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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jude Black

The Challenges of Time: Five Tips to Reclaim Control, Manage, & Calm

Working from home can be a challenge on a good day, but summer shenanigans make it almost impossible. This year, my son is 14 years old. He’s old enough to make his own plans, participate in sports and still need an on-call chauffeur.

Because everyone at our house is busy, I often feel like I live in my car. I have enough snacks in the back seat to get through a zombie apocalypse. I also carry a large pile of emergency yoga mats just in case I need to break into downward facing dog in the dentist’s waiting room. I know one day I will miss driving my son around, but this time of year I oscillate between gratitude that he is captive to my version of car karaoke and frustration about the many daily interruptions.

Working from home while managing family responsibilities can seem like a balance only achieved by those in Cirque du Soleil.

But have no fear, it can be done.

Last summer, I wrote a book from beginning to end. It required focus, commitment and a little creativity. Here’s what I suggest if you are struggling to be productive at home:

1. Begin with A Clean Slate. If things are getting chaotic or you are paralyzed by a lack of productivity, wipe your slate clean. Shred your “have to” and even your “want to” lists. Most of us, especially women, have grandiose ideas about finishing scrapbooks we started when our children were born and completing the Zen Art of Tidying Up. The reality is we will never have time for these things between dinner prep, meltdowns and last minute trips to the grocery store. Perhaps it’s time to get realistic about short term have-to and want-to lists.

A great example of this is my friend, Betty. She loves her job delivering library books to homebound patrons. She is very good at her job, but it can be emotionally draining at times. It’s especially trying with a new boss who has changed many of her protocols. Betty also finds time to visit her dad daily. Her mother died a couple years ago and she keeps an eye on him. Add to all of that the recent fact her husband broke his back, and you have a perfect storm of caregiver overload!

Betty had a long list of have-to lists related to others. Along with checking in on all of her people, she had a list for herself. Betty’s list included losing weight, cleaning out a room of beloved antiques and speaking up for herself. These are all wonderful goals, but they also require a ton of energy to accomplish. I invited her to shred that list for now and focus on doing something that felt easier--and possibly more comforting for herself. Being realistic about what she could handle in the midst of her current life circumstances felt like relief. She imagined herself shredding the list of all the things that didn’t need her attention right now.

Look back through your mental lists and drop what you can or assign tasks to someone else. Just letting go of a few things mentally will feel like freedom.

2. Adjust Your Priorities. It’s funny how life is a daily ebb and flow, yet we strive for routine. It’s a great idea to sit down every quarter or so and figure out how things have changed for you. Take stock of anything that has become a priority like a child out of school who will now require more hands-on care or a kitchen renovation. Adding something big to your established routine will only cause overload unless you can reprioritize. Life transitions like moving, changing jobs, or starting a blog all require time and patience.

Be kind to yourself and acknowledge what needs to be a priority in the midst of change. Knowing what your top two or three priorities are for now will help you adjust your schedule for future success.

3. Get Real About Your Time. Filling out a time diary can be a revelation. Write down what you do with your time from the time you wake to the time you go to bed. Do this vigilantly for two to three days, and be as specific as you can. This detailed rendering of your life will help you see objectively how you spend your time. We’re human and our perceptions of reality skew towards our narrative. For instance, I might tell you I drove all day and couldn’t get anything done when it was really only two hours of my time. What I mostly likely did was minimize my time on social media and maximize the time I spent petting our needy dog. Hey, I know I was busy!

A time diary is a scientific process. As you gather information about what you truly do in a day, notice patterns and places for improvement. You will see areas you can play with to improve your productivity.

A friend of mine tried this and revolutionized her mornings. She was in the middle of a divorce and transitioning back to work. Spending quality time with her girls was a priority, only she had limited time now that she was working. Mornings were the perfect opportunity to connect with her girls, but it usually ended with everyone running around looking for shoes and yelling at one another. It was hardly the way she wanted to start her days.

After completing her time diary, she noticed a morning hang up. Her girls spent the mornings rushing around looking for clothes and shoes. It ate up their quality time and caused tension. My friend simply shifted that activity to before bedtime. Everyone laid out their clothes for the next day (including shoes) and came to the breakfast table dressed (with shoes on). Their mornings improved instantly with this simple change.

It may sound obvious, but in the midst of a busy life it can be difficult to see through the chaos. Improve your productivity by aligning your priorities with your schedule. Where are you out of alignment?

4. Try Time Mapping I love making lists and schedules. It makes me feel I can control the world. I can’t, but delusions can be mercifully distracting.

In the past, I have assigned large to menial tasks to different hours of the day, but while writing my book last summer, I had to figure out how to write while managing my son, his activities, family time and our needy dog. My developmental editor suggested I use time mapping, a system of building blocks of time into my day rather than managing 10,000 discrete tasks. It was brilliant!

Instead of using hours, I would create blocks of time where I was free to do tasks related to that subject. For example, I might decide to work on my book when I got up for a couple of hours while my child still slept. I could work on anything related to my book during that time including editing, writing, or emails related to the process. The flexibility to do what matched my motivation was really freeing and allowed me to get more things done.

After working on my book block, I could then have time with my kiddo. I didn’t have to schedule anything in particular with him, but I knew during that block of time I would be available to him. Sometimes I cooked him breakfast, and other times we just sat outside together or played basketball.

Creating a time map, or time blocks, is helpful because the blocks can easily be moved around if something unexpected comes up. For example, if my child got up early, I could switch the book block and the kid block around without creating stress. Also, what I did during those blocks of time was flexible, also handy for people with constant and unexpected interruptions.

5. Jump Start Your Creativity with Funny Cat Videos. This is going to sound counterintuitive, but I promise it works. If you are having trouble tending to tasks, finding answers to a dilemma or are feeling stuck in an activity, simply walk away from it for a little while. Pushing yourself through something that feels impossible only creates frustration. Find your way to YouTube and look up hilarious videos of grumpy cats, cats in water and goats doing yoga. Science has proven that watching something funny or doing something physical will help your brain switch gears and jump start your creativity. You’ll come back to your work refreshed, renewed, and you’ll work smarter.

Working from home can be a minefield of distractions and interruptions. However, with some of these tips you will be managing everyone--including yourself--like a pro.

You will also want to remember snacks for the car.

And possibly errant yoga mats--just in case.


About the Author: Wendy Gauntner is a certified Martha Beck Life Coach for E-Therapy Café. She is also a writer and author of Lee & Me: What I Learned from Parenting a Child with Adverse Childhood Experiences based out of Wyoming. Wendy is E-Therapy Café’s Confidence Builder, Champion of Caregivers, Story Shifter, Creator of Calm, Inner Purpose Tracker and Wayfinder. To schedule a session with Wendy and channel your inner time-ninja, click HERE.

E-Therapy Café™ is a people-focused, innovative online counseling and coaching platform for individuals, couples, families and corporations. The mission is to provide professional, convenient, and affordable, modern online therapy – anytime, anywhere for everyone. The Boutique Team of Licensed Therapists and Certified Life Coaches are passionate change catalyst, focused on realistic goals in today’s fast-paced world. The headquarters is in Northern VA with a nationwide and global reach.

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