Hello, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the trio of “Be Well, Write Well” interviews from Julie Maloney, Carol Van Den Hende, and Karen Kaufman Orloff. I learned a lot from studying their habits and schedules. Schedules and commitments are at the forefront of my mind these days, as I recently did an interview on the “Best of Both Worlds” podcast about how to find and maintain work/life balance. (You can listen to the episode here.)
In preparing for the interview, I took a hard look at my schedule in both a macro and micro way, and asked myself whether my priorities and values were truly reflected in my daily and weekly commitments. I decided to work with a rough, very idealistic formula to help me evaluate whether I was achieving that goal. Here’s what I came up with; I hope you find it useful in evaluating your schedule as well!
In an ideal world, Schedule = Priorities/Time
What Are My Priorities?
If you can’t already name your values and priorities, start by asking yourself the following questions:
In three words, how would you want to be described?
These three roles should reflect how you spend most of your time. For me, those words are writer, teacher, and mom. If I’m a writer who’s not making time for writing, or a teacher who isn’t focused on her students, or a mother who spends more time managing the household than spending quality time with her children, I’m not living up to my description.
Is there a word that ties all three of these words together? Does your life have a theme?
It may not be the case for everyone, and even for me it’s a bit of a stretch to the imagination, but I realized that if my life were to have a one-word theme, it would be creativity. I strive for creativity in my writing work, in my teaching career, and in my daily parenting. If you can find that one word, it can help you decide whether something new is a good fit for your life. Does it match your theme? If not, don’t add it.
This mindset was recently tested for me when I was made aware of a new job opportunity in my district. I was tempted by the higher pay and change in status. But ultimately, I realized the idea of working at this job made me feel creatively depleted, not creatively enriched. So I chose not to pursue it.
How Do I Find Time For My Priorities?
Next, take a closer look at your schedule. If you can, track your time for a week or two; you will likely find it enlightening. You can use a small journal, a spreadsheet, or an app like Toggl or Rescue Time. According to Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (and the co-host of the aforementioned “Best of Both Worlds” podcast) most people work fewer hours and get more sleep than they think. We tend to remember the interrupted nights and the twelve-hour days at the office, but those are often outliers. If you add up your hours of daily work (not counting things like lunch and Facebook breaks) and sleep, then average them out over the week, you may be surprised.
Even as a mother of two kids under six, I average 7.5 hours of sleep daily. A few nights a week, I’m woken up by a crying baby, but I make up for that time by sleeping in and taking naps on the weekends. I can choose to remember those nights of broken sleep, or I can look at my time tracker and feel reassured that, on average, I’m doing fine. Tracking your time can help with an overall sense of perspective.
If you can identify an area of your schedule where you feel you’re wasting time that could be spent on more valued projects, ask yourself three questions:
1) Can you get rid of it?
Does it really need to be your responsibility? A great example of this is housework; you could outsource laundry or cleaning. You could also negotiate for chores with your spouse that might suit you better: for example, driving the kids to their afternoon activities, and getting some writing or reading time while you wait, instead of making dinner.
2) Can you compartmentalize it?
If you have to do it, try to make it as efficient as possible. Every Sunday, I have a “kitchen hour” where I take care of all the weekly food prep like packing snack bags and washing produce, as well as other tasks like opening mail, filling out school forms, etc. During the week, if something crosses my desk, I can put it in the Sunday pile without a moment’s worry, because I know that I’ll get to it during my kitchen hour. This may not save much time, but certainly clears out mental space.
3) Can you find a way to enjoy it?
Sometimes we really need to do things that don’t suit our core values and priorities, or perhaps suit them in a roundabout way, such as going to an unproductive meeting simply because you want to show your boss that you’re committed. If you have to do it, try to get something out of it! Can you use your commute to work for thinking up funny haiku about traffic? Can you listen to an audio book about writing craft, or the DIY MFA podcast, while you’re running errands? Can you dance while vacuuming, or have a conversation with your child while folding laundry? If you multitask with the menial but necessary tasks, you may find more time to go deep with your creative work.
Keep in mind: a schedule is a necessary evil if we want to accomplish our life’s goals. But if things don’t go according to plan, be forgiving. If you need to sleep late one morning because your child woke you at midnight, and you end up missing your writing time, let it go. Move onto the next thing. The only way we continue to climb is by allowing ourselves to stumble now and then.
Does your schedule reflect your priorities? Why or why not? What can you do this week to make a change?
Leanne Sowul is a writer and teacher from the Hudson Valley region of New York. She’s the curator of the website Words From The Sowul and authors the “Be Well, Write Well” column for DIY MFA. She writes historical/literary fiction and memoir; her work is represented by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary Agency. Connect with her at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com, at Facebook.com/sowulwords, or on Twitter @sowulwords.