Time management and the turmoil and joy of the freelance Single Parent
In my previous post I discussed the fear involved in putting your stuff out there for all to see, and how it can hinder us or prevent us from creating anything. When writing a post containing anything regarding single parenting, it’s also very easy to hold back through fear of offending. So let me begin by stating that I know very well that there are many, many single Dad’s in a way worse position than myself. However, I also firmly believe that if there were more people willing to be open about their daily struggles, however inconsequential to the big wide world, there would be less people feeling as lost and confused as I sometimes do. Through experience, I also know that there can be comfort and enlightenment found in essays, books, blogs, updates and tweets on subjects that are far removed from my own life experience. It’s OK to ‘piss and moan with perspective’ as by accepting the things that we are finding challenging, and our emotions, we can then begin to get to work and do something about it, or just as importantly, accept that there is maybe nothing we can do, and of course this is where we begin to work on acceptance. Check out Brené Brown’s blog on such things. The difficulty and turmoil comes when we don’t know if there is anything we can do about things or not.
We will all face these dilemmas in our lives and for me, Single parenthood has thrown up so many questions and added a lot of work to my already over-analytical little head. I’m at a point of having to make decisions about my future and looking for the best answer, and as is the case with any good old dilemma, there may not be one. What happens in an organisation when faced with a dilemma is that a meeting is called and plans of action are agreed upon to manage the situation. In a family, discussions are had to decide the best course of action. As a single parent, this is where things are getting tough for me because, as anyone who knows me may observe, I’m not very good at making my own decisions. I have even been known, rather often I’m afraid, to ask waiting staff in restaurants what I would like to eat (Yes, really). The fact is that I find certain aspects of life so much easier when I have someone to bounce off, but at the same time I really need to make these decisions alone.
The main thing that I’m working on is maintaining my relationship with my kids whilst managing my career. This sounds like the usual work life balance problem many of us face. However, as a fairly recent member of the Single Dads Club, the situation has become slightly more complex. Like many freelancers, I have always been a huge part of my children’s lives and they are in my care for on a two week cycle; two nights one week and four nights the next. A couple of times a month I am helped with childcare for late gigs, but I choose not to do this too much, because of the damage I feel that this would do to my relationship with my children. The long and short of it, and this is not complaint but just the reality, is that I turn down a lot of work, and because I can rarely do more than a few days away, a fair few of them are the really nice ones abroad (some of you,in the last couple of years, may have noticed a decrease in facebook and twitter humble brags, showing me in lovely places ). Yes, sometimes this sucks but if it’s a choice between that and the kids, there really is no choice to make. So these, along with the other bookings I have to pass on, result in a bit of a loss. And as most of my work comes through people seeing me, the referral engine is running at a somewhat more sluggish pace.
With the risk of sounding like little miss moany pants, this is OK, because again I am very lucky to be such a big part of my kid’s lives. The downside of this is of course that I want to earn enough money to be able to do things with them. And that’s a fair bit more now that it’s not a joint thing. I want to take them to nice places and I want to make up for the years of investing time and money into property renovations (which incidentally, I am now very glad I did) when I could have been taking them abroad. Basically, I need to work less and earn more. Or more accurately, work more when I’m not with them and work less when I am.
This has caused a huge paradigm shift and enforces some big decisions. I’m having to look at my life, and what I spend my time doing, in a completely different way. Though I am surrounded by those I love, who have been so helpful in supporting me through a rather challenging year, I need to learn to look inside myself and decide my own plan of action. I have to be a big boy and the following approaches are helping provide me with clarity, for some of you, they may do the same.
1) I need to really look into what I want, and spend my time working on ONLY those things that get me towards that goal. This is something that we should all do of course, and it’s only this situation that has highlighted the importance of this. For me, and for many, this is a difficult thing to do because we can get really bogged down into what we should want. This is a constant review process involving a great deal of self-analysis. To help me with this I’m using Stephen Covey’s time management system from 7 Habits (More on this is the next post) and the Fishbone procedure (again another post later, but google is your friend). I’ve been using these tools for a while now and I have always found it such a challenge to set outcomes, if you are like me, I suggest you give them a look.
2) I’ve started to monitor my time, constantly. I spend a lot of time working from home, so I now have a big red diary into which I record everything I do and at what time. All of my work and every time I break, walk the dog, make a coffee, have a shower, do some housework, make a call, stare at facebook, exercise, write, learn various things, play guitar, uke , banjo, practice magic, watch a movie the list goes on…and on. And it’s been a revelation. One of the things I have realised is that to do all the things I want to do in a day, the day needs to be 33 hours long. If you are having any time management issues, I suggest this as a starting point. I also realised that I was spending 3.5 hours per day on household chores, and when the kids are at school my work day runs from 9-3, that’s not good. So a result of this is that I need to constantly prioritise, review and accept that sometimes the house needs to stay looking like a shit hole.
3) I need to accept my situation and keep it in the positive. One of the things I learned as carer, many years ago, is that it can be dangerous to fall into the ‘there’s always someone worse off than you’ thought process. The problem with this is that there is always someone worse of than pretty much anyone we come across in our day to day lives, but this doesn’t mean that they deserve any less compassion and care. To me it’s OK to talk about the things that we are struggling with as the reality is that our difficulties are relative to our normal lives. If I get a blow out on the motorway and I’m late for a gig, I’m going to get stressed out, even though someone probably had a crash on that same motorway recently with way more of a negative consequence. But it’s knowing this that keeps things in perspective ( and stops one from becoming one of those who bitch about everything all of the time) and it’s the realisation that things could be a lot worse that can allow us to look at our lives in a different way. So compared to my fears, on separation, of not seeing my kids much, the fact that I have them just under half the time is a really good thing, even without the sunshine gigs.
Though many of those reading this will not be in my situation, what I have discovered is that this was just as relevant to me years ago, and it’s only the situation which has made me really scrutinise what I want to get out of my time on this planet. So if you have any time management or prioritisation issues, or you feel as though there are things that you really want to do that you are not doing. I really do suggest you start by looking deeply into what you want out of this life. When you’re at the end of it all what will make you feel contented. Don’t just do it in your head for a second, get it down on paper. As it has mine, this one thing could begin to change your life.
Steve Faulkner is a speaker, leadership trainer, presenter and award winning professional magician. Check out his magic site for that side of things and get in touch if you would like him to come and stand in front of your people and say things to make them be better at stuff.