Making the Most of a Day Off, Making The Time Count


Some people are lucky enough to have two full days off every weekend, with nothing but relaxation ahead of them. For the rest of us who either don’t have a set scheduled day off, or who end up spending the weekend catching up on all the practical domestic errands that didn’t get accomplished during the week, it can be difficult to feel like any of your personal time is actually being spent on you and what you want. So if an unexpected day off pops up in your schedule, what do you do to make the most of it, to feel like it hasn’t been wasted?

How many times have you had a day off, a real day off with nothing important to do, and when it got to the evening you wondered where the day went and lamented that you didn’t do anything you wanted to do? When you have a free day it is very tempting to sleep in until noon and lounge around all afternoon and evening, and if that’s truly how you want to spend your time off, then that’s great, mission accomplished. Down time is important, and a full day of recumbency can be very refreshing indeed. If, on the other hand, you have a vague mental list of places you would like to go, commit to it by actually writing them down as you think of them, roughly in order of priority, or by amount of time required. This way, if you do find yourself at a loose end one day, you won’t spend most of the day hemming and hawing and wasting time trying to decide what to do. Just look at your list, choose an item or two, and get to it.

If you’re more concerned with the state of your house or some other clutter situation that has been getting you down, you can also spend your day off cleaning and organizing your surroundings. This may sound like a spectacularly dismal way to use your free time, but for many people the feeling of well-being they gain from having a spotless and clutter-free house can be the equivalent of five days spent doing fun things. There is nothing like coming home and opening your front door to discover a gorgeous room that looks inviting and smells fresh. If you get yourself moving early in the morning and get everything cleaned by the end of the afternoon, then you’ll still have your evening free to go see a movie or have a relaxing dinner somewhere. And when you get back from that… ah, a relaxing atmosphere.

Whether you have two days off every weekend or only a single day off every once in a while, making the most of your time off is one of the keys to feeling well-balanced, and avoiding feeling like life is just work and sleep all the time. It may sound like overkill to plan every single second of your off time, especially when you spend so much of your work week in that same sort of scheduling frenzy. But if you feel like your days off just zoom by without you taking advantage of them, a small amount of pre-planning and organization is all it takes to get the situation under control and start enjoying the relaxing personal time you deserve.

“I need more hours in my day!” I said to my husband with a groan, as I flopped into bed after yet another crazy day.

“You say that every day,” he teased.

“I know. Something needs to change. . . and change soon!”

Although the fact that I have a 9-month-old baby (at the time of the writing of this article), work at home, and have a husband to take care of is something that will keep me busy every day that I wake up, I am attempting to learn time management. I want to learn this so I can be more efficient than I have been the past few months.

Hence, this article is not about having tackled my time, but about my discovery process in tackling it. Here is what I have come up with so far.

I have quickly learned that an early morning time, before my husband and daughter wake up, is absolutely crucial. Most mornings it’s hard to get up in time for this little alone-time session, but truth be told, I’d rather get up early and get it in than miss it entirely. On my best days I can make up for it with a nap later.

This early morning time is a time to pray, do some spiritual study, and plan my day’s goals. My favorite place to have it is on the couch in our living room, looking out the window as the sun comes up, coffee cup in hand. I find that this time centers me and gets me focused on my day.

It also gives me time that I can call “mine”, and as a result, I’m more ready to take care of my hubby and daughter once they wake up.

I’m learning to prioritize. Being a Type A personality, everything on my to-do list is a must-do, but I am beginning to concede that there are negotiables and there are non-negotiables in my life. The true must-dos are preparing meals for my family, keeping my baby clean and dry, playing with her, meeting work deadlines, and taking care of my body with at least a series of healthy stretches.

On the other hand, things like cleaning the cupboard shelves, pulling every single weed in the flower bed, becoming a master at pilates, and learning Sign Language as a second language, really aren’t things that have to be done — as much as I might like them to be accomplished.

I am learning to fall into bed at night, considering the day to be a good one if I have loved my family and taken care of them instead of berating myself for not meeting unrealistic goals in light of the demands on my life.

I have a life goal that I have created for myself, and I am learning to cut out things that don’t match this life goal of mine. Although I would love to become proficient in playing classical music on the piano, it doesn’t match my life philosophy of “investing my time and energy, via writing and mentoring, into young women’s lives so they can be all they were intended to be and live the lives they were intended to live.” Starting another flower bed in my yard doesn’t match this life philosophy, and neither does taking up oil painting.

However, investing in my own daughter’s life does line up with this life goal, and so does writing for different venues.

Taking the time to make cookies and invite a college girl into my house and talk about life over warm cookies and milk meets my life goal more than learning how to sew.

I constantly have to ask myself, “Does this to-do list help my life goal become realized, or does it take me away from it?” If it takes me away from it, then I am learning to cut it from my list.

The internet has been a big deal in this whole time management issue. I now have rules about when I can be on and when I need to stay off. As a blogger and a member of a couple of online communities, it is so tempting to check my email first thing in the morning and get on my forums and see who has written what, as well as write my own thing. However, I realized that this was taking up a great deal of my time that was better spent on my non-negotiables. So I created some internet guidelines for myself:

I don’t check email or my forums until my quiet time is over, my daily cleaning is done, my family has been taken care of, and my work deadlines have been met. This has not been easy to adhere to, simply because as a stay-at-home mom, most of my social life comes from these online platforms. But doing so has opened up blocks of time that I have been able to use in practical ways. I follow the same guidelines for television, magazines, and reading.

At the same time, I have also created a time for myself on a regular basis to do something I enjoy. While I am learning to prioritize my time, I also know that if I work all day long and don’t do anything enjoyable, I begin to feel trapped, and even resentful, of what I have to do.

If I can have even a half hour of an enjoyable activity, such as online groups or reading a good book, I am more emotionally able to tackle the must-do’s.

For me, this time comes either right after lunch for one half hour to an hour, if my daughter lays down for a nap, or in the hours after she goes to bed. Up until a few weeks ago, I was working right up until 9:00 or 10:00 at night, but this proved to be exhausting given my early wake up time. So lately I have forced myself to shut down for the day as soon as my baby goes to bed. This means the computer goes off, the writing notebook is closed, and the to-do list is put aside until the following morning.

Not only does this allow me to debrief my day, but I’ve noticed that I’m also more relaxed when putting my daughter to bed. Before doing this, I found myself rocking her like a crazy woman in an effort to make her “hurry up and go to sleep” so I could get back to my list. Now, because I’m relaxed, she’s relaxed, and bedtimes have been a much smoother affair for both of us.

I have also developed a strict rule for what time I need to be in bed. If I want to get up at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. I have to be in bed at a certain time each night. If I stay up too late, I don’t get up early, which means I don’t get my alone time. No alone time means no centering time, and no centering time, for me, means a day that is chaotic with very little effectiveness.

I am learning that wise time management involves a day of rest at least once a week. I’m still working on this one, because my tendency is to try to get all the to-do’s done that I didn’t get done during the week. Doing so, however, always results in finding myself worse for the wear come Monday morning.

If I can take Saturday or Sunday to do only the bare minimum for my family and then use the rest of my time to nap, read, or take walks (which, my husband’s being home helps make this possible) I am much more emotionally ready for my new week.

I have a long way to go in all of this. I still tend to stay up on the computer researching “just one more thing” until 9:00 at night. I still move for my email button first thing in the morning instead of sitting down for a quiet time. I have yet to fully convince myself of the difference between the must-do’s and the should-do’s. But I’m getting there.

With each step I take, I find myself being more effective in the time I do spend working and more relaxed in the time I actually allow myself to stop for awhile -– all of which results in more effectiveness and more resulting relaxation. I’m finding it’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and with any luck, it will be a cycle that I will have permanently installed in my life in a few more weeks.

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