I used to think having a baby was the ultimate reason to slow down. For some time, I’ve been troubled by the pace my generation seems to keep. In the days of side hustle, margin seems limited. As I watched everyone around me do more and more and more—and wrestled with if I should try to do the same—I often dreamed of reposeful bliss filled with snuggly baby cuddles. I’m not going to lie, the introvert in me imagined this happening in a room with just me, my baby, and no outside stimulation.
But, as it turns out, babies can be pretty high maintenance. On the first day I was home alone with Landon, I made an entire pot of coffee as soon as I woke up. At 8:30 p.m., as I put things away for the night, I picked up my mug and realized that I’d only managed to drink half a cup all day long. Over the past four months, I’ve become convinced babies have a sixth sense for hot coffee and REM sleep.
On top of this, after Landon was born, Tim and I didn’t put boundaries on our time. Part of this was just being oblivious to what day of the week it was, let alone how it tied to all the other days before and after it. But we also had this self-imposed idea that we needed to meet the expectations of everyone around us (perceived or otherwise). We welcomed all visitors. We went back to work sooner than necessary. We chose to continue life as usual.
By the end of December, we were both exhausted and feeling like our lives were completely absorbed in what we dreaded to think of as our new, run-amok normal. We missed having margin. We’d entered a world of very little sleep and nonstop activity. Everyone had told us life changed when you had kids, but it felt crippling to think this was what they meant.
So coming into 2018, Tim and I evaluated how we use our time. We love New Year’s resolutions, but we knew that in order to keep them this year, we’d have to be strategic. (Thank you, Jon Acuff, for the audio version of Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, which we listened to on a 14-hour road trip with a restless baby.)
Here are three things I’ve done to create margin in 2018:
I traded in to-do lists for a calendar. Right before the holiday break, I reviewed content for two episodes of the Think Orange Podcast, Increasing Your Capacity as a Leader and Tips and Tools for Time Management. What Carey Nieuwhof and Frank Bealer shared in those episodes blew my mind. I won’t try to recap all of it, but I walked away with two takeaways:
- My calendar needs to reflect what I claim to care about most.
- If I don’t schedule a time for something to occur, it’s less likely to happen.
Tim and I got a paper calendar and scheduled time for the handful of things that are our non-negotiables moving into this year. Yes, we still have a shared digital calendar we can access through our phones. That’s what keeps us organized. But it’s the huge, year-long paper calendar that hangs on our bedroom wall that pushes us to be strategic.
Tip: At a glance, our calendar looks busy. But take a closer look and you’ll see some common themes. For instance, Friday nights are blocked out as FAMILY. That means we stay home in pajama and watch TV, read books, or play board games. You’ll also see that two evenings of the week, Tim and I trade off who puts Landon to bed, so the other person can work on personal writing projects—words for me, code for Tim.
I decided what can wait. I’m not a fan of those little poems that propagate the message, “My house is a filthy mess, but I have a baby and dirt can wait.” I have so many questions like, Doesn’t sitting in a rocking chair that long bother your back? Doesn’t your baby ever break their serene state and try to wiggle their way to the floor? In my former opinion, these poems were the mindset of underachievers.
Then Landon was born, and I quickly realized it was impossible to do all of the things I’d done before in the timeframe I liked to do them. Now, if it’s not on the calendar, it isn’t important enough for right now. As it turns out, sometimes at 11 p.m., it’s more important to go to bed than to unload the dishwasher. This is the difference between procrastinating and choosing to wait. And the truth is, everything I want to do is still getting done, just not necessarily the day I want it done or with the same frequency as before.
I put a time and place on social media. For me, unplugging regularly in the evenings and limiting the amount of time I interact with “the outside world” has been the most life-giving change I’ve made this year. I even deleted the Facebook app from my phone, and make a point to check it maybe once a week. Sure, I do miss some stuff that happens (although I have a husband and friends who make a point of telling me stuff I miss), but I really need the evenings to let my mind settle and to focus on the people who are right in front of me.
In order to unplug, I have specific times set aside that I focus on checking personal emails and messages. I even save non-urgent text messages for this time. And I respond to as much as possible from my computer instead of my phone because, let’s face it, it’s much faster.
January has been a great trial run for our new normal. Landon is the best baby ever, I still have friends, our house is clean (enough), and I even managed to run 18 miles last week. That’s not to say I have it all figured out. Some days are completely exhausting. Sometimes the plans on our calendar get completely scrapped. And, instead, I sit myself down and hold my son while he is still a baby, as the dust collects around me.