10, to be precise.
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.
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.
7.00 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.
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 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!
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.
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
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!