Streamlining

I finished up the first week and a half of work feeling like I was totally fucked and there was no way I could make it through the year with my sanity intact.

Then I listened to a four part series on Note to Self (it’s called “Taking the Lead” — sorry I’m not sure how to link to podcasts) about two women trying to create an app/service that helps working mothers fill in the gaps so they don’t have to drop the ball at work or at home when shit goes amiss. And as I listened to their story, and heard the sound bites from so many other woman struggling to make it work when there just aren’t enough hours in the day, I felt something inside me shift. And suddenly I didn’t need to come here to kvetch anymore. Because even though, at the end of the series nothing was solved and no one had any answers, just knowing that I wasn’t alone made me feel 100% better. It’s amazing how cathartic identifying with someone else’s narrative can be.

I was also reminded of how good I have it in so many ways. I chose to be a teacher because I thought the hours would promote a work/family balance that most office jobs can’t. And while the inflexibility of my job can be exasperating (no tele-commuting for me), I really have been very lucky for the past six years in find ways to work with my administration to create a schedule that works (at least moderately) well for may family.

Of course, the gains for my family have been at the expense of my work, or better said, my mental well-being at work. At best I’ve been coasting at work for the last six years, getting by on my years of experience and all the systems, and curriculum, I created. At worst I’ve been struggling and sometimes even dropping the ball. Being at home more with my family means I’m at work less to get things done. And while I have become more efficient, which saves time, there are hours I do need to be there, and that always means picking my kids up later than I want to.

And of course there are the things I need and want to do to stay healthy and happy, like working out or seeing friends. It’s just really hard to find the time for everything.

Yes, I know, I’ve written this exact post. Many time.

But truly, this year, with my insane schedule, time is at premium in ways it never has been before. The other campus that I start at is farther away and takes a lot longer to get to, except I’m supposed to be there earlier than before. I generally arrive 2-3 minutes before the final bell, which would be totally panic inducing if it weren’t for the teacher I’m working with, who is totally understanding and happy to start the class without me.

I don’t have much travel time between schools either, which means I arrive at my school only 10 minutes before I start teaching there, which doesn’t leave much time to prepare. All this to say, I have to make copies and do set up at the end of the day, and I have to take any grading home, where I’m also planning, answering emails, and inputting scores.

At this point, it feels my day is scheduled down to the minute; if I stop and talk to someone for 15 minutes before I get into my car, the whole evening could be thrown off.

Basically, I need to start streamlining. I’m going to spend this month looking hard at how I’m spending my time in an attempt to make more deliberate choices about what I’m doing and when. If I look at one day, things feel impossible, but if I have the entire week in mind, it feels more manageable.

This means I need to be more organized, I need to have systems in place so I can see the week in front of me and make intentional choices about when I’m going to work out, when I’m going to pick up the kids early (and when it’s going to have to be okay that they wait), when I’m going to prep meals, when the kids are going to take baths, when I’m going to grade papers and input scores, and so on.

Planning my life like this won’t leave a lot of space for spontaneity, but it might actually allow me to do all the things I need to do, while still allowing me some of the important things I want, like quality time with my kids and husband, and the occasional meal out with a friend.

I’ve identified a few areas that I know require large chunks of time, or generally take more time than I think is truly necessary: shopping (for groceries and household goods), house pick-up, meal prep (includes lunches), exercise, my daughter’s homework, bedtime routine, prepping for work. I hope to spend time here this month, writing about my current systems (or lack thereof) and brainstorming ways to streamline processes to make them less time consuming and more efficient.

I find that I spend a lot of time attempting to do two or more things at the same time, and then am surprised when quality time with my kids is lacking in the quality department, when I spent much of it folding laundry or picking up things around the house. At the very least, I hope by streamlining and scheduling, I can dedicate myself to one task at a certain time, so I don’t feel so harried throughout the whole day. This may mean that ultimately I don’t get as much done during any given time period, but hopefully that will be okay, because I’ll be using my other time more wisely.

Wish me luck as I try to figure all this out. I know there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to how effectively I use my time, I just hope I can make meaningful changes before this school year gets the best of me.

What is one area of your life you’d like to streamline more?

12 Comments

  1. What a positive spot about such a sticky and intractable problem! Really like that you are seeing the need to schedule the BIG blocks/needs first. Does help. And actually using a timer with tasks to learn how long they really take if you are not interrupted or doing two things at the same time can be helpful and enlightening.
    Good for you! There is hope with this mess.

    1. I just signed up to do a time tracking project this coming week which I think should really help me see where and how I’m spending my time. I’m curious to look at it all after 7 days.

  2. I use a pomodoro timer for working at home so I have scheduled breaks and a set time for a given task. It helps a lot. We are also cooking fewer days a week now than before and I make all my breakfasts and lunches Sunday afternoon when the kid is supposed to be making her lunches. Ordering groceries online for delivery is the greatest time-saver ever and we can plan meals and shop after bedtime for the girls. It also makes comparison shopping easy with looking at multiple websites at once.

    1. The timer sounds really interesting. I’ll look into that. I have never used an online grocery delivery but you may have sold me on it. I was hoping to cut my grocery shopping down to just twice a month, with no more than one emergency trip to the place by my work a week. Maybe if I can’t manage that, I’ll look into online grocery shopping. Thanks for the tip!

  3. I will be so excited to learn about the time tracking results. Facts really help especially when there are so many tight deadlines and your between campus trips! The pomodoro timer thing sounds interesting. Finding ways to skip time killers so you can have time where you need it is really important and harder every year especially for working parents.

  4. The problem for me is I have pretty much streamlined all there is to streamline. Not that I’m some kind of efficiency expert or that my life is perfect it’s just that I’ve combined tasks and trips, chopped and cooked ahead of time etc. etc. as much as I can. Like you my day or week could be totally derailed by a simple 10 minute unexpected excursion of some kind. There’s not a lot of give in my schedule. I have so many tasks that need to get done around the house including just basic cleaning that just fall to the wayside because there are only so many hours in the day.

    1. I hear you on the tasks that just fall to the wayside. I think that is also going to be part of this project–figuring out what I can let fall by the wayside, at least until the weekend, with the least negative effect. Am I more annoyed by crap lying around the house? A dirty toilet? A grungy shower? The laundry piling up? Can I get creative with my outfits while I wait to wash the jeans? Because you are right, at some point there won’t be any more streamlining to do and I still won’t have enough time. I guess that’s when I start prioritizing what gets done in the first place.

  5. I think cutting things out may be the way to go. There are so many things I’d like to do in an ideal world, but to preserve my sanity and keep time for the things that matter, I’ve had to lower my standards on a LOT of stuff (what we eat, how clean our house is, how often/how long I exercise, personal appearance/grooming). Every couple of months, a chunk of time opens up for some reason or another (kids playing nicely together or husband takes them out, family visiting & helping) and I can catch up a little bit (but usually I just use that time to read a book or watch TV)

  6. I love that podcast, and the series was great – I agree, it is so affirming to hear that others have the same struggles. I think you’ve got the right attitude about this really difficult time. What time tracker will you use? I read ‘I know how she does it’ and geeked out on all the time diaries. I do love that stuff. I struggle with not multi-tasking – and also with trying to do too many things in a day. Please let us know what you learn and how you work towards doing what you need to do in what sounds like a very difficult externally-imposed schedule.

  7. Thanks for the podcast tip – loved it! And honestly so great to hear (I know, horrible to say) that others were going thru the same thing.
    I need to do what you’re doing – streamlining. It takes me so long to make lunches in the morning, along with breakfast, and I need to prep the night before (Even though I’m tuckered out) it’ll just make the morning easier for all of us.
    Currently, I’m trying to streamline/organize my counter and make a “command center”. I have a wall that’s currently empty and well, I just need to do it.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

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