In the days before my writing program began, I mapped out when I would write: Mondays and Tuesdays mid-day, Wednesday mornings, several hours on Thursdays before picking the boys up from school, Friday afternoons while my husband, Bill, was on with the boys.
I worried that adding writing into an already full schedule would cut into my time with my family and friends. I reassured myself that I could handle the extra responsibilities and the additional demands on my time and attention.
I was good at managing my time.
My “writing lite” schedule fell apart early in my first week of writing. I discovered writing a book was less like a teenaged crowd and more like a mob scene. Instead of writing for a few hours here and there throughout the week, I would sit down to write in the dark hours of the morning and would still be wrestling with words at 11:00 at night. I felt like security at the gate: too many unruly thoughts that wouldn’t settle down, never-ending red-alerts for my attention, and stubborn lines of writer’s block that I just couldn’t cross.
My time with my family dwindled to family dinners, working alongside my kids while they finished their homework, a few stolen hours on a Sunday to ride bikes or go get ice cream.
My husband took over much of the household, getting the boys ready for school in the mornings, doing the laundry, reining in the boys’ electronic use which had surged out of control as I spent more and more time upstairs in the big brown chair with my laptop on my lap.
I submitted the final pages in June and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
I believed after this writing mob scene, my schedule would return to normal. But the book and the subsequent new business that grew from it tore up the landscape of my life. Normal no longer existed. The aftermath of the writing riot felt like building a town from scratch: establishing the framework for a new business, structuring new programs, and assembling a new website. There was always a project needing my attention.
My über patient husband sat me down for a one-on-one, wanting to know when he could expect me back.
I took a long, hard look at my schedule. I made a list of tasks, projects, and ongoing responsibilities and got to work on drafting an ideal schedule. I quickly realized that even if I cut sleeping back to far less than the minimum recommended daily allowance, everything on my list wouldn’t fit into each week’s 168 hours.
Something needed to change and that something was me.
I no longer had the time to satisfy my inner Mean Manager by spending hours shaping my projects into an ideal framework, searching for the right turn of phrase, and looking for the ideal image to accompany a post. In the past, I was done when a project felt just right, when I received a nod of approval from my highly critical internal critic.
I was what Paradox of Choice author Barry Schwartz calls a maximizer, a person who struggles with decision-making to the point of unhappiness. I ranked quite high on a test that measured maximizer tendencies. I would spend an exhaustive number of hours developing a program or writing a blog and still not feel it was done. I agonized over every word in my Facebook posts. I reread everything I wrote, from the smallest post to my full book manuscript, over and over and over, hoping to arrive at a place where I was satisfied.
Each moment spent researching, reworking, rewriting, redoing – aka nitpicking – took away time I had for everything else, especially my family.
I set a goal to build satisficer habits, to allow my good enough efforts to be just that – good enough.
“One of the things that life teaches you is that ‘good enough’ is almost always good enough,” says Schwartz in a Wall Street Journal article. “You learn that you can get satisfaction out of perfectly wonderful but not perfect outcomes.”
My brand new satisficer standards are creating big shifts for me. I’m writing more and checking off items on my to do list in record time. I’m sharing more of what interests me on Facebook – and spending much less time agonizing over each post. I packed for a full-day spent at the park on the 4th of July in record time, realizing that we could buy or do without whatever I forgot (only big plates for dinner so we ate off the little ones I had brought for dessert.) I’m stepping away from my laptop and spending a lot more time with my family.
I’m discovering that I don’t have to pass through perfection's gate in order to enjoy the journey. My good enough is actually great.
Kathleen Ann Harper is a life coach for moms and author of the soon-to-be-released book The Well-Crafted Mom. She offers programs and workshops for moms, including Find Your Time, a one-on-one program to help you find time for yourself and what inspires and sustains you, within the midst of motherhood. Kathleen's mothers' group this month will introduce moms to tools to take control of their time.