Last week, at 11pm, I was listening intently to be sure my daughter fell back asleep. She just randomly threw up, right out of a dead sleep, all over Pinky (her favorite stuffed bear…yes, pink), her blankets and herself. It’s was freezing…so the last thing I wanted to be doing was crawling out of my warm bed for anything…much less puke. But, as a loving mommy, I cleaned her, the carpet and the bed up; threw all the nastiness in the laundry; rocked her for a couple of minutes; laid her down and watched her for a couple more minutes and scurried back to bed. I happened to look at the clock when I left and came back to the room. It was 10:39 when I went in there and 10:51 when I came back. I was surprised, because I was sure it was much later than that. But it started me thinking about time and the apparent chronic shortage of it.
I actually started becoming more aware of time when I was in the throes of multi-tasking and used the microwave. I know weird, right? Let me explain. I’m constantly trying to keep the clean level one step above toxic…which, with two little ones, is nearly impossible. The kitchen is my absolute pet peeve…I hate it looking messy.
Okay, back to the point here. A lot of times when I’m in the kitchen I’ll heat up a cup of water for tea while I’m cleaning. I put it in for 1-2 minutes. While it is heating I’ll start to wash or put away dishes, wipe down counters, sweep, etc… What I noticed was actually how little time many things took to accomplish. I could have dishes in the drying rack put away before the microwave finished. I could have a small load of dishes completely washed. (If you’re wondering, yes, we have a dishwasher and no I hate using it…I forget the dishes are in there.) Or I could have all the counters wiped down. Any one of these were done in approximately 2 minutes of my life!
That got me thinking about all the other things we do day-to-day and how much time it really takes and I was curious. So, I timed myself one day. I didn’t race the clock…just did my normal activity and tracked how long it took to do different day-to-day chores. Before I list the results I need to note that if I started a chore I didn’t stop it until it was completed…kid interruptions and all. Here are my results on various random daily activities:
Hang up coat 00:25 sec
Lotion and sunscreen 00:25 sec
Hair dry, flat-iron and makeup w/ 3 kid interruptions 12:12
Cleaning master bathroom w/ 2 yr old 10:54
Unloading dryer, loading dryer, putting in another load w/ 2 yr old 3:30
Cleaning pee stain out of mattress 30 sec
Separating out the Sunday paper 5:42 (My ritual…take out the coupons and pull out the sections I like to read indepth…travel, food and opinion sections…and briefly skim through the other sections)
Putting away dishes 3:20
Doing breakfast dishes…with dried on food 2:57
Grocery store to pick up staples to get us through the week with 2 kiddos 1 hr
Folding 3 enormous loads of laundry 1 hr
Putting away the 3 enormous loads 16:16
As you can see, the only thing that was majorly time-consuming was the laundry. Everything else was under 13 min. So, why do I, like so many others, feel there is just no time? I had to ponder that question for a while… Here’s what I came up with for me…
I can start to put away dishes, only to be ambushed by two kiddos that are so starving they cannot function one more second unless I get them something to eat at that very instant. (Really seeing a career in theater for both of them…). So, I get distracted, feed them before they hound me into the ground, and then try to remember what I was doing previous to quelling growling stomachs. This goes on all day. (Hell, as I’m trying to type this article I’ve been interrupted no less than 3 times from children and phone….wait, make that 5…eldest child just walked in again and the phone is ringing….sigh.)
According to the limited information I could find, it takes somewhere between 5 and 25 minutes to re-focus after a distraction. Based on that information, it’s amazing that I can get anything done! And if you are in an open office setting at work, like I am, a person is interrupted every 8 – 11 minutes. Phew….that must mean we are REALLY efficient for those couple of minutes we get re-focused and work.
2. To Do List Too Long
Oh how I am feeling it now, with my husband deployed! Laundry, cleaning, prep for Christmas, play with kiddos, gifts for teachers, grocery shopping, make breakfast/lunch/dinner, break up random children fights, get homework done, baths, books, bed…and on and on. Oh and somewhere catch a couple hours of sleep. I don’t have to tell all of you this…we all have our own versions of this. This leads me to what we do with this list so massive it makes Santa’s list look like a post-it note…
3. Prioritization and Re-Prioritization of Needs (AKA The Juggling Act)
We’re doing it all the time. I just did it right after I put our daughter down for a nap. Having a couple of hours to get things done is heaven…but what to do. Wrap Christmas gifts, re-plant the bamboo that is starting to die from being squished in a too small container, do the laundry, finish the biscotti for the teacher’s gifts…oh and there are plenty more to choose from. My initial reaction was to re-plant the bamboo and I actually started to do that, when I realized it’s quiet and I can have full thoughts while wide awake versus when I’m falling asleep trying to type my thoughts down in my bed. So the bamboo is holding on for a couple more hours and the gifts will be wrapped tonight, along with the laundry…and I will be happy because I finished this article! The frustrating part comes when I am prioritizing needs and very few, if any of them, are my own needs. I have no problem putting my family first, but if it gets to the point that my tank is empty then no one else is happy. So, this juggling act must also be a parallel juggling of family versus my needs. Sometimes they come first (okay, many times), but sometimes it’s me.
And here is the eldest again…distraction #6.
Didn’t even get a word typed and we are on to distraction #7…the youngest is up from her VERY SHORT nap.
#8…my mom is Skyping in…sorry mom, I have to get this article done!
#9…Youngest child is upstairs pooping and has kicked me out, eldest is downstairs pooping and just announced he has accidentally pee’d all over the floor and his pants in his race to the bathroom.
#10…Daughter has now finished in the bathroom, of which I race upstairs to avoid random butt streaks somewhere I don’t want them…and now she has found the M&M dispenser (holiday treat only) and is asking me how to get them out. (Can’t make this up…I’m writing literally as it is happening. I am amazed at my focusing abilities right now.)
#11…Daughter finds away into the M&M dispenser by knocking it over.
Okay, so where was I…oh yes, how does one handle all this. Well, I am sure it is different for everyone, but here’s my survival tips
I have them on my phone and at work. The one thing I never do is combine the two. Work to do stays at work and my home stuff stays on the phone.
2. Have a game plan
I notice that when I don’t take 10 minutes at night and figure out what I’m doing the next day I am not nearly as productive. When I know what I want to accomplish the next day then I can prioritize much easier.
3. Keep the To Do List reasonable
My husband is notorious for saying “we’ll do that this weekend/tomorrow/tonight” and before you know it, he has put 15 things on the to do list and we’re lucky if we accomplish 5…which gets me very frustrated. I do my best to have only about 3 things I want to accomplish in a weekend. If we get it done, then bonus, we don’t add more…we go do something fun! Then we feel accomplished and reward ourselves too. Of course, remember to make the to do list fun with kids if you want them helping with future “to do’s”.
4. Try to tone down the distractions
Riiiggghhtttt….no seriously….shut the phone off, leave the email/Facebook off, lock children in room (okay, joke…maybe a good time to get that Christmas show on). I’ve just ignored Skype and two phone calls. I have to realize I cannot be everywhere all the time. This article is priority number 1 at this moment. So, unless the kids have set the house on fire, I’m staying focused on getting this article done.
5. Be forgiving…to yourself.
I have been trying to write this article for a week with limited success. By the time it is evening and I’ve put the kiddos to bed I’m pretty exhausted. I’ll try to write and find I have fallen asleep, only to awake to the letter “h” repeated a bazillion times across my screen. (#12…Daughter is now crying because she cannot have more M&Ms.)
#13…Son comes out of bathroom sans pants and underwear wanting to know where the towels are and has conned his sister into helping him wipe up his pee.
6. Don’t try to control it…
I’ve had 13 distractions thus far and there is just nothing I can do about it. It is what it is. I just try to handle anything that might cause massive injury/death and then let the rest work itself out. Somehow they managed to clean up the pee and our son is upstairs changing his clothes. (No, I haven’t looked into the bathroom yet.)
#14…Phone is ringing again…I’m ignoring it.
#15…Skype, again…so sorry…got to ignore it.
7. Most importantly…LAUGH
This is in direct response to tip 6. Since I can’t control it, I might as well laugh. I have been giggling the whole time I’ve been typing. All the chaos that has ensued while putting this article together, just validates the article (and makes for some funny reading). My kids keep asking me why I’m laughing. I have no doubt they think mom has lost it.
What I realize from all of this…there is time. Things really do not take that long to do when I am able to focus. I just have to try to do it between many distractions. It may not be perfect and it may take longer than planned because of interruptions…but it will get done, eventually. And that is okay…I choose to embrace the chaos and laugh. Life it too unpredictable and short to not do otherwise. With the holidays upon us, it is important to keep this in mind.
#16…I just heard a loud crash upstairs…but no crying…so it can’t be that bad.
#17…The 2 y.o is now signing Jingle Bell Rock at the top of her lungs…distracting in the cutest sense. Followed by her throwing a cup at the 6 y.o. …not so cute. Time to wrap up this article.
I am feeling accomplished…this article is now done! I apologize for any typos or strange sentences…I’ve only had 18 distractions. (#18…Son is now in Minion slippers jumping on couch asking me about a piggy game…huh?). Time to go…