Making the Most of your Schedule

The other night, while Nathan and I were watching Downton Abbey (new favorite show!), I decided to paint my nails. And then I needed a snack. And my e-mail! It needed to be checked. And then I remembered that I had to put together a timeline for an upcoming wedding. Meanwhile, I was asking Nathan, "What just happened??" because I didn't catch the last ... oh ... 20 minutes of the show. I have this problem. I always have to be doing something. And while I'm doing that something, I have to be doing something else. It's why I had three jobs last year, because I liked them all and I couldn't say no! Even for my own sanity.

But that crazy season in my life did help me realize one thing: I wasn't living in the moment. I was always stressed out, thinking three steps ahead and forgetting stuff along the way. I wasn't paying attention to things that really mattered: my family, my friends, my faith.

I'm still trying to find a good balance between work and play and everything else, and sometimes I fail (see first paragraph above). But the last few months I've really tried to make some changes. And because I hope that this will help at least one person, I'm sharing them here:

1. Don't bite off more than you can chew. I love my to do list, but it does not always love me. I think I can get 10 things done in a day when realistically I can only do three. I used to write all 10 of those things down and then get so frustrated when I'd fail ... miserably. Now, I keep a master list of everything running through my head and pick only three things to add to my daily to do list. If I can get more than three things done, great. But I won't set my self up for failure at the beginning.

2. Set boundaries. This might sound insanely controlling but it works for me: I schedule my day out so I can stay on track and have time for play later in the evening. My typical day looks something like this:

6-8 a.m.: Work on photography (I have a couple action-oriented tasks set aside for this time)

8 a.m.-noon: Start my full-time job (I work from home and it's incredibly easy to get off task. So, I schedule every hour of my day [i.e., 8-9 a.m.: Check e-mail, 9-10:30 a.m.: Work on the Annual Report,10:30 a.m.-noon: Check communication plan and create applicable e-mails, etc., etc.])

Noon-1 p.m.: Take a lunch break (Typically during my lunch break I try to work out because the farther into the evening it gets, the more unlikely I am to do it. Getting it done midday helps set the tone for the rest of my day. I know not everyone has the luxury of working out at noon, but doing it the morning is just as good)

1-5 p.m.: Work my full-time job (Again, the afternoon is scheduled like the morning)

5-6 p.m.: Eat dinner with Nathan

6-8 p.m.: Work on more photography stuff or tackle other items on my personal to do list

8-10:30 p.m.: Relax with Nathan!

3. Allow yourself a treat. Yeah, that schedule up there gets daunting, and if I feel myself getting off track, I'll take a break to get some Starbucks or 10 minutes to read a favorite blog. If I don't allow myself that distraction, even if it's only for a little bit, the rest of the day will be looooong.

4. Keep a clean space. My mom can attest to my messy room in high school, but I like to think that since then I've become better about picking up after myself. I definitely still have a (small) pile of clothes on the dresser that I have to put away every few days, but I try to keep cleaning manageable. Because I get overwhelmed cleaning our ENTIRE house at once, I (or Nathan) clean one room a day. That's half an hour a day that makes me feel organized and on top of things. And I never have to spend the entire day cleaning and de-cluttering. It's all about small steps!

5. Be in the moment. This is the most important one for me and something I'm continually working on. When I'm talking to Nathan or on the phone with a friend, it's NOT OK for me to be "multitasking" at the same time. I can't give my full attention to either thing, so why do it subpar?

When I find myself overwhelmed and uninspired, I like to revisit The Challenge by Making Things Happen. While I don't follow each of these steps in the exact order or way they're outlined, it definitely helps me to recenter and focus.

Now. How do YOU make the most of your schedule? I'd love to hear some of your tips and tricks.