I feel like I’m fighting all the time — that is to say, all the time I do not have.
Time to exercise, time to cook. Time to take down the Christmas tree still sitting in my living room.
I don’t have time to call friends or answer mail. Time to think. Or, especially, just be still.
This is why buying my yearly planner in January is crucial. Because this year, I swear I’m going to get my arms around my time, my schedule, my life. Of course, I’m already off to a late start.
Desiree Tucker has been a professional organizer in Prince George’s County for 20 years.
Every year, people make resolutions around time management, she says. “It starts with, ‘I want to get organized.’ They may not know how to do that or where it starts.” But they say: “I just don’t have enough time in the day. Where can I get more? What can I cut out? How can you help me manage my time and my life?”
I tell her about my planner ritual. I go to Staples and grab a bunch of planners from the shelves, then sit and commune with them on the floor. They have to be purse-size, and no red or loud colors that might be a vexation to my spirit. The pages have to be light blue or olive, soft on the eyes, and have to have little sayings that sound kind of deep. The more in tune I am with my planner, the more harmony I will have in my life . . . or so the thinking goes.
Tucker is not feeling any of that. “Most people are going the way of Google Calendar, smartphones and iPhones to keep track of everything,” she says helpfully.
She can’t see me, but as she is talking, I give her the Aretha Franklin blinking-eyes-GIF face. Well, right, no doubt digital devices have built-in efficiencies, but I don’t know how to use those systems and I don’t have time to learn.
No matter. Tucker knows people who make paper work. They “go out and make it a yearly shopping trip to go and find a new planner. What’s coming out new? How can I make it better?” And even the devotedly analog can “incorporate some electronic devices into your life. It can start as simply as using timers and setting alarms for yourself” to keep you boundaried and get you where you need to be on time.
I am surprised to note that many of her suggestions are things I already do.
Allison Hodson, senior product manager at FC Organizational Products, which sells Franklin planners and calendars, says planners “offer that dream of getting your life in control.” They help people “feel organized, feel in balance. They create harmony and inner peace in their lives.” A planner routine helps you “set sights on your goals and helps you begin with the end in mind. You know what goals you need to achieve so you can kind of work backward, break those down into smaller goals, and even further into short-term goals that translate into daily tasks.”
As she talks, I find myself awash in new possibilities. Lulled into a “Best Life,” “Strongest Self,” “7 Habits” reverie. She doesn’t just talk about the process of it, but the feel. Pen and paper are tactile, Hodson says. There is something satisfying about making a list, then crossing something off. “For me, if I can write something down, it kind of instantly frees my mind to get to work and find out the ways I can achieve the goals, rather than try to remember what it was I needed to do.”
I tell her that sometimes I send notes to my future self in my planner. I’ll get a “Hello, are you feeling better?” from August. Or an “Are you married yet?” smiley face from April.
“It kind of turns into an accidental journal,” Hodson agrees. “An archival record of your life that you keep for years.” Her favorite entry was her first obstetrician appointment when she found out she was having twins.
I leave the conversation lifted but also confused. If I’m committed to a system, and I’m using my time-management tools the way I’m supposed to, then why, so often, am I gasping for air?
I return to something Tucker said, and I let it sink in. “Maybe you think you need help with time management, but there are only so many hours in the day and maybe you’re just overcommitted,” she says. She recalls something a mentor said: “You can’t manage time. You have to learn to manage yourself.”
I think about my schedule. Every day, I do some combination of writing, taking care of children, driving around the Beltway for my commuter marriage. All things that mean the world to me. And I realize part of making peace with time is also about making peace with the decisions I’ve made about the things that fill my life. Instantly, I feel some of the fight leave me.
Wow. That’s kind of deep. I think I’m going to write that in my planner.
For more by O’Neal, visit wapo.st/lonnae.