Time Management for Writers, Parents and Other Insanely Busy People

First, let me admit that I have blithely typed that title in, as if I had advice to dispense, but in fact, I have questions. Slightly desperate questions. But let me start somewhere else.

Yesterday afternoon, I was grumpy. We were trying to find sound equipment for some interviews I am doing, and as usual, we also wanted to equipment to multi-task for several other projects, actual and fantasy. And we wanted it to be very, very inexpensive. But of excellent quality.

The boys, of course, just wanted to play. No amount of singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” could convince them that driving around in their carseats had anything to do with the kind of fun they were after.

The guy at the audio place (which we chose because it shares the name of one of our sons) was absolutely humorless. It is a rare person who can be around Angie and not crack a smile. And here was Angie with Charlie on her back, dancing around and asking sincere, well-researched questions about audio equipment with humorous asides. No smile. No equipment, either. Just a glass counter, a long hallway, and this guy.

We left. Now it was too late to go to Radio Shack or anywhere else, because the park had risen forcefully to the top of the agenda. So off we went, to Totland, our home away from home. At Totland, we found Amanda and Vivian playing. We met Amanda and Matt in our birth class for Leo, when Amanda was pregnant with Vivian. Vivian can talk and give kisses–which the boys blushingly appreciated. Amanda offered us the loan of Matt’s microphone, which we were able to pick up that very evening, right after we picked up our near weekly Cheeseboard pizza. (Review of Pizza: YUM.)

Right then, while we were ending up with a very, very inexpensive, high quality microphone that we could aquire in the park (the boys approved of that), a big boy came along the cement path “road” at Totland in a large blue jeep decorated with a young punks dot com sticker. Charlie was in his own plastic orange car, but he was focused on honking and steering, and wasn’t actually moving anywhere. Leo was pushing a sort of lawn-mower toy with the little balls inside a plastic window that pop. It was a toy that made me wonder if we could get some sort of vacuum cleaner that he could push around the house like that . . . I got up to steer Charlie to the side of the road and direct Leo over next to Mama, and the dad of the big boy in the jeep said something about how it was hard to get anywhere.

“It’s the journey, not the destination,” I said. I live in Berkeley; these kinds of cliches passed off as insight are exected of me. Nonetheless, as I sat back down on the tiny cement wall, I found myself thinking about that cliche. And how infrequently I take in the journey; how frantic I am about the destinations–all four-hundred-fifty-six of them. Leo pushed his lawn-mower over to the water table and back. Charlie honked his horn and spun the wheel of his car. And I thought, I have no idea what’s going to happen.

I’m too superstitious to write down what I thought next, but it had to do with mortality and not knowing how long any of us would be around. What if this was it? Birds, butterflies and a special raccoon danced in the mural on my left. The guy who lives at Totland after the kids go home came back with his dinner and sat at one of the picnic tables under the oak trees. Angie was next to me, and Amanda came back with her pink iPhone and Matt’s yes to loaning us the microphone. The journey . . . What if this is it?

It doesn’t mean I don’t clean the kitchen (god knows) or write my blog or negotiate with Angie over which lucky one of us will get to take a shower today. It doesn’t even mean that I want to play in the sandbox more than I want to read a book. While I appreciate the opportunity to see the world all big and new again, I do slip back into my grown-up perspective awfully fast and want the kind of entertainment I am used to–with words and ideas at center.

It just swings the balance back to something a little closer to center: the journey and the destination. I’ll give equal value to the part I get to experience, and take a little energy back from the endpoint off where the horizon vanishes.

So, what does this tell us about time management? Maybe that the term forces an approach: management. For Angie’s birthclass, Ange and Leo (3 months old) and I met privately with Nancy Bardacke, who teaches mindful birthing. Nancy told me that I was trying to “micromanage the unknown.” Now that’s pretty much what I consider to be my job description, and probably have since I began, at age 7, to spend my time alternating–every few days–between my mother’s basement flat and my father’s house.

So what I want to suggest to myself and to other writers and parents and other insanely busy people, is that we launch a new field: time experiencing. Here’s one exercise: instead of making a list of what you have to do, make a list of what you’ve done this week that you loved. Or liked. Or just showed up for. Here’s mine:

1) Sat in the front yard playing with my sons.

2) Kissed the back of Angie’s neck.

3) Listened to an interview with Carol Muske-Dukes from the archives of Fresh Air.

4) Donated money to Obama (first time I made a donation to a political campaign in nearly 25 years, since I was a kid).

5) Had a great conversation with one of my clients.

6) Talked on the phone with my friend Katia.

7) Read the whole New Yorker in bed beside the sleeping boys.

8 ) Resolved a traffic jam at Totland in the warm twilight hours of the day.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this. I read it at just the right moment–I love when that happens–as I was in desperate need of a reminder to focus on what is good. It is astonishing how easy it is to forget this, as well as the fact that when one manages to do so, there is less time and energy available to dwell on the incessant rushing around. So glad I discovered your blog….


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