Thursday, November 26, 2015

About time

Would you believe me if I told you that the number of blog readers who have asked me to share my time-management tips and tricks is in the double digits?

10, to be precise.

The most recent email on this from blog reader V has convinced me that I really should write a post on how I get the zillion things in my life done. I'm finally in a zone where I'm not questioning myself "Am I doing enough?" I know I am doing enough and happily so. I'm not overwhelmed with the stuff I do. I'm in my comfort zone. So a post on this would be handy if I start to slack some day and ask myself the "Am I doing enough?" question all over again. 

Not knowing where to start, I asked Viv what he thought I do differently, and his reply was, "You plan well. And you go through with it. You have a very precise idea about how much time and effort each task takes."

True, that. I do believe that if you can own your time, you can own your life.

So here they are, some simple tips and tricks on time-management. I am aware that these might actually might be too simple and obvious, and something you've always thought of, but perhaps never got to doing. Hope they help you as much as they've helped me. 

1. Know what you want in your life.
Take a moment to think - what do you want to do in your life? Not with your life. That is a much bigger question. In your life. What are the things you want to be doing in your life? What is important enough for you to invest your time and effort in? For me, that is Xena, my work, Skyping with parents, fitness, cooking, planning events, meeting people I want to meet, travel and hobbies. 

2. Know what you want in your kid's life.
As long as your child is a child, it is your job to decide what to fill his/her day with. I do let her have some 'boring' time at home and she comes up with the most creative and amazing stuff, but her outdoor activities are all governed by me.

What do you want in your child's life right now? What do you want his/her days to be filled with? I want to be there in Xena's life as much as I can. I want to be there in her childhood memories. I want to parent her to the best of my abilities.

One of the biggest sacrifices I have made is to quit my full-time job. After she was born, I turned  freelancer because I couldn't bear to not work, just as much as I couldn't bear to be away from Xena. It was crazy, but it worked. Now my new job still allows me to mostly work from home, but the hours are a little more regular, so I get more time to do more things with her. A lot of my planning goes into what I want her to see and do.

3. Know what to chuck out. 
Once you have points 1 and 2 in order, make a priority list. It helps you assess your time vs tasks so you can chuck out what is not important at this point.  You need to decide what is not worth it. There is no point feeling guilty forever about something you're not able to do. Either do it or chuck it. Don't mull over it.

Though I am someone who wants to do everything, I have had to make my choices. About a year ago, I got into Mandarin classes and nail art, and more recently into baking, and I had to chuck my sewing dreams. As a kid I had joined sewing classes and my teacher told me I was fab. I thought one day I would take it forward by sewing clothes for Xena, but there simply isn't time to fit it in. The fact that sometimes Xena is almost like a teenager who will only wear stuff she picked, helped to cement the decision that taking up sewing again is simply not worth it. I've made my peace with it. For now, I'm content sewing back fallen buttons and taking up hemlines of short dresses which I feel are, erm, not short enough.

Having said that, don't chuck important things like goofy time with your kid, or a fitness routine, healthy eating, or family time. For me, blogging always goes out of the window during very busy weeks, but I have the advantage of some bewdas emailing me to remind/scold me to blog. It inspires, touches and motivates me to blog. Because I love blogging and I don't want it in my 'To chuck' list.

Once you're in the groove, you will know what to say no to. My friends wanted to do something called the NaMoBloMo (i.e. every day of November you need to write a blog post about Narendra Modi... kidding!) together, but I knew that November was going to be a crazy period, with the new job and houseguests and an upcoming India trip, and I didn't want to do a shoddy job at it. I already struggle doing the April blogging challenge because of Viv's work travels. So I said no to NaMoBloMo, and I was glad I did. I would have gone mad trying to blog every day.

Speaking of chucking things, one of the most important things I've realised lately is the importance of not hanging out with people you don't want to hang out with. Often, we find ourselves with people who make us wonder why we're hanging out with them. Well, stop it then. It's not just a waste of time, it's a waste of emotions -- space in the heart. Life's short and it's totally not worth it. Get out of the rut of forced friendships. If you're always the one reaching out, and there is no response, take the hint. Stop. If the other person is not making an effort, it is a waste of your time and thoughts, when you could be in a happier place, literally and otherwise.

4. Make time for fitness.
Whenever we get busy, our fitness plans are usually the first to go out of the window. So have a plan and stick to it. I go to the gym for exactly half an hour. Not a minute less, not a minute more. I always remind myself that the key to a good workout is that it should leave you energised, not exhausted. And 30 minutes is just nice. Also, that's all I can afford, even though 30 minutes of exercise five times a week is actually the minimum recommended. So if you're not doing that, get to it. Until last year, I wasn't a regular at the gym. Housework and running after Xena gave me enough exercise anyway. But I've come to realise that fitness is not about losing weight or getting a six-pack. Fitness is, or should be, a way of life. And after toying with exercise classes, badminton and workout videos, the gym is where I'm most comfortable and get the desired results. Another good thing about the gym is that you don't need another person for company or motivation. You are your company and you are your motivation. 

5. You snooze, you lose.
There is nothing I dislike more than the snooze button. It serves no purpose. It makes a joke of the alarm, and it makes you feel horrible anyway because you didn't wake up when you wanted to. So I pretend that there is no such thing as a snooze button. When your alarm rings, you wake up. If you're really tired and need some more sleep (say on a weekend), turn it off and go back to sleep. Seriously. Don't mock the sanctity of the alarm by overriding it again and again and again with the snooze button. It's also extremely annoying if your partner wants to sleep but your snooze keeps going off every few minutes. (Ask me. I've now banned the snooze button from our household. Viv is coping well.)

6. Have a good morning.
Get up early. Have a good morning. If your morning is good and productive, the rest of your day will go great. If you wake up at noon even if it's a weekend, two things happen. One, you continue to feel tired because oversleeping causes a weird kind of lethargy. Second, you feel quite useless and wonder, "Aaj maine life mein kya kiya?"

Of course, be reasonable. If waking up at 6 am every day to do yoga is torture for you, don't do it. At least for me, waking up at 6 am any day for any reason is torture, so I don't do it. Sustainability is a big factor. Of course I can wake up at 6 am and hit the gym, but for how long? I know some people can do it very easily, but not me. I will have to do it at some point when Xena goes to primary school, but not now. I know my limitations. I go to bed by 11 pm but I set my alarm for a reasonable 7 am. That gives me sufficient sleep, and sufficient time in the morning to make a hearty breakfast for my family before I send them off. 

7. The daily routine
So this is my typical weekday routine. In fact, a lot of you have asked me for just this; the rest is just bonus footage I guess.

7.00 am - Wake up. Feed Blueberry (or get Xena to do it.)
7.30 am - Finish making breakfast (I don't like the idea of toast and I don't like to repeat stuff in the week, so I have a roster of omelette, idli, uttapam, paratha, bread/suji upma, poha, and a filling veggie patty sandwich. Of course, Xena doesn't eat any of it, and only has a glass of milk, so I pack a snack for her.)
[From 7 to 7.30, Viv brushes his teeth, Xena's teeth and gets her dressed and ready at the dining table, before he goes to bathe.]
7.30 am - Do Xena's hair and coax her some 4353445 times to finish her milk. [Lately, Viv has just been putting a timer on his phone and that has been miraculously helping her finish her milk within minutes.]
7.45 am - Breakfast
8.15 am - Daddy and daughter leave for work/school. I head to the gym.
8.45 am - Back from the gym and quick shower
9 am / 9.30 am - Start work
12  noon - Have lunch (mostly leftovers from the night before; but sometimes I head to a random cafe near Xena's school before picking her up)
12.25 am - Leave home to pick up Xena from school
12.50 pm - Pick up Xena
1.30 pm - Shower Xena and give her milk (she has lunch at school)
2.30 pm - Put her down for a nap and start work
3.30 pm - Finish work and do some vellapanti, e.g. reading Bollywood news, Facebook, Youtube, blogging, etc.
4.00 pm - Xena wakes up
4.00 - 5.00 pm - Goofy/creative/housework/academic time (I plan an afternoon activity that Xena and I do together, e.g. baking, painting, craft work [we made our own snowflakes for our Christmas trees this year!], learning Hindi letters, listening to silly songs like Pigeon kabootar by Daler Mehendi [yes, there is such a song!], singing, reading books, laundry, folding clothes, cleaning the house [I sweep the house while she clears up stuff and tidies up her room], etc.
5.00 pm - Give Xena a fruit snack; feed Blueberry
5.30 pm - Prep for dinner (e.g. if I'm making parathas for her, I make the atta. If I'm roasting vegetables for us, I chop and marinate them.)
6.00 pm - 7.00 pm - Outdoor time (we go to a different place each day -- the playground, the library, the pool, the beach, the field, and on one of the days there is a play date... with a kid whose parents' parenting philosophy matches mine)
7.15 pm - Shower Xena
7.30 pm - Make and serve her food
7.40 pm - Viv is home and takes over feeding duties, while I start cooking our dinner
8.15 - Finish cooking our dinner
8.30 pm - Family dinner and catch-up time (yes, Xena is still eating her dinner!); no devices allowed
8.45 pm - Viv brushes Xena's teeth and puts her to bed, while I clean the kitchen
9.00 pm - Xena is asleep (hopefully)
9.30 pm - If neither of us has any office work to finish, we turn on the magic device -- the TV. (We only watch TV when she's asleep and because we've unsubscribed from all the channels, we don't find ourselves mindlessly watching something just because it's on TV. We pick and choose our movies and TV shows and we watch only those. Currently we're hooked on 'Breaking Bad'. It's beyond awesome.)
11.00 pm - Zzzzzzz

Weekends are a little different, with more tasks (Skyping, cleaning the house, ironing, grocery-shopping, etc.) but there is less eating in and more outings. 

8. Make time to clean your home.
Of course, if you have someone who cleans it for you, great. If not, spend some time cleaning it. A clean house induces a special kind of happiness and serenity. After we renovated our home, Viv and I are charged up about keeping it as clean as we possibly can, or rather keeping it as clean as having a child in the house will allow. We do a thorough clean on weekends, and we try to do it first thing on Saturday morning. Then you have a nice, clean house to invite people to or just hang out happily in. Obviously cleaning is not the most fun part of the weekend and it's extremely time-consuming, but if you push it, chances are you won't get to it, and it will hang heavy on your conscience, especially if there was nothing else productive you did in the weekend.

We even have a shared chores spreadsheet, where we list daily, weekly and month chores and we put the date when it was last done (except the dailies, of course). It's greatly helpful in keeping track. For example, when was the last time you cleaned out the inside of your fridge, or checked the expiry dates of the medicines in the medicine cabinet, or took everything out of your wardrobe to sort, throw and reorganise?

Another good way to keep your house clean is to invite people regularly. After our renovation, we held 21 housewarming parties (I cooked for all of them!) over a few months. We didn't want to have ONE big one with 3994874085 people and not be able to interact with anyone properly. So each weekend, we invited individual families, and small friend circles. That set the tone for a clean house every weekend.

One of the rules I also try to follow is to ask myself just before I leave the house -- can I come back with an unexpected guest? Is the house in good shape, or would I be ashamed to enter it with someone in tow? That motivates me to keep it as neat as possible at all times, so the weekend cleaning is faster. I'm not a super-duper-tidy person by nature, but I'm trying hard. And it helps if you have a kid because you have to do the right things to teach the right things.

9. Don't underestimate the power of 5 minutes.
Many of the tasks that never get done or don't get done as regularly literally take 5 minutes. You can find several of these 5-minute pockets throughout the day. For example, Xena likes to play with her water toys for 5 minutes before her afternoon shower. Instead of simply standing there and waiting for her to finish, I clean the washbasin or the mirrors while she tells me all about what happened at school.

Another example of the powerful 5 minutes. Once or twice a year, I organise a donation drive (clothes, books, toys, etc.) around my estate. Friends ask me how on earth I make time for community service alongside all my other stuff. Well, I simply break it down into 5-minute tasks. It takes 5 minutes to email an organisation to ask them what they need (I already have a list of organisations) and fix up delivery. It takes another 5 minutes to post a 'call for donation' for my neighbours with a specified drop-off time. It takes a few more 5-minute bands to get the stuff together. And another 5 minutes to arrange for delivery. So, overall, organising a donation drive seems like such a big task, but if you add up, it's about half an hour's work overall. One can surely spare half an hour, twice a year!

10. Get organised
An organised life is a big time-saver. Our post-renovation home is so much better organised. Not that it was a total mess (or maybe it was), but it was far from what it is now. We wanted to make our home a place we wanted to hang out in, invite friends to, and one that we felt like cleaning. I wanted a kitchen that I wanted to cook in and keep clean, a work space that made me want to work without taking 3924738297 breaks. We wanted Xena to finally have her own room -- a room that she would be proud of, that she would want to keep clean and invite friends to.

The room that used to be my workspace is now her room. It used to consist of my workstation, the ironing board, our workout equipment and every unwanted item on the planet. Not exactly an ideal working space. Now I've moved my workspace to my room. Viv designed it to be very office-like so I actually enjoy working more. My new job needs me to work about 5 hours a day -- 1 or 2 mornings a week at the office and the rest at home. And working from home needs discipline. You really need to focus and stay away from distractions such as Youtube and Facebook (not that I don't indulge, but I try to avoid it during my working hours) and also the most important one -- THE FRIDGE.

I use Google calendar extensively to plan my work and I stick to the timelines I give myself. I guess working in a strict deadline-oriented industry helps. I'm also a big lover of lists -- grocery lists, to-do-lists, list of chores, list of deadlines, list of Christmas shows in malls to take Xena to -- you name it, I have it.

In the 'new' house, everything has a place. Stuff is easy to find. Quick to clean. Nice to look at. I've picked up a lot of organising tips on the net too, such as how to fold and vertically stack socks and underwear. It's the coolest thing ever. Seriously. Takes longer than simply throwing everything into a drawer, but the look and ease of finding stuff sure makes it all worth it. 

An important part of getting organised is also fine-tuning to maximise efficiency. For example, travelling and blogging about my travels is important to me, but I feel I'm not as prompt with Hopscotch as I could be. Most of it stems from the fact that I need a couple of hours to sort through the hundreds, sometimes thousands of pictures I take. And one of the ways I'm going to fine-tune it is to take fewer pictures during my next holiday. (I don't really believe that one should just take pictures with the mind and not with the camera to truly enjoy a holiday. A good holiday is one that you can relive again and again by looking at the pictures. So I do need to take a certain number of pictures, but not so many that it becomes a hindrance when I'm blogging about the holiday.)

11. Multitask
My mom-in-law always tells me that I'm really quick in the kitchen. This is after years of practice dove-tailing and multi-tasking. For example, I don't chop all my vegetables before I start cooking. I chop only what goes in first, chillies and onions for example. While that's cooking, I quickly chop the rest. This means that the stove is up and running within a few minutes of me entering the kitchen. This means that a simple dinner is ready within half an hour, and a fancy one within an hour. I also follow a sign I saw at MOS Burger - CAYG. It means Clean As You Go. So while things are on the stove, I start cleaning up and clearing away what's not needed anymore. This makes the post-cooking clean-up a breeze as I just need to wipe the stove and countertop.

I also multi-task at the gym by turning on the TV and getting the news while I work out. Sometimes, when I'm on the treadmill, I also do a bit of work in my head, like thinking of a catchy title or a funny cartoon for the article I'm working on. Also, since I refuse to get a data plan, I have no Facebook or WhatsApp or whatever distracting me during my bus rides to pick up Xena, and that is also a very relaxing, de-stressing time for me and my thoughts.

12. Get help
And by that, I don't mean hire a helper. Viv and I are thankfully on the same wavelength on this one. We don't want a stranger living in our house, cooking our food and bringing up our kid. Thankfully, my job allows me to be home. We have tried the 'part-time helper' path, but it's didn't work out well, mainly because Virgo-man thinks (and I agree) that we do a better job. The help I'm talking about is within the family. Everyone pitches in, so you're not the only one managing the kid and the household. Viv, of course, does a lot of housework, but Xena and I are in the house for the most part, so we do quite a bit. I read somewhere that having kids is like continually having to clean up after a party you didn't attend. Well, I refuse to. Since she was a toddler, I've made her do chores and now she's pretty good at it. She can clear the dishwasher, remove dry clothes from the clothesline, put clothes into the washing machine, fold clothes, clean her room, wipe tables, etc. etc. Of course, I still have to run after her to remind her that I can't see her desk anymore and she needs to clear out the 309582875 things on it, but I'm hoping that in time, tidiness will become a lifestyle for her.

13. Plan fun
One of the questions blog reader V who emailed me recently asked was, "Do you also plan 'fun'?" The answer is a resounding 'YES'! I use Google calendar to make sure that our weekends are nicely filled up, because those are exactly the kind of days that just go up in smoke, making you wonder on Sunday night, "Where did the weekend go? What did I do?" When you look at the events for the week, they should excite you. So we invite people, go to restaurants, have picnics, hang out with friends, go cycling at the beach, etc.

During cricket season, Viv is pretty much out all weekend, but we maximise family time in the off-season weekends. Xena and I hang out all the time, but I make sure there is something that involves all three of us. When you don't have time for your family, the feeling of being very busy gets elevated, adding to the stress. If every day you can have some goofy time with your family, you feel more relaxed and less guilty about being so busy all the other times.

And of course, if time and finances permit, go on at least one vacation a year. We aim for two - a big one and a small one, if possible. Vacations are not only fun, they also break the daily monotony and clear your head. I always come back from vacations, feeling charged and actually looking forward to regular life.

14. Don't overdo it
Having said all of this, do remember not to overdo it. It's nice to accomplish a lot in a day, every day, but if you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, you're doing too much. Don't go at breakneck speed because you want to do X and Y and Z today. Think about whether it is possible to do X and Y and Z today. Listen to your body, mind and heart. Much like the post-gym gyaan, doing all the things that you want to do should make you feel energised, not exhausted.

I remember, once I had the craziest day ever. I had tons of messages and emails from people, and I was quickly skimming through it all, but there was no way I could sit down and reply. There was so much to be done. It was a mad, mad day. And then it struck me how many people I know who have entire lives like that. Don't do that to yourself. Take time to respond to people who are reaching out. A big shoutout to blog reader Bubblegum who takes time to send me the longest and loveliest emails every now and then, and it makes me slow down and push replying to her to the top of my priority list.

So there you have it, my super-long gyaan list on how to do all the things you want to do without going bonkers. If you've actually read it all the way to the end, congratulations and thank you! If you have just scrolled down all the way to check if the post ends at all in this lifetime, here's the one takeaway again -- if you can own your time, you can own your life.

Do share your tips with the other bewdas in the comments box, or drop me an email if any of these tips worked for you!

This post was selected by BlogAdda as part of their Spicy Saturday Picks.



this is very good sharing. thank yoU!

ferret said...

First of all, charan sparsh, no strike that, shaashtang pranam!! You're amazing Sayesha, Respect just skyrocketed to a new galaxy!!!

Bubblegum.... said...

Didi.... You risked the health of your inbox. I might increase the size of my mails :D

About the blog!Xena does so many stuff now? In case in future I plan for a kid, I would read this every day. Garbhasanskar :D :D

Planning fun! *Openning my google calendar, now!*

On a serious note: I know I am fine at everything only first two three steps. Priorities!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the post! :)

Prathima said...

That's really nice of you to share your routine and tips in such detail.
I particularly liked the second point. While I do come up with activities to constructively engage my child every day, I don't plan it this well.

Hey! When is the trip to India planned? You must be excited....Xena's first visit!

Arun said...

How do you recover from the unanticipated that turns your schedule for the day into mush?

Argentyne said...

Wow. This is really inspiring. Btw, any tips on waking kids from a nap? My 3 year old takes loooong naps and then goes to bed really late at night.
.I love how clear-minded you are. Just like Elon Musk is apparently. How do you make yourself stick to a schedule? What if I want to keep watching that video... read another article... stay on fb?

Thanks for making the time to write this!

Argentyne said...

Excuse the typos. Screen acting up. *You want to keep watching...

Shraddha said...

Dear Sayesha,

If I admired you all these years, I admire you a lot more after reading this post.

I hope to get a bit more disciplined after reading your post.

Keep inspiring Girl...


Team BlogAdda said...

Congratulations! Your blog post was selected for Spicy Saturday Picks edition on November28, 2015 at BlogAdda.

Please find it here:

Sayesha said...

Thank you! :)

Mera aashirwaad tumhaare spath hai, putri! :D

LOL! Good luck with the garbhasanksaar! For now, focus on Garba Sanskar! :D

Thank you :)

Yes, Xena's first India trip in Dec-Jan! I'm super excited and super nervous! :D :O

Those things will happen. But the good part about being organised is that you can recover quickly and get back on track. Gotta be a little flexible for unanticipated events. Because of Xena, I have plenty of those! :D

Use the Bigg Boss wake-up method. Play your kid's favourite music and slowly turn up the volume and open the curtains. Works like a charm and they wake up happy, not cranky. :)

As for sticking to a schedule, I keep my Google calendar open at all times on my comp. So if I feel tempted to watch another video or carry on browsing, I just peek into my Calendar to check if I can afford to. If I can't, I stop. :P If it's compelling to carry on, then I might tweak my calendar a bit and push an event to a later time. But don't make a habit of it otherwise it will become like the snooze button!

Thank you! :)

Thank you for the honour and for your email. I have added the badge you sent me to the end of the post. :)

Argentyne said...

Thank you :) will try that out!

Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stone said...

Wow, definitely one of the best post I've read in a long time.
There are tons of gyan about time-management and all are available on net, but this one is so much relate-able.
Thank you so much.
Like someone said above, me too will printing this, and will be revisiting it every now and then.


Dew said...

Very well written and very helpful. Thank you :)

shell said...

Thanks Sayesha!
This is super cool. AS works is chill during the holidays I plan to use the time to 1)organize 2) Get my family into a routine which works . Great tips in your post.

I really liked the planning for 4 -5 time idea with Xena. While I do no electronics with my 23 month old, I find it difficult to have energy to play with him 5 -6 when I get back from work. I think if I planned something beforehand it would help

Share some of your home pics, I am eager to see them.

anN-series said...

Dear Sayesha,

You make multitasking a breeze! I have been following your blog silently for nearly 7-8 years now and my respect for you has grown by leaps and bounds! Be it in times of happiness or in the face of adversity, your positivity never dampens. And your biggest contribution, inter alia, is making nerdy the new cool!

Continue inspiring us...lots of love to Xena!

Porkodi (பொற்கொடி) said...

More than doing these things, I admire you for writing it so well! Detailed enough yet not intriguing enough to read until the end 😁 love you for everything you are! And I too write emails like bubblegum, I just wrote them in my mind and didn't send them over 😂

Porkodi (பொற்கொடி) said...

Hahahah! Rofl!! That is "detailed enough yet intriguing enough", not "not intriguing" 😂 writing lessons or time lessons, which course do I join first??

Reflections said...

This is an amazing post Sayesha!!! Hats of to you.
Thanks for sharing your routine in such detail
Just wondering when does Xena has her lunch? I have 3.5 year old who is a fussy eater and feeding her the meals is a big task and eats up a lot of time :)


Vidya Hemraj said...

A gazillion thank-yous to you Sayesha ...! AND (in Janet-from-FRIENDS style) 'OhhhhMyyyGoddd'! What a fantastic compendium this is :-). Much that I can imbibe into my schedule. Feeling inspired and humbled.
- Vidya aka 'V'

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