We Can Always Find the Time

We often describe our lives in abstractions, but happiness comes from making our day-to-day lives as good as possible.

Laura Vanderkam, I Know How She Does It

One night this week, after several late nights in the city for networking events and completing work assignments, I came home to find that my youngest daughter, Emily, had cut two new teeth and could pick up food from her little bowl and get it right into her mouth in one try.

When my oldest, Mary Pat, heard me come through the front door, she screamed, “MOMMY MISSED YOU!” and gave me the biggest hug. When I grabbed my shoes, bag and jacket to put them away, she started to cry thinking I was leaving again. “MOMMY DON’T LEAVE!” She grabbed my legs and held tight. It broke my heart.

I realized that, given my hectic (and somewhat unusual) schedule last week, I hadn’t really seen Mary Pat in the past two days. She was in bed by the time I got home, and she was still asleep when I left for work in the morning.

In these heartbreaking moments, it’s hard not to think, “Where did the time go?”

Some may think that these aren’t big moments that I’m missing and that it’s no big deal when Mary Pat misses me because I’m working, but these things are very important to me and greatly impact my satisfaction with my career and personal life. I just don’t want to live a life where I realize milestones after the fact or only see my kids for a few hours on the weekend. I don’t want my kids to cry thinking that I’m always leaving them. That’s not why I became a mother.

So, this week I put a lot of thought towards how I can make my time—my 168-hour week—work for me. How I can create a weekly schedule that works better for me and honors my values as a mother. How I can have a day-to-day schedule that makes me happy.

As many of you know from following the Mommy, ESQ. Twitter feed and Facebook page, I attended an event last week hosted by Driven Professionals at which Laura Vanderkam spoke. For those of you who don’t know of her, Laura is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, All the Money in the World, 168 Hours, Grindhopping, and I Know How She Does It. She’s an inspirational author and speaker and an expert in time management. Though the event kept me from sitting down to family dinner this week, I truly believe that it was one of the most productive events that I’ve been to in my adult life. I found answers to questions that I’ve been asking myself since before I started law school, and, for the first time in a long time, I embraced my schedule and life as completely within my control.

I learned that many of us (myself included) tell ourselves a story every day about our schedule and time…

I don’t have enough time!

I can never accomplish everything I need to accomplish!

I’m too busy!

Mathematically speaking, this just isn’t true. There are 168 hours in every week. It’s a fact. We tend to work about 50 to 55 hours during the week. If we sleep 8 hours a night, then we spend 56 of our 168 hours sleeping. That means we have about 57 hours, every single week, to do what it is that we want to do. How can we say that we don’t have enough time when we have an excess of 57 hours each week? Where are these 57 hours going?

I know where mine are going. In preparation for hearing Laura speak and all during the past two weeks week, I used the app “Toggl” to keep a time log. Although I am making time to do things that are important to me (i.e., playing with my kids, spending time with my husband, going apple and pumpkin picking), many of those 57 hours are going towards unproductive telephone calls and meetings, time spent worrying about how I’m not doing enough for my team, extra and unnecessary time spent on work projects, reading and drafting excessive e-mails and text messages, etc. This generally results in a 12+ hour work day and feeling disconnected during my dedicated family and “me” time.

At the event, we were all asked to identify a few things that we would commit to in order to better take control of our schedules and manage our time. I came up with the commitments below, dedicated myself to sticking with them this week, and I’ve noticed an amazing change in my productivity and attitude. For the first time since beginning to practice as an attorney, I feel like my schedule is within my control, and I finally feel like I am finding the time to accomplish everything I want to–personally and professionally–by the end of the day. I am sharing my commitments with you in the hopes that they can help you better manage your time, as well!

  1. I am continuing to keep a time log. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that my time log has become my accountability partner. She (yes, my time log is a woman) keeps me honest and focused throughout the day. She keeps me productive. She reminds me of where I am and what’s the most important or best way to spend my time at any moment. She helps me to question what I really want to be doing right now. For example, I know that when I’m at work and need to write in my log that I spent 15 minutes texting with my husband that that’s almost .2 hours that I’m behind on my billing for the day. If I waited to talk to him until the end of the day (if it isn’t an urgent conversation, of course), I could’ve had a productive .2 hours focusing on my clients’ needs and gotten out of work .2 hours earlier. Also, for example, when I’m spending time with my family at night and I draft an e-mail to my boss that probably could’ve waited until the morning, I have to report to my time log that I spent 30 minutes of dedicated family time away from my family. My time log puts a spotlight on how I spend my time, and I’m spending it and managing it better. Moreover, I’ve found that I’m less able to look back on my day and admonish myself for not doing enough because I can actually see where my time is going. I accomplish so much every single day!
  2. I check my e-mail only during the first 15 minutes of every hour. As many of you out there can agree, it’s very easy to get lost in a sea of e-mails. If I really wanted to, I could sit at my desk for 8 hours every day and only respond to other people’s e-mails. And, I would never make it to those items on my To-Do list that need to get accomplished. Laura recommended, and I’ve implemented it into my daily schedule, that I check e-mails for the first 15 minutes of every hour. During that time, I am present to respond to my clients’ pressing questions in a reasonable amount of time, and I am free for the next 45 minutes of every hour to accomplish items on my To-Do list. It’s really helped to keep me from feeling overwhelmed at any given moment of the day.
  3. I picked one night during the week to work late. Part of what makes my schedule feel “out of control” is that I feel like I might have to stay late to work on any given day. My husband will text me at 5:30 p.m. asking whether he needs to take out more breastmilk from the freezer and wants to know whether he needs to plan for me for dinner. I’ll start to feel panicked and rushed and indecisive about whether to stay or to go. It’s stressful, and I know a lot of you out there are going through the same thing. It’s stressful not to know when your daily responsibilities as an employee end and where your motherhood responsibilities begin. Although I am fortunate that my practice area doesn’t really require me to stay in the office past 6:00 p.m. on most days, I find that not staying late or working a few hours on the weekend can put me behind on my work assignments and leaves me feeling frenetic. So, I’ve arranged with my husband that I am going to stay late every Wednesday. It’s planned. It’s in my calendar. No one expects me home. It’s just a part of my schedule now. And, it being scheduled relieves a lot of stress for me.
  4. I am making an effort to be more present. One thing that we’re always discussing in the Mommy, ESQ. maternity and life coaching program is that it’s easy for a working mom’s mind to always be somewhere else. When you’re at work, your mind is at home. When you’re home, your mind is at work. I have been committed to being more present at work and at home for a long time now, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to “re-commit” every once in awhile. It’s a lifestyle choice and some days (or weeks or months) I’m better at it than others. This week I am making even more of a conscious effort (and it’s so much easier with my time log) to be present. When I am at work, I am concentrating on having a productive work day so that I can leave at 6:00 p.m. and go home to spend time with my family. When I’m home to spend time with my family, I’m making an effort to actually spend meaningful time with them and not check or respond to work e-mails after a certain point in the night. I’ve found that I get better about being present with each “re-commitment,” and that I feel better about my time when I’m actively practicing being more present.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…

I don’t want any of us to look back on our time as a mother and think that it was anything less than amazing.

There’s nothing quite as sad as looking back on a life not-so-well lived. Time is something that we can never get back, and it’s so important to make the most of every hour we have now. That’s not to say that we need to be productive every single moment of the day. That’s not to say that you won’t have challenging days. It’s just to say that, on the whole, you should be living a life where everything has meaning to you. Maybe sitting on the couch and zoning out to 10 hours of Downton Abbey is exactly what you needed today. Maybe spending Saturday mornings at Mommy & Me or brunch with your kids and husband brings you an incredible amount of joy. Maybe committing to a 50-hour work week is what keeps you in your profession.

Think about what you’re willing to commit to and what commitments would make you feel more in control of your schedule. Think about how you can manage your time more wisely. Try some of the suggestions I’ve mentioned and see if it doesn’t improve your day. If it becomes too much of a challenge to do on your own, always know that Mommy, ESQ. is here to help.

With love,

Mommy, ESQ.

What do you think you can commit to this week to make your time work better for you? What are your challenges with time management? Do you feel like there’s not enough time?

Leave a comment below, reach out to us on social media, or e-mail at mommy_esq@outlook.com to start the discussion!

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