I love it when people ask me about how my life has changed since having kids. No really, I actually do. It is something I have thought about a lot. And I like being able to assure new parents-to-be that a catastrophe is not looming around the corner – you’ll still be you, but your reality is going to change in some distinct ways.
One of those ways is working in smaller chunks of time rather than big chunks of time. I am a person who LOVES to cross things off of her to-do list. I have been known to add things to my list just so that I can have the satisfaction of crossing them off. I have consistently used a planner since my late teens. And I can still get things done now, even when our toddler is getting over a cold and our baby is just getting one. I just have to be flexible enough to work in smaller chunks of time.
The trendier term for thinking about chunks of time is “time blocking.” To learn more about time blocking, read this Entrepreneur article, this LifeHack article, or read about the Pomodoro Method. In general, it means that you take the unstructured time in your day and block off time to focus on specific tasks (e.g. “I will work on my novel from 5-7AM each morning and then check email from 7-8AM”).
Before kids, I specifically preferred two-hour blocks of time to really dig into projects. I’d work for an hour, take a five or 10-minute break, work for another hour, and then switch tasks entirely. For example, this was perfect for heading to a coffee shop for a few hours in the middle of the day to make demonstrable progress on a large writing project. In both undergrad and grad school, I found that it was the perfect amount of time to focus on one subject at the library, before my eyes crossed and I wanted to run screaming from the building.
It is a rare day that I get two hours of uninterrupted time now. Does this mean I can no longer attempt large projects? Absolutely not! It just means I have to work with different sized chunks of time.
Instead of two hours, now I focus more on one hour, 30-minute, or 15-minute chunks of time. This requires a little discipline in two ways:
First, you need to break your projects down into smaller tasks. Yes, if you had two hours you might be able to crank out a full chapter for your novel. Instead you have 45 minutes. What is a concrete thing that you can complete in 45 minutes and walk away feeling accomplished? Sometimes this requires a little creativity. It often makes more sense for me to outline a project first, where I might have jumped right in in the past. I can accomplish the outline quickly, all my key ideas are then on paper, and when I come back to write I’ll be able complete it a lot faster. I have always been an outliner, but now it is even more of a necessity.
Second, you need to adjust your expectation of progress. Smaller chunks of time often = slower progress. That is OK! As I mentioned recently in a post, #progressnotperfection. You can’t expect to get two hours of work done in 30 minutes. You can get 30 minutes of work done in 30 minutes, and then hit it again another time. You have still moved the needle.
I don’t plan on writing very many #ProfessionalMom posts, but I do think it changes how we think about managing both professional and personal time. Thanks for reading and good luck with your time blocking this week!