Back when I was brand new to motherhood, some thirteen years ago, I had a job that involved a lengthy commute. As if diaper changes, nighttime feedings, Mommy Brain, well-baby checkups, and the exciting discoveries that each day brought weren’t enough to fill my time completely, I was driving 55 miles twice a day to bring home the bacon. Drop-off at the babysitter’s house was early and arrival at her house to pick up my bundle of joy in the evenings was late. I was exhausted, and on the hunt for ways to make life easier.
I started with weeding out the stuff in my house that wasn’t required. Anything that didn’t serve an explicit purpose went, anything that required dusting was out. The chotchkies (and I had them by the dozens, because evidently at 20-something collection of unimportant things that looked cool on the wall or coffee table was super important) found their way into storage in the basement or into the trash. I hired a sweet young gal, a soldier’s wife–also with a young baby–to come and clean my house once a week. She was willing, and efficient, and only charged me $35 a week. She was heaven.
I stopped buying any kind of clothing that required dry-cleaning or ironing. I had laundry rotation down to a weekend science. I gave up on straightening my hair (an hour-long process) and went au natural, crazy curls and all, and didn’t care one bit what the folks at work thought. I thought I was doing pretty well with maximizing my time at home–so I didn’t miss the moments, big and small, with my son–the light of my life.
Still, the commute was the bane of my existence. Sitting in traffic made me crazy. I-24 was actually a breeze for the lion’s share of the miles. Free and easy, leafy canopy overhead. Almost peaceful. But as soon as I hit the city, I was stuck in stop and go. 20% of my drive took 80% of my time. And it made me crabby. By the time I arrived at work, I was a frazzled mess, weighed down by thoughts of all of the things I could be doing instead of inching along, at a snail’s pace. I pounded the steering wheel, cursed at fellow drivers (I know, hard to imagine), felt my blood pressure rise. It wasn’t healthy.
Then, at a well-baby checkup, waiting for the doctor to become available, I read a magazine article that was all about time management. The author wrote about how much time we humans waste–in line at the grocery store, waiting on the next bank teller, at the drive-through, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office (exactly where I was as I was reading!), sitting in traffic. She described her former self–pounding the steering wheel, cursing at fellow drivers, blood-pressure spiking out of control. She was describing ME! She went on to describe her new self, after she’d made some changes–calm, peaceful, filled with a sense of accomplishment. Oh, how I wanted that! I read on as she suggested something completely novel.
She was a mother, like me. She had a long list of to-dos. And all this time that she’d been sitting in traffic, or waiting in some line somewhere, her primary frustration point was that she wasn’t getting something done. This sitting, this waiting, was a waste of her time. So she started carrying some of the to-do list items in her purse.
Maybe while she was waiting for the five cars in front of her to get their burgers at the drive-through window she’d balance her checkbook. Perhaps, in line at the bank, she’d make out her grocery list. While she was waiting at the doctor’s office, she might be chatting with her dentist about scheduling her next appointment. That book she’d been meaning to read? She’d catch a few pages here and there in line at the grocery store. And? She’d do her makeup in the stop and go, or at the red lights. On the way into the office.
It was a revelation, this new method of doing things. I latched onto the idea immediately and couldn’t wait to see just how I could implement it.
I followed her advice, almost to the letter. And I saw results right away. I was indeed more peaceful. My blood pressure stopped rising on a daily basis. I no longer had to do deep-breathing exercises to stop feeling homicidal at the bank. I didn’t do my makeup before leaving the house. It saved me five minutes–a precious five minutes I could spend with my Freddy, watching his smile light up his face, snuggling with him and drinking in the smell of baby shampoo and talc, surprising him with a new toy, or listening to him play the drums on my Tupperware. It was a beautiful thing.
I started actually looking forward to those moments that I’d spend waiting. Waiting was suddenly a gift instead of a burden. I counted all of the things I could check off of my list on a daily basis. And it actually added up to a lot of time I didn’t have to spend trying to get those things done at night. I found myself less worried about the list during the day, knowing that I would have little snatches of time here and there, time that could be productive. It was good.
It’s a practice I’ve maintained for thirteen years now. I no longer do the 55-mile one-way commute and I live across the country from I-24. Freddy is a middle-schooler, life has changed a lot. But I still bring something to do every day, something I can sneak down into my purse and use to pass time while I’m waiting for something else to happen. I don’t balance my checkbook anymore because I have online banking (read: instant gratification and no-more 10-key calculator), but I do still make grocery lists on the fly, I still schedule appointments for my kiddos while I’m waiting in the drive-through line, and I do my makeup in the car, on the way to work–at the red lights, or when traffic is stop and go.
I haven’t actually calculated all of the time I’ve saved over the years, but I bet it’s been a lot. And if you know my personality (yes, Type-A… to the maximum!), that list-making, checking-it-off thing is SO good. It’s so good that sometimes I have to keep myself from going the other direction.
Just yesterday, in fact, on the way in to work, I found myself losing my patience. I felt the rush of heat in my cheeks, and I started to pound the steering wheel. I had only made it through powder and blush, one eye encircled with eyeliner, zero progress on eyeshadow or mascara.
Not a single red light. Thirty seconds (maybe 45, if I stretched it) of stop and go traffic. Fifteen minutes across town to work, instead of the usual twenty-five. How on earth was I supposed to get my makeup done under these circumstances?!?
As I thought about alternate nostril breathing, and told myself repeatedly that I’d have plenty of time to get it done in the parking lot, the realization of why I was so upset washed over me and I almost laughed out loud.
Ah yes… a work in progress.