“I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.” –Stephen King
Last week, I blogged about the ways we have simplified our material possessions by owning a smaller refrigerator, living in a smaller house, reducing/reusing/recycling, limiting the amount of paper/plastic products, and doing with less “gadgets”. This week, I will blog about the ways we have simplified other aspects of our life, such as our time, goals, emotions, relationships, and bodies.
Time is a hot commodity. Time is money. Time can be our best friend or worst enemy. Time passes subjectively fast or slow depending on the beholder. When I was living the fast-paced rat race, I often wished I had more hours in the day to be able to just survive the maze of work, home, family, and other time commitments. Now that I am not working outside the home, I feel I am able to enjoy each moment as it passes. While I realize that not everyone has the option of quitting their job and moving to a foreign country to simplify their life, there are other things you can do to simplify your time at home. By doing so, you will be able to embrace “Pura Vida” no matter where you live.
Determine your most important values and goals. Free yourself from tasks/commitments that are not in line with those values and goals.
When we lived in Texas, we used to overschedule ourselves and the children. Tristan did judo in addition to Spanish lessons, playdates, summer camps, and birthday parties. Kara did guitar lessons, art class, Spanish lessons, summer camps, sleep overs, playdates, birthday parties, and a slew of other social activities. In addition to work, Chris also had multiple social and professional commitments that took up his free time. And of course I took the cake as the over-committed, stretched-thin, perpetually exhausted queen of the elite “I Can Do It All” club. After moving to Costa Rica, where I was starting with a clean slate (in my calendar and To-Do list), I made the deliberate decision to only engage in tasks and activities that preserved the integrity of our new value system.
One of the main reasons we moved to Costa Rica was to allow us to reconnect as a family. As such, I have been exceedingly conscientious about only committing to tasks that are conducive to maintaining that most important value. I am also hoping to start making a living as a writer, so I put forth effort and time into activities that will help me achieve that goal, such as maintaining this blog and taking a Fiction Writing class. So I do yoga only while the kids are at school. I do not run on weekends anymore as that is my most important time with my family. We focus on attending social events where all four of us can participate, especially since we also want to establish ourselves as part of the Monteverde community. The only activity outside of school that the kids have is guitar lessons. I think musicality contributes to new language acquisition and discipline, so guitar lessons fit into our overall goal for the kids to learn Spanish.
The four of us used to lead very parallel lives in work and play, which of course meant we were all pulled in different directions with our time. Our lives are now much more integrated. All four of us go to Friday Night Burgers. We meet other families for lunch on weekends, instead of going our separate ways. We eat dinner together every night. This means I have said no to doing fun stuff on my own on evenings and weekends, but I don’t regret it because our family bonding has been bolstered. You too should eliminate activities that do not add value to your life, either at work or at home. Don’t be afraid to be stingy with your time.
Plan and Organize.
I know it sounds counterintuitive to create a calculated schedule and meticulous “To-Do” checklists in efforts to simplify. But planning and organizing really does lead to time-management simplification. When I was working an average of 70+ hours per week and trying to keep my family life afloat, I lived by my iPhone calendar and task list. Not only did I include deadlines on my calendar, I also entered times to specifically work on certain projects. I broke down my deadlines in sub-deadlines. I kept long-term (weeks, months) and short-term (for the day, week) task checklists. Even then there were time that events collided, but for the most part, I was productive at work and home with careful planning and organization. I was frazzled and at the verge of burn out, but productive! Old habits die hard. After I quit my job and moved to Costa Rica to be a stay-at-home mom and writer, I have continued this practice. At first, I deliberately tried not to plan, write checklists, or enter deadlines/activities into my iPhone calendar. And I found I was forgetting a lot of stuff, like meeting friends or taking the kids to guitar lessons. So even though my list of tasks and events is much shorter, I still use checklists and enter deadlines or activities into my calendar. This way, I am able to manage my time for effectively, and I am able to pluck out activities that are not in line with my value system. For example, I work on my blog content on Sundays while my children are playing Dungeons and Dragons and on Mondays when they are at school. I use Tuesdays to work on my YA novel. Wednesdays I alternate between volunteering at the children’s school and writing (usually the novel). Thursday mornings I either have a cooking lesson or go on a hike. Thursday afternoons I am working on my Pura Vida e-Books. By keeping track of those events, I am able to streamline my time when “extras” come up, such as lunch invites or requests to participate in community events. I also keep a daily and weekly To Do checklist (make bread, plan border hop, pay light bill, pay rent, etc), which also helps me with managing my time effectively. So even though I do find myself with a lot more time than I did even a few months ago, I still need to plan and organize in order to be productive.
Delegate tasks and chores at home and at work.
As a over-achieving woman, I used to be under the misconception that I had to do it all. As a physician, I held myself to the same standard as my male colleagues who had stay-at-home wives. As a wife and mother, I held myself to the same standard as my sisters who were stay-at-home moms. I also felt that if I asked anyone for help, either at home or at work, I felt like a failure. The end result was that I felt that I came up short in both worlds. Now that I have embraced the Pura Vida lifestyle, I no longer feel that way. I know I can have it all, but not at the same time! I have no problem asking Chris and the children to take on certain tasks at home. You are not a failure if you ask your partner or children to help with chores around the house. You are actually strengthening your bond as a family by making sure everyone feels some type of ownership of your home life. When everyone participates in household chores, then you form a greater sense of unity. The same goes for work. I gave up all my projects from work, even though my initial gut reaction was to keep them despite the fact I was not getting a salary anymore. Do not be afraid to outsource and delegate. Don’t even be afraid to give up projects or tasks that will not help advance your career goals. By delegating, you will be giving a peer or subordinate an opportunity to shine as well as freeing up your time for more productive endeavors.
Try this fun exercise:
1) Time yourself as you write down the entire alphabet and then the numbers 1-26 consecutively.
2) Time yourself as you write down the entire alphabet and the numbers 1-26, but alternate writing down a letter and a number.
You will notice you took longer when you were writing down the letters and numbers in alternating mode. You were more efficient when you focused on one task at a time. So contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking does not make you more productive. One of the reasons I write down daily and weekly “To-Do” checklists is to avoid multi-tasking. I focus on one activity at a time and check it off once it is accomplished. I carve out uninterrupted time to work on one thing to be more efficient.
Reduce your screen time.
“If you’re just starting out as a writer, you could do worse than strip your television’s electric plug-wire, wrap a spike around it, and then stick it back into the wall. See what blows, and how far.” — Stephen King
I think this advice from Stephen King can apply to everyone, not just aspiring writers. I never believe anyone when they say, “I don’t have time to [insert activity here].” Usually this is said in the context of exercising. I avoid this phrase like the plague because I know I am lying when I use it. Time is not something you have, but something you make. If something is important to you, you will make time for it. This can be writing, exercising, eating healthy, spending more time with your family, reading, helping others, or any other aspect of your life. And when you find yourself in a situation where you need to make time for something like exercising or spending time with your family, the first thing that should go is your screen time. Turn off the TV….or blow it up like Stephen King recommends. Unplug the tablet or computer. By no means am I suggesting that you eliminate screen time completely. As I often point out to my kids, and I am sure this applies to many people, time in front of the computer is not necessarily pure entertainment or a time sink. We are working! But be honest with yourself about how much you spend on watching neuron-killing YouTube videos, playing Candy Crush, participating in Facebook games, and responding to tweets that pissed you off. That is the screen time that must go if you ever find yourself saying, “I don’t have time to…..”. Hey, using screen time for fun and entertainment is totally OK, just don’t let it isolate you from your family or keep you from truly enjoying real life. And don’t trick yourself into believing that you don’t have time to do something that could be valuable (exercising) if you are unlocking some ungodly level of Candy Crush.
Don’t underestimate the power of boredom.
Sometimes my children will come up to me and tell me they are bored, usually during our mandatory “unplugged” sessions. I then proceed to tell them that they have to entertain themselves, by either reading, writing, practicing guitar, or playing outside. It was during one of their “boring” times that my children built bug hotels, made their forts, and started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Personally, I would give my left pinkie to have the luxury of feeling “bored” at any time. Boredom gives you the opportunity to try those things you were always too busy to try. Your mind is clear and fresh to think of new ideas. Consider yourself lucky if you ever have the option of feeling “bored”.
Stop viewing resting and down-time as wasted time.
As an over-achiever, I used to feel that if I was not working or doing something active, I was wasting time. I do not feel that way anymore. I like being able to take a nap on a Saturday afternoon. I like waking up early every weekend morning just to stay in my fleece pajamas, drink coffee, and watch mindless junk on Netflix. After spending my mornings relaxing, I am up for a hike with the kids or lunch with friends. Resting time is not wasted time. Time spent resting and unwinding recharges you so that you can be more productive later on. Embrace your time spent relaxing and doing nothing!
What else have you done to simplify your time commitments? Let me know in the comments below.
- Take the Pura Vida Challenge! (puravidafamilia.com)