The Myth of Balanced Time
Have you ever been in a season of life where you felt you were just waiting? Waiting to be married. Waiting to have children. Waiting for the promotion. Waiting to be acknowledged. Waiting for your turn. Waiting for a new opportunity. Waiting to retire. This is where I was in 2011 (and for several years before that). Although I was doing everything I knew to do it seemed I was always celebrating for someone else. When would it be my turn? I had a full mental list of desires and no sign of any of them manifesting. I had not had a date in 6 years. Six years! I was beginning to think I was invisible. But all of a sudden, the calendar turned to 2012 and it was The Year of Patrice! I’m serious, 2012 was my year. Everything I had prayed for, longed for, anticipated came to me in a flood. I met my husband, Edward. We got engaged on the same day I was promoted at work, and we got married all in the same year (We don’t play around over here!). BabyGirl, our beautiful daughter, entered my life, so I became Mama Patrice. I also finished my coursework and passed comps for my doctorate degree. I’m telling you life was so good I don’t think I was walking anymore; I was just floating on air every day! I literally got everything from my mental list within a matter of months. Everything!
Side note- If you are in a waiting season, Be Encouraged! Your turn is coming. I did not appreciate hearing that while I was in my waiting season, but I can tell you without any doubt that it is absolutely true. Word to the Wise- Be sure you spend this waiting time preparing and not just longing. The preparation you do today will make your next season so much sweeter.
So, 2012 was everything for me, until it wasn’t. By October 2012, I was struggling, because I began to realize every blessing in my life came with its own weight. Everything I had longed for cost me something (time, focus, attention, effort, money, etc). I was tired and overwhelmed. I did not know how I would carry it all.
Was I to tell my new boss, “Thank you for the promotion, but I have a wonderful new family and I need to focus on them. I will be good at work, but I cannot give everything until my family is established”?
Or should I tell my new husband, “I have waited for you my whole life, but I just got this awesome new job that I have worked so hard for. So, if you will be patient, I need to leave it all on the floor at work right now. I promise I will be a good wife after I have established myself at work”?
Or my new daughter, “BabyGirl, I am so excited to be a part of your life, but I have a lot going on so if you will just hold on for me, we will have plenty of time later to get to know each other”?
I had always been taught that good leaders know how to balance their time, so why was this such a struggle for me? Well, I was not willing to let any of these blessings go, so I had to figure it out. Here is what I learned:
Balanced time is a myth…a farce…a lie…completely impossible.
Let me prove it to you. Take a moment to consider all the hats you wear. You may want to scribble them down.
Caregiver for your parents.
Auntie or Uncle.
And on and on and on…
Now imagine each of those hats as a dumbbell weighing 5-15lbs. If leaders can balance time, we are going to balance all of our stuff. Let’s do it…Pick up your parent weight. That one has to be at least 15lbs. Hold it securely. Do not let it fall. We cannot let our children down, right? Got it? Good. Now grab that spouse or partner weight. Hold on to it. Now, pick up your Work weight. Find a way to carry it all. You may have to tuck weight under your arm. We have to work, and we cannot let it fall. Now grab that student weight and the sibling weight and the care for your own parents weight. You may have to change your posture to carry it. Getting tired yet? Get the picture?
Hold on to all of those weights. All at the same time, ensuring nothing falls.
And we wonder why we are always tired. We do not need a nap. We are tired from carrying all of our weight all at the same time. This is not sustainable, Friends. No one can do this successfully. Even the strongest leader will eventually get tired. And when we get tired, something falls. What happens when something falls? Who will be injured when your weights come tumbling down? Normally, those closest to us feel the pain first.
Balanced Time is a myth. We had the opportunity to meet former First Lady Laura Bush a few years ago. While discussing how she handles all of her responsibilities the First Lady shared, "You can have it all, but not all at once" (Photo credit to Jeremy Wilburn, Georgia Southern University). This was not the first time I heard this advice. No one can carry all of their stuff at the same time. However, it is possible to handle it all. You just need a new strategy. I learned to choose the priority of the moment. You may not be able to carry all of your weight at once, but I bet you can handle carrying one weight at a time. Here’s how it works…
As I write this blog today, you are my priority. That does not mean I am not Edward’s wife or BabyGirl’s Mama Patrice. It just means they are safe, healthy, or do not need me at this moment. Therefore, I am free to be in this moment with you. I am carrying my ‘Encourager’ weight. I plan to stay here with you until I have completed writing this blog. Now, if some emergency comes up with my family, I will put this ‘Encourager’ weight down and pick up my ‘Wife’ or ‘Mama Patrice’ weight without a second thought. And I will not feel guilty about it. Priorities change, often by the moment. We must give ourselves permission to make the switch.
Here are a few more tips for choosing the priority of the moment:
Plan Ahead- Let's revisit our Side Note from above for a moment. Is there a desire in your heart that you are waiting for? Do you desire to be married or have a family or to be promoted at work, or to retire? If so, what are you doing now to prepare for that goal? I spent so much time longing for my family, that I missed opportunities to get ready for them. I spent my free time daydreaming about them instead of preparing for them. As a result, it was easy for me to be overwhelmed once they came into my life. I could have been further along in my education or saved more money (weddings are expensive!). I could have accomplished some personal health goals or knocked a few more items off of my personal bucket list before I gained more responsibility. Do not miss the treasure of your current season longing for your next. Take advantage of this time. Your future self will thank you for it!
Budget your time wisely- Most of us know how much money we have. We may or may not be happy about it, but we are aware of it. Many of us are less attentive to our time. How much time did you spend on social media in the last month? How much time did you spend watching your favorite shows? How much time did you spend at work? I have asked these questions in rooms of 10 people and in rooms of hundreds and the result is the same. We pay more attention to our money than we do to our time. Time, we cannot get back. People find ways to make more money everyday. Please tell me who has figured out how to make more time. We all get the same amount…24 hours per day…no more…no less. The problem is not the amount of time. The problem is how we manage our time. Consider making a daily time budget. You can do this with a planner or calendar app. Each morning determine how you will spend your time that day. We are fully aware that things come up and priorities change, but you will be much more productive by directing your time as opposed to allowing the minutes to slip through your fingers.
Beware of faux emergencies- Emergencies are Urgent and Important. It is possible for something to be urgent, but not important. Those things that are urgent for others, may not deserve to be Urgent and Important for you. In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey, reintroduced a classic method for prioritizing our time. The Four Quadrants assist us in determining what is truly urgent and what can wait. The ability to identify true crisis from faux emergencies is the first step in choosing the priority of the moment. I love the quote I have seen often, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part” – Unknown
Be present in the moment- One of the biggest challenges I had after my flood of blessings in 2012 was being present in the moment. I would be at work thinking about what I need to do when I get home. Or I would be at home pondering my to-do list for work. It seemed I was never in the right place to get things done. I could not sleep well for my mind constantly running. It took an intentional decision to be present in the moment. If I am at work, I keep my mind at work. If I have a thought about home, I write it down in a place that I can retrieve it later and I quickly put my mind back to the task at hand. I focus on my current physical location, the people sharing my space, and the work currently in my hands.
Delegate- Much of our time is spent doing things that we should really delegate to someone else. We may get frustrated with delegation, because it seems it would be easier and quicker if we just do it ourselves. Think of delegation as an investment. We do not invest money today and make a huge withdrawal tomorrow. The power of an investment is only realized over time. Identify the people around you who can help you; those who already have certain skills or are eager to learn. There are people around you who have skills that could make your life easier. As Edward and I were working to establish our business, we decided to hire people to take care of things we are not equipped to do like building our website and creating our logo. We could have spent hours trying to learn these skills resulting in amateur products or we could pay somebody who already knows how to make these things happen. The time savings and the professional outcome was worth the investment. For those around you who are eager to learn, spend some time training and investing in these people. Let them observe you. Then, let them join you. Next, let them do the work while you observe and support. Finally, release them to do it on their own. Learn to focus your energies on the things you uniquely need to do and build a team to take care of the rest.
One day, it will be your turn. You will have the desires of your heart. And those desires will each come with their own weight. Practice choosing the priority of the moment. Identify the weight you should carry at any given moment and allow all of the other weights to rest until the priority changes. You will find you are more productive and less overwhelmed as you learn to manage your time as opposed to balancing your time.
Thank you for all of the messages and comments on the blogs so far. It is my honor to share these lessons with you. Please share the blogs with others who you think may benefit from them.
Until next time,
Questions to Consider
1. What are all of the weights you carry? List them in priority order. Is there anything you should remove from the list?
2. What tools can you use to help you manage your time more effectively?
3. How can you apply the power of delegation to your life? Who are the people who would love to learn and support you?