I’ve hit one of those weird rough patches. In the last two months…
- The radiator hose on our car exploded in a steaming mess while driving our daughter to a camping trip.
- The day Car #1 got back from the shop, Car #2 blew a tire.
- A week later, on my way to an important meeting, I discovered the battery had died on Car #1.
- I broke my foot. Seriously broke it. Crutches. Fiberglass cast. The works.
- A couple days ago, the brand-new tire on Car #2 got a flat.
Perhaps I’m paying off a karmic debt to the Transportation Gods. We keep our cars in good condition, and I try not to trip on stairs, but sometimes, despite my best intentions, I trip, the car breaks down…
I remember a friend — single mom of a 2- and 4-year old — being distraught after her boss chastised her for accidentally dropping her keys (with fob) in a puddle. I don’t remember the specifics, but for some reason she was unable to use the car for a couple days. She asked permission to work from home. Luckily, she had the kind of job one could do at home, but unfortunately, her boss was a big believer in Face Time. He suggested she rent a car. She tried to explain that she couldn’t afford a rental car.
“Well, I guess you’ll never make that mistake again,” he said, as if all mistakes can be prevented if one just applies oneself. This was a man who had a stay-at-home wife to run his errands, tend to his sick children, and get his car repaired during work hours on his behalf. In other words, he had someone to cover for most of the unplanned events that might prevent one from coming into the office.
One thing I like about being self-employed is that I don’t have to deal with a smug, delusional boss.
A few years ago, when I still had a full-time job, Brian and I made an elaborate schedule in a desperate, but methodical, attempt to get control of our lives.
We divided a spreadsheet into 30-minute increments and specified in fastidious detail every child drop off and pick up, every grocery shopping trip, every weekly chore, like taking out the garbage, paying bills, and doing laundry. The spreadsheet, which we custom-made each week, included work meetings that were expected to start early or run late, occasional business trips, and professional networking events one or the other of us was obliged to attend. It included important school events—Martha’s science fair, Ruby’s kindergarten open house, Jake’s pre-school fundraiser. In an effort to stay healthy, we scheduled in time to work out, and time to see friends.
This Wonder Schedule even included time to create the next week’s schedule (two people @ 1 half-hour time slot). It was color-coded by category (work, kids, personal) and took up half the refrigerator. On paper, there was time for everything. Looking at it filled me with an odd mixture of hope (I can do it all!) and dread (Not a moment to spare!)
I know you know where this is going. The schedule, of course, did not work out. There was no way to account for sick kids, cranky clients, or flat tires. There was no give when one of us slept through the alarm, or a friend called asking for a favor. Even if we skimped on ourselves (skip the workout, stay up late re-doing the presentation) there still wasn’t enough time.
Worse than that, we weren’t enjoying our lives. Helping with the science project should have been fun, but it was just another thing we had to do. I used to enjoy cooking, now I was all about how to get nutritional calories into the mouths of my loved ones with minimal fuss. Who cared if it tasted good?
The only solution I’ve found to this dilemma is to work less. That doesn’t mean I never work long hours. But because I’m self-employed now, I space out the intense, full-time projects with lighter part-time ones. Luckily, when we hit this latest rough patch, Brian and I had both just finished an intense work sprint, and had slowed down to part time.
Here’s an idea: What if we all stopped trying to be so hyper-productive, trying to cram organized activity into every spare moment? What if we had a Rainy Day Fund of time? Several unscheduled hours each week for dealing with the inevitable unplanned stuff?
When the “rescue vehicle” arrived the other day to fix my flat, the sun was out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I leaned back in the front seat, rested my foot (which is now in a “boot”) on the dash, and enjoyed this unexpected moment of quiet.
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How do you make time for the unplanned stuff?
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Update from Sept. 11, 2012
A few hours after this post went up, my friend Lucie sent me a copy of her current “Wonder Schedule.” She said she just hired someone to help drive her boys to after school activities because it had gotten to be too much to manage by herself. She was having trouble explaining the schedule to the new babysitter, so she created this (I’ve blocked out a few names and addresses but you get the idea):
…And then my friend, Liz (two kids ages 3 and 5), sent a photo of the schedule that’s up on her fridge: