For many years during my career in public relations, I tried to pack way too many errands and activities into my mornings, lunch hours and evenings. When a work schedule is fairly inflexible, it is incredibly challenging to meet the needs of home, family, friends and self on basically just weekends and holidays. I received several speeding tickets over the years while trying to do errands and maybe sneak in a manicure and eat a Power Bar, all in the allotted lunch hour. I’d return to work frazzled, with an expensive ticket and higher auto insurance, but my nails looked fabulous!
I now know that there is no such thing as a Superman or Superwoman, one who keeps every hair in place, brings home the bacon, puts a healthy dinner on the table, and has a great romantic relationship and well-adjusted kids. What everybody wants to know is, “How do I balance all these expectations?”
First, get very comfortable with the fact that everything takes longer than you think it will. A run to the store does not take just 10 minutes. Neither does picking up the dry cleaning, going to the post office or a phone call to your mother. Build in a nice cushion to all of your errands and tasks. If you think it’s going to take 10 minutes, double or triple that. You will be amazed at the peace of mind and feeling of space and generosity this will give you. You will finally make full stops at stop signs and will find yourself letting people with only one or two items cut ahead of you in line at the grocery store.
What do you do with all the tasks left undone while you are leisurely accomplishing less? First, it’s important to remember that you won’t be hassling with the mishaps (like tickets and fender-benders) that occur with rushing everything. Next, you can get creative about delegating and even eliminating or cutting back on some of your to-dos.
For example, what about dinner? The Superwoman might pre-make a week’s worth of dinners on Sunday to have ready in the fridge. The reality-check question is, “What could I order-in a few nights a week that is reasonably healthy and won’t break the bank?” My super-productive sister, who lives in Los Angeles, gets huge take-out salads or other healthy fare for her family almost every night. That takes care of grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning the kitchen in one fell swoop. She had me fooled into thinking she was a Superwoman until she let me in on this secret. Maybe dinner is, budget willing, the One Big Thing you could cross off your to-do list.
Here are some other ideas:
• E-mail and online networking can be huge time-suckers. Have you ever had the feeling, “Where did the morning go?” because you got in to work and immediately looked at your e-mail? David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” has some great tips on handling e-mail effectively, as does Julie Morgenstern, who even titled one of her books, “Never Answer E-mail in the Morning.”
• Use a dry-cleaning service that picks up and delivers.
• Stop the ironing! Start purchasing clothing that is guaranteed to be wrinkle-free. Empty the dryer and fold clothes right away to prevent wrinkles.
• Give the children chores appropriate to their ages and abilities. Yes, I’ve heard that the Japanese believe that the only job a child should have is his schoolwork, but we’re in a recession and everybody’s working two jobs these days. Junior can make his own bed.
• Order stamps online.
• Use a digital video recorder (DVR) to record your favorite TV shows so that you can watch them when it’s convenient for you and fast forward through the commercials. Save prime time for more important tasks.
• Develop morning and evening routines that allow you to look and feel your best. The old advice, “lay out the next day’s clothes each night,” is tried and true. You might want to eat the same breakfast every day during the week so that having the refrigerator stocked for it is effortless. If you take a lunch to work, make it the night before. Brainstorm other things you could do to make mornings and evenings serene.
• Don’t over-exercise. Figure out what the minimum is to keep your body in shape and somewhat challenged. You might need the help of a trainer to get you dialed in. Remember, an hour workout really takes two or more if you have to drive to a gym, change and shower.
That said, can you exercise at home? If you can, it is a huge time and money saver. A couple good workout DVDs and a mat and you’re good to go, with no car time or worries about matching your jog bra to your tights. And you’ll never forget your sneakers.
There are many, many ways we can refine our daily routines to allow us to live in the moment during each of our activities and stop all the rushing around. I’d love to hear what your favorite time-savers are. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.