November 18, 2010 at 5:57 am (Time) (, , )

In my endless futile quest to get it all done, I have a new strategy.

Really, it’s all about tricking myself.  And it’s not earth-shattering.  Most time management techniques aren’t.  It may be the most boring subject I could possibly choose to blog about.  But what the heck, since it’s been working, I’ll share.

First, a few techniques I’ve tried that I’ve determined don’t work.

1) Do the maintenance chores- kitchen, laundry, picking up- first thing in the morning.  Then pick up other tasks in the afternoon.  Go to Costco, make dentists appointments, paint the house.  My problem with this?  I could never get the kitchen, laundry, and picking up under control.  I’d end up at 4 o’clock every day realizing I had a dirty kitchen to make dinner in and still hadn’t left the house.  Leaving the house once a day even if not absolutely necessary is key to my mental health.  I can’t always put the maintenance chores first or I won’t be heading to the dentist until I chip out a filling eating popcorn.

2) Work off an enormous list of tasks that need to get done.  Every day, cross off approximately one and add three.  End every day feeling like a failure.

Here’s my latest con to get work out of myself.  5 things, I call it.  Every day I write down 5 things I’m going to get done today.  ONLY 5 things.  Okay, I’ve given myself a sixth bonus task a few times.  For extra credit from myself.  I give myself permission for some for some of the tasks to seem trivial, if they’re important to me that day.

Here’s a recent day’s list:

  • Volunteer at Auden and Parker’s school
  • Work on scanning pictures (this is for a Christmas project)
  • Prepare snack (to bring to Greta’s school next day)
  • Put laundry away
  • Make bread for potluck dinner at Greta’s school

 Another day:

  • Pick up living room
  • Take care of friend’s kids
  • Make dinner
  • Nap (some morning you just know you need it)
  • Blog

And today’s:

  • Make dentist appointment
  • Plan out how to use all the vegetables in the fridge- meal/menu planning
  • Dig out 18 month clothes to loan to niece
  • Pay attention to Greta (she was needing it)
  • Clean up kitchen

I think my 5 things system works because it’s finally a realistic goal of what one mama can get done amongst all the diaper changes and peace-keeping and “how do you spell…?’s”.  I feel accomplished when I finish my 5 things.  I have days I know I’m tired and set less ambitious goals.  Days I know I’m going to completely ignore the maintenance chores.  Leave the two days worth of dishes in the kitchen and not worry about them while I pay bills and renew library books on-line.  Because, oh well.  And days when I only do maintenance stuff (well, and take care of four children).

I still have that enormously long “to do” list.  I look at it to make the 5 things list most days.  It’s just not lurking constantly like I am supposed to accomplish 43 tasks TO-DAY.   And hey, I finally called the dentist today.  Took three minutes.  And I just looked- it’s been on my to-do list since FEBRUARY.  My teeth may not rot out of my head after all.


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I don’t know how you do it

October 8, 2010 at 5:45 am (Family, Parenthood, Time)

Amidst the shock of adjusting to my new title-in-the-making, Mother of Four, I visited my one friend in the same boat.  In her case, she acquired the title by trying for “just one more” after two children, and conceiving twins.  Her first advice was to think about my stock responses to all the comments I’ll get from strangers.  Her concern being that one wouldn’t want to inadvertently make the older children worry that one wasn’t grateful for each little mouth to feed.

At the time, I wasn’t too worried about it.  As the mother of twins, I’ve fielded my share of well-meaning but uninformed and/or repetitive comments.  Yes, they’re twins.  No, they’re not identical- did seeing one with brown hair and chocolate eyes and the other a tow head with bright blue eyes tip you off?  No, they don’t run in my family. (Sometimes a veiled way to ask if they are IVF or not.  No, they’re not IVF!  We weren’t trying to get pregnant!  They were conceived out of wedlock!  Horrors!)

Now that I’m out and about with four, though, I’m finding my friend was right.  While stranger comments on twins seem generally based on the novelty factor, comments on the four children often seem based in judgment.  The one that irks me the most is “You know what causes that, don’t you?”  “Well, yes, I do, and clearly we enjoy it.”  I haven’t had the guts to say that, though.  I don’t know what to say.  And we happen to be the type that have been gradually introducing sex ed since our kids were at all curious, but if we weren’t, I seriously wouldn’t appreciate somebody bringing it up.  What causes what, Mommy?  In the grocery store, just what a mama needs.

The one I’m currently struggling with, though, is often from acquaintances and friends.   I don’t know how you do it.  Or the corollary I got last week, I don’t know how you do it with a smile on your face.  Sometimes it seems meant as a compliment, sometimes it seems the person means I don’t know how you do it and I can’t fathom WHY you had these four crazy children, you over-populating wench.  The latter doesn’t deserve a thoughtful response, but the former… what to say?  Possible answers:

  • Self-deprecating:  I don’t. You should see the mess that is my house.  Or,
    I don’t. I’m not usually smiling.
  • Annoyingly upbeat and self-sacrificing:  Well, I did have to get up this morning at 5am to make pumpkin muffins for the kids’ school snack!  But if I just time it right, I can get in my required half-hour of quality time with each child a day!
  • Emotional:  Start crying.  I’m just barely holding it together today.  Please, please, help me.  I’m about to have a meltdown.
  • On a frustrated day:  Well, we made our bed.  Now we have to lie in it. 
  • Then there’s my usual answer:  First smile, then falter.  Well, uh, you know.  It can be hard, but, uh, you, kind of, just do it.

I oscillate between the self-deprecating answers and stuttering something about just doing it.  Some days I’d like to do the emotional breakdown.  I’d like to find a better way, though.  I’m not sure why I feel the need to tell strangers about the jam crusted on my kitchen floor.  Well, no.  I do know.  I don’t want to make them feel bad.  Presumably I’m talking to another mom, and no mom could possibly have it all together, so I feel the need to assure them I don’t too. 

Usually I am teetering on going a little crazy.  But last week was the first time that I felt like saying something bordering on the annoyingly upbeat.  I had a damn good week.  I was helpful to others, had some good times with the kiddos, put myself out on a limb and arranged a playdate for my sons, cleaned out a couple closets, and did make pumpkin muffins but only because I discovered that morning I was on the snack hook and had NO store-bought snacks in the house.  (See, I still feel the need to put in a caveat.)  But I feel like people are looking for me to be modest.  They don’t want to hear that I have 1-3 more children than them but am functioning just fine.  It’s a woman thing, maybe, or at least a Mom Thing.  I’ve said before I do it by cutting corners. Everybody does, what varies is the corner.  To hide the corners or not? 

Clearly one’s honestly in answering will depend on if this is a stranger or one’s sister or your son’s new friend’s mother.  But what would your “go to” answer be?  It’s not always easy.  Perhaps.  I do the best I can?  Maybe.  Actually, I kinda like that one.  That’s all anybody can do.  But, there’s probably better.  Ideas, anyone?

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Time time time, see what’s become of me

September 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm (Time)

Motherhood is feeling pretty hard today.

But instead of actually talking about the true issues before I have any idea how to handle them, I’ll talk about something else that I can’t fix.

Back to the subject of time, and the lack thereof.  I recently read a blog that, I’m paraphrasing here, suggested working moms really can have it all- as long as you properly prioritize and say no to the things that don’t matter.  Oh, and set time limits for yourself when using the internet.  Now, I’m pretty sure this was meant to be encouraging.  And if it were true it would be.

But what did I take from the writing?  If you can’t get it together enough to be organized and divide your time into precise fifteen minute segments, then you’re just a whiner.

Here’s the thing.  I don’t like constantly prioritizing my life into “the most important things to get done today”.  Sometimes I just want to do what I feel like doing.  Which is why, at 3am this morning, I started organizing the box of cards I keep just in case somebody has a birthday, or dies, or has a baby.

What happens to me over and over and over again is that I try to prioritize and start with paying the bills and clearing the dirty dishes off the kitchen counter so that more food can actually be cooked, and I end up dusting a top shelf after I decided to put away a dish on it and realized it was filthy.  For instance.  It’s a You Give A Mouse A Cookie problem.  Or a symptom of ADD, I’m not sure which.  If I don’t interrupt my own tasks, a child does.  I’m paying the bills and somebody needs clean underwear.  Twice.  Trying to prioritize my life ends up taking way too much headroom and creating guilt when I’m not doing the-most-important-thing-right-now.

The whole dilemma takes a lot of enjoyment out of doing anything.  I alternate between trying to prioritize my days exactly right, and giving up and doing whatever I feel like it because I can damn it.  Hence the 3am card organizing.  I don’t have any answers for myself.  It does strike me that there’s probably a happy medium.

What I do know is that time management continues to be one of the most profound issues I struggle with as a mother.

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