Firestarter Friday: Changing Gears (or figuring out what the hell to do)

Family hike + photography = awesome day

My standard way of operating is finding many, many projects that I want to get done and then actually trying to get all of them done. I usually do a good job of making sure my pursuits don’t interfere with the whole marriage/mom/real job thing. But sometimes these projects do end up defeating each other.

As I said the other day, I need to think about priorities and deadlines when it comes to my projects. I’ve decided that now is a good time for me to take a serious look at what I do in my free time. I’m definitely overdue to look at my craft list and cut some stuff. If any of you are parents, support another family member or work multiple jobs, you may have faced the same dilemma at some time or another. On one hand, doing chores every single day seems like the responsible (and therefore, logical) choice. But on the other, if you don’t have an outlet of some sort, it generates mental stress that can surpass that generated by a stack of dirty dishes.

But how do you make it easy to switch  gears? Some people can move from mopping to putting a coat of paint on a canvas to taking out the trash and back to painting. But other people have a really hard time functioning like that. The great thing is there are so many different ways to approach this dilemma. If you are finding you have a hard time changing gears, maybe I have some idea that could work for you.

Work Stations

If you’re a high-energy person who always likes something that keeps you moving, you may find a problem in being prepared. Just when you start to gather materials, you get distracted and move onto something else. Then when you come back to your craft space, you are still missing the materials you meant to grab half an hour ago. If this sounds like you, taking a few minutes to physically note exactly what you need may help. Then you can mindfully gather all your materials and once and bring them into your space. This isn’t just true of creative projects. If you have a collage to work on, but also need to clean the bathroom, prep for both in their respective areas.

The big thing here is making sure everything really does have its own space. By different projects separate (even at opposite ends of the room) you will have an easier time focusing your energy when you show up. Once you are prepared, it doesn’t matter if you flit from job to job because everything will be ready where ever you go.

Time Blocking

If you are at all type A, this is the plan for you. Either on a regular sheet of paper or in a spreadsheet program like Excel, set up a little table. On the left, list out the hours of your free time broken down in increments. When I say free time, I say any time that is really yours and you can do what you want. So don’t even bother putting in time you sleep or work a job where you are not in charge. In my case, my sheet is broken into 15 minute increments and covers 5-6:45 a.m., my lunch hour, the drive home and 5-11 p.m. From here, just pencil in what you are going to do during these time frames.

Does this sound a bit too crazy detail-oriented? It is, in a way. While I do use this method, I do not use it all the time. I use it when I have an unnatural amount of stuff to complete for the week and I am feeling stressed about it. And for some reason, when I write out a schedule on my time blocking sheet, it’s a breeze to switch gears. I will look at the clock and say “Oh, it’s 9 p.m., so I need to do my physical therapy exercises now”. Maybe it’s because I know everything is a bit hectic and I lined them up in a way that ensures everything that matters gets done. A huge advantage to this method is it makes it really easy to review your life/art balance. 

Time Log

This is pretty much the opposite of Time Blocking, but it is also a great tool. If you are feeling stress (a little or a lot) and you know that something needs to give, you need to make a realistic assessment of your situation first. Just get out any notebook and record everything you do during the day and when you did them. For example:

  • Slept: 10:54 p.m. to 6:10 a.m.
  • Got ready: 6:10 to 6:45 a.m.
  • Drove 6:45 to 7:26 a.m.

This also sounds a little crazy anal retentive, but if you do it all week, including days off, you will get a much more realistic view of where your time goes. Just that insight could be enough to push you to use your time better. You can give some chores to others or cut projects you said yes to but really don’t want to do. Try optimizing some things that are eating up your time. And if all else fails, just cut some stuff! It’s so much easier to switch from one task to another when they all feel worthwhile and you aren’t burned out.

Make It Known

When you are trying to reach a fitness goal, one of the top pieces of advice you will hear is get fit with a buddy. Running with a friend just increases the chance you will both do better and stick with the plan, and it’s not hard to see why. Accountability is a great tool, so use it to your advantage. Talk to someone (friend, co-worker, spouse, relatives, etc.) about what you have planned for the week. They don’t necessarily have to keep tabs on you or anything, but just mentioning your goals out loud to another person plants a little seed in your brain that others know what you are doing and will naturally be curious about the outcome later.

If that isn’t enough for you, try an online motivator. There are many different free versions online where you can enter your goals, and you will get emails reminding you of where you are at with them. I signed up with Stickk to work on some exercise and meal planning goals, and I love it. It’s customizable, has a journal to track progress and you can get friends on board to coach you. best of all, you can even add a real monetary wager to the deal! You set up how much you want to give and to whom, and if you don’t meet your goal in the allotted time, you lose the cash. That could be just the push forward you need.

So what are you waiting for?

Now that I’ve given you a few ideas for managing your time, why not put one into action? Remember, you should be in charge of your time instead of the clock owning you. Every extra second you squeeze out of the day is another you can be doing something you really love.

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