Here’s a very truthful and funny post from my good friend Rob about the time-consuming nature of parenthood and how his life and schedule are now completely dictated by a toddler. He shares his tips for making the most of ‘free time’. Rob is dad to Lua, nearly two, and has another baby on the way. He blogs over on Struggles of a Self-taught Programmer.
The main shock to the system for me about being a father is the lack of any free time I now possess. For us it crept up slowly. Our baby daughter was an absolute pleasure to deal with, didn’t cry much, slept a lot; just generally chilled out, which was great. I had taken a couple of weeks off work and we all spent that time relaxing.
Yet slowly and relentlessly, over the past two years our tiny specimen of a human has increasingly consumed more and more of our time. She now has complete control over every aspect of our lives, and schedules; from when we wake up to the time we crawl into bed, knackered after a busy day of parenting. Looking back I had so much free time which was mindlessly squandered.
I used to have hopes and dreams, which I could have easily used my copious amounts of unused time to realise. But alas no. Now I am staring at the abyss of a packed, and yet somehow mind-numbing schedule with scant room for anything else.
I don’t ask for much, I don’t need to travel the world or win Wimbledon but I would like to do an online course, read more books or even (perish the thought) put some more time into my business so I can buy nice things. At time I’ve found myself replacing those things with similar but faster activities, or using shortcuts. I looked for a review from useaudiobooks.com for example, and have been turning to audiobooks more often lately. It’s been working somewhat, but the fact I need to rush still bothers me somewhat.
See these aren’t big dreams or impressive hopes, but they are mine, and they are being taken away from me by someone who can’t yet form a coherent sentence.
I have tried to explain this to her. After nearly two years on this planet I would have thought that she would have developed the faculty of reason. However, when I suggested that possibly instead of helping her reassemble the same jigsaw for the 900th time that day I could perchance excuse myself and spend that time expanding my mind instead; she just stopped what she was doing, thought about it and then threw a piece at my face. The jigsaw construction continued unabated.
My only defence against this onslaught of miniature tyranny is to get organised. During the week I am at work, but at the weekend I have a good couple of hours when she collapses from the exhaustion of destroying my dreams (her afternoon nap). And then I have the hopefully undisturbed peace and quiet of the night. In total I have probably about 10-15 hours per week I can spend on stuff just for me.
Over these past couple of years I have formed some tricks to get the most out of my free time, which, dear reader, I would like to share with you. Hopefully you have some better ideas which you can share back!
1. Get the thinking out of the way
There is nothing worse than sitting down with a good few hours in front of you and then not knowing what to do. Always, *always* do your thinking first. When you only have 10 or 15 minutes to spare you should try to plan out your tasks for when you have more time. Keep a list of clearly defined “next actions” so when you do have a good chunk of time you know exactly what to do. This is heavily influenced by David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but not quite so extreme.
2. Don’t use a clock
A lot of time is wasted, especially when you have little of it, looking at the clock to see how much time you have left. Get out of this habit. If you need to stop at a certain time (i.e. to pick up a child from school etc) then set an alarm. You can now stop worrying about the clock, and focus on spending your time wisely.
3. Get going with the Pomodoro Technique
If you have planned out what you need to do, but still find it hard to get started, try using the Pomodoro technique. You can Google this, but essentially it is a matter doing a 25 minute burst of work, followed by a few minutes break, another 25 minutes, few minutes break etc. Normally I just use it to get myself started as once I’m in the flow I don’t like to stop for a pointless break. It is also useful when you have lot of small bits and pieces to work on as it breaks them up very nicely.
4. Don’t set goals or targets
If you set yourself a specific target, such as “I’m going to get x, y, z finished this week”, invariably something will come up (child gets ill etc) and you’d miss your targets by a mile. This is just depressing. The best thing to do about this is to not set targets. Don’t sketch out road maps or milestone dates. You will miss them. It will demotivate you. Do all you can to not demotivate yourself, and if that means having a much looser sense of targets and goals, then so be it.
5. Celebrate your “wins”
This ties in with number 4 above. Don’t set yourself goals and milestones, but when you do complete or accomplish something on your
list then give yourself a reward. Say “well done” to yourself once in a while. It is amazing how motivating completing a task, no matter how small it is, can be.
So there you go, 5 quick tips to help utilise your free time better and move you further towards completing things just for you.
Happy Father’s Day!