Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How do you find time for this?

I've been asked this a couple of times, and I think the question needs a good answer, both on how I do it myself and more generally on how to gain time.

I have to admit that I cheat a bit; I have a company and work from home. No boss can complain if I take two hours to water my houseplants (however I have to hit my milestones and deadlines properly). Working from home makes my life flexible; I can do some of my chores when my son is present, and I can work for a couple of hours in the evening. This means I can take care of my plants when I feel for it, and not being forced to handle them when I'm exhausted after work.

But how do you do in general to gain time for fun stuff? Here are my most used methods which can be used by anyone.

#1 Split every work into graspable units.
Graspable means two things; you should be able to do the thing in a fixed period of time (fifteen minutes, half an hour or a full one depending on the work and the available amount of time) and the results should be clearly visible when the work is done. This makes it easy to fit the work into the available ratio of minutes (thus saving you time). Above that, this makes it easy to start the job; you know you'll finish in time, and your confidence gets a boost by seeing the result.

Let me use my allotment as an exemple. I split the area into eight patches. Each time I visited my plot I worked one of them, did thorough weeding, raked, sowed, watered and covered it with fibre cloth. This took me an hour (a big unit - I aim to have units of fifteen to thirty minutes), and when I left I could savour the knowledge that one of the patches was done. The result was clearly visible through the white rectangle of cloth on the ground.

#2 Take every chance to keep the chores on low level.
Do small things often instead of heaping them into a giant chore demanding a he-man.

I was lucky when I was alloted my plot. The previous renter works with park maintenance in this area, and had worked the soil perfectly last autumn. This means I have clay soil where I can drag up dandelions with their entire roots using my bare hand. Everyone gardening in clay soil knows this to be a miracle (usualy you end up with the weeding tool stuck in the ground and some ridiculous scraps of the leaves in your hand). I could hardly find any weed.

To keep the plot in this condition I decided to keep the chores on a low level. The first thing I did was to mark walking paths, and told the family that the rest of the allotment was a 'no walk' area (my son didn't grasp the idea, but he only weighs twelwe kilos/twentysix and half pound so I wasn't harsh on him). I take half an hour each day to remove the few weeds I found and look under the fibercloth for spanish slugs. This is much more easy to handle than to expect an entire day of pulling quick grass in the heat of the sun or grey rain.

#3 Streamline the chores.
This goes both for gardening and for everyday business that steals time from it. Me planting waterbottles in the tomatocontainers is a good exemple of stremalining the gardening. Instead of bringing out the watercan thrice a day I refill the bottles once, and can do it during the ordinary watering round.

I can almost hear a few of you exclaim "But bringing out the watercan won't take many seconds!". True, but don't underestimate those extra seconds. Remeber that you, at best, have four hours after work a normal day. If you have a family two of those are earmarked for the kids in the form of help with clothes, general upbringing, bathing and putting to bed. Thirty minutes to an hour goes to preparing dinner, and the same span will be used for other household chores like cleaning the table and do the dishes. A normal day you'll be happy if you have any private time at all* (no wonder people sleep badly these days - most burns midnight oil to at least be able to watch some tv). Every second of the evening have value equal to a dollar, don't waste that on unnecessary work - even if you are single.

Since I have a family and my amount of time is firmly set I spend a lot of effort streamlining our life (use the following list as an inspiration). We have the normal set of household appliances, and have added a dryer (saves a lot of time compared to hang the laundry, we use an energy efficiant one with a heat pump), a baking machine and a roomba. As soon as I find an european retailer for scooba I'll by one of those too. (Swedes are not big on practical household machines - save the vacuum cleaner, dryer, washing machine and dishwasher - so this is an unusual list of appliances.)

Instead of weekly grocery shopping we do a monthly raid to shop everything that'll last a month or are possible to freeze (I've prepared an extensive checklist to make sure everything we need gets bought). We've subscribed to ecological fruits and vegetables and get them delivered to the door once a week. I still have to buy milk at the store, but heading in for a few parcels takes a lot less time than a full shopping round.

I try to keep important tools and important stuff within reach but out of daily life. My soilbins and watercarboy are kept in a closet close to the windows with most plants. The smaller tools and the seeds are kept on a shelf in the library (close to the working table). This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but many times a thing is put where there's an available spot instead on the best place. We do so too, that's why we regularly reorganise rooms and storage space (one unit at the time) and we always start by thoroughly analysing its use and how maximise its functions.

#4 Ignore unessential things
It's not possible to have it all, you'll be forced to leave some things to pile up untill you pry away time for it. As you can see from the photo above I'm deep into this business, letting working space clutter up with things that should be done. This irritates me since I want a home cut from the pages of an interior design magazine. At the same time I know that there are only twentyfour hours to a day. Each day I do what needs to be done, if I can find time for something that should be done I consider this a bonus. My longterm plan is to clean the home using method 1 and 3, so I can apply method 2 on our entire life. And I count on more cluttered periods in the future - life do always bring surprises.

*This is a swedish scenario. STAHMs and STAHDs are extremely rare due to the fact that it's impossible to live on one salary here.

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