Many times over the years, people have asked me how I “do it all.” I don’t and I can’t. Can any one person do it all? Of course not. We shouldn’t expect that of ourselves or others, as it sets us up for disappointment and feelings of inadequacy.
I know that in reality what people mean when they ask me that is: how do you balance your many responsibilities and activities, as a mother, physician, and community volunteer? The answer to that is: prioritize! We have to actively consider our priorities and make that the basis of how we allocate our time and energy. We must also realize that priorities shift and sometimes change in different phases of life, we must be willing to change accordingly.
Time never exists in a vacuum – something will always fill it! If we are not actively choosing what that is, we will find ourselves spending time on things that don’t promote our long-term (or even short-term) goals and don’t match our priorities. This will in turn lead to lack of fulfillment and maybe burn-out. When I find myself spending a lot of time on something, I need to periodically assess how it is affecting me in 3 key ways: spiritually, emotionally, and physically. That is in addition to making sure it’s not negatively affecting my top priorities at that time.
The challenge is often how to handle the obligatory (and often unpleasant) things that fill our lives. For me, those are things like cleaning bathrooms, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and MAIL. I’m sure each person has their own unique list. For these things I try to: outsource, delegate, and develop efficient systems.
For example, with mail, I try not to bring it inside until I’ve gone through it once. My garbage and recycling bins are outside, so I can stop there and drop off the junk mail before coming in. I also don’t empty my mailbox at times when I don’t have the energy to address what’s inside it. One challenge is determining what needs to be saved and how to save it. I have a desk drawer with hanging file folders and file away paper under certain subject headings. Sometimes I take pictures of documents and save them in a “reference” album in my phone. You can try different methods and see what works best for you. When we develop systems (that we modify and tweak with time), chores will take less of our precious time. This is more effective than just resigning to doing it the arduous way and hating every minute.
When I say, I don’t do it all, I really don’t. For instance, I’ve delegated laundry to someone who comes to help me clean the house. She gets it washed and folded and the kids have to put it away. That has saved me a lot of time every week, and I’m careful what I do with that time, so it doesn’t just get sucked up elsewhere or wasted. I’ve chosen to put that extra time towards fitness. Less laundry, more exercise, increases my physical and emotional well-being.
We must always be actively evaluating the way we use one of our most precious commodities – our time. It is, after all, a finite resource. We can’t rewind it, multiply it, or reuse it. It behooves us to develop a process to evaluate where our time goes each day, each week, and make sure it’s filled with things that match our current priorities, promote our goals, and improve our spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being.
There’s no need to do it all – but choose well.
“Take advantage of five before five: your youth before old age, your health before illness, your wealth before poverty, your free time before work, and your life before death.” —Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
Suggested read: 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam