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Friday, July 20, 2012

Hope and Help for the "Time-Challenged" Mom

I was born late. About 2 weeks late, to be exact. Being late runs in my family, too. My father has always been habitually late, and even though we didn't live with him for the majority of our growing-up years--I believe I inherited a "tardy gene". When I was in high school and drove myself to school, I was one tardy away from serving a Saturday school. In college, I was on "chapel probation" because I would habitually get to the weekly chapel service at my Christian college about 30 seconds after they had passed out the attendance slips where you wrote your student ID #. Now, at almost 34 years old, I have two little kids who are constantly creating last minute drama that keeps me from getting to where I need to be on time. Sound familiar to anyone?

Seriously though, wouldn't it be easier if we could just "pass the buck" and blame someone or something else for our poor choices? Let's be honest for a second. I am totally and completely self-responsible for being late to everything. Every. single. time! Yep, you heard me right...it's not genetics or really long trains, or car trouble, or my kids, or even getting up too late that causes me to be chronically tardy for every appointment, meeting, playdate or family event. I've been thinking long and hard lately about why I do what I do and more importantly, what punctual people do to get places on time. Here are the top 3 reasons I am always, always late--and what I've decided to do about the problem. 

#1  I try to squeeze in "just one more quick thing" before leaving the house.
This wouldn't be such a big deal for people who aren't time-challenged . If you have 30 minutes to spare and want to throw in a load of laundry, that's just plain smart! However, because I have absolutely NO concept of how long it takes to do things--I usually underestimate projects by half the amount of time required. For example, this past Sunday I had sprayed down the shower with my new homemade shower cleaner and was planning on hopping in the shower and cleaning it out before doing my usual shower routine. I figured it would only take about 5 minutes or so and I had "plenty of time" before we had to leave for church. My five minute project turned into a 15 minute project and I had to leave my hair halfway dried in order to get out the door to the van, where Bill and the kids were waiting for me. 

There have been multiple times when I have been out running errands, looked the clock and thought, "Hmmm....I have 30 minutes before I have to pick up Jackson at preschool. I have "plenty of time" to run into Meijer for a few things before I go get him."  Deduct the 10 minute drive time to the school, the extra 5 minutes to load up Charlotte and the groceries in the van and the 5 minutes it takes to check-out/pay and you've got yourself 10 minutes left to "pick up a couple of things."  This would totally be possible for someone with a watch or a charged up cell phone to keep track of those precious 10 shopping minutes....have I mentioned I don't own a watch and I rarely charge my phone? Ha ha ha! 

Trying to use up every last second may sound like a good time management technique; however, I'm learning that not allowing any padding in the schedule for unexpected dirty diapers, red lights, or long check-out lanes will almost guarantee that I am late. 

#2  I subconsciously believe we can teleport ourselves places without actually having to drive somewhere.
Somewhere along the line, I have developed this horrible habit of thinking the time I need to be somewhere is the time I need to leave the house. It makes no difference if the appointment or event is 5 blocks from my house or several counties away...I never account for travel time. Ever! Before children came along, there was never really any "loading time". Unless you have to scrape snow off the windows, you just go out and get in the vehicle and drive away. Easy peasy! However, the process of buckling my kids, loading up the diaper bag and my purse, returning to the house for forgotten sippy cups, rounding up library books that need to be returned, remembering the casserole for Mom2Mom, or locating my keys (ugh...lost keys are the biggest time suck!) takes at least 10 minutes. In spite of  knowing this process takes time, I allow zero minutes for loading OR travel time. And yet I wonder why I am chronically late....Beam me up Scotty!

Here's a great example for you. A friend invited me to a playdate a few days ago and said it started at 11:00 am. When I looked at the clock at 10:45 am, never once did it cross my mind that I should have the kids loaded in the van and be en route to her house. Wanna know what I thought when I looked at the clock? "Oh good! I still have 15 minutes to take a quick shower." (See #3 for why showering is the last thing I do instead of the first.) Needless to say, I arrived about 45 minutes late--again! My brain does not automatically deduct time for getting places like most people do without thinking about it. The time I need to BE somewhere is the time I plan to LEAVE my house. (Inevitably, I will leave 10 minutes later than that because I forgot to account for the time required to physically get loaded into the van!)

Most of the places I drive are fairly local and I am there in 15 min. or less. Very rarely do I go anywhere more than 30 min. away. I need to plan on 30 minutes of drive time for every destination--regardless of actual distance. I read somewhere that you should plan 5 minutes of "loading time" per child. For me, that would be 10 minutes--which seems about right. Adding together the 30 minutes of travel time and the 10 minutes of loading time means when a friend says her playdate is at 11:00--my brain needs to say 10:15 and my body needs to be walking out the door at 10:20. Wow! Do punctual people really have to do this kind of math every time they need to go someplace?! Ha ha ha!

#3  I do the least important things first and the most important things last.
Ugh...this one is a killer!! In addition to being "time challenged", I am also terrible at prioritizing! I have never been able to determine what order things should be done for the most efficiency. I do the most enjoyable things first and save the most difficult or dreaded tasks for last. I underestimate how long things take and procrastinate on the important things--like showering for instance. I get wrapped up in the little things and the next thing I know, I look up at the clock and realize I need to be two towns away in 25 minutes and haven't even begun getting myself ready. Panic sets in as I rush around like a mad woman and treat my kiddos like a jerk, just because I didn't use my time well.

I have always gotten myself ready at the last possible second. I perfected the art of putting my make up on while driving when I was in high school. Like many teenagers, I slept too late, didn't leave myself enough time to get ready, and spent way too long trying to fix my hair. I realized one day that I had 10 minutes of driving time to school that I could easily use to put on my make up. This is habit that has continued for the past 15+ years. (I am totally embarrassed to be admitting this fact, but at least now I am smart enough to wait until I am parked someplace before applying it! I have to tell the kids to wait for a second while I slap on some mascara and lip gloss before going into the store.) This topic came up a few years ago, when I was talking to a co-worker who was in her early 40s. She volunteered that she always put on her make up while driving because the lighting is better in her car than in her house. Sometimes it helps to know you aren't alone in your quirkiness!

On mornings I have to be somewhere--I will type blog posts, check Facebook, feed the kids and myself breakfast, dress the kids and occasionally fold some laundry before I finally make the time to shower or get myself ready. I think putting myself last has deeper roots than I want to deal with in this post, but the fact is that I don't do the important things first (like getting clothes on!) and I don't allow adequate time for necessary tasks--which leads to me being late time and time again. 

I recall a friend with three small children showing up frazzled to our weekly moms' group a couple years ago. Her youngest daughter, who was old enough to be walking, was in her pjs. I kind of chuckled about it and she said something I will never forget, "Some days there is only enough time for one of us to get dressed and it's as sure as heck going to be me!"  Man, if I that had been me that day instead of her...my daughter would have been dressed head-to-toe (probably with a matching bow and shoes) and I would have been the one decked out in my pajamas! 

4 Ideas for the Time-Challenged Mom 
1. Sometimes less is more. Why not skip the "one last thing" and just be 10 or 15 minutes early for that appointment or school pick-up, thereby eliminating the mad dash to get somewhere and lowering my stress level in the process? I won't be as likely to snap at my kids for being kids (spilling milk on the floor as we're walking out the door, having to go to the restroom after getting into the van, etc.) if I am not acting like a crazy woman trying to get from Point A to Point B. I could use the extra minutes to sit in the waiting room and read a book, clean out my purse in the car line at preschool or just listen to a favorite CD. What if I were the first one to arrive at a playdate, instead of the last? What would it be like to hear the opening song at church because we were in our seats when the worship celebration started? 

2. Begin tracking how long things take (such as unloading the dishwasher, stopping to get gas, folding a load of laundry, etc.) to have a more accurate idea of the time involved in completing those little tasks that we try to squeeze into our "spare time". Or go ahead and guess how long you think it will take to do the task/errand and then double or even triple that amount of time to come up with a realistic figure to work with. I'm not sure about you, but I'm not nearly as quick as I think I am!

3. Plan ahead by deducting both travel time (30 minutes will be my standard) and loading time (5 minutes per child) from the time you need to arrive someplace. Set a kitchen timer to go off 10 minutes before you need to be heading out the door to give everyone in the house a warning to put on shoes, go to the bathroom and gather up last minute items for the road (library books, sippy cups, grocery list, KEYS!!).

4. Last but not least (Am I the only one who finds it ironic that I put this tip last?), put the most important things first. People are more forgiving of kids with bedhead who are still in their pajamas, than they are of adults. Save unloading the dishwasher, checking social media and even dressing the little ones until YOU are ready (make up and shoes, too!). If there is extra time, feel free to do the less important tasks--but keep tip #1 in mind and don't try to squeeze in too much and end up in a mad rush. 

Are you "time-challenged"? What part of this post really spoke to your heart? Maybe you are naturally organized and punctual. If so, I would love for you to share what goes through the mind of an "on time" person and what secrets you use to get places with time to spare. 

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