Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No Time for Time Management

My fifth grade boyfriend thinks I'm a genius. At least, that's what he told me when he learned that I was writing another book —and he almost looked serious. He asked me how I do it. When do I find time to write, and how do I manage to be a veterinarian, spend time with my family, visit with friends, and work on various projects at the same time? It surprised me that he seemed genuinely interested. Even his wife showed a morbid curiosity about my "time management skills". My husband looked bored. We were the only ones left in the restaurant. It was late and the lights were dimming. It was time to go.

I wanted to confess that I could not control or manage time, but I didn't want to destroy my new "genius" image. So I didn't tell him that I was desperately behind in everything. I had a magazine article due in one day and a book proposal due the following morning. Both were in an embryonic stage. At work a tall stack of patient medical records awaited updating in my office vortex, where most things got lost and time passed at warp drive. At home, I awaited completion of a room addition that now spanned five months of remodeling and all the chaos and interruptions that entails. The contractor, who lives in his own time warp, had promised it would take only one month. We had a litter of semi-housebroken puppies at home that kept me busy and distracted and I was dreading the mess we might find if we didn't get home quickly. More important, we needed to check on our daughter, who I had taken to the hospital a week earlier for an emergency appendectomy. I really needed to get some sleep, as I had a heavy caseload and surgeries scheduled the next day. Suddenly I remembered that tomorrow was our 28th wedding anniversary. Thank goodness we didn't exchange cards or gifts anymore, because I didn't have time to get my husband anything. These days we were just happy if something bad didn't happen to me on our anniversary—because something bad always did. Of special note was the anniversary I woke up covered with chicken pox. Another year, I woke up with a horrific case of poison oak. Then there was the time I woke up with tonsillitis, and the next year with a severe respiratory infection. (There was also the time I broke my back after being trampled by a mule, but that doesn't count because it was on Mother's Day, even though I was still messed up for our anniversary). This is just a partial list. All these things nearly killed me. Over the years, we developed a rabid fear of our anniversary date.

I would have declined this last minute dinner invitation, but, like a comet on orbit, my fifth grade boyfriend shows up every 15 years, to be seen only in a flash, before he speeds away to distant space (his home in Canada). If I wanted to see him and his wife, this was my only chance until we were in our seventies. I picked up the tab for dinner. I made a mental note that next time it would be his turn to buy. But how keen would my memory be by then?

On the way to the parking lot I mulled over my inability to manage time well. I concluded that it wasn't so much poor time management as it was time shortage. My profession as a veterinarian with a reproductive practice makes it difficult to plan anything in advance. I have to be ready to roll out of bed in the middle of the night to deal with emergencies and perform Cesarean sections, or be available all hours weekends and holidays to do artificial inseminations and embryo transfers. Nature doesn't wait. Everything is a timed event, so my work and sleep schedules are fragmented. My social life is precarious. Dear friends have dropped me to the "B" list because I've had to cancel dinner so often at the last minute. I think much of this is self-inflicted. I tend to accept more projects and writing assignments than I reasonably have time to do. I get them done on time, but if I said "no" more often, perhaps I'd have more time. Or would I? I'd surely fill that void with more writing, so I'd still be just as busy!

So, when do I find time to write? I usually write in the middle of the night. During that temporary calm, I steal hours from much needed beauty sleep, because writing is my passion. And this, I suppose, is how things are for most people these days. We all have too much to do and not enough time. We all have interruptions, unexpected guests, family emergencies, multiple projects, and big goals. We have things we have to do and things we love to do. We have deadlines we can't miss and we have timelines we can juggle. And so we do the best we can with the time we have. Some people manage time better than others, but no one ever has enough time.

As we reached the car, I thought I could possibly explain this to my friend, but fortunately the conversation had long since changed. He and his wife were happily chatting about the time they last visited my husband and I, fifteen years ago, when I had photographed them holding some skunks I had de-scented. Apparently it was the highlight of their vacation.

I only knew my friend briefly in fifth grade. He was the new kid in class and I befriended him. He attended my school for four months before his family moved back to Canada. When he moved away we agreed to be pen pals. I think it's sad that most kids today just send text messages. There was, and still is, something enchanting about putting pen to paper. (I still write with a fountain pen). We used our best cursive writing, bought postage stamps, and addressed envelopes. I used scented stationary. He used paper with chunks of bark mulch in it. When the rare letter arrived, we took the time to answer it. It was through the magic of writing that my friend and I actually got to know each other. We have been pen pals for fifty years, but he cheerfully refers to me as his "oldest friend". Ouch!

Sharon Vanderlip, DVM is the author of more than 20 books and numerous articles on animal care. For more information, please visit her website: www.sharonvanderlip.com


Laurel Corona said...

Sharon--people shake their heads in wonder at how I manage to publish so much when I also have a full time job. Now I understand a little better their amazement. My life is really pretty different, in that I call the shots most of the time. I don't have a case load, or a lot of things that come up at the last minute. Life certainly intervenes in good ways and bad, but not so often that I am really thrown off task or off goal that often. I get it now, thanks to your post,that it often isn't a matter of wasting time when we discover we don't have enough, but truly not having enough to begin with. BTW, I think the fifth-grade boyfriend is a very lucky man to have you as a friend.

Kathleen B. Jones said...

Sharon--your essay brought to mind the oh so many ways we all struggle with time and worry we aren't managing well enough the time we have. Balancing between the various demands in our life, in an age where technology itself seems to speed things up, is often a matter of first deciding what we really care about and then putting our energies and alloting the requisite time there. For the record, I think you are doing that magnificently well within the context of a life, very unlike mine at the moment, where time has a hold on you in ways you really cannot alter, given the unpredictability of the demands of those lives in your care. In my case, where I control the demands on my time more than you, the challenge is to stay present in the work, and often that means breaking routines that I have created myself.

Caitlin Rother said...

Sharon, I can totally relate to your post, as I'm sure can many others who try to squeeze in time to write -- even me, who writes books full-time. We all have to set priorities, try to keep a sense of healthy balance in our lives, and try to keep moving ahead without missing anything important. Sometimes, I wish there were more hours in the day, although I'm sure I'd just fill those too. But at the end of the day, I just try to tell myself that I'm so busy because things are going so well. Thanks for a fun and thought-provoking post!

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