When you think you don’t have time, try this.
A few weeks ago, during our Heroine’s Journey webinar, I asked everyone to name something they were struggling with. Almost everyone mentioned time. Several of my students work full-time. A few have small children at home. The rest of us are swimming in a sea of unstructured days.
I’ve written a lot about making your own days — working with the chain of habit, doing creative work in the morning and business in the afternoon, and creating “theme” days, as suggested by Jeffrey Davis in his excellent workbook on “Mind Rooms.”
But what if your problem is that your days are filled with income-producing work and/or children? How can you squeeze in a bit of time for writing or drawing or playing music?
The answer is not setting your alarm clock an hour earlier. When my daughter was a baby, that was the standard advice I heard. Not an option for me as my baby woke several times in the night and was up for good by 4:30 am, 5:00 at the latest. And even though she sleeps later as a teenager, I still never set my alarm before school wake-up time.
We live in a sleep-deprived culture, where our circadian rhythms are endlessly interrupted by glowing screens. We all need more sleep, not less.
I did come up with a few ideas that have worked for my students and clients in the past:
1) For working women, instead of a daily habit, create a weekly habit. Choose two times during the week, maybe a weeknight and a weekend morning, to write or draw or whatever you do. If it’s a weeknight, do not go home. Have your notebook or sketchpad ready and go directly from work to a quiet place where you can work. Maybe eat a good meal first — or reward yourself afterward. Do it on the same night every week — maybe Monday or Tuesday before the weekday starts to wear you down — and preferably at the same location.
I had one client who liked to go to Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning. She created the habit of stopping at a coffee shop, writing for twenty minutes, and using the market as a reward.
Whatever days you decide on, stick to them for eight weeks. It takes discipline at first, but once you’ve established the habit, you won’t have to think about it. Thinking about it is what gets us into trouble.
2) For moms, learn to work in small spaces of time and to be flexible. Have a notebook or sketchpad in the diaper bag. The baby falls asleep in the stroller? Pull over to a park bench or even stand in the street (I’ve done this), and write or draw for five minutes. Waiting for the kids at the bus stop or during a music lesson? That’s often when I write my blog posts.
But before you think about producing anything, let yourself have the pleasure of process — the delicious touch of pencil on paper, the heavenly moments when the mind is free. If you do have a piece in progress, be ready with some small next task.
(Confession: I used to park my daughter in from of Baby Einstein videos for a half hour every day. No guilt. The kids do lot lose brain function if you take a half hour to write or draw while they’re plugged in. I’m sure you’re reading to them plenty and stimulating them in the manner of most modern moms. I’ve promised my daughter not to brag in public, but I can tell you those thirty minutes did not handicap her intelligence.)
Recently a student wrote to me that she could only work if she had four-hour blocks of time. I haven’t written back to her yet, but when I do, I’ll tell her that she is setting herself up for failure. There are no perfect schedules or ideal circumstances.
Finally, in my teacher’s words, you have to cut through. You stop making excuses, you push past exhaustion and overwhelm, and you show up. You’ve got five minutes,? Use them, if not to draw, then to be still and receive (put away the iPhone).
And there’s a bonus: If you can accept that your schedule is imperfect, you can take pressure off your work and allow that to be imperfect too. Finally, you are free.