How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives—Annie Dillard
“Oh, I wish I had more time."
“But, I don't have enough time."
I would have done this if there were 28 hours in my day
I have both said and heard these words (or a version of them) many times in my life. Most of us would gladly receive more hours in our days. Yet, the reality is that no matter who you are, no matter where you live or what you do, this number is a constant. We all have 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week and 8,760 hours in a year.
Given this constraint, the real question is what can we do in these limited number of hours to make the most of our life—especially as mothers.
Before I had kids, my life felt pretty full with everything that filled up my day. I often wondered, how will I fit kids in my life without really giving up my life—my time for myself and for others?
Then, when I was pregnant with my second one, I wondered again how will I fit another child into an already full life?
And yet as I look back at the last three years, I feel incredibly grateful to say that yes being a parent and having a rich, soulful life is absolutely possible.
As a mother, I exercise more, eat more home-cooked meals and feel more fulfilled professionally than I have in the past. Yes, this also means I have attended fewer events and yoga classes. I have gotten better at saying no to or leaving early from social engagements. I know a little less about what's happening in the world and my house is messier than ever.
You get the point. It's about making intentional choices based on what's important to me at any given stage of my life.
I think about these issues a lot, as a mom of two young children who has previously worked as a mindfulness coach.
Here are some of my guiding principles to make the most of my time in my day—
I clarify my values
This is my core foundation of being very clear on what is important to me. Over time I have learnt that some of my values will always remain the same but there are many that change and that is okay.
I manage my energy
When I think of tasks to be done, I like to think of what truly fuels me, what's energy neutral and what's depleting. Then I like to think of the right balance between the three at any given point. Are there activities that really don't need to happen or perhaps not as frequently? For example, I love to cook but I don't like doing the dishes so I choose to do more of the former and less of the latter to ensure I am spending my time to optimize my energy.
I prioritize compassion
Once I can do the above two effectively, it's time for saying yes and saying no with awareness. It means saying yes to reading a book or a writing in a thank you card at the end of the day but saying no to doing dishes or watching TV. It means leaving early (with kindness & gratitude) from a social engagement so I can take an afternoon nap.
I assess in big chunks of time
I also like to look at my life in chunks of weeks or more. The way I spend every hour of my time on a Sunday or Monday may not align fully with my values but when I look at it in large chunks, things seem much, much better.
I find small nuggets of time
And despite the above, the magic often happens in small chunks – 10 mins of exercise or meditation, 5 extra minutes of cuddles before bedtime, blog ideation in the car and writing in three sessions over a week. If I expect to have hours and hours to do what is energizing, I am in bad luck.
I buy time
Yes, there is the obvious one of outsourcing what I don't like and can afford to pay someone but there are also more creative ways of buying time. Recently, we started a swap with a dear friend where we watch the kids one Sunday morning and they watch the kids another Sunday. It's a lovely adventure for the kids and we adults get a break to spend time doing non kiddo things.
I avoid overwhelm
There are times when I feel like I am chronically time-starved. To me, that's a reminder that I either need to lower the quality or the quantity of the tasks that I have signed up for. Maybe we can do a simple meal one night or not make plans for a Sunday afternoon hike. Perhaps I need to take a day off from work. (Yes, please!)
I watch my words
Finally, it's about how I talk to myself and to others about my life.
If I keep saying oh no, I am so busy, I have no time, this will be my reality of exhaustion and overwhelm. If I tell myself, I am spending my time in ways that matter and my life is full and abundant with beautiful and challenging experiences, I feel better!
I'd love to have an extra hour in my day but until then I am grateful for these rich, luxurious, sometimes crazy, chaotic yet incredibly meaningful 24 hours in my day.