Every month I do a check-in on my goals for the year, to keep myself accountable and remind myself every month to get back on track for things I’ve neglected. You can check out last month’s report out here, if you’re interested.
One of the questions I got in the comments and on Twitter is how on earth I have so much time. After all, I’m the mother of three boys, ranging in age from 13 to 2. I’m the breadwinner of my family. I write four blog posts per week. I have a demanding job in IT, usually leaving the house at 7 AM and getting back home between 6 and 7 PM. I’m in a leadership development program at work, and I read/review four books every month. I also have personal goals related to family, trips, art, and baking. How do I find the time to do all of this?
I get asked the same thing at work, actually. I can accomplish more in one eight hour day than my co-workers can in a 12 hour day. In fact, most of my co-workers believe I work 55-60 hour weeks – or more – and I don’t bother to correct them. In fact I found I could relate to this article by Harvard Business Review, where men are pretending to work 80 hour weeks. Although I’m not a man, obviously. One of my co-workers once told me they’ve only read about people like me in books, and I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or a backhanded way of calling me weird. Probably both.
I don’t find the time – I make the time, through both the things I do and the things I don’t do. Remember that we all have the same 168 hours in a week, whether you’re a corporate CEO or a college student. If you’re sleeping 8 hours per night, which I do, you need to subtract 56 hours for sleeping. So that leaves 112 hours. Let’s say I spend about 11 hours per day working and commuting, five days a week (about right most weeks). That’s another 55 hours gone, so I still have 57 hours to do everything else.
Guys – that’s a lot of hours!
I remember a few months ago Laura Vanderkam was doing a book tour through the various podcasts I listen to about her new book “168 hours“. I found myself nodding along, thinking about all the wasted time most people have in their days/weekends. Check out her TED talk on the topic below.
So how do I do it? How do I accomplish more in a day of work than some co-workers do all week? How can I accomplish so many of my personal goals? It’s through both the things I do, and the things I don’t do.
I can still remember reading a list like this in The Tightwad Gazette, one of my favorite personal finance books when I was young and broke. Amy Dacyczyn, the author, went through how she “did it all”. The secret was that she didn’t really do it all. She selected things that didn’t add value to their lives and just…didn’t do them. But the things that added value for her and her family were priority. I still try to keep that in mind today, when something is taking up my time. Is this actually worth the time I’m spending?
Now, a warning – YOU WILL HAVE A DIFFERENT LIST THAN ME. Some of my “must do’s” won’t matter to you. And some of the things I don’t do will be important to you, and you’ll want to do them. Or maybe you’ll have to do them because no one else will. That’s fine. I’m going to assume that you’re not the female breadwinning, sole income earner of a family of five working in a demanding IT job (and if you are, Hi! drop me an e-mail, Internet twin), so it would make sense that your list is different than mine.
Find the things that don’t add value to your life and ruthlessly cut them.
Here are the things I don’t do. No apologies.
- Cook dinner on weeknights – My husband does that
- Take care of the baby when he wakes up in the middle of the night – Ditto
- Clean the house – Same. And I have low standards, as long as it’s relatively clean it doesn’t need to be spotless. I have three young boys – white glove level clean is not a priority.
- Make lunches for school/work – My husband does that too
- Police homework/studying, which is to be done when the kids get home from school – Yeah, my husband does this too. Although when my oldest needs help with his homework that falls on me. I’ve had text message conversations helping him with math.
- Drop off/pick up oldest from his magnet school bus stop – Yup, same answer (thanks dear!)
- Do the laundry – You guessed it
- Have my kids in a million activities – I’ve made this mistake in the past and it disrupts my kids and our family. The oldest focuses on Boy Scouts, and he’s currently a First Class scout. My middle son does band (but that’s during school), drama club, and Cub Scouts. No running around the state with travel sports or having my weekends taken up with tons of activities
- NOTE: This is because my older boys aren’t interested in sports. My oldest goes to an art school, he’s very artistic and pretty much hates all sports. My middle son has done soccer in the past, and tried football, but didn’t like them. If they enjoyed sports I would encourage their interest, but they don’t.
- Watch TV – I don’t have cable, and haven’t had it in many years. We have Netflix, HBO, and Amazon Prime streaming, but I literally only watch 1-2 hours per week unless I’m sick or something. Why? I actually don’t like watching TV. Yes, this means that when people are talking about the cool new TV shows or advertisements I can’t join in. And I don’t really care. I’d rather be learning something than watching TV
- Go out to eat – This is a time suck in addition to a money suck. You have to drive the the restaurant. Be seated. Order food. Wait for food. Try to entertain toddler so he doesn’t scream and throw utensils everywhere. Eat food. Drive home. We go out only once a month or so. It’s expensive for a family of five, and making food at home just saves so much time. The hour and a half spent at a restaurant can be spent making a dinner that will last two nights, and the $40-$60 it cost can buy groceries for many meals
- Shopping for fun – I hate shopping. I don’t like going to the store and shopping for clothes, trinkets, stuff, etc. I order things off Amazon if I need something specific, and I do all my grocery shopping at one warehouse club store once a week.
- Fancy hair, makeup, or clothes – All my clothes match, and that’s done on purpose. I am not a fashionable person. I wear black pants and a matching shirt every day, and jeans and nice shirts on Fridays. Weekends it’s jeans and a shirt. Since everything matches I don’t need to spend time thinking about what to wear. And I ruthlessly purged any clothes I don’t wear, so my closet is full of good (to me) things. It takes me only 10-15 minutes to get ready in the morning, including hair and makeup.
- Coffee and lunches at work – I pack my lunch and my coffee. I have a French press at my desk and make myself fresh coffee (ground in the morning) every morning and afternoon. Most of my co-workers spend at least an hour per day getting lunch, breakfast, and coffees at the work cafeteria.
- Chit chat at work – I try not to be rude about it, and I’ll have a few short conversations about weekends and such. But most times I get straight down to work. I don’t want to waste my time, or theirs, talking about how the other person is drinking a lot of water lately and needs to go to the bathroom a lot (?!? a real conversation someone tried starting with me the other day).
- Working evenings, weekends, and on vacation – Working in IT sometimes you need to work late or on a weekend, but the key here is need. My standard for needing to work those times is very high. I’d rather get more accomplished during the day so I have my nights and weekends free. I have plenty of co-workers that think they’re rocking it because they’re online until 11 PM sending e-mails. No you’re not, you’re just inefficient. “Work expands to fit the time available” – so I shrink the time available.
You can see that a large part of the “things I don’t do” are taken by my husband. That was part of the stay at home dad deal, that his job would be running the household and enabling me to succeed at work. So when I do need to travel, work late, etc. he’s running around with the three boys. If the two year old wants to stay up but I want to go to bed, I go to sleep and my husband stays up. In the past we’ve had different arrangements, where my husband and I worked opposite full-time shifts, and then I did more of the cooking/cleaning. Just not now.
I also don’t get caught up in the guilt of the “things a good mom should do.” I don’t care what other people do. If someone else wants white glove standards of clean, or is part of a two earner household where chores are split more evenly, or their kids love sports – that’s fine, you don’t need to defend your choices to me. This is just what I do, and what works for me and my family at this point in our lives. I fully expect this to change and shift over time, just as it has in the past 15 years I’ve been married.
Things I Do
“All right CMO,” you may be thinking, “now I know what you don’t do. Well what do you do to get more time? This must be where the secret is!”
No secret here, but these are the things I do:
- Early to bed and early to rise – I go to bed between 8 and 9 every day – even weekends. And I get up between 4 and 5 AM. Why? So I have more time in the mornings to write and read.
- Early to work – I leave for work at 7 AM and arrive before 8 AM. This is significant because no one else gets to work that early. I get there about an hour before most, which gives me plenty of time to prepare for the day, respond to e-mails, and so on.
- Use driving time – I have a 45 minute commute each way, so an hour and a half a day. With that time I listen to podcasts to learn about personal finance or life in general. Stacking Benjamins, Afford Anything, Her Money, So Money, The Money Guy, and the Tim Ferriss Show are all in my weekly rotation.
- MIT List – At work in my early mornings I make what I call a MIT list. It stands for “Most Important Things,” and it’s the list of three things I must accomplish that day, no matter what happens. I don’t leave work until those three things are done. Sometimes I get them done early, sometimes later, but they always get done. Focusing on just three things helps me not lose focus throughout the day, and makes sure I get those things done. You can use the same concept in your personal life too.
- Lists everywhere – I have a lot of lists. Grocery lists. To do lists. Lists of improvements I want to make with the house. Follow-up lists. Lists of ideas for blog posts. Lists of notes from books. I love lists. Where are they? All over. Some on paper, on post-its, on my phone, and on my computer. Why? Because as my life and work gets busier and more complex, I need an external brain to remember all those things I may forget. Those lists are my external brain
- Low(er) standards – Things don’t need to be perfectly clean. I’m not going to re-do the laundry if it’s “not folded right”. I don’t need a fancy gourmet meal every night. My kids don’t need to be dressed in the latest clothes. I don’t need to be extra fashionable. Now this doesn’t mean everything is in chaos, but it does mean I don’t need everything to be perfect.
- Read fast – This is how I read so many darn books. This isn’t really something I can tell you how to do, because I don’t know how I do it. I’ve always been a voracious reader, ever since I was a little kid. My older kids are like this too.
- Clear Priorities – My list of my annual goals are my priorities. Since I have a limited list, it’s clear to me what I need to be working on when I have some extra time. Whether it’s writing, reading, gardening, art, redoing the house, or something else – those are my priorities for the year. Having them clearly laid out helps me to focus my time and energy in the areas I’ve decided to accomplish for the year.
You Don’t Need To Make The Most Of Your Time
I wanted to be sure to mention that there are times in your life that you don’t need to be focused on making the most of every waking hour. I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt: like when my husband was seriously ill, when I was making it through a difficult pregnancy, when my grandmother was dying of cancer, or when I had a newborn in the house. Sometimes the only goal is just making it through that minute, hour, or day.
AND THAT’S OK!
No guilt allowed here. If you’re just focused on making it through a rough patch in life, put your goals on the shelf for a bit and cut yourself some slack. You can pick them up again later when the difficult time has passed. In my life I’ve gone through a number of phases, sometimes when I can aggressively pursue my goals, and other times I need to put them on the shelf and focus on survival. Your life will go through phases too, and whatever’s difficult now will pass.
Remember, it doesn’t matter what others are accomplishing. If someone else has started a successful business and retired a multi-millionaire at 30 while you’re struggling to make sure you’ve brushed your teeth every day, you can feel like you’re failing at life. But you’re not failing just because your accomplishments, dreams, and goals are different than someone elses. Focus on yourself – you are the only person you can impact.
You Have As Much Time As Anyone Else
Don’t let yourself get caught up in negative thoughts about “why this doesn’t apply to me”, or “that thing she cuts is something I have to do, so I can’t accomplish as much.” That kind of thinking doesn’t get you closer to accomplishing what you want in life. Instead it drags you down into negativity where you are making excuses for yourself.
Even if you’re going through a rough patch and you can’t do these things, just own it. Instead of getting negative about “why this doesn’t apply to me,” and feeling bad about it (or worse, angry at someone in a different stage of life than you) re-frame the way you’re think about it. Perhaps it’s “My goal right now is making it through pregnancy and life with a newborn.” Or “my goal is to survive the next minute, day, month”. Or “my goal is to make sure we have food in the house every week.” Our thoughts are powerful things, and if we can re-direct them into more a positive framework you’ll see just how much you’re accomplishing. Those days when my husband was in the ICU on a ventilator, my only goals were to spend as much time with him as I could, and make sure there was someone to take care of the boys. Literally everything else – my MBA, my work, everything – was tossed with no regrets.
The key is to really think about it – what are your priorities? What are the things you can cut to save time? What do you need to keep? Where could you accept help so you’re not “doing it all”? And if you are in a rough path, how do you rework your goals so you can keep moving forward, even if it’s in a different direction than you had expected?
Where are you spending your 168 hours?
What have you ruthlessly cut out of your life? What are the things you do to get more out of your day? I’m always looking for new tips and tricks – let me (and your fellow readers) know in the comments.
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