Like sand through the hourglass …

Lately, I’ve been thinking about time. No, not in the loft space-time-continuum, or deity-time-versus-human-time, or even time-left-until-death. No, I’ve just been thinking about how I use (and waste) time in my day to day life.

A lot of how I use time is shaped by my work. Yes, as a nurse, I only go to work three times a week, for twelve hour shifts. And really, it suits me fine. Most days I’m extremely glad to have escaped the five day work week. But I’ve noticed that on the days that I work, I tend not to do anything else. No laundry, no cleaning, no cooking beyond preparing my lunch if I’m working the next day, and certainly no dancing.

Basically,I do what’s most important  for that day, and leave the rest for another time. This view of life can also be chalked up to my work. As a pediatric ICU nurse, it’s necessary to prioritize. There are so many things to do be done in a day. Perform assessments. Give medications. Titrate continuous drip medications. Draw labs. Round with the physicians. Take my patient(s) for off-unit procedures. Notify physicians of worrisome trends and lab results. Change dressings and tubings. Ensure the safety, comfort and cleanliness of my patients and surroundings. Teach my patients and their families about their illnesses and how we are treating them. Make appropriate recommendations and referrals for social work, chaplain services, child life services, organ donation, family conferences, pet therapy, etc. Ad infinitum. There are so many things to be done in twelve hours, that we need to prioritize just to get through the first few minutes of the day. We make sure the patient’s Airway is clear, that they are Breathing, and that the blood is Circulating. The ABC’s. And if all that is good, then we can get on with all the other things.

The rest of my time is shaped by … just me. Living on my own, with no husband or children to require hours of my time. I can use it as I like. To maintain my health. To maintain my house. To entertain. To travel. To dance. To find ways to continue growing mentally and spiritually. And yet, with all this excess of time, I still never seem to have enough. And after thinking on it a while, it comes to this: I value my time so much that I’ve refused to piddle it away on mundane tasks a little at a time, when I can save them up to do all at once. Another way to look at it is that I procrastinate doing things until doing them is less irritating than ignoring them.

So it is that when I make my lunches, I tend to make three days’ worth, instead of one at a time. Or that instead of washing the tuperwares containing said lunches everyday, I put the old ones in the fridge, and wash several days’ worth all at once. I collect my mail two or three times a week, and have a general sit-down once a week to plow through all the junk that needs to be shredded. And I try to cram lots of things into my days off: laundry, errands, visits to family and friends, physician appointments, exercise, reading (books and blogposts) and dancing.

However, I know that such use of time is getting less and less effective. As my life gets progressively disordered between days off, I feel less vibrant and more stressed. So, I’ve been making an effort to deal with things as they happen, prioritizing the organization of my life over the consolidation of tasks. Shredding those pesky credit card offers the day I get them, not five days later, when there is a pile of stuff. Dealing with the detritus of a few days (or weeks) of travel the day I return home, instead of on a day off. Trying to do basic maintenance cleaning around the house on a regular basis, instead of all at once prior to having people over. And doing a 20 minute yoga stretching routine before going to work, instead of trying to block off a whole hour sometime else. Taking more time to assess where I’m at and what I need, instead of frittering my time away with things that, or people who, are not a priority.

I think I’ve been doing pretty well lately. My life seems more balanced. Even-keeled. I feel more prepared to deal with the unexpected. And yet .. I had a moment of clarity the other day. After a long walk through the summer heat, I grabbed a new carton of limeade out of the fridge. I tore open the seal, poured myself a tall glass, and thirstily drank my first sip. Replaced the carton in the fridge, and was just about to leave the kitchen with glass in hand. At the last moment, I saw the seal, on the counter, where I’d discarded it. My body automatically continued walking out of the room, until I forced myself back, picked up the seal, and placed it in the trash can, a few steps away. Hmmmm … I’ve still got a ways to go.

How effective are you at managing your time? What types of things occupy you the most? How do you minimize distractions? How do you prioritize the many needs and wants in your life?


Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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7 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I love this window into your life, Dora. As a mom of two young kids who are always harassing me for something or causing enormous messes, I look with some amount of longing at your life. (Though of course I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything.)

    As for time, I often feel that my days are a wasteland. How can I make another hour pass with these kids? What can I do that would entertain them and waste more time? I try to clean or take care of chores as I watch the kids, but that usually doesn’t work for long. So I just count the minutes until Mike comes home.

    I think I’ll feel better about my days once my classes start up in the fall.

  2. stacer says:

    Dora, this is really great—it’s the kind of thing I’ve been trying to do more of, too, but that I’m SO bad at. I’ve recently had to start living with a roommate again after living in my own apartment for several years. (I moved to New York City, so *everyone* needs a roommate here.) When I lived in my own place, it didn’t matter if I left the dishes hanging around, because no one ever came over—and I could clean up pretty quickly if someone did. But then, I had a dishwasher, so clean-up was really quick.

    But living with a roommate, especially in a place with a hardwood floor (which, of course, shows dirt much more quickly than a carpet), I find myself sweeping at least every week, if not more often, cleaning up clutter more often, doing the dishes (by hand, sadly) more often, etc. I kind of like how clean the common areas of the house are because of it, but it’s also so time-consuming. I find that between the commute (1 hour each way), time at work (often don’t get home until 8 or 9 p.m.), and the little things around the house, I rarely do anything else at home on weekdays. It’s hard to find the energy to cook once I get home.

    My sister and a few other people swear by the Fly Lady, who apparently suggests timing yourself with a kitchen timer: give yourself 5 minutes for any household task, like dishes. If you’re not done at the end of 5 minutes, that’s okay. Move on to something else anyway. That way, you’ve made a dent, but not spent an hour on one task, which can suck away your day. This afternoon, I was cleaning the house to make it presentable for a potential new roommate, and I wish I’d remembered this advice, because I spent something like 3 hours on it.

    Also, despite the long hours at work, I have generous lunch hours, so I run errands on my lunch hour or on the way home (then eat at my desk as I work), and that leaves me with more time on Saturdays than I might have if I left the errands for Sat. Getting anywhere for shopping in NYC takes forever because despite being so small, it can take an hour to go a couple miles, from one necessary store to another. Usually I find that I can only run one or two errands on Saturday before suppertime (today, running to Target ate 3 hours).

    So, the more I get done on my way somewhere else, the more weekend time I have to spend at home, doing something *other* than housework or errands. I keep thinking I have such a lack of time management skills, but thinking about it because of this post, I realize that I’ve actually gotten much better–it’s just that everything takes SO long to get from one place to another here, that I have so little time left to do those things in, which can be a little exhausting!

  3. Makes me think as I have been reordering my use of time.

  4. Angie says:

    For some reason, your post has given me the feeling of GRATITUDE. I feel grateful for the 24 hours we each have. I’m not sure why I feel that way. When I thought about your post and the questions at the end, I started feeling excited about the day’s 24 hours, the ways we can fill those hours, the power of choice we have. It’s actually pretty exhilarating.

    These feelings are inspiring me to get off the computer and go make some homemade biscuits. 🙂 Thanks for the post.

  5. Dora says:

    Caroline ~ I think my mother felt the same way … minutes crawling by like hours, with four small children at home. She did have my maternal grandmother about half of the year to help, but I think it was a very frustrating time for a very professionally minded woman. My father, who was very traditional (and Korean!), was forced to reassess the situation. After long discussions, my mother started part-time work when my youngest sibling was in 3rd grade. It sounds like you and Mike are already there. So try not to worry too much, there is an end in sight, even if it feels far off.

    Stacer ~ You’re in NYC now? Wonderful! Such a great place! I absolutely love the subway system.

    When I lived with roommates, we actually had a cleaning lady come in once every week or two. We all had fairly demanding careers, and the last thing we all wanted to do on our minimal days off was scrub the kitchen floor. However, now that I have my own place, I make little mess, and am my own cleaning lady. Although I do speculate every once in a while how nice it would be to have a “wife” — someone who would take care of me and anticipate my needs. Or maybe I just need an administrative assistant?

    I hear you about lacking energy. One of the reasons I get so little done after work, and even until the next day, is that my work can be so draining. After coming home from a tough day, sometimes I need to just calm myself down before I can get to sleep to perform the next day. This is when I repeat to myself the first rule of patient care: Don’t become a patient.

    Ethesis ~ One of the reasons I’m working on this now, is that I can do it with relatively little fallout. The time to learn to save is when you have enough money, so that your life doesn’t fall apart when you don’t have enough. I believe it’s the same concept with time. Thus, I’m trying to learn to manage my time more effectively now, so that if/when it becomes more precious, I’ll already have the tools to manage it.

    Angie ~ Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to choose! And I love the idea of biscuits. Carpe diem, and pass the butter!

  6. Stephanie says:

    Just wanted to say that I have thought a lot about this post since it went up. The thought that comes to mind is “Time doth softly sweetly glide”. That is a new idea for me. I’ve spent so much of my life with outside demands for my time (school, work, callings, etc.) I am currently at a point with many children (5), and I have bursts of super busy time and little bits of time with nothing that HAS to get done. I tend to waste the down moments because I am so worn out by the up moments. However, I am realizing how quickly time marches on and am trying to be more productive.

  7. Two of Three says:

    Makes me realize I need to get off of this chair and go do something!

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