Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Time with Family

Merry Christmas! I’m wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and peace for the new year.

My Friday Fav this week is certainly time with my family. They may be constantly underfoot these days and it may be difficult to find a moment of silence during daylight hours, but I love spending time with them all. I’m thankful we are together and healthy this holiday season. I’m grateful my husband and I have jobs, particularly ones that allow us to take time off during the holiday season.

We have been blessed beyond measure, and this year in particular I’m trying not to take that for granted.

So I will try to embrace the loud children bouncing off the walls at their excitement for Christmas. I will make the best of virtual get togethers with family instead of in-person gatherings. I will be grateful for my husband’s constant playing of YouTube videos and podcasts because that means he’s home and near me. I will read that one extra chapter of Harry Potter after the kids’ bedtime to get a few more minutes of cuddle time under the blankets with the boys.

On this Christmas day in particular, I’ll slow down. I’ll soak in the magic of the day and the good fortune that we get to spend it together.

Please hold your loved ones close and treasure their presence. That’s the greatest gift I’ll get this Christmas, and I know it.

Posted in Blog

How Is One Working Mom’s Time Being Spent Differently in 2020 vs. 2019?

My husband thinks I’m nuts, probably for several reasons, but this week’s justification is my detailed time tracking exercise. I’ve talked about this practice before. I tracked about three months of my time in 2019, and it gave me a great perspective about where my time was going throughout the day. And, bonus, it convinced me I really did have time to start blogging.

I view time tracking as no different from budget tracking. There’s only so much money to play with in my budget, and there’s only so many hours in my day. Time and money are both limited resources. I want to use them in the best way possible.

If I want to make the best use of my hours, then I need to know where my time is going. I’m not completing this exercise to maximize my productivity but rather to maximize my happiness. It is a helpful reflective exercise for me. Am I spending my time on activities that are shaping my life’s narrative in the way I want it to be written?

I track my time in a simple Excel file with the first column dedicated to every 30 minutes of the day. Then, each remaining column is a day of the week. For each 30-minute cell, I note what I was doing at that day and time.

I also shaded each cell based on how I perceive that time in the moment. Some activities are always coded the same way. Naps and sleeping are always blue for “sleep.” Any time I’m doing activities for my job, it is “work.” Other activities vary from day to day. For instance, when I make dinner while my husband is playing with the kids outside and I can listen to music or a podcast, then it is “leisure.” If I’m making dinner while kids are complaining they are hungry, my husband is watching TV, and the dog is under my feet, it’s an “obligation.” If the kids help me, then it’s “family time.”

I was really curious on how my weeks look now in 2020 with virtual school while working from home. I feel so much more drained, but why is that? So I set out to explore what’s going on. I tracked the week of October 19 both in 2019 and 2020.

When I compared this one week in 2020 to how my time was spent on average in 2019, it’s not strikingly different. I’m getting the same amount of sleep and spending the same amount of time on planning activities. For the most part, my time spent working and with family is largely unchanged. At first, that was a bit surprising because I feel like I can’t separate from my family right now with us home all of the time.

There are a few notable differences. First, I get a bit more leisure time, up an additional 36 minutes per day. Second, my daily obligations dropped some, which appears to be because I’m not driving people to school or activities every day. That’s saved me about 24 minutes per day. There’s a correlation here that suggests perhaps that fewer obligations means more leisure time for this mom. I’ll take it! I’m speculating that because my children are getting older, I can use that free time for leisure while they are home because I’m not constantly on top of them supervising every move.

For a more detailed look, here is the week of October 19, 2019 and 2020 side by side (with the color coding only so my life is still a bit of a mystery).

During this week in 2019, I took a day off of work on Thursday to join my younger son for a school field trip. (Remember those?!?) Our nights were filled with watching the World Series, and the weekend included birthday parties, shopping trips, and soccer games. A different world.

In 2020, my work is largely broken into two-hour shifts with exceptions and flexibilities along the way. There’s a family trip to Skyline Drive within the Shenandoah National Park and some outdoor events with friends and family included to break up the week.

When I dove into the narratives for each week, I saw that I spent 2.5 more hours reading and 4 fewer hours watching TV this one week in October 2020 than I did this same time last year. That wasn’t too surprising to me because I’ve already doubled the number of books I’ve read this year compared to 2019. Reading and watching TV are both leisure time activities (most of the time), so if one goes up, the other likely goes down.

What really surprised me (though it probably shouldn’t have) is how much LESS time I have by myself in this pandemic world. The week of October 19, 2020 provided me with 20.5 hours of alone time (that’s 18% of my awake hours); whereas the same week in 2019 gave me 45 hours of alone time (a whopping 40% of my awake time). That’s a HUGE difference to this introvert.

Now, logically, this is not surprising. I used to work from home all week while my husband was typically commuting 1.5 hours away and my kids were in school. I was still home a lot, but there was silence. There was focus and a time for deep work. Today’s required multi-tasking and division of my attention is what is eating away at my energy. (Exhibit A: I have spent almost two hours writing this blog post and have been interrupted by virtual schooling kids approximately 50 times to help brainstorm writing assignments, see what shade of black a crayon makes, let the dog out, see another student’s “cool” selfie icon, let the dog in the house, etc., etc., I’m tired. It’s surprising this post makes any sense at all.)

So what are my takeaways?

I’m going to plan more “off duty” time and actually take it! My husband and I already give each other a night off a week, but maybe we need to do something more like that?

I also need to lower my standards during school and work hours. (Shocker, my standards are too high!) I’m finding it extremely frustrating to try and write and focus on something while being interrupted constantly, so I need to reframe my perspective on these shifts with the kids. My goal is to help the kids. It is a bonus if I get anything else done. I better move my writing time to another part of the week.

I’ll probably conduct this exercise again in the future when I fill particularly balanced or overwhelmed to see how life has changed. Here’s to more balanced days ahead!

Posted in Blog

Reflections On How Time Is Perceived

I’m currently reading Laura Vandercam’s book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. Of course, with that title, I couldn’t pass it up. Plus, I’ve been following Laura on her Best of Both Worlds podcast for some time. I like what she has to say.

My October book recommendations post will surely rate this book highly. But, even now, when I’m only halfway through it, it’s made me reevaluate about how I’m using my time. It’s a concept I circle back to regularly in my life, and I guess we all should revisit the idea from time to time. Am I spending time on pursuits that I value, bring joy, and make this one life we are living better for me and others?

I remember going through this reflective exercise after my older son was born. I have always been a list-maker who only feels accomplished as plans are executed. Babies and toddlers don’t follow plans. Ha! Nope, not at all. I had to shift my mindset. My goals were no longer to spend the weekends getting dishes done, laundry washed and folded, etc. as fast as possible so I could relax. My focus was on spending time with my little guy. Now the chores still needed to happen, so when my son was old enough, he helped. Sure, it made the whole endeavor take three times longer, but my perception of how I was supposed to be spending my time changed, so it didn’t matter.

I went through this exercise again right before I started this blog. It had been a daydream of mine for years to start a blog, but I never began. Oh sure, there were tons of reasons. I didn’t know how to start. No one cares what I have to say. I didn’t have the time. These were “reasons” and fears that I could overcome. After going through a time tracking exercise, I realized I did have the time to blog. I Googled a bit to figure out how to do it, picked a path, made a loose plan on what to write about, and started writing. I hope others read it, but I’ll write nonetheless.

I’m starting to get that itch again that I want to experience more in life. There are things I want to do with the kids before they are too big. There are places I want to explore around where we live that we never go to because we live here and “we can go any time.” Well, “any time” needs to happen. And as much as I want someone else to plan all of these adventures for me so I just have to show up, that’s not going to occur. I need to make the plans for any activity our family deems safe at the moment and just do it.

To begin, of course, I made a list. Then, we talked about it as a family. (What?! You don’t spend family meals planning out a bucket list of experiences!? Ha!)

I aim for the stars. “Let’s go to the Grand Canyon!”

The kids don’t know what they don’t know and ask for the familiar. It’s evidence that we’ve made some fun memories in the past that they want to repeat. “Let’s go back to the trampoline park!”

My husband likes to relive favorites with the boys. “Let’s watch the Marvel movies together.”

I think the best way to start making these happen is to consider adding them to our seasonal bucket lists posted on our command center. Every time I make the next season’s list, I’ll try to add at least one or two items from our family bucket list so they actually get the attention they deserve and start to happen.

This is my kind of thought exercise! I’m not trying to get more productive so I’m getting 6 hours of work completed in 4 hours instead. I’m thinking about how I want to spend time with my family and get more joy out of life. This is my true priority.

Posted in Blog

A Slice of Life View of Working from Home with Two Elementary Kids

I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday, so I’m going to skip the money series post this week and pick it up next Wednesday instead. Today I wanted to share a glimpse of what it’s like to work from home with two young elementary kids in virtual school all day. Here’s a day in the life of this working mom:

  • 1:30am – Woke up to my alarm to take Mr. 4 year old to the potty
  • 6:15am – Woke up to Mr. 4 year old wanting snuggles
  • 6:30am – Up with my alarm to start working after Mr. 4 year old fell back to sleep
  • 7:30am – Get kids and myself fed and ready for the day
  • 8:15am – Take the kids outside to walk and ride scooters
  • 8:45am – Get the kids logged into school and clean up the kitchen
  • 9:30am – Take a work call while sometimes answering kid questions and baking banana bread
  • 10:15am – Eat said banana bread snack with kids during their school break
  • 10:30am – Back to work
  • 12pm – Make, eat, and clean up lunch
  • 1pm – Bathe Mr. 4 year old who got covered in mud while playing outside in the rain and mud puddles
  • 1:15pm – Kids log back into school, while I write a blog post and respond to personal emails
  • 2pm – Back to work
  • 4:15pm – Read with Mr. 4 year old
  • 4:45pm – Make dinner and talk with husband
  • 5:45pm – Eat then clean up
  • 6:30pm – Scroll online
  • 7:15pm – Kids and I read together
  • 8pm – Kids to bed

From 8pm to my bedtime (which is anywhere from 9pm to 11pm) I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. I sometimes write, like tonight, but typically I watch a show or read a book. I’m spent and need to recharge.

Overall, this schedule is doable. We’re making it work with employers who are being flexible and two adults at home, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

In the past, I wrote about my experiment with time tracking. I don’t continue to track my time each week. However, in the future I’d like to take another week to track my time, then compare it to a pre-COVID week. I have a feeling that, although my days are more fragmented than ever before, the percentage of time I spent in each category (e.g., family, self-care, work, etc.) is likely the same. We shall see!

Photo: Today’s visitor while I was answering personal emails this afternoon.

Posted in Blog

Creating Boundaries With Your Work Time

Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation at work of being professional about drawing boundaries around my availability. I definitely became better at this when I returned from maternity leave after Mr. 7 year old was born because I just didn’t have the energy to sneak in extra work hours outside of the office like I used to.

How have I done it? Here’s the gist.

Live Your Goals

First, you have to know your own professional development goals, those of your teams, and those of your projects/employers. (I’m a senior manager of training design and development teams for multiple clients, so there are many stakeholders to satisfy.) I recommend playing to your strengths when crafting goals. You’ll be more motivated to work on something you’re already good at, rather than try to improve a weakness that you could potentially outsource to someone else.

Once you have your goals, live by them. Get invited to a meeting that doesn’t align with your personal goals or those of your client? Politely decline. I’m not saying you can skip every boring meeting or work task, but you can be selective about how you spend your time. (Probably more so than you think!)

Decline with Grace

I swear tactfully pushing back is a large part of the art of “managing up.” I rarely say no to my clients and managers. I provide more information instead. For example, if I’m asked to move a deadline up that isn’t feasible, I’ll state that we can do that if X conditions or concessions are made.

If I’m asked to join a committee or project that I can’t make work, I say thank you for the opportunity but I’m regretfully not available. And, here’s the key, I also provide a recommended solution, whether that’s another team member who would be a good fit or a time in my schedule when I could take on the opportunity.

I am the messenger that provides the details to help us all make better decisions, while making sure the solution will work for me and my teams.

Diversify Your Happiness

Don’t let work be the most interesting thing about you. Find other things you enjoy and add them to your life. This can be hobbies, pets, family, fitness, or volunteer work. Not only will these interests help when you have a bad day at the office and need to reset your mood, but they can be used to get you out of the office and away from work at a reasonable hour. If you commit to a hobby, be that a 8:30am fitness class three days a week or tutoring high school kids every Wednesday at 6pm, then you can block your calendar and work around it. I swear I became 10 times more efficient at my work when I knew I needed to log off each day by 3:30 to get my kids off the bus. (Remember that time when kids used to go to school in person?! The good old days….) Work tends to expand to the amount of time available.

I admit that some of these tips are easy to say and harder to do. It’s taken me some time of exploration at work, being a part of multiple teams and projects, to learn my strengths, set meaningful goals, and be comfortable pushing back on leadership. However, I think it’s important to realize that we only have this one life to live, so we better enjoy it. It’s harkens back to my motto to reflect on what you want, plan how to make it happen, and then start living and, in the famous words of Captain Picard, make it so.

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Time Tracking

I view time as a limited resource. We only get 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, and typically 2,920 hours a year. I want to make the most out of those hours as possible.

I’m technically a part-time working mom who puts in 30 hours a week, so I feel like I should have a good balance between my work and home life. After long days at work, though, I was finding myself drained, frazzled, and upset that I wasn’t getting the “balance” I thought I signed up for.

My lack of energy in the evening was putting me in a rut. I’d stop working, get the kids and chores taken care of, and collapse onto the couch in a comatose state until way later than bedtime. I can easily find myself staying there scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or Reddit or binging one of the myriad of TV options out there. And all of that to wake up and do it all over again the next day.

I’d had enough. I followed Laura Vanderkam’s advice and tracked my time for a week. (I actually tracked my time for several months, just to look for trends.) It was an interesting exercise that only took a few minutes a day.

Basically, I used an Excel spreadsheet that broke down a week into 30-minute intervals. I then jotted down a few words noting what I spent my time doing in each interval (e.g., took Mr. 4-year-old to school, worked, made dinner). Vanderkam suggests looking at any given week’s time to see if you’re spending your hours the way you want to live your life.

I took Vanderkam’s technique a step further. I classified the time using various colors in Excel to track my mood or perspective of what I was spending time on. For instance, work was all orange, chores were yellow, time with family was green, and self-care activities were pink. I wanted to see if work and chores were really taking over my days, or if I really was getting a good chunk of time with family and personal pursuits.

I was not hard and fast on the rules for classifying activities. The classification was based on how I felt. Some days, making dinner was a chore. We were rushing to get it done before soccer practices or Cub Scout meetings. Sometimes, the kids played together and I could try a new recipe while listening to a podcast. In those cases, making dinner was self-care. If my husband and I made dinner together while chatting about our day, it was family time.

What this exercise showed me is that when you look at the whole week, I was actually getting more balance than I realized on any given day. Sure, I may have to work late one day a week, but that’s because I took time out of another workday to visit my son’s school. That’s a great perk that I should recognize and appreciate!

I also learned to better monitor my energy. I have a tendency to put 100% into whatever task I start for the day, which is often something work related. Then, by the time my family sees me, I’m totally drained and they aren’t getting my best self. To counter this, I’ve been trying to end my work day just a few minutes earlier so I can reset my energy before diving into family time. (The added complexity to this is that I work from home, so I was falling into the routine of working until the exact minute I need to run and pick up kids…always moving, always frantic.)

This exercise also gave me a chance to reflect on whether I’m spending my self-care time on the right activities. I quickly realized I didn’t like the life story of my TV and social media rut. I had more time for hobbies than I realized. I just wasn’t leveraging it.

The time study I did for myself is a big reason why this site exists today. I’ve always fancied myself as a writer. This notion in my head that I’ll get to it someday isn’t going to happen if I wait for some magical, miracle moment to appear. I can make the time with the right priorities on my time.

I say all this to show you how time tracking benefited me and added a new perspective to how I manage my time these days. I would recommend that others take Vanderkam’s time tracking challenge and see what you uncover about how you spend your time.