Saturday, March 7, 2015

6:23 PM
Finding the Right Balance Can Be Tricky
and Takes Concentration
If I take a brief scan of my life over the last decade where I have been working seriously, raising kids improvisationally, or doing both simultaneously, I can say with some certainty that if I ever allowed any "me time" to be "optional" there was a good chance that that me time thing - whatever it was - "didn't happen".

I'll "try" to squeeze in a work out today.... didn't happen or timing/activity/duration was sub-optimal.
I "should" make plans with my girlfriends.... weeks or even months would go by.
I'd "like" to get my hair done soon... roots for miles.

So when/how did I actually manage to get things done for me? It really boils down to two things.

(1) It happened when it was built firmly into my family's schedule/habit. I have written a lot about the power of schedule and routine in allowing me and my family to fit everything in that we do. In effect, these schedules are pseudonyms for the "habits" we have formed as a family.

Each day of the week has been carefully choreographed and at this point all of us move almost instinctively through the arrangement. The beauty of this system is that everyone always knows who is in charge (i.e., is it dad's night or mom's), what is going on (school, ballet, soccer, piano, gymnastics, swimming, park, homework), what is coming next, and is generally on the same page as to what the sum total of the experience is going to be.

While the overall scheduling took some iteration and negotiation, now that we have it figured out, it means there is no frantic thinking or texting: are you picking up the kids or am I? We can schedule our work, workouts and personal stuff around our standing nights off from the kids (of the 7 nights, I do 2 on my own and get 2 nights off), and in the event that one of us is really crunched at work or travelling, we cover for each other with the tacit understanding that the coverage is reciprocated and the schedule resets as soon as possible. This blueprint of days, times, and specific responsibilities means that it all works - just barely.

While I have arrived at the benefit of family habits and scheduling empirically, those much smarter than me have done exhaustive research to come to the same conclusion. Of late, my reading of Charles Duhigg's Power of Habit and Christine Carter's The Sweet Spot have in a sense validated the efforts we have made to eliminate unnecessary decision making and thereby increase our daily action and activity, while reducing stress and uncertainty. As Carter brilliantly says: when we use our brain's natural ability to run on autopilot, we let habits bear the burdens that we've been hoping willpower would shoulder.

(2) It happened when I declared the action in the affirmative. When I got hungry at 11AM on those days where I had unconvincingly told myself I would "try to run at lunch" I would inevitably skip or shorten my run in favor of a meal or working towards a deadline. However, on those days where I said I "would run at lunch" and put it into my calendar, as equally non-negotiable as the conference calls and meetings that littered the rest of the day, I scarfed down a power bar and

When I actually picked up the phone to call (I mean text) my friends with  a specific plan instead of a vague concept, a date would materialize almost immediately.

When I blocked time and used it do get my hair done, my closet organized, or my bills paid, lo-and-behold, it happened and was way less painless than the procrastination.

It came down to how I communicated, even with myself. It mattered whether or not I wrote it down and committed to the action in the same way I would follow through on any other obligation in my schedule.

Too often - as parents, as children, as employees - we let others and their needs overrun ours. We treat ourselves and our self-care as "optional" and therefore we fall rapidly to the bottom of the heap. As an alternative, I suggest that we all strive to keep ourselves near the top of the heap - starting with a daily, non-negotiable commitment to ourselves and ending up with a habit of self-care. After all, as Mary Oliver wrote Doesn't everything die at last? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


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