My family and I recently went camping at one of our favorite spots in the Oregon high desert. Wide open spaces, delicious silence, and loads of lizards – it’s pretty awesome. We make a trip out there at least once a year, usually in the summer.
This time, we went later in the year than we usually do, and we noticed a demographic shift in the late summer/early fall cohort of lizards – the majority were adorable little hatchlings, snapping up as much food as they could with their disproportionately large heads before their winter dormancy.
These precocial baby lizards made me think back to last year about this time when my wife and I had our own baby (girl, not lizard). Our daughter joined us just a few weeks after we went camping at this spot last year.
Recently, we hosted our daughter’s first birthday party. While this was, technically, for her, to my wife and me it was a commemoration of a major familial achievement: we successfully raised a small human being for one year with no serious injuries – physical or emotional.
In fact, we’ve done far more than simply avoided harm – we’ve had a fantastic time along the way. People sometimes ask me if raising our little one has gotten any better, assuming that the first year was spent in a barely survivable drudgery, and that I might be getting close to settling on a more sustainable pace as I slog to the finish line, seventeen more years away.
Honestly, though, things have been pretty great.
Of course, that’s not to say that it’s been a piece of cake. Raising her takes a lot of time, and this has resulted in some compromises.
Babies and time.
I’m an adjunct community college instructor, and that means that a substantial amount of my work (grading, emailing students, developing lesson plans, etc.) can be done from home. This flexibility means that I typically spend a lot of time hanging out with the baby, but that I also have the challenge of finding time for work while at home – there’s no clear boundary in my schedule that separates baby time and work time.
Oh sure, I’d love to plan out weeks in advance which hours I’ll be grading and which hours I’ll be changing diapers, but our little one has a way of confounding even the most carefully designed plans.
Of course, while it may be a bit of a scramble, I always get things done in the end. I mean, it’s WORK – if you want money for groceries and rent, you have to make it a priority.
Babies, as it turns out, are also a priority.
Having a baby has really forced me to think about how I spend my time, and this really brings me to the ultimate point of this article. I’ve met some people who’ve told me that having a baby really boosted their work efficiency (since they had less time to get things done, they finished their work faster), but alas, that hasn’t really been the case with me. (Bummer). I have, however, benefited from being forced to think seriously about my priorities.
Before having a baby, I was certainly busy enough, but it seemed like I could always fit additional tasks into my schedule, just by pushing less critical items off by a couple days. I suppose I could do the same thing now, but rather than pushing things off by a couple days, it’s more likely to be a couple weeks or (more realistically) a couple months.
And by the time a couple months have passed, new things will likely have come up that delay these items even further.
I’ve finally come to the obvious realization that I can’t do everything I want to do. (I know, right? How old am I again?). But here’s an important clarification: this is not to say I can’t do anything I want to do – I just can’t do everything I want to do. The world is a big place full of awesomeness – even if I were to live a thousand times over, I wouldn’t have time to do all the fun projects that have caught my attention.
And that begs an obvious question: with finite amounts time, out of all the things that I want to do, which of them should I actually do?
Here’s where having very clear priorities comes in handy. Before I was a father, my priorities were extremely vague. If someone back then had asked me how I wanted to live my life, I probably would have listed a slew of minor goals, but not have had any overarching theme.
Having a baby changed that for me.
Now, I have a very short list of major priorities, and I strive to maximize the amount of time I spend serving these goals and minimize the amount of time on peripheral tasks. I’ve even made a recurring entry in my calendar that reminds me of my priorities every week.
This regular reminder has actually been very helpful to me, and I would recommend it to anyone. Humans are creatures of habit, and we’re always unconsciously seeking out ways of doing things without thought. This can be helpful if you’re trying to increase efficiency in a particular chore, but this is NOT helpful in making sure that you should even be doing that chore in the first place.
Regularly evaluating whether your daily activities are in line with your priorities can clear a surprising amount of chaff from your calendar when you realize that many of the things you do are not only optional, but unimportant (I’m especially talking to all you perfectionists out there!) This gives you more time for important things. Fun things. Wouldn’t you rather go for a hike? Or spend time with your family and friends? Or just go to bed early and be better rested for tomorrow?
If you can make time for work because it’s a priority, can’t you also make time for even more important priorities?
Conclusion: how do you want to live your life?
It’s important to constantly evaluate whether the things that we’re spending our precious hours on are worth our time. If you’re doing something that’s not related to one of your major priorities, why are you even doing it? Life’s too short to waste your time on things that don’t make you happy.
So here’s some homework for you. Make a list of your major priorities. Keep it under, say, half a dozen items so it’s easy to remember, and put them in order of importance. This list is not set in stone, of course, and it can change as you do. Next, think about how you’re spending your time. Is this in line with your list? How can you adjust your daily routine to make sure that you’re doing everything in your power to stay true to your major life goals?