Reclaiming Time for What You Want To Do Most

Years and years ago I read an excellent little book (more like a booklet) called The Tyranny of the Urgent. This was in the days before cell phones, email and text messaging. I remember being struck then by its simple message about how we should stop diverting our attention from the important to take care of the urgent, but now I think it’s one that could possibly be a lifesaver.

If you struggle with always feeling behind…
If you feel like there’s more to get done than time in the day…
If you multi-task all day and still can’t keep up…

I have a solution for you. And it relates to thchainede message of that book. It’s simply this:
Stop giving your attention to the seemingly urgent and start respecting what’s important to you.

Here’s what I see happening in our culture where we allow people constant access to us through cell phones, email and text messaging: we stop respecting our priorities.

When your phone rings do you jump up to answer it as long as it’s physically possible?

When the incoming text-message signal sounds, do you immediately check to read it?

When your inbox alerts you to a new email, do you open it?

If you’re like the average person who receives 10 to 40 text messages and 12 phone calls every day, that means you’re allowing others to interrupt you 22 to 52 times every single day (not to mention interruptions from the dozens of emails you’re likely to pause for). And probably only two or three of those each week are truly urgent.

The thing is, it’s not like we all plan to be interrupted all the time. I’m sure almost every mom would prefer to go through her day checking things off her “to do” list one by one. But without a plan in place to protect our time, we fail.

Why not create your own “policy” related to your availability to others? Establish times and occasions for when you’ll respond to others reaching out to you. For example: if you’d like to have uninterrupted family time during dinner three nights (or more) a week, set a policy of not answering any phones during that time. Institute a “no phones at the table” rule for those nights and have everyone deposit their phone in a container during that time.

Set another policy for email – then communicate it to others to get yourself off the hook for feeling beholden to answering every one immediately. Tell those who contact you regularly something like, “Please understand I will be checking emails between x time and y time each day. I may not be able to get back to you that day, but will do my best to respond within x amount of time.” You decide the time frames. You control the access.

Create a similar policy for text messages, saying something like, “During the hours of x and y, I won’t always be available to respond to text messages. I will do my best to get back to you within a few hours. If you have an urgent need, please leave a message on my house phone (or whatever mode you choose as your emergency contact).”

Then follow your policies – not to be a dictator over anyone, but to provide freedom for yourself. Most importantly: use that freedom to attend to those things that are important to you.

By setting and following a few simple policies, you can overcome the “tyranny of the urgent” and begin having the time to accomplish those things you value most.

Photo credit: “Chained” by Colin-47 (Creative Commons)

Sharing Mother’s Day – An Obligation or Celebration?

'078/366: Mother's Day' photo (c) 2012, Mikey - license:

For moms, Mother’s Day can be laden with expectation. We expect to be pampered and coddled – breakfast in bed, a trip to the spa, dinner at a fancy restaurant. But what we don’t expect is to be lost in all the craziness of family obligations. Yet for some women with family living nearby (or within a few hours’ drive), or for moms with blended families, Mother’s Day can become anything but a day of pampering.

If this is you and you’re already dreading the second Sunday in May, let me give you a few tips that can help you survive (and possibly find celebration):

•    Recognize your expectations. If every year your family follows the same disappointing script, recognize what’s not working about it for you. If you’re hoping for breakfast in bed, but that never happens because your mother-in-law insists on a family brunch, note what it is that you miss. Maybe it’s sleeping in. Or maybe it’s alone time snuggled in bed with your kids. Take time to parse out the underlying needs or emotions.
•    Share your desires. Perhaps your husband would be willing to initiate changes on your behalf but he doesn’t know what you want. Tell him. Give him the opportunity to please you.
•    Reframe your concept of Mother’s Day. Maybe your family won’t budge. Sometimes tradition is tradition and there’s no changing. Instead of thinking of what you wish Mother’s Day would be, accept it for what it is – a day to honor the generation of mothers ahead of you, or a day for your stepkids to honor their mom.
•    Grieve the loss. If you know you’ll never get the Mother’s Day you crave, acknowledge your sadness. Mourn for what you’re missing. Mourn and then move on.
•    Start your own tradition. So Mother’s Day isn’t about you. How about asking your husband and children to honor you on a different day. Call it “Mom’s Day” and tell them how you’d like to celebrate. Then put that day on the calendar. Ask your kids to intentionally hold back any gifts or celebration for you on the second Sunday in May so that special your day gets it all.

Observing special days doesn’t always happen perfectly. But taking the opportunity in advance to decide how we’re going to view the day can go a long way to improving our experience. If you’re a mom faced with recognizing someone else’s Mother’s Day instead of your own, think about what you’ll do to make this year different. You may find the result to be something worth celebrating!


Treasure and Valentine’s Day

The other day one of my daughters asked me what my husband and I would be doing for Valentine’s Day. I gave her a blank look. Frankly I hadn’t thought about it yet. And even more frankly, we haven’t ever really made a big

Photo credit: Simon Kendrick (Creative Commons)

deal out of celebrating Valentine’s Day. Which got me thinking about why we don’t and how we could do better. We don’t mostly out of objection for the consumer culture that has arisen around it. Valentine’s Day these days seems to be more about cards and candy and flowers and jewelry than it does about actually showing love. It means going out for a special dinner and giving (and receiving) fancy gifts. All of that is supposed to convey to our beloved how we feel. And guess what? For some people it does just that.

But if you know me, you know my strongest objection to culturally prescribed events such as Valentine’s Day is the sense of obligation that comes with them. We’re left to wonder if all those gifts and flowers were given on February 14th just because of the date on the calendar. So how do we overcome this? By conveying to those we love what we treasure about them. Tell them what makes them special to us – and not just the things they do for us that we appreciate, but what it is about who they are that makes them valuable to us. Whether we speak it aloud, write it in a card, convey it through a hug, or ladle it into a meal – our intentions on Valentine’s Day (and perhaps everyday) should be to think of and communicate to our beloved what a treasure they are to us.

You’ll be amazed at how focusing on the aspect of “treasuring” someone will ramp up your expression of love. After all, Jesus said it Himself (in this case referring to our love of God over material things): “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Treasure God first. Then remember what it is about others that makes you treasure them. You’ll be sure to have your heart in the right place this Valentine’s Day!