Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Mental Aspect of Time Management

Mental Space Time Management

Over the summer, I thought a lot about time management. As a full time mother and full time grad student, as well as someone interested in maintaining my marriage and friendships, I have a lot of demands on my time.

One of the most important lessons I've learned from my grad school experience is that while life may be "busy," I have time for everything. I may not have all the time I want in the uninterrupted blocks I want, and I might have to think creatively about how to use the time I have, but somehow and someway, there is time for everything. There is time for homework and papers, but there is also time for sleep and home-cooked dinners and date-nights and family outings and even hobbies.

There are certain skills of time-management that I feel like I'm getting better at, like planning, prioritizing, and increasing efficiency. But one major aspect of time-management that I'm struggling with is mentally compartmentalizing.

Here's what I mean. I try to plan my week's schedule carefully to block out time for homework and papers, and fit those hours around child-care and social activities (which usually take priority). The thing is that even though I have my homework hours set and scheduled, I find myself worrying and stressing about my schoolwork during all the other hours of scheduled activities.

This is not only pointless, it's counter-productive.

For instance, this past weekend we had invited some friends over for a game night Saturday evening. I was supposed to finish a novel for class, and I spent some hours on Saturday afternoon reading it, but didn't finish it. I still had time on both Monday and Tuesday to finish the book, and I knew this, but I couldn't stop thinking about how I "should" be reading the book instead of playing games all evening, and it spoiled the fun for me (and my husband, who was disappointed that I didn't seem to be having fun).

But then came Monday and Tuesday, I got the reading done, performed well on my presentation in class on Wednesday, and now have no regrets about playing games Saturday night.

And this is where the struggle is for me. I can look back on the week and say, "Yes, I had enough time for everything. I had enough time to do my homework and be social." But in the middle of the week, it didn't "feel" like I had enough time because mentally, I let one activity dominate everything and spoil all the time I spent doing other things.

For me, the hardest part of time management is not finding the time to do everything, it's finding the mental space to enjoy what I'm doing when I'm doing it.

It's allowing myself to stop thinking about my papers when I'm at the park with my kids.

It's allowing myself to trust I will get all my homework done later when I stop working in the evening to go to bed at a decent time.

It's allowing myself to stop worrying about the future after I've already made a plan for everything.

I really think this is the biggest part of time management in general. I can look back and retroactively see how my time works, that everything gets done and there is still time for fun and sleep too. But it's much harder to look forward and know that I have enough time. It's hard to think, "I have three papers to be working on, and homework assignments, and a conference application to fill out, and Halloween costumes to make, and preschool co-op lessons to plan, and a million other things on my to-do list, but there's plenty of time for that later, and right now I'm just going to enjoy playing blocks with my boys!" It's hard to do that.

Even more so than finding time, finding the mental space for activities is one of the trickiest parts of staying balanced and not feeling overwhelmed and over-busy. I think it's completely justifiable to turn down opportunities or projects or activities not because you don't have the time (we all have more time than we think), but because you don't have the mental space. Nobody wants something huge and stressful looming over and spoiling the rest of their time.

However, I also believe it's possible to compartmentalize and manage the mental space so that we can fit "more" in without it overwhelming us. I don't think it's easy, this is obviously my biggest struggle right now. But when I'm doing all of my other time-management strategies well (planning in advance, prioritizing what is most important, and focusing on efficiency), I've found it's possible to mentally relax and trust that I will have enough time, so I don't need to stress, or fret, or think about my to-do list right now because right now is not the time to think about my to-do list.

This is hard. It's hard to "let go" of the stress of a busy schedule. This is a work in process for me. But I do know it's possible and necessary if I want to enjoy these busy seasons of my life.

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