ICM501

Managing Time In a Time of Chaos

My time isn’t just managed, it’s micromanaged. Subdivided into 120 hourly chunks a week, each with a very specific assigned task. Work. Play. Sleep. Repeat. This stringent hourly planning of time started when my kids went to school and I took a series of remote jobs that filled over 60 hours of my week to make ends meet. No hour was left untouched. At the beginning of the week every single second was put in place on a grid. Every minute was planned. And starting at 7am every Monday morning I would walk through that plan, step by step. When interruptions happened (snow days, sickness, mental breakdowns, the usual), the plan would be adjusted, typically with sleep being the first thing to go. But it worked. I got the jobs done. I paid the bills. I raised my kids. And I landed myself where I wanted to be just a few years later. Starting my fifth year of teaching with two reasonably adjusted middle schoolers.

At this point in my life, I could almost say I have achieved something I would dare to call “balance.” Work. Play. Sleep. Repeat. I find myself enjoying most of what I am doing. My top priority is my kids, but I have an amazing career too. After reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In this summer, I realize that I have leaned out more than I’ve leaned in. The pull of the concrete responsibilities of work has often been alluring compared to the mindless, vague, unending messiness of raising young children. But the kids have always won. Causing me to take jobs I didn’t necessarily want, doing things I didn’t necessarily want to do, to have the flexibility to be present more than I would have otherwise.

But I think that leaning out was the right move. I have often been afraid to lean in either direction, out of fear of tipping too far to one side. There’s no room for leaning when you are in a constant balance struggle. Leaning would result in toppling over. Let’s just stay right here, centered and grounded in the middle. Let’s not lean anywhere, just in case. So instead of leaning, I plan and schedule. I compartmentalize. I structure my days, with each hour serving its higher purpose. The rigidity probably sounds like a nightmare to some people, but for me it works. It enables me to get things done. Productivity is one of my favorite words, checking things off the to-do list gives me that sweet feeling of accomplishment.

My time is so micromanaged, that when I sat down to estimate the time I spend on a variety of tasks each week, I was able to account for 164 hours. There are 168 hours in a week. I was only missing four.

Time Management for Weary Working Moms

The best way to create an hourly schedule is to start by tracking your time, by the hour, for a week. This will help give you a sense of how much time you are spending on each task, and how much time you need to spend on certain responsibilities.

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Then create an hourly tracking sheet. I only schedule the week days, and leave my weekends open. The recharge is essential.

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Exercise is the first thing that goes on my schedule. Mental health always comes first. Blocking out time for exercise means that you are accountable to doing it. Once it’s on the schedule, there are no more excuses. You just show up.

Next come the things that absolutely can’t change. The meetings and appointments. Don’t forget to add a buffer for travel, and for work meetings add in time for planning and debriefing after the meetings. These are really important to making the most out of that time spent on endless committees.

Schedule in work. I like to work in blocks on specific tasks, setting up time to work more deeply on curriculum development, course design, and learning resource development. These are the things that require full concentration, so I place them during times when I know I will be fed, surrounded by quiet, and focused (typically after exercise). I build in smaller blocks for grading, with breaks in between, and try to place email at the beginning and end of the day.

Then I add in the kids. Drop off and pick ups from school. Meal prep. Sports practices and games. Concerts and coding clubs. Some time for art, some time for technology. And some time for fun together as a family.

Finally I add in “me” time – drinks with a friend, or time with my crafts, or even just pre-bed reading time. These are the things that keep me motivated, and remind me that yes, I am a person too.

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Once you create the schedule, it’s easier to stick to it. That doesn’t happen perfectly every single week. But you quickly start to see how you are spending your days, and where you need to make adjustments. You also might decide something is just no longer a priority. Drop it off your list – and maybe you’ll come back to it some other day.

Scheduling every hour of your week seems really dramatic but if you have a plan for how you are going to spend every hour at a glance you can quickly see what’s important and what’s not important. You can also constantly shift things around or find where you might be able to give up an hour of something to get an hour of something else. It helps you to set those priorities in place especially if you’re working on big projects. It can also help you to commit to the little things that preserve your sanity. Scheduling every hour of my week is something I do when I need to reset my life and get myself back on track, feeling like I’m making forward progress. It doesn’t need to happen every single week, but if you’re feeling like your life is spiraling out of control with too many things to do, I encourage you to give it a try. You might be surprised by what you learn about yourself – and how you adjust the ways you spend your time.

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