How do you find the time to do everything?
August 30, 2018 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Are you able to do all the things required/encouraged by all the roles and areas of your life? If so, how? Do you have some sort of weekly or daily structure that lets you do that? Some other tips/techniques?

There sure is a lot to do.

There are things I need to do and things I want to do and things I feel I’ve been correctly advised to do. Here’s a partial list, for me, of those things.

• Work (in my own case: Work is self-employment. It’s busy, but also affords a lot of flexibility)
• Look after my three-year-old son, and play with him
• Get enough exercise
• Get enough sleep
• Do some sort of meditation/reflection
• Cook home-cooked meals (because it’s good for your. Because it’s good for your family)
• Volunteer
• Have a one-on-one date with my partner once a week (as lots of sources seem to advise)
• Have time for the work of running a family: Planning things with my partner, figuring out meals and planning trips and buying clothes. Having time to deal with conflicts when they come up.
• Foster at least some interests and relationships outside of work and nuclear family. (ie: have friends. Have some hobbies or other things to do for fun)
• Have time for aging parents
• Learn. Read a few books a year outside my work-expertise, and within my work-expertise. Keep informed of current events.
• Get some sunshine every day
• Have time for good self-maintenance habits: Floss. Keep a journal. Keep on top of eating reasonably well. (In my case: probably meal-tracking for weight control)
• Have time for maintenance of all the other little stuff in life: Pay the bills, get the car tuned up, replace the furnace filters, track expenses and finances, see the dentist regularly
• Be able to deal with unexpected vagaries of life when they come up: A flooded basement, a broken tooth, sick kid staying home from school
• Take vacations

I use Getting Things Done as way to stay on top of tasks, and I find it helps pretty well. But I find that it still feels to me like doing all these things would require more hours than there are in a day/week/year.

I’m curious:

a) Are you able to do all the things? (understanding your list is probably different from mine)
b) If so, how? What strategies have worked for you?
c) If not: how do you decide how to balance them?
posted by ManInSuit to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
I use Google calendar a lot, both planning trips/appointments etc but also as a todo list with tasks for each day. The ui doesn't really work (month view) with more than a few things per day which limits what I take on. I also then defer or reprioritise tasks as I reconsider them. Avoiding having a vast todo list helps - I find I get more done with just a couple of extra bits per day alongside routine work etc (exercise is running to and from work).
posted by JonB at 8:53 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Remember that once the kid is 8 or so, you will be able to do a LOT more on the list.
posted by Melismata at 8:56 AM on August 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

I do not do all the things all the time, or all that well.
I try not to judge myself harshly for not doing all the things perfectly.
When I succeed, this gentleness with myself helps me do more of the things and do them well, or well enough.
posted by Heloise9 at 9:03 AM on August 30, 2018 [11 favorites]

a) No.
b) Not applicable.
c) I prioritize and do the best I can, and don't beat myself up when I can't do all the things.

Some weeks, I do better at volunteering than I do at self-care/exercise. Some weeks, my partner and I run errands together as our date night or we do things with her kids.

Some weeks, I pull longer hours at work to catch up or get ahead, some weeks I hold to 40 hours or a little less to focus on personal things. (Running cats to the vet, running an errand that has to happen 9-5.)

My life, right now, does not lend itself as well as I'd like to a fixed routine.

But.. here's what I do to help myself stay sane:

* Put everything I can on autopay and not worry about manually paying bills.
* Use things like ordering groceries and such online for pickup to speed up errands.
* Maybe not applicable for you - pay for things like lawncare or whatnot when I can outsource something that's time-consuming that I don't enjoy anyway.
* Use Google Calendar for planning dates and keeping track of my partner's kids' school activities, etc. (We're not married so they're not my step-kids, but I need a similar word...)
* Exercise in the morning. I won't do it in the evening. No, despite my best intentions, I am not going to take a walk in the evening even if the weather is grand and there's no other plans.
* Do something to clean, straighten, whatever my house every morning before work and every evening after work. (I work at home.)

I just adjust on the fly and try to accept that I don't lead a perfectly optimized life and probably wouldn't enjoy the rigidity if I did. Sometimes, I'm just going to Caturday with my senior kitty and enjoy a good nap while she purrs. And that's OK.
posted by jzb at 9:06 AM on August 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

I honestly don't think that any parent of a young child actually manages to do all those things, and I don't think that it's realistic to expect them of yourself or anyone else.

I'm not actually convinced that anyone who's not outsourcing half of that work actually does all of those things, let alone does them well, but parents of young children in particular. If you can hire someone to handle some of these things, you'll be able to feel like you're doing more, because more will be getting done--even though you, personally, aren't doing it. If you, like most of us, can't afford to hire someone, cut yourself some slack and stop listening to what other people suggest you do.
posted by mishafletch at 9:08 AM on August 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

Simple answer? You don't have time to do those things. There is no such thing as balance. Life is a constant state of triaging your priorities and adapting. I would say figure out what your priorities are, focus on those, and give yourself a break on the rest. Also, there's nothing wrong with asking for help and throwing $ at a problem (if you have it). In the past year, my family downsized our home and possessions, and that has also made a huge difference in quality of life.

Good luck!
posted by jraz at 9:12 AM on August 30, 2018 [15 favorites]

If you include your son in some of these activities you are completing more than one task. If you are cooking he can stir something in a bowl, even pretend. If you take him to the park and run around with him you are both exercising.
Check out hobbies he can participate in, botanizing of course, bird watching, etc. Kids can walk a lot further than books suggest if you plan for interesting rest stops, like the store that has a favorite snack. I think our mothers didn't separate child care and homemaking the way they are presented now but kept us close while they worked. Discussing these activities is also a great way to build language skills.
posted by Botanizer at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, not sure they all need to be individual tasks eg taking kid to the park and chasing them around for a while crosses three things off your list (play with child, sunshine, exercise). So perhaps think about how you frame these things. You may not have enough time to play with your child, go for a walk outside and go to the gym but if you pick activities that allow you to tick off a few things that goes a long way. And as your child grows they can be involved in things like volunteering or meal prep etc. There was a wonderful question in the last couple of days about family meal prep and picking a new country to learn about as a family every month including meals. So perhaps think along those lines?
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:23 AM on August 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'll draw lines to separate a sheet of paper into four quadrants, and then write different areas of my life at the top of each. (Teacher, Student, Writer, Person). Then I'll separate things I need to do - habitual, long-term, and short-term - into those quadrants, and highlight everything that is currently on fire. (That is: it's a HUGE PROBLEM if I don't get to it today).

I'm not going to do everything. But I can do the things that are on fire and I can do enough things from each quadrant so that I'm not completely neglecting my laundry in favor of the novel-in-progress or completely neglecting the novel-in-progress in favor of grading.
posted by Jeanne at 9:41 AM on August 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

The one on one date with your partner does not have to mean getting out of the house (although that would be nice once in a while) and going to a movie or doing some other activity. I think something like popping in a movie or TV show after your child is asleep and just doing something together counts. You can even throw in some light housework like folding laundry. Unless your families are willing to babysit for free, going out at least once a week is going to cost money for activities and babysitting.

As for homecooked meals, you don't have to do it all from scratch. You can buy a roast chicken, serve it that night, and then use the leftover chicken for a chicken salad or a soup. Heating up a frozen entree and making a salad to go with is a perfectly good dinner.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 9:49 AM on August 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

I agree with everyone who says that you cannot do everything on that list, at least not every day.

My list is very similar to yours, and I'm actually pretty good at getting it done, but my kid is twelve, not three, and I only have her half the time. The other thing I've had to do is admit to myself that there is not time for both exercise and meditation every day, so I have to alternate days on those. I have also let go of some of the house cleanliness standards I formed as a child with a stay-at-home mom.

I agree with others' suggestion that you outsource some of it. If I could afford it, I would pay someone to clean my house and mow my lawn. When I can afford it, I do order Blue Apron which at least does away with the meal planning aspect of cooking.

But I think really, the answer is that if you have half of the balls still in the air on every given day, and they are the balls that are on fire, you're doing great.
posted by missrachael at 9:52 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh also: see what you can double or triple up on. A running or biking club = exercise + sunshine + socializing.
posted by missrachael at 9:54 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

With a three year old? No. I think of it as getting whittled down to basic survival tasks at the birth of the child, and then adding things back in bit by bit. Now, with a nine year old, I'd say we manage 95% of what's on your list.
1. We almost always combine the aging parents with the vacation.
2. We combine volunteering with spending time with the child.
3. Meal planning, down to the level of "Monday = chicken; Tuesday = ravioli" has actually saved a LOT of time. One planning session to get it worked out, and then it takes care of your healthy eating goals, saves time grocery shopping, saves time thinking.
4. We don't do weekly date night because we'd rather not spend the money and don't necessarily agree with the concept. But we do take 1-2 hours alone together every evening. We bring the kid to cultural events.
5. We divide up the other tasks: I do bills and mowing and clothing; he does car stuff and doctors appointments and trip planning.
6. You can do things seasonally instead of trying put them into rotation all the time. This summer I've read 12 books, but in the spring I saw more art. Last year we did a bunch of repairs.
posted by xo at 10:29 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Tasks and responsibilities get dropped on the floor constantly. Prioritize and do the best you can. The people I know who look like they really have their shit together, it turns out, are mostly trading money for time in order to achieve that appearance: house cleaning, yard service, etc.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2018

For what its worth, late capitalism has made all of us "self-manage", which provides the promise of fulfillment but generally makes us feel shitty about our own "productivity".

There is no technique out there that will make you feel satisfied with your daily life productivity, because the point is you can always do more-more-more. I make lists like crazy, just like anyone who is under the thumb of socially expected busy-ness. So for getting by, I'd suggest finding whatever list system satisfies you, and helps mitigate any guilt or concern you have for not getting it all done.

But I would say in the moments of clarity I do have, I remember to do the things that are *truly* important to me, like spend time with my kids or play soccer or read novels.
posted by RajahKing at 11:01 AM on August 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Okay, so I have a 2 and 3 year old and I spend allllllll my time doing 3 points on your list:

• Have time for the work of running a family: Planning things with my partner, figuring out meals and planning trips and buying clothes. Having time to deal with conflicts when they come up.
• Have time for maintenance of all the other little stuff in life: Pay the bills, get the car tuned up, replace the furnace filters, track expenses and finances, see the dentist regularly
• Be able to deal with unexpected vagaries of life when they come up: A flooded basement, a broken tooth, sick kid staying home from school.

That’s pretty much it. ALL the time. I have a cleaner every other week and exercise maybe 2 times a week, I read in the evenings but it probably takes me 4 months to finish a book... and the kids are in nursery school a good chunk of time!?!?

I also: utilize a grocery and meal delivery service, occasionally go on dates with my husband. The meal service has solved my problem of eating better- however, I have no time to make friends and just manage to email my old ones occasionally.

There’s only so much money you can throw at something and it’s still hard and not everything is getting done.
posted by catspajammies at 11:42 AM on August 30, 2018

Thanks!! This is all super-interesting.

In my own case: The self-employment pays pretty okay. In many cases where you can throw money at a problem, I'm fortunate enough that I can. (So, we can afford grocery delivery, can afford a babysitter for occasional dates etc). Still, as catspajammies points out: while we're very lucky, and that helps a lot, there's still a lot that money doesn't fix.

A number of people have said some variant of "don't feel you have to live up to other peoples' expectations". But I guess for me, most if not all of these are things I feel I really want and care about. The reason I I want to get enough sleep, for example, is not because of some oppressive social norm; it's because I feel bad otherwise. Similar with most of the things on the list...
posted by ManInSuit at 12:25 PM on August 30, 2018

I think I actually meant to say: there is only so much you can throw money at! We’ve got a pretty large budget for making things work but we’ve found that without a certain type of support (family? Super nanny?) it’s very difficult to find that relaxed space
to find ourselves and feel balanced which is what we would need to get started on hobbies etc. I suppose if I were to tackle certain stuff on your list then I would have to get SUPER selfish- give up the guilt. Maybe that’s the answer?
posted by catspajammies at 12:40 PM on August 30, 2018

I don't think of some of those as daily or weekly tasks but in some cases yearly tasks. For example, I'm constantly on the lookout for volunteering weekends and learning opportunities and plan them months in advance. I don't have the time to volunteer every weekend.

Same with visiting relatives. Planned months in advance. I plan visits with friends at least a month in advance, since family time after work is a priority. Neither friends nor relatives live right down the street. That can change when your kid gets older by the way, and doesn't require such constant supervision.

Everything else I do daily or weekly. It is possible.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:50 PM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

The_Vegetables writes:

Everything else I do daily or weekly. It is possible.

I think you are the first person on this thread to say that. Do you have any advice for the rest of us?
posted by ManInSuit at 12:52 PM on August 30, 2018

I try to deal with this through a combination of advance planning and just not allowing stuff into my life that I literally do not have time for. Check back in ten years and I'll let you know how it's going.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:54 PM on August 30, 2018

I think you are the first person on this thread to say that. Do you have any advice for the rest of us?

Nothing beyond what others have said. I combine my exercise with my commute via biking, and go to the gym only 1-2 times a week for an hour. Someone else mentioned tripling up. That's an example.

I also do online bills so that's literally 5 minutes of my time per month. My 'weekly dates - really 2X a month' are through my kids' gymnastics gym. They get a break, my wife and I get a break. And again, there are tasks that have to be done daily (floss) and tasks that can be planned for the future. Figure out what each of those are for you.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:59 PM on August 30, 2018

I really think you need to give yourself a break, here. What are your true priorities? Sleep and nutrition (and cuddling with your SO) have to be as important as looking after your little one.
I had to give up volunteering when I realized I was getting migraines (they're still chronic, 25 years later) and I had 2 small kids, a business, a house, all that stuff. I figure giving it up meant an opportunity for someone else.
You may have to put hobbies on the backburner, too. I found the Flylady method very helpful - one week concentrate on one particular part of the house, the rest of the house gets a bit of decluttering and a general cleanup; a load of laundry every day; and 15 minutes of some kind of exercise. Otherwise, it was dinner and putting out fires for years. That's life.
Now the kids are grown I have time for hobbies and sports and so on. Things change. When the kids got into Scouts, we went out for a walk and coffee that night. That was date night.
You'll figure it out. Take a deep breath, and get some sleep.
posted by Enid Lareg at 5:46 PM on August 30, 2018

Yes, I was once able to do everything on my list. This was because I was extremely depressed and fed up with life, and my "interests" list was zero items long.

Having more interests than time is a Good and Healthy problem to have. Just prioritize and forgive yourself for the ones that fall off the bottom of the list.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 7:54 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

No, I cannot do all of the things. The balancing act is equal parts doing the next right thing (whatever it is) and accepting that perfection isn't possible OR (and this is the key bit) even desirable.

The people I know who come closest have LOTS of help. Not just help you can buy but family and friends contributing all the time. Even in that best case scenario there is still plenty of chaos and misses and guilt and desire to do more.
posted by this-apoptosis at 8:07 PM on August 30, 2018

You don't magically find time to do all the things.

It helps to do a few quick triage steps, though; seriously, reduce time spent on television and the internet and whoooooa you get more of everything else.

On my end, the vast majority of folks who tell me about meditation... don't have kids. And any vacation I take literally wrecks a month of progress at the gym, more or less. I wish I took my daughter to the park more often. And yet here I am, on the internet that I just kinda preached against.

And that's life; it's not supposed to run like it's on rails, especially if you're trying to pack more into it than the average person in the 1700s would have.
posted by talldean at 7:58 AM on August 31, 2018

I am a working out of the home mom of a 7 year old, so not as demanding as a 3 year old but still busy. My priorities are my family, my health, doing good work, my friends. Knowing what my priorities are helps me to make decisions about how I use my time and prevents some of that FOMO.

I don't volunteer, I support charities and local services of places I know are doing good work instead. I would like to volunteer but it's not something I can add on right now.

My exercise is daily walking (walking at lunch, walking the dog, and taking my son to the park), I want to add in early morning yoga and weights but haven't since increasing my evening time with my boyfriend. If I'm sitting with my kid I can fit a few good stretches in too.

I mostly cook my own food, with the help of fast recipes like stir-fries, pierogies with a veggie counts, and of course on days no one wants to cook we can order pizza or fish and chips. Planning and prepping is key, but if something goes off (like someone is sick, work is crazy, I'm just tired), I feel no guilt buying healthy prepped meals for the week. Macaroni and hotdogs once a week in front of a movie is A-ok, but I try to make a big quinoa salad on Sundays as well as oatmeal cookies and that helps a lot, we also batch cook burritos and empanadas and freeze them. On weekends where we will be doing chores and activities we make sure we have nice sandwich fixings and that gets us over the "what to eat" hump when we're already busy and tired and neither of us wants to cook, dinner can be pizza or I'll rally and make a big stir fry for dinner and the next day. I try to shop for groceries in off hours like first thing in the morning or after 8 p.m. so it's less stressful and I can think. Also - eggs! Put an egg on toast, chips, whatever it's a decent meal.

I've learned if I trade phone or online time for book time (and keep the book on me) I do have time to read, or else read before bed instead of watching a show. A coworker reads on her lunch break and gets through quite a few books that way.

I would like to see my friends more but figure I'm doing good if I see most of my people every 2-3 months, the key is keeping the communication going through texts or emails and getting together when we can. As they have had partners and kids there hasn't been pressure to see them more often, but I have some friends who are single and they don't seem to get it as well that there is just not enough time to hang out regularly as it would interfere with my other priorities which include unscheduled time to myself, and I am miserable without that time.

You've got to accept that there is not enough time in a 24 hour day to do everything, but you can fit things in if you plan and set things up for it over the course of one or two week cycles. You might enjoy the work of Laura Vanderkam who has 4 kids, a career, and a knack for tracking her time and making the most of each week (she has books and a blog). Also things do ease up a lot by 5 or 6 and you can get more done while your child is awake.
posted by lafemma at 9:02 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I seem to be able to do most of these things with a 60 hr/week job, with the very significant exception that I don't have a child.

Meal prepping is a big part of it.

My single biggest suggestion is to be realistic about how long things will take. This recipe will take 3 hrs, not the 30 minutes it claims. Jogging and showering will take 2 hrs minimum, not 1. This lets me plan much better. Trips to the store are done on my way home from work and are MUCH more efficient with a strict shopping list already in hand.

Keep a well-stocked pantry.

Sometimes, you must be kind to yourself and not feel badly when you have to sacrifice one task for the other.

I've learned that I can function great on 6 hrs of sleep. It may indicate poor sleep hygiene, but I get my 8 hrs on the weekends.

I have to force myself not to piddle time away on random Internet stuff. I'm not on any social media, either, which is super important.

Most of my friends live far from me, so I maintain contact with a quick text or email now and then. It's more efficient than big trips out to see them every year, and in some ways, it's almost as meaningful.

Pick a vacation week well in advance, and stick to it.
posted by aquamvidam at 7:44 AM on September 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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