Spring semester starts tomorrow.
My syllabi and rosters are printed, my lesson plans are set, my work clothes are ready and my bag is packed. A meticulously detailed schedule for completing my book revisions during the semester is open on a Stickie note on desktop, and my January Google calendar is updated with deadlines, reminders, Mother Goose Story time, playgroups, and meetings.
I spent last night making a huge batch of homemade chicken vegetable soup for lunch for my girl, and several dinners’ worth of a roasted vegetables/turkey/GF pasta dish for her, with extra to freeze.
I always start the new semester with such good intentions of getting it all done, of sticking to the very detailed schedule. I know going in it probably won’t happen, but I’m learning to prioritize so that the most important tasks get the best of me.
A few months ago I wrote a post on working, parenting, and chronic illness and promised a follow-up on the more practical aspects of getting it all done. The fact that it took me about three months to do so should tell you I don’t have a ton of credibility in that department right now, but here’s what I’ve been doing when I haven’t been blogging.
For the most basic stuff, let’s start with the fact I make lists—daily, weekly, and monthly. I can’t go to sleep without my to do list for the following day set.
It is really important to me that my daughter eat healthy, whole foods—no junk food, no processed food, no baby food—so I spend a lot of time on the weekends (Saturday or Sunday night, usually) making a bunch of different meals (homemade stock/soups, pastas, risotto, roasted vegetables, stir fry, etc.) I put a lot of them in the freezer so that if we don’t all eat together before her bedtime, or we’re out doing an activity and then we have to squeeze chest PT in right around dinnertime, I always have something healthy and flavorful for her. She adores spicy and sour foods, and her favorite right now is hummus—she loves it so much we’re going to try and make our own next weekend so we can add extra spice to it.
I take advantage of any available work time. For example, her naptime is automatically my work time, seven days a week. (Not housework time, but writing, editing, or evaluating student papers, etc.) She goes to bed around 7:30pm, so typically six nights a week I plan to work at least a few hours between her bedtime and mine.
I am a lot more flexible with my notions of when things should get done. Laundry? I fold it at 11pm, when I’ve closed my laptop and unwind with The Daily Show. If I happen to be home for an extra hour in the morning and know I will be busy late in the day, I’ll throw a bunch of chicken pieces in the oven while I make my morning coffee. (Not appetizing, but I might as well use the time while I have it.)
Like pretty much all of us, I multitask—but I’ve gotten a little better about having more discretion about what things are appropriate for that. Cleaning the kitchen or cooking dinner while returning a phone call is one thing. Trying to conduct an interview while juggling projectile vomit or doing a bottle feed never worked out that well for me.
For better or worse, I have a sort of tunnel vision, particularly during the academic year. I don’t expect free time, and I don’t want to squander any time, either. I usually know I will need to work at least one weekend night, and I am okay with it because it is more stressful for me to have things outstanding than it is to just get it done. This time when she is young won’t last forever, and I don’t want to miss any of it. When the deadlines and the course work and the chest PT and the appointments and the laundry and the scheduled-ness begins to feel like there is never a single moment to just be, I know that the hard stuff is temporary, too.
And well worth it. (What is that famous quote? “I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it?” I’m a fan.)
But there are some things I am going to try to do better this semester. I mentioned wanting to be more presentin more aspects of my life. I am hoping to bring home less work from campus (physically and mentally) by using office hours more productively. I’m going to try going into campus much earlier in the morning to work on the book then, so I meet my revisions deadline. I am going to try and keep my laptop upstairs in my office more, so that when I finish at night I am truly done and whatever I am doing—talking with my husband, watching something on DVR, etc—gets my full attention. Little things, but hopefully things that will make me feel like I have more space to just be.
I know a lot of this is obvious stuff, but somehow putting it down gives me more accountability. What about you? What things do you do to manage working, parenting, and chronic illness? What strategies have helped you be more present, or helped you save time?