Learning to use the time you have

Published by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:01 AM

This post is part of my series on PBH for Grown-ups — you can see all of the posts here.

You think you have no time. You have five children, or you have teenagers who play different sports, or you have a nursing baby and a toddler. You have a dog that needs to be walked, and your parents need help with their taxes. You are so pressed for time, if you turn sideways, you disappear.

You think you have no time, but actually you do, of course, have time, it’s just not useful time.

Let’s think about all the ways in which the time you have is inadequate:

- There isn’t enough of it to ball together to make a brief interlude.

- It’s riddled with interruptions.

- You’re exhausted.

- Your brain is mush after the sun goes down.

and so on.

You simply don’t have what you need to do the work you yearn to do. You are like a cobbler forced to make shoes out of pinecones.

Most of you believe that you need a chunk of uninterrupted time in order to get anything done. Or you need to work in the morning, because by afternoon your brain no longer functions properly. Or you need to work during the day, because after dinner, you’re toast.

You need it to be quiet — no TV noise or children arguing. You need to be well rested and relaxed. You need to be less stressed. You need to have less on your plate.

There are people who can work while being bombarded by family life. There are people who can shut out their worldly cares. But you’re not one of them. You are a hothouse flower. You are a special snowflake.

Oops, no you’re not.

You’ve just only ever accomplished anything during ideal work time because that ideal work time was available. No one would choose less than ideal conditions if close to ideal were available. You have no experience working in five-minute intervals or while children are arguing (cough) playing in the same room or when you’ve already put in a full day of parenting. No experience, however, is not the same as no ability.

When I sat down to start writing PBH (years and years ago), I worked out — through a series of negotiations which would make the United Nations proud — a two-hour chunk of alone time four mornings a week. I didn’t think it was possible for me to start writing a book under anything less than ideal conditions.

I was wrong.

The ability to work is a muscle, and mine was the consistency of a warm slice of bologna.

But you can build up your ability to work in less than ideal conditions. I did it by accident. I wasn’t satisfied with only working during the times I could arrange to “get away” — and life yanked that two-hour window away fairly soon, anyway. I started working during those less optimal times. I was interrupted constantly. I forgot what I was thinking about or what I was writing. I stared at half-sentences and couldn’t for the life of me remember what the tail end was supposed to be. If I had an idea, I had to write it down immediately or it evaporated like steam. But I kept stubbornly plugging away at it, because those minutes added up to something and I wanted whatever I could get.

Now, I’m one of those magic people who can work under poor conditions. (Cue theme from Rocky.) I could sit at the Superbowl and work while people passed hotdogs over me and screamed in my ear. I can work at night — at night! — when I used to feel like the only thing left in me was the ability to keep the couch from floating away. I have ideas and I can actually remember them without writing them down, which is a sort of miracle, because I can’t seem to remember anything else.

The fact that you can’t work under these conditions right now does not mean that you will never be able to work under these conditions. It isn’t a talent you’re either born with or not. It’s a skill you can acquire over time. It’s a muscle you can strengthen through use.

Yes, it won’t be pretty at first. You might think, this isn’t even worth it, I’m accomplishing so little. I’m pretty sure the work is terrible, too. I only had X minutes to work today and I only accomplished Y; it’s going to take a million years to get anywhere.

So what’s your hurry? You know that somewhere off on the horizon, your children are going to steadily grow up and be more independent. Eventually they might even move out. Do you want to wait until you can have your perfect, ideal time out there in the future? You’ll be too busy playing with your new flying car.

Going slow gets you there quicker than going nowhere.

This is a math equation and you are plugging in the small work variable but don’t forget you get to multiply by the days, and there are a lot of them. They stretch out in front of you and they become months and years and more years. Someone once wrote to Dear Abby and said, I want to be a doctor but I’m so old — I’ll be 45 before I get out of medical school. And she said, And how old will you be if you don’t go to medical school?

The most important number is zero, which is how much time you’ll be working if you don’t get over this hump. Pretty much anything bigger than zero is a win for you. If you want to achieve something — learn something, be something, do something — and you do more than zero, you’re going to eventually get there. Imagine that you do nothing and wait but alternate-dimension you gets started today using those little bitty scraps of time. Where will both of you be in a year?

If you start building up your work muscle — under these less than ideal conditions — then you will be a superhero when you actually get some big blocks of uninterrupted time. Like an astronaut in 70% gravity, you’ll be hoisting giant machinery with one hand and taking gigantic 30-foot steps. You will have done all your training Rocky-style, running up and down mountains with logs on your back, so that when you’re finally in the ring, it will feel like a vacation.

As an added bonus, if you stop stubbornly insisting that you need XYZ in order to work, you can take the first step in quitting making excuses. There’s no patch for that, and it’s very hard to go cold turkey. Most of us are so addicted to our excuses that giving them up feels like surgery without anesthetic.

Yes, it’s going to be hard. Yes, it’s not going to be ideal. It’s probably going to be a whole lot less than ideal. But you can grow and change and become stronger and more capable. (Really. You can.) What is a struggle now will get easier with time and practice. The tiny bits of time add up. Doing nothing now and waiting for the ideal time later means waiting a very long time before you can even begin. Starting now and giving up the fantasy of ideal conditions means you can begin immediately.

Slow? Sure. Painful? Probably. Frustrating? Almost certainly. But there is a big difference between actually doing something and only thinking about doing something. It makes you feel pretty great. You are on your way. You are strengthening your skills and testing your ideas. When more time becomes available to you — and higher-quality time — you will be ready to make the absolute most of it. You will fly.

Now do your Rocky dance.

Next time we’ll talk about how to set up an environment that will support what you’re trying to do. Because you’re going to need all the help you can get.

The minute you begin to do what you really want to do, it’s really a different kind of life. — Buckminster Fuller


Comment by amy21 on January 7, 2013 at 08:42 AM


Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:39 PM

:: does the wave ::

Comment by sylvia on January 7, 2013 at 08:54 AM

awesome post lori!! this really speaks to me, having postponed a (massive, yes, but doable) project for "when the kids need less of my time"... not any more! really looking forward to your next post!!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:38 PM

thank you, sylvia! that makes me really happy. :)

Comment by Tina on January 7, 2013 at 09:09 AM

I can relate to this because I feel like I am stuck in a "try/fail/try again/fail again" cycle. I try to blog and I have zero time where I'm not distracted by the zoo. I compare myself to the food or homeschool blogs I read and am so discouraged and I quit. I try to make and sell stuff on etsy, but again, no time undistracted (and like you said, I feel half-dead when the kids finally get to sleep), so I give up. I've tried several things, hoping something would stick... Currently I am trying to eat healthier so I've been blogging about that. At least with that, I don't have to leave the house and stand in line at the post office ;)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:37 PM


“I’ve tried several things, hoping something would stick...” — so maybe it’s not the activity that needs to change. ;o)

try/fail again/rinse/repeat — at least you’re not quitting!

Comment by Teri on January 7, 2013 at 09:10 AM

This was amazing!!!! THANK YOU!!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:32 PM

you’re welcome! ;o)

Comment by beki on January 7, 2013 at 10:08 AM

holy cow! this is just what I needed. last night for the first time in a loooong time I pulled out a project to work on after the kids went to bed, like I used to do before I started making excuses on why I couldn't. it felt good. it made me realize that I *can* do it if I want to.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:32 PM


yes! :D

thank you, beki!

Comment by jessica on January 7, 2013 at 10:21 AM

I look forward to the perspective and wisdom in each of your blog posts. This one felt like it was especially for me today. I can't wait to read more on this theme. Thank you. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:31 PM

thank you so much, jessica. :)

Comment by Kyrie on January 7, 2013 at 10:44 AM

I think the biggest part of making it work is re-framing "success" and "failure". When you are working around and within constraints, it can feel like every step you are making is a failure. The sentence half-written, the menu half-planned, the painting prepared for but never begun. But you are in fact creating all kinds of mini-successes that are building on one another, and in the meantime you're modeling for your family what persistence looks like. All of those bits and pieces add up. I totally agree with you, Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:30 PM


hello, friend! so wonderful to see you here. <3

you are so right — on the surface, those chunks of work can feel like failure (or just not good enough) because we have an idea of what success looks like and this ain’t it.

reminds me of the story about the two men asked what they were doing and the first said “laying brick” and the second “building a cathedral.” we have to keep the end in mind and know that we’re always making progress toward that goal. and i truly believe that it’s the practice that helps you learn this — we just have to help others figure it out for themselves. once you realize that your efforts are cumulative, you move forward with more optimism.

“[Y]ou are in fact creating all kinds of mini-successes that are building on one another, and in the meantime you’re modeling for your family what persistence looks like.” — yes!!!

Comment by KC on January 7, 2013 at 10:49 AM

I work all day long. Albiet in between screaming and dishes and poopy diapers. I taught myself to single crochet while I was nursing the other day. I often invite the kiddos to play at my feet with extra materials as I work. This has stimulated an interest in sewing for my three year old.

Lovely article, so reassuring! I will share this with all my mama friends who think they have no time!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:24 PM

thank you, KC! :)

Comment by Aili on January 7, 2013 at 11:12 AM

I think I may have to tatoo these words on my forehead

"You are a hothouse flower. You are a special snowflake.

Oops, no you’re not."

At the very least I think I need to print out this post and hang it up all over my house.
Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:24 PM


well, if you put them on your forehead, remember to reverse the writing so you can read it in the mirror. ;o)

thank you, Aili! :D

Comment by dawn suzette on January 7, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Yes. Yes. Yes. This is exactly how I get things done now. Little moments really do add up. I am on a roll with this concept and don't want to loose it in the up coming move.
This concept can also apply to how my time gets eaten up with just one more little thing... checking e-mail, twitter, pinterst... More little distractions that can keep me from using those little moments in more productive ways. I have been trying to only check those things when I have time to respond to really focus there. Being more efficent with those ways to connect (which I do value.)
I am sooooo looking forward to this Monday inspiration!
Thanks Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:22 PM


they do add up! and what a great point about how they can add up in the wrong direction as well — it feels like you’re just taking a few minutes here and there to check e-mail (again and again) or facebook (ditto) but when you add it up at the end of the day, you had enough time to really do something meaningful.

thank you, dawn!

Comment by Wendy on January 7, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Awesome! Thanks for these words of hope and motivation--exactly what I needed to hear! Can't wait for the next post!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:20 PM

thank you, wendy! :D

Comment by Erika on January 7, 2013 at 05:09 PM

I love it!!!! Thank you, Lori! I am so looking forward to more PBH for grown-ups. My husband and I have had a bunch of set-backs recently, financially mainly, which make us feel like the world has turned against us. Our 2013 mantra is basically "always be closing" or "do it!" It's even easier than ever to make excuses to not do anything when things are hard and you have a couple of small children, etc etc.. but I love that you wrote this article right now. Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:20 PM


glengarry glen ross! ;D

i’m sorry you’ve had a tough year — but i hope this year really turns things around for you guys. and i’m glad this came at the right time!

Comment by Erika on January 7, 2013 at 07:04 PM

Now that I'm so motivated, though.... how do I decide what to focus my fragmented time on? I am interested in and have plans for doing something related to almost everything in the world. Hopefully advice about focusing is in a future article! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:18 PM


it’s coming, i promise.

if you get tired of waiting, though, feel free to post in the forum — we added a section to discuss these topics further! :)

Comment by charmaine on January 7, 2013 at 07:16 PM

Holy cow, is that my butt you are giving a good swift kick?

Why yes, I think it is.

Thank you!! :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:17 PM

you’re welcome! ;o)

Comment by se7en on January 7, 2013 at 07:22 PM

Oh this is just fabulous!!! Well said... I am so looking forward to more in this series!!!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:17 PM

thank you, se7en! :)

Comment by Lise on January 7, 2013 at 07:27 PM

Wow. I think I really needed that. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:16 PM

you’re welcome! ;o)

Comment by mamaverse on January 7, 2013 at 07:54 PM

Don't comment on blogs much, but this rocked my world!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 08:16 PM

thank you! :D

Comment by Faigie on January 7, 2013 at 08:27 PM

Amazing that I just saw this now. I was just mulling over the fact that I can't seem to get large chunks of computer writing time and that's WITHOUT any little kids at home. And then I get so frustrated when I realize how much there is to do...so this was certainly an encouragement.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 09:15 PM


magic timing! ;o)

i’m glad it was encouraging. you can do it!

Comment by Kayte on January 7, 2013 at 08:29 PM

Finally got to sit down and read this... I think I stopped breathing somewhere in the middle there. Where was I? Oh yes, inhale. Exhale. Thank you Lori.

I was so much more productive when I in any of my previous incarnations of full time job, owning my own business, writing a book, or being a full time homeschooling parent (now it is only three days a week) because I had a rhythm. I have been clawing and fighting myself and life for last bit trying to find that rhythm again. And now I realize I have to sing a different song - make the rhythum up as I go along- until the tune catches on...

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 7, 2013 at 09:17 PM


beautifully said. :)

and so true, too — the imposed structure of working or homeschooling can make it obvious when you need to get your work done. it can be really difficult to impose that on yourself!

Comment by Amy on January 7, 2013 at 09:40 PM

Yes, yes, and yes. Spill it, sister! The only way to get anything done is to actually sit down and do it. Even if it is in two minute increments. Even if there are bombs going off in the next room over and arguing right next to your head. Little by little you get there. GREAT post. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2013 at 10:06 AM

thank you, amy! :)

Comment by Sheila Ryan on January 7, 2013 at 09:52 PM

Wise words for us big kids. I'm reminded of a valuable lesson I learned years ago in a Qi Gong class. Each session commenced with a period of directed meditation, and one evening, just as our class was settling into our meditation, a gaggle of folks from an adjacent aerobics class set in to gossiping and whooping it up just outside our classroom. High-pitched hilarity!

As our instructor guided us from meditation to the next segment of the class, he noted, "You might have wondered why I didn't ask the people out in the hall to pipe down so we could meditate. I could have, but the world can't be expected to accommodate itself to us, and we can't demand ideal circumstances for our practice."

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2013 at 10:05 AM

perfect, sheila — thank you so much. :)

Comment by Elizabeth on January 7, 2013 at 11:10 PM

Well...You know I think this is awesome. :-)

"You think you have no time, but actually you do, of course, have time, it’s just not useful time."

One thing this post helped me realized I was doing is undervaluing those small snippets of time. I think to myself, "The kids are all at peace doing their own thing, I've got 5 minutes to myself...what to do, what to do...5 minutes isn't enough time to sew on my quilt block...hmmm...I think I'll spend those 5 minutes pinning more quilt ideas. But I bet when I add those minutes up here and there, I can easily put in 30 minutes a day on that quilt, if not more.

And here's the other thing about undervaluing time by consuming information rather than acting on ideas....I begin to feel queasy about the time I take for myself. It makes me feel selfish, unproductive. I begin to feel like it would be even more selfish to take more of that kind of time. Somehow I don't feel so icky about my free time when that free time, even if it's just 5 minutes here and there, was spent creating, making, learning, doing.

Maybe selfish is the wrong word...I just know the difference in how I feel when I choose to consume ideas rather than take action is like the difference in how I feel after I've eaten cake instead of fruit.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2013 at 10:02 AM


i think *everyone* tends to undervalue those snippets — and the problem is, our brain wants to slide into doing something easy, like pinning more ideas. it resists pushing into the more difficult thing — actually doing the work.

but you can build up a habit of actually working during those small chunks of time so that your brain turns toward *that* automatically.

re: those icky feelings of being selfish ... i’ll write some about that later on. :)

Comment by Michelle @ the ... on January 8, 2013 at 12:54 AM

You totally nailed it! Trying to work while simultaneously being a full time parent is like training your a marathon at high altitudes. It is hard, but it builds muscles and endurance.

Thanks for the great reminder!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2013 at 10:00 AM

thanks, michelle! your simile is perfect. :)

Comment by Rach on January 8, 2013 at 04:21 AM

Thank you. This is just what I needed. I have decided to dedicate time to creative pursuits and had been puzzling over how to get proper chunks of time for myself. This is inspiring.
Still think I should re-value and actually take some proper chunks though...

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2013 at 09:59 AM


hey, if you can get proper chunks, definitely do that! ;o)

thanks, rach!

Comment by Meg Hicks on January 8, 2013 at 06:42 AM

"Go do your rocky dance"

Love that! Have just started reading your book - my Christmas present to myself :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2013 at 09:58 AM

meg, that makes my day! thank you so much. :) make sure you join the forum, too! free bonus. ;o)


Post new comment