a factor of ten, just having each person's to-do's and responsibilities written down in one visible place.