Monday, February 22, 2016

A Self-Sufficient Life in 2016: Phase 7: Time Management

I've enjoyed writing this series so much and I'm so excited to see new faces and read all the wonderful comments you've been leaving. We've only two weeks left in the series and I thought it was high time we talked about.......well......time.

Gardening, cooking, making money, cleaning, raising kids, raising animals, exercising - a self sufficient lifestyle is demanding! How can one person expect to fit each and every element of a self-sufficient lifestyle into a 24 hour day?

The answer - it's not possible. Yep. That's my magic advice. You can stop reading now. I'm kidding. 

In all seriousness, dear readers, you're going to have days when you feel like you've done nothing productive. Kids get sick. Animals get sick. Dinner turns out awful. It rains. This is life. Even the most organized, motivated person on the planet is going to have a bad day.

There are ways to combat an unproductive day, however. You just need a little time-management creativity.

Synced Calendars 4 Eva
I only have two children....but between the two of them, I am barraged by an endless parade of events. Class parties. Test dates. Band concerts. Grandparents Day. Snack Day. Sing-a-longs. Play dates. Actual parades. It seriously never stops...and this is coming from the mother of a toddler and a 4th grader who is only allowed to participate in one extra-curricular activity at a time because of my personal belief kids shouldn't be overloaded. Regardless of my efforts, we are a busy family.

And I am terrible at keeping track.

I once (i.e., 2 weeks ago) kept my kid up late finishing Valentines so she had them in time for her class party the next day...only to find out I was a week early and kept her up late for no reason. And I should've known. I hadn't put the party in my Google calendar.

Yep, that's right. A synced online calendar that allows me to import events on my phone or desktop and syncs them across all devices is the only way I can remember what needs to be done each day. When I start my day and log into the computer each morning, I pull up my email and my calendar first. Even before Facebook.

If you find yourself struggling to remember meetings, garbage days, seed sowing dates, or birthdays, consider getting an online calendar. The alerts alone may save you a night of panicked Valentine-making.

Organization Station
Nothing is more frustrating than going to pay your bills and realizing you don't know where the stamps are. Or those free return labels you got last month from the Humane Society. Or a pen.

Try keeping all of your bills in one central location, preferably next to a computer where you can check your account balances online. A bill station next to a computer is also helpful for those who want to track spending in Excel. Keep your mailing supplies close by and heck, tape up a calendar with some pretty pictures on it for motivation and quick date checks when your computer is turned off.

Walk yourself through your daily processes and try to keep elements of your processes in logical locations....for example, my bathroom cleaning supplies are in my bathroom closet, not under the kitchen sink with the rest of them. I keep scissors in three different locations in my house - the basement/laundry room, the computer desk, and my kitchen. I tape client info jotted down on sticky notes to the inside of my computer desk so I don't need to sift through emails. I have hooks right next to my back door for coats, purses, and bags because that's the door we use as a family. Try to think about your schedule and arrange your items to match your movements.

Prioritize Like a Boss
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you have as many hours in your day as Beyonce. Truth be told, we are vastly different from one another and our ability to handle life shouldn't be compared to anyone else. I think there's a certain level of motivation that comes from knowing the greatest souls on earth only had 24 hours in each day....but then there's the part of me that thinks, cool...but now what?

Well. Now we prioritize.

Sit down with a cool notebook and pen and physically write out the things in your life that require time. Include everything, even irregular commitments that may not need to be done each day (like hosting Christmas). This may feel overwhelming at first but don't worry, it gets better. Let's call each item you write down a "time-sucker."

Next, grab some colored highlighters (or in my case, crayons) and start to group your time-suckers. Make a color for family. A color for social life. A color for money. Home. Health. Self Improvement. Color code your time-suckers into distinct, very simple not make a color for things like "PTO" - that would fall under family - or "new clients" - that would fall under money. Keep the categories high-level and try to limit them to maybe 5-7. Leave any time-suckers that cannot be categorized alone.

Now quickly, without thinking too hard about it, make a color key in the margin of your paper. Place the colors in a vertical line with the most important category in your life at the top, the least important at the bottom. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty if money is high up on your list. Sometimes we have all the love we need and the majority of our time is spent worrying about keeping a roof over our kids' heads. Nobody will see this. Be honest with yourself. And realize priorities can change - you can repeat this exercise at any time.

Now next is the fun part. Look back at your time-sucker list. Cross off anything that isn't highlighted. I mean it. Put a line right through those things. They are not important, you see. It's fantastic that you like to check Twitter 40 times a day, no judgement from me, the Facebook queen. But Twitter doesn't even begin to fall into the most important things in your life. So cross that sucka off.

Now move on to your color-coded time-suckers. Is one particular color sticking out? What is taking the most time out of your life? Compare the most prominent color in your time-suckers list to the ranked color key off in the these line up? If so, you rock and your time is well-delegated. If your answer is no, that's ok. We're gonna fix it.

Scale your time-suckers. What I mean is, give yourself a number, like 10, and write it next to your top category. Now reduce that number by 1 and write it alongside your second category. Continue until your categories are numbered.

Mine looks like this:
Family - 10
Self-Improvement - 9
Friends - 8
Health - 7
Money - 6
Home -5

Now start counting your colored time-suckers and force yourself to cross off enough time-suckers to comply with the number allowances listed in your key. So for me, I prioritized an allowance of 10 Family time-suckers (I only had two listed, whoops), but only 5 Home time-suckers - I had to cross 11 Home-related time-suckers off my list! Seriously!

This is eye-opening. If purple equals family and is your #1 priority, and social life is yellow and is your #5 priority, you should have more purple than yellow on your list. Do it. Cutthroat.

And no guilt. This is YOUR life, not your friend's, not your mother's, not your neighbor's....yours. Your time should reflect your priorities because you will never have enough time to do it all. And if that means not hosting Christmas because you want to use that time to make life magical for your children, then so be it. No ragrets.

RIP Netflix
Dang you, Netflix, I love you so bad.

One of my biggest challenges with time management is the ease and simplicity of relaxing these days. It is way too easy to curl up on the couch while my kids are sleeping and get sucked into endless TV series.

The problem with this relaxation method, though, is that no matter how good it feels at the time, I always end up feeling unproductive, guilty, and frazzled afterward. Like "Jen, if you'd worked on your book instead of watching Mad Men, you might not be so pissed about needing to work a job you don't like to make money right now." I'm not saying it won't be hard. This entire self-sufficiency challenge is hard. But it will be worth it.

Try coming up with relaxation methods that check two boxes at yoga (relaxation and health), or reading (relaxation and self-improvement), or gardening (relaxation and food and health), or sewing (relaxation and clothing and self-improvement) or trying a new recipe (relaxation and food and health), or playing a game with your kids (relaxation and family), or joining a volleyball team (relaxation and social life), or making homemade candles to sell (relaxation and money).

I love Netflix, I really do, but Netflix doesn't fit into any of my top priorities. It's simply a time-sucker. It's gotta go. After I finish Mad Men, of course.

Get Help, Shorty
So I find it dang near impossible to clean, cook, watch the kids, and work all at the same time. I wish I could, but I can't, at least not well. Everyone needs a little help sometimes. I know, I know, this is a self-sufficiency post, as-in, SELF, moi, nobody else....but even homesteaders depend on others from time to time. Community is important so lean on it if you need to.

Does your neighbor have a snowblower? Ask him if he'll snowblow your driveway in exchange for some cookies or fresh chicken eggs. I promise the cookies will take less time than hand-shoveling your whole driveway. Not feeling the kids today? See if you can enroll them in a daytime activity through your local park district or swap a playdate with another mom (even better, organize a playdate at grandma and grandpa's house - cha-CHING!). Not sure you can hack a full week of work? Take a vacation day because who cares. Or if you're like me and you don't have vacation days, swap shifts, move hours around, and rearrange your calendar so you can get the day off that you need. It's ok to need help sometimes. Take it where you can get it.

Work Smarter
My last boss would tell me pretty consistently that if a task was taking me too long, I wasn't doing it right. "You don't need to work faster," he would tell me, "you need to work smarter." I always wanted to punch him when he'd say that. I would always be on like hour 7 of a problem I couldn't solve and he'd sneak up behind me and be like "Work smarter."

It's true, though. I hate to say it, but he's right. Sometimes we need to step back and view the problem as the teacher instead of the student, especially when we're just starting out and we're lacking confidence.

Just because the recipe says you need to add butter doesn't mean you need to. And it's certainly not worth the trip into town to grab some. Figure out another way. And yes, it would be easier to skip sanding and just slap on some primer and paint...but do you really want to be repainting in a couple months because your paint peeled right off? And is an hour commute actually worth the money you make at your job, or can you ask for a raise or find something closer to home? Do the kids really need to do a cheap craft at their holiday party, or can you talk the PTO into letting you take them outside for a scavenger hunt? Work smarter. Challenge the standards. Make your own rules. And hopefully save yourself some time.

What are your favorite time management tools? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. Thank you, lovely readers, for reading :)

Did you miss a Self-Sufficient Life series post? Don't worry! Here's what we've covered so far:


  1. I enjoyed reading these tips! I was definitely in need of prioritizing this year. So I got a planner and difference colored erasable pens. Best thing ever.

    1. YES I love new planners. Something about an empty notebook and cool pens just makes my heart do a happy dance. Little things, right?? Thank you so much for stopping by Ali! :)

  2. I'm late to the series, but I am going to have to go back and read all of these! Homesteading - that is my jam! Of course I live on a quarter acre city lot...but we have had chickens (hoping to get them again in the spring) and have a pretty large garden. I love this post though - I kind of want to do all the things - obviously not possible! New follower :-)

    1. HAH "homesteading is my jam!" Me too girl! I am so excited to meet you! I'm only on 0.5 acres out in suburbia so I definitely feel the small-homesteader pain...I want to do all the things, too! Awesome to hear from and so glad you stopped by :) Welcome!!

  3. This post couldn't have come at a better time! As I'm trying to be more self-sufficient through my own blog and business, just last night I was organizing and making lists of my priorities. I had put together 5 of my priorities and mentally categorized different tasks I do into those priorities, telling myself that if a task didn't fit, I should cut it out but I love how you organized it much more visually by listing EVERY task and color coding based on the priorities. Looking forward to reading the other posts in the series!


    1. Thank you Kelsey! So glad you stopped by! I am a huge visual learner, I like pictures and organizing things with boxes and tabs and colors and numbers....sounds like you're rockin the priorities this year, too! Welcome! So happy to have you! :)