By Deborah Walsh Dobbs, M.A. | Contributor
Warning: This isn’t your typical how-to piece. It’s more of a challenge.
To de-clutter our calendars, we might benefit from changing the way we think about our time and what our calendars represent. Much of our busyness is self-inflicted, often driven by ego or fear. To improve our lives with more leisure and a reduction of work and chaos, brutal honesty and self-reflection are required.
Let’s look at the big picture:
Accept that you have more time than you think
Sociologists study all kinds of quirky things, and some study the way people use their time. Sociologist John Robinson has done so much of this that he’s known as “Father Time.” Robinson insists we feel busier than we truly are and that we drastically underestimate our leisure time. We can see this if we look at our time from a different perspective. Feeling busy is valid. It’s a reality for us. However, let’s step back and consider the evidence. Every time we sneak a peek at our smartphone or intermittently check for work/school/church emails, we add busyness to our lives. The flipside: every time we take said smartphone into the bathroom to shop, scroll, or read the news, that’s leisure (albeit not meaningful). For more on this, read Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte.
Redefine Your Calendar
What lands on your calendar shows not only what you’re doing but also who you are. Your calendar reveals your values, and what you omit from it might mean more than what you put on it.
Now, let’s get to the nitty gritty:
Establish Social Media Boundaries, Part 1:
I don’t know how many times I’ve logged on Facebook in the morning to post a Happy Birthday message, and thirty minutes later, I’ve read three articles and watched a compilation of BatDad (that man is hilarious!). We’re implored to set technology boundaries with our kids, but many parents place no boundaries on themselves. Schedule social media time. Put it on the calendar if it’s important. If it’s not important, don’t do it. And when you schedule time for it, use that smartphone to set the timer.
Establish Social Media Boundaries, Part 2:
Choose no more than two apps. For example, maybe you’re a Facebook and Twitter person. If so, then cut out Pinterest and Instagram. If you MUST have an app for work, then regulate your time with gusto. Pick two and let the rest go. Stop being a slave to algorithms.
Use Technology for Good:
Technology ain’t all bad. Case in point: Doing homework with my daughter, especially trying to explain today’s mysterious math, took lots of time and stressed us both out. I wanted to get her a tutor, but I didn’t want to spend time driving her back and forth and sitting around during her session. So, I found Varsity Tutors, and she gets tutoring online in the comfort of her own home. I finish my work in peace, and her grades are the best they’ve ever been. Find apps and services that can save you some time.
Take One Task at a Time:
Multi-tasking is a myth. This research forced me to launch a few new habits. While writing this article, I closed all apps, even my work email. I silenced notifications on my phone and put my desk phone on Do Not Disturb. I shut my door and told staff that unless the building is on fire, don’t knock. Take measures to focus on the task at hand or the conversation you’re having with another human. Whatever is vying for attention will still be there when you’re done.
Plan & Prepare: Plan meals
Make your lunch the night before. Go over your kid’s agenda and compare notes. Maybe every Sunday, you can prepare your calendars together. (Double book yourself on this one: Prepare weekly calendar and Good parenting.) Plan for the unexpected, too. Leave space between items on your list so that you’re not always running late.
Add Social Relationships to the Schedule:
For example, a date night with your beloved: put it on the calendar and include time to get ready, as well, so you get your head right. Don’t show up late and at your worst for an evening with your spouse. Respect that date night as much as you would respect a meeting scheduled with your boss. The same goes for a lunch with a friend or time for self-care. This is good for you and models good behavior for your children.
Get Real about the Kids’ Extracurriculars:
Let’s look at sports. Your son plays varsity soccer and plays on a select team? Your daughter does the same with softball. Your other daughter loves tumbling, but classes aren’t enough, of course, so she’s on the competitive team, which means she and you get to spend entire weekends at gymnastics meets while the other parent rushes to and from the softball game. The chances that your kid will win an athletic scholarship are miniscule. What you spend on these activities probably won’t come back to you. Furthermore, I’ve known teens who did land partial scholarships but were too sick and tired of the sport to do it in college. You know what they will miss, though? Conversations around the dinner table and weekend getaways with the family, even if they act like they hate it at the time.
Delegate: This is often a control issue. No one does this-or-that as well as you do. But what if someone else’s effort is good enough? If my kid makes her lunch, it’s kind of messy. She pulls the crust off the sandwich and come lunchtime, the mayo will get her hands gooey and it’ll probably get on her clothes. So what?! The way she does it is good enough.
Put all the things that truly matter on your calendar. Include those times you hide in the bathroom adding to the Amazon cart. Exercise discipline, starting with social media limits (and write that down on the agenda). Your calendar might appear fuller, but it won’t be filled with clutter. Then delegate when possible – not when perfect; when possible. When you reflect on your days, you will see more meaning and even discover additional ways to find more leisure and love.
Editor’s Note: Deborah Dobbs, M.A. is a sociologist with 21 years experience at The Counseling Place, a non-profit agency dedicated to strengthening emotional health in people of all ages. You can reach her at 469.283.0242