I thought I was good at managing my time, but having children has made me so much better at it.
That may seem counterintuitive. After all, children suck up all of our time. The moment they finish eating a meal, they’re asking for snacks. They need diaper changes and baths. They’re constantly pulling you somewhere to color or play or read to them. They need to be driven to practice and doctor appointments and friends’ homes. They create an incredible amount of dirty dishes and dirty laundry. They make the house look like it’s been ransacked and looted. They are agents of chaos.
They also want all of your time all of the time.
When I was younger, someone told me that if I wanted to be better at managing my time, I should write down how I allocate every hour of my day for a week. I would be shocked by how much time was wasted — or, at the very least, not maximized.
Robert Greene calls this “alive time vs. dead time.”
It’s not always about doing something, but rather about using your time — all of it — wisely.
Spending two hours to watch a movie that you enjoy and makes your day better? That’s alive time. Spending two hours scrolling through Netflix and getting decision paralysis? That’s dead time. In both cases you’re spending two hours in front of a TV, but the experiences and outcomes are likely very different.
I know from experience. When I would commute 80 miles by car each way every single day, that could be seen as completely dead time. I was in the car so much that the driver’s seat collapsed while driving on the highway one day and I developed sciatica so badly that I couldn’t move another day. In short, it sucked.
However, I tried to use it to my advantage by spending the time I was stuck in the car doing something productive: making phone calls; listening to audiobooks; or just thinking deeply about important things, both personally and professionally (and creatively), rather than wasting those hours wishing it were different or yelling at sports talk radio hosts. You may be stuck in an unpleasant or difficult situation, but that doesn’t mean it has to be worthless.
This concept becomes even more important as a parent.
How often have you listened to twenty-somethings complain about being unable to get out of bed in the morning? Conversely, how often have you heard a mother of two complain about being unable to get out of bed in the morning?
The difference between the two? Necessity.
Neither person wants to get up, but one of them has to. Parents — at least good ones — rarely whine about being unable to get out of bed because we have to get up. If we don’t, the kids won’t eat or get dressed or get to school. And it continues the rest of the day. If we lose track of time, they miss practice or rehearsal or the party.
If our lives slow down, their lives stop.
Children force you to be strict with your time, not only because of their schedules, but also their whims. Dealing with an epic meltdown that is the hallmark of the terrible twos? You’ll have to factor that in. Planning on leaving when you look down and see that someone has finally lost their fight against napping? I guess we’ll be late.
We all have the same twenty-four hours, so it’s all in utilization.
I schedule my day in order of importance.
The most important thing in the world is my family, so I make sure I take care of them first. That’s the priority. We get them ready and off to school. Once that’s taken care of, then I turn to work and, again, I prioritize the number one thing which, for twenty months now, has been the daily COVID reporting to the state and federal government that I do for my hospital. I do that at soon as I’m in the office.
By ten a.m., I’m already ahead for the day. Now I can focus on larger projects or answer emails (I try to keep inbox zero but there’s a bit of flab in my Outlook). I can even get in a walk or exercise.
My approach is the same in the afternoon. I have to be at school again, so I use the two times I need to be there as markers with which I plan my day. I definitely come back after pickup and do more work or hop on calls, but I make sure that the important, drop dead, we-need-this-now work is taken care of so anything after is gravy.
I’ll also take the last few moments of my workday to plan and strategize the next day and, if applicable, the rest of the week. Sometimes this takes the form of calendar updates or an email to myself; other times it’s a post-it note on the screen or a bullet list in my notebook. Either way, I have a plan of attack for the next day and I know what’s coming.
At night, it’s an orgy of kitchen duties: cooking, doing dishes, preparing coffee, making lunches. There is also homework and family reading time.
There is so much that needs to be done that I need to be ruthless with my schedule. I don’t have enough time to dick around.
My goal is to always be ahead of the clock, never chasing it. That way, I can relax in the evenings and watch terrible TV with my kids, something I could never fully do in the past. It has changed my health and my life.
We all have the same twenty-four hours.
How will you use it?
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.