Enough is Enough: Recognizing the Limits

Packing a Suitcase
source: Kelly Hays

I don’t know about you, but I get kind of a sick pleasure from packing a suitcase or box. It’s fun to me to see how much I can fit into a defined space, and I’m pretty good at stretching the limits to fit more than you would expect.

I do the same with time management, looking for tips and tricks to help me get more done in my day so that I can accomplish my goals while still enjoying time with my family and having a moment or two to relax and recharge.

But one thing I’ve noticed over the years is that there’s only so much you can fit into a cabinet or in your schedule before the seams start to stretch and eventually overflow.

You see, when I was growing up, my momma loved to take care of us. She did our dishes and laundry, cooked for us and just generally took care of everything so that we could enjoy being kids and teenagers. Even though I started working full time while I was in college, I still didn’t have to do much around the house.

And then I got married, and my husband and I moved into our own home, and suddenly we added cooking and cleaning to our list of responsibilities.

It took us many years to learn how to stay on top of the chores — and I’m still trying to learn how to cook — and we would cycle through the same pattern every week: First, the dishes would start to pile up. Then we’d start leaving things all over the house. And finally, we’d wake up one day and realize we were living in a pigsty. We’d spend hours cleaning up, only to repeat the process a few days later.

While pregnant with our second daughter, someone introduced me to the Managers of Their Home system, and I had an epiphany.

We were living in my parent’s basement while we searched for the perfect lot to build our dream home on, and I really spent a lot of my day being lazy. However, I knew things would change when we added another baby to our family, and I began to think about scheduling and time management.

During this time, I was surprised to realize how much I could get done in a 15- to 30- minute block of time. I’d add “get dressed & brush teeth” to one of the scheduling blocks, and then I’d have 10 minutes left to spare. I’d move on to the next 15-minute block, “empty the dishwasher”, and continue moving through them all. Before I realized it, I was at the end of my schedule before we’d even hit lunch time!

While this was an important lesson for me to learn about productivity and has served me well, I realized recently that I’d taken it to the extreme.

Somewhere along the way, I became convinced that I could always find more space in a cabinet or more time in my schedule. I treated half an hour as if it was an unlimited amount of time and a box or cabinet as if it was a puzzle just waiting for me to see how much I could fit.

I recently opened our toy cabinet and realized that while we were adhering to the “only keep the toys that fit in the cabinet” rule, I had it so packed full that it made it frustrating and difficult to get anything out.

Similarly, I had to put several personal projects — including my own writing — on hold this summer after taking on too many projects, convinced that I could make the time if I just white-knuckled my way through it.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a retraction of my earlier announcement. Life Your Way has been in the works for several months now, and I’m excited and energized by the project.

However, I think it’s important that we all take a step back and look at the limits on our time and space. Sometimes we need to move things around, get creative and give up some time- or space-wasters to make room for something else. But other times, things are so full already that everything is going to suffer.

Are there still ways I could make more time in my day? Probably, yes. I still spend way too much with my email, and I tend to get sluggish midday and lose my steam. But organizing and productivity both have limits, and I think it’s important to recognize where there’s room to grow and where you’re bumping up against the wall.

How about you? Do you feel like there’s a lot of room to improve your time management and organization, or do you find yourself trying to fit more in even though there’s no more room to give?

Mandi Ehman at Organizing Your Way