Several weeks ago I read a post by a blogger that’s still on my mind. The topic was “reinvention of self,” and in it the author described steps she took to transform her life from that of a stay-at-home mom to that of a floral shop proprietor. She included stunning pictures of her shop, which is in England’s Lake District. The children had grown, you see, leaving her time to re-evaluate her life, take inventory of those things for which she had passion (in her case, flowers and floral arrangements) and assemble all of the parts she would need to make herself over: beautiful shop space, a collection of lovely antique vessels to hold her arrangements, flowers, of course, business cards, and all the rest. As I read I became entranced, dreaming along with her narrative, seeing my own life shifting its shape through passion and a little planning. I stared at the pictures of her shop; it was exploding with petals and color before an old world backdrop of beautiful stone walls, diamond-paned windows, and arched doorways. She used a soft focus lens, so the light was diffused, and the effect was such that the shop did, indeed, appear to be more dream than reality. It all seemed so right, this “living your passion” thing, and the blogger’s gentle and encouraging tone made me want to shuck the mundane realities of my own life in favor of long-held dreams of reading good books and writing the Great American Novel. If I can do it, she coaxed, you can too! My heart beat wildly at the promise in those words.
And then the spell was broken.
As I continued reading, I learned that this blogger had, from the very beginning, an abundance of two compounds critical for such a venture: money and time. Her dreamy life in the Lake District was made reality, in large part, by her husband, a retired executive from an American firm who purchased a summer home there. Now that their adult children were busy feathering their own nests, she had the freedom to spend whole days planning and marshalling the resources needed to embark on “phase two” of her life. Don’t get me wrong, I admire this woman. She’s made a go of something beautiful and inspiring, and that called her to put her vision and talents to efficacious use. Not everyone can do that. But the risk inherent in this kind of transformation is lessened substantially when a financial safety net stretches taut beneath you, creating a soft bottom should the business dry up or the passion cool. For someone like me, who has no such safety net, her invitation to jump in, her assurance that you can do it, too! must include the caveat but don’t quit your day job. And that’s the point at which harsh reality neutralizes the dream.
In having raised her children and produced a successful, happy family, the blogger has done something hard and amazing that I’m not entirely sure I could have emulated had I had kids. But because I’m not a mom, I find that I’m always looking for the story of the woman of limited means and support who somehow finds, in the nooks and crannies of a schedule dominated by work, the time to create something grand. Those stories are out there. There are women doing amazing things. The women I know are smart and hard-working steel magnolias, as the saying goes, who have rushed headlong into very trying circumstances and emerged triumphant on the other side. Some of them have even made their dreams real by monetizing their hobbies or jumping into new careers. But the scarcity of time, even more than a scarcity of financial resources, seems to be the limiting factor these women have had to work hardest to overcome.
“Reinvention of self” takes time. Where do you find it when your most productive hours are spent at a job? How do you tap your energy in your off-hours when it’s been drained in the solving of your employer’s problems? When can you replenish your creative reserves after they’ve been depleted generating leads for others throughout the day? One of my favorite old Twilight Zone episodes is “Time Enough at Last,” in which the bookish Burgess Meredith longs for time to read the world’s classics. He gets it—but only after the rest of the world has been annihilated in a nuclear explosion. Even then, once he has painstakingly categorized the reads that will see him through the solitary years to come, time is short; before he has the opportunity to turn the first page, he breaks his glasses and is unable to see the words. Time is very precious indeed.
As a person who’s always pressed for time, this is a subject I’ve thought about a lot. The ticking clock is a soundtrack of my life, a persistent white noise in the background as I scurry from one thing to the next. Or maybe it’s not a clock at all; Maybe it’s a timer, counting down to an hour when its just too late for everything. So many interests, so very little time. I was speaking about this with a friend yesterday, and she’s struggling with this, too. She dreams of turning her hobby—she makes scrapbooks—into a class that she can sell. But finding the time to realize the dream has been a real challenge. She asked me for some advice in leveraging the time she has available to kick-start her aspirations. She asked me, as if I have the ticket. It’s true that I’ve spent my adult life multi-careering; I’ve almost always worked multiple jobs at one time. I’ve always had a full-time job, but I’m also a landlord, and have done consulting work on the side for many years. At one point I did all of that and taught a class at a local college. Still, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in time management. I’ve nearly driven myself crazy keeping all of the balls in the air, and there have been tradeoffs that I occasionally regret. I have learned a few things along the way, though. One of my key learnings has been the importance of harnessing the day before attempting to change a life.
A Template for Designing Your Day
The template below is reflective of the way I usually manage my day. If you want to reinvent yourself, but are mired in routine or feeling overwhelmed by the demands of your life, maybe all you need is a fresh view on the long day ahead, and a different take on the time you have available.
- Get up early. The easiest way to gain more time is to build it into your morning. For me, “early” means early, around 4:00 a.m. I have to be at work by 8:00, I have an hour commute, it takes me an hour to get ready, so if I get up at 4:00, that gives me an hour for things like reading, working on the blog, or making plans. I maintain this schedule even on Saturdays. Sunday is the only day that I allow myself to sleep in a little later before heading to church. Now I know 4:00 a.m. may sound extreme to those who aren’t “morning” people. But if you’re serious about allocating time for your reinvention project, early mornings really are a must. I actually enjoy the 4:00 a.m. hour. It’s dark outside and extremely quiet. The day has yet to disclose its possibilities. This is also the time at which my energy is at its peak, and I want to invest that energy into the things that are most important to me.
- Make the bed. If I don’t get dressed and make the bed first thing in the morning, I tend to lounge around too long, wasting valuable time being unproductive. This is especially important on Saturdays. A made bed is a tidy, disciplined way to start the day off right.
- Develop a short checklist of things you will do that day, no matter what. Nearly everyone has a to-do list. But sometimes our lists are so crammed full of things we should do that they become paralysing. It occurred to me one day that if I actually did all of the things I wrote on my lists, I could accomplish amazing things. But I never would do them all. So I made a contract with myself that I would put fewer things on my daily list than I thought I could complete. In other words, I gave myself permission to do no more than the two or three things I put on my list—with the understanding, though, that no matter what, I would always do them. You know what I find happens? I tend to do more than is on my list, simply because I don’t have to.
- When a big project lies ahead, break it into parts—and do the easiest parts first. This particular strategy represents an evolution in my thinking. I used to believe the best way to tackle a major project was to do the hard things first and get them out of the way. But psychologically, this is too daunting an approach. When you can check small, easy things off your list you do two things: 1) build momentum, and 2) whittle away the larger project so it isn’t quite so large anymore. Momentum is particularly important when it comes to something huge like realizing a dream. It’s important to do something in support of that dream every day. The key to long-term success (or so I tell myself!) is to inch steadily closer to it over time.
- Avoid turning on the TV. Television is a major time drain. We’ve all done it: you sit down to watch one show, and before you know it, hours have passed. I rarely watch TV, and I’ve discovered a surprising benefit from abstinence: I feel better, more content, without all the noise and multi-sensory clutter.
- When you get home from work, don’t sit down right away; do something instead. If you sit down after walking through that door, you’re done. There’s little chance you’ll be getting up anytime soon. So before you sit, do some small task you’ve been putting off. Then reward yourself by enjoying some free time.
- Carve time in your day to do fun stuff. Read. Go for a walk. Visit a friend. Play with your dog. Don’t let a day pass by without doing something you really enjoy.
I’m interested in hearing how you usually design your day. If you’ve hit upon a great time management strategy, please share it below. I may just want to adopt some of your techniques!
P.S. IRONY ALERT! While I was finishing up the above post on how to manage your time, Mary Kris, my stylist, called me to find out if I was OK. Turns out time got away from me and I missed my 9:00 appointment. See what happens when you try to be a time management guru? Reality will show you up every time. Sorry again, Mary Kris.
Until next time…