May 3, 2014

Compartmentalized time

Parenthood has redefined the concept of time for me in so many ways. In those early sleep-deprived, hazy weeks, the days seemed so long. Getting through the day was so challenging, that I could not fathom being able to get through weeks, months of caring for an infant. Eight months later, the days are still long (though much more manageable). But the months are very, very short. I cannot believe that my baby is approaching the one-year mark, and her first birthday will be here before we know it. She is closer to toddlerhood than to her newborn days, she is starting to wean (a whole other blog post), and she is growing up so quickly that I find myself scrambling to pause and commit to memory the wonderful, fleeting moments we share together now.

So, the cliche that the days are long but the years are short turned out to be true. But time has been altered for me in other ways as well. There are so many every day things that need to be done, items that need to be checked off the to-do list before I go to sleep, and freelance work to be completed before the deadline. In my pre-baby life, my time was structured. An eight-hour work day allowed me to focus on my work long enough to get into the groove of the project and get into the flow that led to an efficient completion of the task at hand. In other words, I had the luxury (yes, I think of an eight-hour work day as a luxury now) to allocate a significant amount of time to a project.

I miss being able to get into that rhythm, the "flow" mindset. My time has become compartmentalized by naps, nursing sessions, playtime, outdoors time, meals, and diaper changes. As a result, even things that I enjoy doing around the house, like organizing a closet, have been put on the backburner indefinitely. I never feel like I have enough time to complete a task in one go, and I don't give myself the freedom to leave a project half undone (the thought of having the closet innards spread out on the floor for 24 hours gives me the hives). And so, I end up not even starting on my to-do list because I am paralyzed by the thought of being unable to finish it.

This is not a unique problem. I have read plenty of advice (and there is SO much advice out there for new mothers, solicited or not) on being efficient and getting as much done as possible during nap time, etc. On a rare occasion, I do feel efficient, like I've accomplished something. But most of the time, shit just doesn't get done. Closets remain messy, blog posts remain unwritten, the pantry remains unpainted, and exercise remains a wishful thought. This is why I can only get my freelance work done at night, after everybody else goes to sleep. I know that I would have a couple of uninterrupted, quality hours to get my work done, and I am able to get in the flow. This is also why I continue to be sleep-deprived.

I haven't come up with a brilliant solution to this problem. If you are a parent, how do you manage to use your time efficiently? How do you get all the things done? Or, do you?


  1. Oh this so much, you put things into words so well. It is like that for us, except different :) In many ways I feel like I am so much more efficient than I was before because there is shit that needs to get done and I can not wait until the end of the week to do it (like I did before). For example, the clean and dry laundry would stay hidden in a cabinet under a bed waiting to be folded for days. Now I just do stuff. I am constantly busy, so you could say I am way more efficient than I was before because I do stuff instead of procrastinating the whole time.
    But in other ways, I feel like I am constantly running just to stay in the same place (like that analogy from the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland). The house is always pseudo-clean.
    I am impressed at your ability to work when everyone has gone to sleep. After 8 pm I am so completely tired that even watching a silly show on TV or a romantic comedy is too much and I just end up closing my eyes to recharge my energies for the night feedings.
    I am so much more efficient in the mornings. Even very early (around 5 or 6 am). That's when I get things done. But, in hindsight that has always been the case. I was never a night owl, when studying I needed to sleep. At 22 pm on I could never study . But I was well able to study and work at 4 or 5 am, after a good sleep.
    What gets me through feeling like I am doing things is setting objectives for each day, but only 1 main objective. Sometimes the objective is as simple as answering emails. Or writing 1 blog post. Or making everything clean in the house.
    And I also make a point of going out for a walk every single day, it really doesn't matter if it rains anymore. Also wearing something nice-ish every day or painting my nails when I find the 5 minutes to do so keeps my from feeling I am completely losing it (but my hair is often tangled).
    Also, even if I manage to get the "objective of the day" done, I have noticed, like you that time is flexible, that is, I try to get X or Y done, but I never know if it is going to be earlier or later during the day because I depend so much on when Yu is going to take long naps or not.
    I think you are doing great. And I look forward to reading about weaning!
    Wow, almost a year, time sure goes fast.

    1. Constantly running just to stay in the same place - that is such a perfect way of describing how I feel on most days! I am impressed with your efficiency and continued ability to keep getting stuff done. I went through a phase like that, but it was very short lived.

      Yeah, I've always been a night owl, that's how I can work at night. But unlike you, I'm pretty useless in the mornings, which makes it difficult to function in any meaningful capacity when my baby wakes up at 5:30 am, and I had gone to bed at midnight.

      I really like your idea of daily objectives, but having one main task to tackle each day. I also make daily to-do lists, which helps me focus on what needs to get done that day. But it would be super helpful for me to highlight one task as the main one to get done. And also, I really need to stop adding MORE things to my to-do list as I go about my day. That's just a recipe for feeling unaccomplished at the end of the day!

      Daily walks are so awesome! So glad you are able to do that. I try to do that too now that the long winter is over. My daughter behaves so much better when she is outside than when we are cooped up indoors. :)

  2. Oh Anna. It is hard! What has helped me is to sit down on a Sunday night and make a list of the things that are most important that I get done in the coming week. And yes, frequently "shower every day" is on that list. Then I can make a little schedule of when those important tasks can fit in. Everything else is gravy.

    The most important lesson for me to learn is that "all the things" will not get done. At least, not "all the things" that were done before baby. It's just not possible, so I had to let go. Like you said, the years go by so quickly and we will never get this time back. In 10 years we won't regret having a dirty shower or a messy closet, but we will regret not building towers with our kid or getting enough sleep so that we're not grumpy and short-fused.

    Now that Aaron is a toddler and plays independently (for short periods of time), I find it a little easier to get housekeeping done. I'll sit down with him and get him started on something (racing cars, playing with mega blocks, puzzles, etc), and then I can stand up and clean the microwave real quick. Or scrub a toilet. Or swiffer up the floors. Then I sit back down, read him a book, and then do another chore. Also, he likes to "help" me. So I can give him a washcloth, and he'll "clean" the floor while I wipe down the counters. I'm sure this stage will end soon, and I'll have to figure out a new tactic, but for now it works.

    The major sacrifice in my personal time has been reading books. Like your friend Amanda said, once I have a few minutes at night, I'd much rather sleep. Or I fall asleep reading. But I tell myself that the books aren't going anywhere and I can read them in a few years. :) Hang in there!

    1. Thanks for the words of support, Mary! Now, please tell me how you managed to learn to let go of wanting to get all the things done. I have acknowledged the fact that it's not possible, but it still nags at me every day when I see the dust bunnies all over the floor, or the unpainted pantry, etc. I'm definitely failing at the letting go part.

      It's great to hear about how things change with a toddler! I will be learning from your tactics when we reach that stage. :)