Sometimes, you wake up and you think:
Today, I’m going to write my novel and crush that work project and do all the laundry and cook 28 meals and freeze them.
Basically, you think, I am going to WIN today.
And then, just as you have picked up your sharpened pencil, the washing machine makes a weird nose.
Your kid throws up.
Your boss calls with an emergency.
And suddenly, it’s MIDNIGHT, and you’re not in bed, and you didn’t even do ONE thing that was on your list.
Maybe this never happens to you, in which case, please go read The Blog for Perfect People Who Never Have Problems. Here at Successful Freelance Mom, we are all about reality. And reality is that unless my family makes the conscious decision to go naked, we will never finish the laundry.
Time is tricky. It expands and contracts in the most inconvenient ways, over and over again. But we are tricky, too. We tell ourselves all kinds of stories about time.
Often, we believe the stories we tell ourselves.
This belief is what frequently results in our exhaustion, our chronic lateness, our empty freezers.
Here are seven of the biggest lies we tell ourselves about time — and how we can start to change the story.
I don’t have time for [fill in the blank].
The local elementary school recently announced a scheduling change — the youngest two classes are finishing the day an hour earlier than the rest of the students. When parents asked why, they were told, “We have a shortage of hours.”
Okay, obviously they mean that they have budget issues and cannot pay teachers for the hours, but the phrasing is just so… common. And so untrue. NO ONE has a shortage of time. We all have 168 hours every single week, and each week, we get to choose how we spend those hours.
Yes, sometimes, there are outside constraints, but let’s be real — and honest. It’s about choices and priorities, not time. You don’t have time to write the great American novel, or writing fiction is not a priority for you? Yeah, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to say that something isn’t a priority, which is why we so often mask it with, “I don’t have time for that.”
Stop doing that. Be honest. If it’s truly a priority for you, you will find the time.
I’m putting in the time and I’m still not getting results.
Do you have a friend who tries every new diet? Or one who has been drowning in debt for years? At some point, these people probably started tracking food or spending, right?
Here’s the thing: tracking — whether it’s your time, your food, or your spending — only works if you’re honest about it. If you only write down the carrots and don’t bother to add the french fries you ate off your husband’s plate, the Cheetos you snuck in the car, or the ice cream you had just because, your food log will look awesome, but the scale will disagree.
Likewise, if you keep telling yourself that you’re putting in hours every day on your project, but what you’re really doing is spending hours every day on Facebook, nothing is going to change.
Change is hard, and often painful. But you can’t expect results to come from magic.
I can definitely make that deadline.
If you’re consistently scrambling to meet deadlines, you’re probably telling yourself this lie frequently — but you’re not alone. Daniel Khaneman and Amos Tversky first coined the phrase “planning fallacy” in 1979 to describe our tendency to underestimate the time we need to complete a task — even when we know that similar work has taken us longer in the past.
In our heads, we’re envisioning the best-case scenario. We’ll sit down to write the report, the words will flow easily, and we won’t be distracted. Information will be readily available, people will answer our calls, and everything will go as planned.
Seriously, when’s the last time everything worked out exactly the way you planned it? And yet, there we are, falling for the planning fallacy again and again. There’s a surprisingly easy fix for this time lie, though: every time you need to estimate the time for a project, add a buffer. Usually an additional 50% is sufficient. So, if you thought writing the report would take 4 hours, plan for 6 hours instead.
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I work over 80 hours a week.
This is one of the most popular lies about time. We all overestimate the hours we work, because so much of what we do can feel like work — even when it’s not.
You might genuinely be out of your hours 80 hours every week, but it’s really not fair to say that you are putting in focused work for all of those hours. In order to work 80 hours a week, you have to be working — working, not commuting, not eating lunch, not in the bathroom — from 7am until 11pm, 5 days a week.
Seriously, if you’re doing that, what the heck is your job? And how do you have time to read this post?
Even better are the people who claim to work 100 hours a week. These people must have an extremely loose definition of work. 100 hours a week is 20 hours a day, five days a week. That means you’re working from 7 am until 3 am. Do you know anyone who does that consistently?
Related question: Do you know anyone who claims to do that consistently? That person is most likely a liar.
I spend all day with my kids.
This is another one of those time lies that feels true. When you are caring for small children, it definitely seems like that’s the only thing you do, all day.
But here are a few truths: newborns sleep about 18 hours a day. And since very few of those hours seem to happen at night, they must be sleeping during daylight hours. Even toddlers sleep 14-16 hours a day. Yes, many of those hours are at night, but toddlers also need regular naps.
Are there exceptions? Of course. Children with special needs, sleep disorders, or other conditions may need more of your time and attention. But if you are truly spending your entire day with your children — and if that makes you unhappy — then you need to change something.
If you love spending every possible second with your kids and don’t want to do anything for yourself, great! You do you. But you’re reading this presumably because you want to have time to write, time to build your business, time to read novels, whatever. So be real: it’s unlikely that you are spending all day, every day with your kids, even if you are their primary caregiver.
If your kids never nap, institute a daily quiet time for an hour in the afternoon. Trade with another mom so you each get one kid-free afternoon a week. Find a sitter for 4 hours a week.
Or, change nothing, and keep everything exactly the same.
I spend hours cooking and cleaning every day.
Yep, when you’re a mom, it definitely feels like you’re cooking and cleaning all day. I absolutely bought into this lie for a long time. Turns out, I was spending very little time cooking and cleaning… and a lot of time playing Words With Friends on my phone, but that’s a different story.
Listen up: there is no reason for you to be spending 8 hours a day cooking and cleaning. Do you live in Downton Abbey? As I recall, they had staff. A LOT of staff. They had people to DRESS THEM.
Anyway, you’re not in the kitchen as much as you think you are. Track your time if you don’t believe me. You’ll find that you start dinner, but then you have to go change a diaper, and then the fourth grader can’t figure out which is the sign for division, PLUS the Girl Scout cookie order was due LAST WEEK, and, like 57 other things that are NOT cooking dinner happen.
So you FEEL like you spent 4 hours cooking dinner, but really, that macaroni cooked up in 8 minutes.
We can fix this issue, but you have to acknowledge it first.
I don’t need more than a minute to do that.
Man. This lie. This is the lie of the chronically late. “The kids will be ready in a minute.” “I’m leaving in ONE MINUTE.” “We’re going RIGHT NOW.”
As the person who is always early, I have spent HOURS of my life waiting for you late people. Here is the truth: It takes a LOT more than a minute to do most things, especially when children are involved.
If you’re telling yourself, I can be out the door in 10 minutes, are you really thinking about how long it takes to strap your baby — who seems to have seven arms and five legs — into the carseat while simultaneously ensuring that your 6-year-old keeps his pants on? Or are you being, perhaps, a wee bit optimistic in your estimate?
If you are honest with yourself and say, It take 28 minutes from the time I say We’re leaving to the time I pull out of the garage, that’s a game changer! If you KNOW that it takes 28 minutes, you can plan accordingly.
Imagine a world where you get to Mommy and Me on time and you don’t have to sneak in quietly while everybody else is already singing the hello song.
This nirvana can be yours, if you are honest with yourself about time.
If you’re telling yourself that you’re going to work on your freelance writing business every evening from 8 to 10 pm, but you are actually spending that time on Netflix or Hulu, maybe it’s time to cancel those subscriptions so that they aren’t an option anymore.
Maybe getting to bed early is important to you, but you can figure out a way to put in four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Of course, you can always decide that it’s not possible to make any changes to your life. That’s legitimate — but it’s also a choice. If you can’t change one single thing, then you’re not really trying to find time, you’re trying to find reasons why you can’t do the things you say you want to do.
So, what’s one change you’re going to make?