This is a post I wrote last year about how I made time to work toward a dream in the midst of raising an active toddler. Whether you are looking to make more time in your life for creativity, or for working on a big project, these tips are still so very applicable. I’m pulling them out of the archive to share again.
In a life filled with small children, a home to keep running and a relationship to invest in, where does a mama find time to work on a dream? Don’t despair, you can always make time when something is really important to you. Here are a few ways I found time to get to my goal of launching this blog.
1. I scheduled it.
Scheduling time to work toward an important goal is essential. When you write your dream-building time into your calendar you are making a commitment both to yourself and to your dream. When those hours are blocked off on your calendar and a conflict arises, it is so much easier to say, “I’m sorry, I’m already scheduled then.” Because you are.
Can you find one or two hours you can hold sacred each week? It should be a time that you can keep fairly consistent week to week. If you have small children, see the next tip.
2. I paid for it.
Writing a check to someone else to care for my child so I can go work is very motivating. I’m far less tempted to “just see what’s on Facebook” when I know how much I’m paying for my hour of screen time. I used those focused hours for tasks that needed my full, focused attention: Writing, solving tech issues, and reading up on new skills. This is my scheduled work time each week.
Can you afford a couple of hours of childcare each week for your small children? Hiring a mother’s helper to entertain kids while you work in a different room or trading childcare with another mom are affordable ways to find that space, too.
3. I made my work portable.
When my daughter was an infant I spent many hours each day nursing her. While that seemed like a great opportunity to read and research, invariably every time I needed to access a file it was on the computer or device that I did not have near me. I signed up for DropBox and moved my commonly accessed files there. Then I started using Workflowy and Evernote for my to-do list and project notes. Now I keep almost everything in the cloud, which means I can get to whatever I was working on earlier from wherever I happen to be now, regardless of which chair I’m sitting in or if I’m even at home. I also found a Bluetooth keyboard case for my iPad, which is small enough to tuck in the diaper bag and carry along with me.
In what ways can you re-imagine your work zone? How can you make it smaller or more portable so that it fits better into the flow of your day?
4. I lowered my expectations.
I take pride in a job well done, while staying just this side of being a perfectionist. But I can not do all that I want to do in my life, while raising a small child, unless I make peace with “good enough.” Instead of a spotless house, I define a swept floor, clean toilets, and a wiped-down counter as good enough. A shower, some gel in wet hair and a swipe of eyeliner is good enough. Simple graphics and clean design on my blog are good enough. Writing impressions of experience of motherhood with an authentic voice is good enough for now. In some later season of my life I can do these things better, but right now I live within good enough.
I have also had to get used to less than ideal working conditions: I work while my child sleeps, sometimes in the driver’s seat of my car. I stand at the kitchen counter and write while she plays near me. I research my tech troubles late at night before I find my answers and sometimes it takes more than one night. I have lists upon lists of ideas and goals and projects in notebooks that have pages covered with scribbled toddler drawings. It is not ideal. But if I had waited for ideal, you would not be here reading this article because this blog would not exist.
In what ways do you need to lower your expectations in order to get your dream to see the light of day?
5. I found pockets of time.
When Bean was a baby I would read books while she nursed. I read a lot those first few months! Remembering that, I started looking for other pockets of time that I could claim to focus on my blog project. In my life those gaps were mostly waiting for Bean to go to sleep or waiting for her to wake up, if she fell asleep in the car. For someone with older kids those gaps might be found on the sidelines during sports practice, at the doctor’s office, or in line for school pickup. I also looked at where I was spending time each week and dropped activities and commitments that I was no longer excited about. This is one tip to use sparingly, because your brain needs downtime, too. Don’t fill up all of your margins unless you what you are putting into those spaces is rejuvenating for you.
Where in your life can you find pockets of time that you can fill with small tasks like brainstorming, making lists or reading?
6. I relaxed my principles.
I was not going to be one of those moms who entertained my kid with an iDevice. Until I became one. It turns out there are some really well designed fun and educational games for toddlers that Bean really loves. She also enjoys looking at photos and videos on my phone. She gets to watch her life on replay, and I get a few minutes to finish something.
Are there any areas where you could relax a principle, whether it is letting your child watch an educational show one hour a week, or eating pre-prepared food a little more often?
7. I matched tasks to my energy level.
I am not a morning person. But I have a toddler who wakes up at 6AM, if not earlier. With that early start and a full day of keeping up with her, my brain is toast by dinner. I used to be able to work long into the night but that is no longer an option. Now my most productive times of day are late morning and early afternoon. So I have scheduled my childcare over those windows two days a week and I do my heavy lifting tasks then. Whenever else I find time during the day I do easy stuff – making idea lists, commenting on blogs and responding to emails, for example.
What is your most mentally productive time of day? What can you do to clear yourself some space during that window?
Little bits of time do add up, and using that time efficiently will get you where you want to go.