Balancing Balance Part VI: Where Does Your Time Go?

If your husband came home and said, “What do you do all day, anyway?” you might feel insulted, but we have to admit it is a pretty fair question. Hmm. Where does your time go? It can be enlightening to figure that out.

Every role in your life takes a chunk of your time. Have you thought about that? Being a wife takes time, being a mom takes time, being a daughter takes time. So does being a volunteer, a hobbyist, a friend. If you are a teacher, gardener, or jogger, all of these roles and activities use chunks of your time.

So, if you want to improve the balance in your life, it helps to recognize that it consists of Big Chunks, Little Chunks, and Nuggets. First take the time to identify your particular Big Chunks. Make a list, or better yet, write them as a mind map with plenty of space between them all over a blank sheet of paper:

This is the first draft of my mind map of Big Chunks, Little Chunks, and a few clusters of Nuggets. Your map won’t look like mine because your life isn’t like mine. Let’s be sure we have that straight.

If you are a Christian, let me explain why my list of Big Chunks does not include a label called that. I believe the fact that I belong to Christ pervades every part of my life – I am His – so I cannot categorize my Christianity into one section. Wife, Mother, Friend – in all these “chunks” I am a Christian. I give myself a Big Chunk labeled “Servant” to identify the role in which I care for the brethren’s needs and do mundane tasks like cleaning the church building. This is still something of a misnomer because being a servant also pervades my life as a wife, a mom, a civic leader, etc., but this is the best solution I have so far.

Ok, got your list of Big Chunks? Don’t sweat this – you may think of others later and you can always add them. Now it is time to brainstorm all of the tasks and activities you do in each Big Chunk. These are the Little Chunks. You can write them all around each Big Chunk on your mind map, or below each chunk in a list. Again, don’t get stressed about this exercise – it’s supposed to be fun and enlightening. Don’t get depressed when you see how much you are doing. Don’t judge yourself right now – you will make some judgments later, but for now just write it down. And above all else, don’t deceive yourself – don’t make yourself out to have fewer or more activities and tasks than you actually have. You need an accurate picture!

Also, don’t overthink which chunk claims a particular activity. Cooking meals could go in Wife/Suitable Help/Homemaker or Mom or Servant or even Hobbyist. Stick it in the one that seems most appropriate and move on. If it seems like you do more than one type of cooking and it matters to you, write Everyday Meals under Wife/Suitable Help/Homemaker and Gourmet Meals under Hobbyist. It is your list, and there is no test at the end, ok?

Last, think about the Nuggets that go with each Little Chunk. The Nuggets are the particulars of what you do with your time – daily, weekly, monthly, and now and then. Think about it: just about every woman does most of the Big Chunks and many of the Little Chunks you have on your list. The Nuggets are the specific ways in which YOU choose to do what you do. For example, on my mind map under Wife/Homemaker (Big Chunk), I list Hospitality (Little Chunk). My Nuggets under Hospitality are: Young Adult Supper and Conversation Nights, Sunday lunches, Parties, Overnight Guests, and Unexpected/Spontaneous. Those are the particular ways in which our family usually “does” hospitality. There are some other ways I didn’t list, but you get the idea. We do not normally take in refugees or homeless people, invite guests over on weeknights, or have elaborate dinner parties, so my Nuggets may look very different from someone else’s. I am only showing a few of these groups of Nuggets on my mind map because I was running out of space. In order to get really detailed, I might need to place only one Big Chunk in the center of a page and then work on the Little Chunks and Nuggets that radiate out from it.

So, you’ve got your list – the stuff you do all day. Things you may notice:
1. You have a comfortable amount of activities and tasks. You are able to accomplish the must-do’s and still have some time for the want-to’s. You are meeting the needs of the people in your orbit and your needs are met as well. Your life is balanced.
2. You don’t have enough to do. You are bored. Your life is out of balance because you are filling much of your time instead of using it productively.
3. Your life is just too, too full. Your brand of out-of-balance is the too-much-activity-and-not-enough-rest kind.
4. You spend a large amount of your time on just a few nuggets, while other Big and Little Chunks are virtually ignored. This is a different kind of imbalance, the kind that leaves us feeling guilty about not meeting all of our responsibilities. Sometimes the imbalance is due to circumstances beyond our control – an ill family member or the necessity of moving across country with little notice. These are often temporary – either the intense need passes or we figure out a way to modify other responsibilities in order to accommodate an ongoing burdensome need.
5. Or, you spend a large amount of your time on just a few nuggets, but for a very different reason. Sometimes we neglect important but less appealing aspects of our lives because we are choosing to focus on Nuggets we like better. When family members are irritated by our time choices, this is often the cause.

Ok, that is more than enough for now. Just keep your list or mind map nearby for a few days. Look at it now and then. Add to it as you think of new chunks and nuggets. Play around with it a little if you are inclined to. Try not to beat yourself up or get depressed, just let what you are learning about your life simmer in your head for awhile and see what develops.

Are you noticing anything in particular?

If you want to read all of the Balancing Balance series:

Part I Embracing the Truth
Part II Personal Filters
Part III Do I Have the Right to Choose My Filters?
Part IV Personal Filters for Life Management
Part V What are Your Family’s Gatekeeper Filters?

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    What a great idea to do a mind map like this. I definitely want to make one.

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  • In My Kitchen, In My Life is a place where women (and the odd male) can be encouraged, nudged, and occasionally kicked in the pants toward living their lives on a higher plane. Oh, and readers get plenty of chances to laugh at the author's foibles, which is always worth a click.

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