The Two Sides Of My Time Management Problem

Big life changes can shine the light of parts of your personality you didn’t know existed. In the chaos of the last few weeks I’m learning something about myself: I need a large enough block of time to come close to FINISHING something, before I’ll even start. I might have time to do PART of the task, but if there’s not a chance I can do ALL, I don’t even consider the PART.

I’ve noticed this in several aspects of my life, but let’s start with domestic chores.

So, ideally over the next 6 months, I’ll be in Knoxville for 3 days of every week and Huntsville for 4 days. But those three days in Knoxville HAVE to be weekdays because that’s the whole point, getting my Mom to work, which obviously happens during the week. This limits the 3/4 combinations a bit and this last week I had Wednesday obligations in Huntsville which meant I ended up in Knoxville Monday and Tuesday, Huntsville Wednesday and most of Thursday, and then back in Knoxville Thursday night and Friday and Saturday. So I really haven’t been in EITHER city for a long enough chunk at ONE TIME to get anything in EITHER city done.

Well…at least not if you have one particular time management hurdle to jump that I seem to have.

Let’s use one example in each location. Floors in Huntsville and the Garage in Knoxville. My floors in Huntsville need to be cleaned and I need to finish clearing out Mom’s garage in Knoxville. But when I’m in either city there are obligations I can’t ignore, like in Huntsville there’s taking the kids to school and going grocery shopping and going to awards ceremonies and field trip meetings and laundry. In Knoxville there’s taking Mom to work and getting her groceries and getting her to get bloodwork done. These are several things that HAVE to be done and most often they break up any large chunk of “free” time I have into smaller chunks.

So, in terms of the amount of “free” time I had in Huntsville, if you add it all together, it was plenty of time to clean my floors. But it was broken up into small 30-minute chunks and evidently I have a mental block against starting something big that I can’t finish. In Knoxville I did a lot of BIG cleaning of Mom’s garage and what’s left is the smaller, more tedious stuff and I seem to refuse to start THAT unless I have enough time to finish it ALL AT ONCE.

Both of these things are dumb. I could have cleaned at least ONE room’s floors and I could have done PART of the garage during either stretch home but I seem to be unable to do things in pieces which means I am EVEN MORE BEHIND.

My email inbox is another PERFECT example. Splitting up this week like I have – which essentially has me driving back and forth every 2 days, has not given me any LONG chunks of time to sit down with my laptop and go through emails. SO I HAVEN’T EVEN TRIED.

Y’all? I’m scared to open my emails. SO VERY SCARED.

I know a lot of this is a coping mechanism and I don’t fault myself really. Things are crazy and I’m actually proud of how I’m settling into the new normal of being in a different city half of every week and driving SO VERY MUCH. But I’m just going to keep getting more and more behind if I can’t use my small chunks of time wisely.

Here’s how it looks: I get 45 minutes where I don’t need to be anywhere and all pressing errands are run. What do I do? Well…5 different things pop into my head: Work on my book, Clean the garage, Scrub the floors, Check your email, Do that task etc…But the problem is 45 minutes isn’t enough time for me to even come close to finishing, so why even start? And instead I’ll do something really dumb that only takes 45 minutes, like return my husband’s book to the library. THAT WASN’T EVEN ON MY LIST! He works half a mile from the library, he could TOTALLY do that on his own, but I had books to return too and it only takes 15 minutes sooo…

That’s what I chose to do instead.

And now I have SEVERAL big things I’m behind on and 30-45 minute chunks of time is not enough for ANY of them and so I’m just getting more behind choose dumb stuff to do instead.

See…I’ve always had either big chunks of time on the weekends, or big chunks of time during my week (when I’m jobless) to take care of BIG tasks that need a few hours at a time. But right now, I only have 3 or 4 days of each week in each city – and especially this week when those days are split into 2 days each – I can’t quite find the chunks of hours at a time and so I’m noticing this weird habit of mine that is 100% making my life harder.

So, there’s a BIG part of me that says: KIM! LEARN HOW TO DO DO SMALL PIECES AT A TIME. IT IS OKAY. JUST GET SOMETHING DONE!

But then…

THEN…

There’s the self-care side of me that is always worrying about where my “limits” should be that says: OR JUST DO NOT DO THE THINGS AT ALL.

Maybe there’s another option. Maybe I need to see that I’ve been at this new schedule for 4 weeks now, and I have 5 months to go, and I haven’t found any time in 4 weeks to start the big landscaping projects I want to do, or to clean the floors. Maybe I need to just NOT DO THOSE THINGS. Maybe I need to look at this list of projects that require a lot of chunks of time and eliminate some of them. Because, here’s the thing, maybe I don’t want to use those 45 minute chunks of time to start projects because EVERY OTHER CHUNK OF TIME IS TAKEN AND I NEED A BREAK.

There is a part of me that looks at this in the, “It’s okay to stop doing things,” light. I mean, the back yard needs to be tended to. Period. But maybe instead of setting up goals to shape beds and mulch things, maybe instead we just weed-eat the shit out of the back yard this season and save the landscaping for next year. Maybe I steal Mom’s swiffer and just use that on the floors periodically instead of making a big effort out of getting the floors SUPER clean. Maybe I send out an auto-response email to everyone in my inbox saying, “I’m sorry if you need me to do something. I’m a bit overwhelmed right now.”

(I mean, I serve on two boards in town where I’m in charge of websites and I haven’t checked my email in a week. THOSE PEOPLE ARE PROBABLY WANTING TO FIRE ME ANYWAY AT THIS POINT.)

So that’s the other side of me. The side that says, “Don’t try to figure out how to break tasks up into 45 minute chunks. Instead, why don’t you just trying to remove tasks from your To Do list all together until you feel like you can breathe again?”

I mean, honestly? I’ve gotten really into walking with friends and sometimes when I have a free chunk of time, THAT is what I want to do and do you know what? THAT IS PROBABLY WHAT I SHOULD DO, because in terms of things that are going to keep me stable over the next 6 months? WALKING WITH FRIENDS IS THE TOP OF THE LIST.

Practically speaking, I know I need to learn how to manage time so I don’t REQUIRE several hours to do EVERY task. But mental health speaking? I feel like the other part of me is right. This is a big – BUT TEMPORARY – change in our life. Taking the tasks off my plate that need large chunks of time may be what gets me through this 6 months without wearing myself out. Replacing “Catch up on email” with “walk with friends” may be what keeps me from collapsing under the anxiety of it all.

Or maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. That’s probably the truth of the matter. Maybe I use the next 45 minute break to write down all of the big tasks on my plate and see what can be ignored for 6 months and what can’t. Maybe then I’ll just take some off of the list indefinitely, and the rest I try to learn to break into 45 minute chunks.

Any advice would be appreciated. OR DO YOU HAVE A TIME TURNER I COULD BORROW?

6 Comments

  • Colleen

    One thing I do for household chores that I don’t have time for is to offer my kids a bit of money to do it. Like I can’t face my dirty car, so I’ve offered Sydney $10 to clean it thoroughly on the inside. If money isn’t an option, maybe there is another incentive to get your kids to help. They can operate a swiffer! I agree with you that taking things off your list is a good idea! You are doing so much for your mother and your family! You deserve and need a break when you have a little bit of time. Walking with friends is important!

  • Cheryl

    Yeah! We’re in my wheelhouse now! I am list making crazy! I would suggest that yes, your first step is just to make the list. Don’t put it in any order, just as the items come into your head. And don’t limit it to the next 45 minutes, give it a day or two for those things to perk to the top of your brain. Once you get that list together is when you can start prioritizing. Look at the whole list and break it into Huntsville and Knoxville lists. Then, figure out what can be easily outsourced to another family member (swiffering the floors or mowing the lawn) something that you can explain once and leave them to it. Cross those off the list now. Woo-hoo we’re making progress.

    Next is harder. You need to be realistic about cost/benefit to yourself. Does this task HAVE to be done, and realistically do I have to be the one to do it? If not, start looking for a professional helper. For instance, I always have a list of small tasks going that I can get a handyman in to fix once the list gets big enough. I know that I CAN fix them, but honestly my time is more important to me than the money. And I have found that the cost to have someone else do things is usually less than I have imagined it to be. I call this cost “the price of my sanity”

    Once you offload everything you can, then you can start prioritizing what YOU personally need to do in both places. I know this is long, but I’m the one all my friends call to help with these tasks, so I’m known to be a bit obsessed. 🙂

  • Liz

    Your time management issues seem similar to mine, which are due perfectionism. If I can’t have something done perfectly, whether cleaning, running, etc. I won’t bother. I need to practice a more Agile Programming like method: get something done, then revise until perfect. My reccomendations: GTD by David Allen. I follow my own version, but I’m a list maker and love crossing off smaller steps. For e-mail, when I’m in the zone, I have a zero in box. To get down to it, I’ll look at my e-mail count and set an easy daily goal. Then, when I meet that, I’m proud and happy, and I go beyond it and get through more emails. I’ve gotten into a podcast called, Best of Both Worlds. The hosts talk about time management tips. One of them, Laura Vanderkam, writes articles and books about time management. I’m going to remember 20 extra things, so you may get another comment. Keep at it! You are awesome and will find your groove.

  • Beth E

    Weed eat the shit out of the lawn is a good plan- or borrow a goat or two. Stick some flowers ion the front yard so that the neighbors like the way your house looks with flowers. Floors- let them ride for 6 months. Then after you get a job- pay someone to clean them. As for having to doth whole thing- Break up the tasks and make them the whole thing- So cleaning the kitchen floor is 1 whole job- The great room floor is another. Moms garage- going through 5 boxes is 1 job, cleaning the floor is 1 job. This is my preK training kicking in- It applies to us adults

  • Olivia

    I have a slightly different problem – needing to action whatever comes my way straight away and not leaving things til I have a longer chunk of time to deal with them well and fully. I’m a teacher with 4 responsibilities at the school I work at, and I’m thinking carefully about how to do things in an allocated time so I’m not jumping between jobs and not finishing them. So the grass isn’t always greener. We probably need to both meet half way!