Tag Archives: work

168 hours

Some weeks ago, I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 hours. Actually, I borrowed 3 of her books from the library but read 168 hours first because it was written first. Which was a good decision, because the other two I borrowed (I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast) are essentially the principles of 168 hours applied in subtly different contexts. I must confess I skipped the latter and returned it to the library unread.

I had mixed (but mostly positive) feelings about what she had to say. Essentially, the basic message of the book is that we aren’t as busy as we think we are and we have more time than we think we do (168 hours per week, to be precise). That’s a lot of time. Even if you work 50 hours a week and get 8 hours sleep a night, that’s still 62 hours a week to do other things. Which, regardless of how you look at it, is a lot of time. I guess many “busy” people will say “Oh but you still have to factor in your commute, cooking, cleaning, showering, down time (ie TV and internet in most cases), it’s amazing how it all fills up!” Yes, it is amazing, that’s part of Vanderkam’s point. We fritter away all this time and then complain that we have no time to do the things we “really want to” do.

She recommends keeping a time log for a week, recording every 15 or 30 minutes what you’re doing. I managed this for about 2 days. I found that, rather than make me to realise how much time I waste on Facebook (I don’t need a time log to tell me that!) it made me more productive as I was conscious of not wanting to write “checking FB” in my log. Which is one of Gretchen’s big things for habit change- the strategy of monitoring, whereby recording your actions has the effect of automatically improving your performance, even without any analysis or conscious attempt to change.

At first I started to think that what Vanderkam had to say was contradictory to the slow-living/mindfulness philosophy I’ve been working gradually into our lives lately. “Making the most” of an idle 5 or 15 minutes here or there seemed like a recipe for being overwrought. But much of her approach is very much in line with slow living. She says, in the introduction:

Like everything else, living intentionally becomes easier over time.

Another of the strategies the book advocates for creating time to do more enjoyable things and fewer chores is outsourcing. Vanderkam cites multiple examples of people (albeit mainly single men) who pay a cleaner, someone to do their laundry, their ironing and even their cooking. She suggests buying ready or partly-made meals. I have to admit she started to lose me here. We’ve had a cleaner before and while, in some respects, I do agree to paying someone to do the things I don’t want to do myself (she seems to assume money is no issue for most of us), I can’t pay someone to do all the things I don’t want to do all the time. For example, the most we would ever have a cleaner is once a week. Before they come I would tidy up and put things away, because I want them to clean the shower and mop the floors (jobs I hate), not tidy up (which I don’t have a huge problem doing). I think probably almost 50% of the benefit of having the cleaner comes from the tidying up you do before they come. Another 20% is the “Wow” factor when you walk into your spotless house. This lasts maybe half a day and then it’s all undone again. Chances are the vacuuming will need doing again before they come again next week. A maximally useful cleaner to me would probably come and clean for an hour every second day, then a bit longer once a fortnight or once a month. But what cleaner wants to do that? And who wants to be tidying up for a cleaner every other day?

Many of her other outsourcing suggestions conflict with our zero-waste/environmental aspirations. I don’t want to buy “partly made” (read processed) meals. I don’t really want to drive anywhere to drop off my washing and even if someone drives to me to pick it up, I still have to be home to give it to them. And they’ve used petrol to drive to my house. Taking Mr L’s shirts to the dry cleaners to be washed and ironed is nice from time to time, but they return then wrapped in plastic and then you have to remember to get him to take the hangers back…. So, I wasn’t sold on that.

What I did like was her suggestion that you make a “list of 100 dreams” (I got to about 20) of things you’d like to do. Then, instead of letting your week fill up with all the wishy washy, chore-like, non-specific busyness of life, you take a 2 or 3 of those dreams (she suggests one is physical exercise) and you schedule time for them.

She’s also a big advocate for working mothers getting on with it and I like that. Lately I’ve become a little bored of the constant whine of the mummy blogger- “I’m so busy, I do everything for my kids, I’m burnt out, I’m so stressed, I’m anxious, I have no time for myself, I’m having a nervous breakdown”… these women stressing about housework and cooking and getting their kids to 100 different activities, all while working from home, where “work” seems to consist of posting articles on immaculately designed blogs about how to make these activities more efficient, more rewarding or more beautiful. So it’s actually quite refreshing to hear someone say “You can work a full time job and have children, but you might have to decide what it is in your and your kids lives that really matter and be a bit innovative with your routine in order to fit it all in. Oh and you’ll probably need to organise some childcare.” While the mummy blogger cries into her kombucha because she chose to be a SAHM (which I sometimes think ought to be renamed BAHM- Blog at Home Mum) but she actually finds it a bit unfulfilling at the end of the day. I’m being a bit harsh, they’re not all like that, but there are definitely a lot of martyrish overtones out there that wear a little thin after a while.

She sums up perfectly how I’d like to describe my attitude to being a working mother:

…Motherhood did not ruin my career, and my work has not detracted from how much I love being a mom, particularly the small moments the universe grants in abundance when you choose to pay attention.

All in all, this was quite a motivating book which encouraged me to look at how much time I have, how much time I waste, and re-think how I go about deciding what to do with my time. I also realised it’s actually nice to have a bit of time to do nothing, but it’s much nicer doing nothing when you do it intentionally. The book was easy to read and satisfying to finish. Thank you Laura!

Lions & Lambs

Growing up in England, there was much preoccupation with the weather, as there seems to be in general, but more so, apparently, in countries whose weather is either predictably bad or predictably unpredictable. There was always a saying “March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” meaning that it was supposed to be some kind of critical weather month which magically transitioned from winter to spring. True, early March in England is generally pretty grim weather-wise, but I certainly have memories of many an April, May and June wondering when exactly the nice weather would arrive.

Today is the penultimate day of March and, whilst the weather in Auckland has gradually become a little cooler but still remained generally very pleasant, I’d say in terms of Happiness and Vitality, March is definitely ending on a more leonine note than it started. [Actually all the lions I’ve ever seen have been very cool, calm and collected, mostly asleep but even the awake ones have been sedately pacing or meticulously stalking prey- but never mind, let’s not wreck the analogy.]

Quite what I was thinking making “Vitality” the theme for March, at 7 months pregnant with a fairly hectic work schedule for both myself and Mr L, I have no idea. Today I find myself completely exhausted and emotionally overwrought as I gear up for my last rostered shift at work this evening (still leaving a few loose ends to tidy up before no 3 arrives) and at home I find myself increasingly disorganised and at the end of my tether with Miss L, who seems to have firmly embraced the terrible twos at the age of only 21 months. Carrying an extra 20kg, sleeping poorly (thanks to big tummy, pregnancy-induced snoring, crying children), I don’t think I’ve ever felt less full of vitality in my life. I keep saying “when I’m on maternity leave…” but in fact work accounts for less than 20 hours of my week so I’m not entirely sure how much difference stopping will make. At least there won’t be any more super-late (3am) nights. At least, not work-related ones.

Anyway here’s a summary of March Happiness:

Go to sleep earlier– I did ok with this one for a couple of weeks, but it required a surprising amount of discipline. I looked around for a clock to use as a time-keeping substitute for my phone (not a prolonged search, I admit) and then kind of forgot about it, and as my sleep became more frequently interrupted by other the other factors mentioned above, I found myself turning to my phone and its cyber-entertainment during bouts of insomnia. I have found showering before bed fairly relaxing however, and have got into a bit of a habit of doing this. Plus showering at night means I can do it at leisure without fear of a child killing themselves/their sibling while I’m at it.

Exercise– did badly on this one, coming nowhere close to 3 times a week (although I didn’t keep my resolution chart either- another fail- so I couldn’t say how many times I did manage it). It did reiterate to me, though, how much better I feel after some fresh air, even if it’s just a 20 minute stroll through the park with the dog.

Act energetic– this was perhaps the most ridiculous of my ideas so far. For someone who finds it hard to fake “energetic” at the best of times, this was never going to happen given my current size, my sleep-debt and everything else at the moment. Might have to re-try this one at a later date.

Toss, restore, organise was moderately successful. We managed to get the spare room sorted out, the cot in the baby’s room up, a few more pictures on the walls and a couple of other odd jobs done. I haven’t done a lot of tossing, but I’ve made the bed a bit more often than usual and been a bit more diligent about putting the laundry away. The evening tidy up happens properly about 50% of the time, and in a modified format most nights.

Similarly for the nagging tasks– when I reviewed my to-do list last night I was pleasantly surprised to see how short it was. True to my word, I have crossed off an item without doing it once a week and managed to get through a couple of other items a week from it and amazingly have managed not to add too many other things to it.  To be honest I didn’t give a lot of thought to doing smaller than 1 minute jobs right away, maybe I already do them without thinking, I don’t know, there just didn’t seem to be that many….

Eat better, however was also a complete fail…. But I have mapped out a rough outline of my post-baby diet which (perversely) I am planning to start after Easter- yes, before the baby is born!! Really keen to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight in time for our ski trip in August, 3 months post baby, so I thought I’d get started early as 3 months isn’t a lot of time to shift all the kgs I’ve gained.

All in all, I’m kind of wondering how Gretchen fit all this in on top of real life. I suppose the idea is that it’s supposed to enhance and improve your real life. It probably helped that she was writing a book about it but she must have had a job and a life going on while it was in progress, it’s not like a book pays the bills before it’s written (well, not many bills). Anyway she seems to be quite popular these days, with another book, a podcast series and also speaking at some Happiness convention in Sydney we saw an ad for….

I, meanwhile, feel like I just have to survive this evening/this week/this pregnancy/who knows how long… I’m hanging out for the day I don’t go to bed dreading being woken up and to waking up most mornings feeling reliably relaxed and refreshed. Maybe in another 10 years!

Choose your own adventure

When I was about 10, I went through a phase of reading “Choose your own adventure” books. It’s probably around that age that many kids fancy themselves as Nancy Drew, or the Secret Seven, or whatever the current trend is (I must be dating myself terribly, now I’m sure it’s all Harry Potter and Wimpy Kid books). Regardless, when I was in primary school (before all this “tween” nonsense and at 10 you were still a kid) all I really wanted to be was a character out of Swallows and Amazons.

I liked the idea of choosing my own adventure and having some part in deciding how the story ended, even if most of the books seemed to be based in haunted houses fighting various ghouls rather than doing anything I really fancied, but they frustrated me no end as I always seemed to end up in a loop. Instead of getting to the end of the story and out of the house, I’d keep being directed back to the same page, having to make the same decision over and over again. Trying to choose a different door to leave the room by somehow never seemed to work: no matter what different options I tried to take, I’d keep coming back to the same page until I eventually got frustrated and gave up.

Of late, on our own big adult adventure, I’ve had a couple of moments (ok days) where I’ve really struggled. I like to think I’ve maintained perspective, that I’m acknowledging that changing countries is going to be challenging and going to take time to adjust to but even so things have, at times, felt a bit miserable.

During my latest bout of negativity, exacerbated by work, child and stress-related sleep deprivation, I got a bit sick of myself and my own attitude towards things and decided I was tired of feeling rotten and looking on the negative side and that it was time to pull myself together. I embarked on this adventure upon without coercion, with my eyes wide open. I agreed to leave my job, my friends, my home, and come here for a change of scene and to experience new things. To be sitting around feeling homesick because I liked Master L’s old swimming school better or I was missing my weekly catch-ups at the local park with 4 women known only to me through the random birth-dates of our eldest children, seemed pathetic, but much to my dismay, it was how I felt.

So I decided I needed to focus again on choosing my own adventure, embracing the positives and trying to see through or around the negatives.

Friends & Family

When we left I boldly declared “I only see each of my friends once every 3-6 months each anyway, I don’t think I’ll miss them.” Besides which, now that no one has phone conversations any more, I wouldn’t even miss talking to them, as the main acceptable mode of communication these days seems to be via text message, email or Facebook.

As you are pottering around the house one morning you decide to:

a) Facetime a friend

b) Skype your Applephobic parents

c) Both of the above

 You choose c. Fuelled by the success of a (long-planned) Skype chat with your parents once morning, you suggest a Skype chat later in the day with a friend. Her kids are at daycare, Miss L is asleep and Master L occupied, and you have a lovely long chat with fewer child-related interruptions than if you’d been face to face on a “playdate” (as catchups with kids now seem to be known).


Not a patient person at the best of times, I sometimes (ok frequently) wonder how I will keep from going insane and how my kids will ever turn into functional humans who don’t hate me, if I keep yelling and screaming at them. I hate myself for getting frustrated and angry at them but it’s hard when I’m tired, bored and not really sure what I’m doing.

One evening after a particularly angry day, you decide to

a)    Take a vow of silence. Maybe if you don’t speak and just ignore them they will feed, dress, toilet and basically raise themselves

b)    Ask the dog to look after them some afternoons to give you a break

c)     Seek out a simple, more socially acceptable (and legal) strategy to help you change your approach

You choose c. Surfing the good old net (again!) you stumble across the Abundant Mama website and in particular this post strikes a chord. You adopt “Just be kind” as your new mantra and it probably helps reduce your yelling by about 30% on the first day. Plus it has lots of other useful-looking bits and pieces on it to check out.

Things to do

I must admit, at times I’ve been a bit bored. I scratch my head to think what it is I would have been doing at home that would have prevented such boredom, I can’t think of too many worthwhile things there were to do at home that I don’t have here. Perhaps playdates and coffees and catch-ups did happen more frequently than I thought. Or maybe I just spent more time than I like to admit surfing the net and watching TV. Loneliness is probably boredom’s best friend, so not having much to do has certainly not helped me feel any less homesick, either.

Given you have a surplus of free time you decide to:

 a) Bake lots of cakes and eat them

b) Take up stand-up-paddleboarding

c) Plan lots of fun and exciting things to do with the other Ls, in and out of town

You start off with a but then realise your pants are too tight and you have gained 3kg. So you try b and have an awesome SUP lesson with Mission Bay Watersports and learn to stand up and paddle the SUP Master L bought on the weekend. You are also going to do c, but one thing at a time, right?


Possibly the biggest challenge. I’ve taken a slightly less senior job than I had in Sydney, as there wasn’t anything directly equivalent available. While being very positive about this on a good day (I’m getting out of the house, maintaining my skills, not getting caught up in bureaucracy and, if nothing else, earning money), on a not-so-good day it can be a little frustrating being condescended to (on occasion) and constantly explaining myself to people and trying to tell them I’m better than they might think.

After a particularly demoralising day at work you decide to:

a)    Skulk around complaining about how bored and under-challenged you are

b)    Roll your eyes and mutter how no-one realizes you’re more senior than this

c)     Prove yourself by performing and acting appropriately for your level of experience and ability and in time maybe there’ll be an opening for you at a more senior level (unlikely if you choose a or b)

You choose c.  As soon as a vacancy comes up, you are put into the position and everyone expresses their admiration that you were humble enough to get a foot in the door this way, as well as the more junior people confessing they felt secretly threatened by the fact that you are more senior to them.

So there you have it: my very own choose your own adventure. And hopefully, unlike the books, with this one I won’t end up in a loop coming back to the same page over and over again.

Work-life balance

I’m back at work now. The “change” has come about and we are in a new phase. Along with my return to work, Master L has started preschool, Mr L has had a promotion at work and we have decided to move to New Zealand in June. Instead of the page flipping and finding ourselves in the new 2014 routine, the pages are fluttering in the breeze as we prepare ourselves for an even bigger change.

All this fluttering of pages has been quite stressful and I feel at times like I’m about to lose my place. Last week I really struggled with it all. And then it occurred to me today: it’s not so much the change that bothers me as the uncertainty. There isn’t an abundance of jobs for me in Auckland, so I’ve had to think outside the square and take a bit of a leap of faith that “something” will turn up. I have made a few enquiries and managed to find something that looks potentially promising. I’ve been struck by how much more cheerful I’ve felt each time I’ve made progress with this job opportunity. Not because it’s the perfect job, not because the idea of not working for a while bothers me unduly and certainly not because this job’s all in the bag… but because it reassures me that I can find something and it gives me something more tangible to start planning around.

I’ve always maintained that my job doesn’t define me. I like to think I work to live, not live to work. And that’s true. If I had to choose between my job and my life, my family, the job would be gone in an instant. And yet it is more to me than “just a job”. “Career” isn’t even the word I’m looking for… the job I do has required me to do a lot of study, gain a lot of experience and acquire a fairly extensive (yet specialised) set of skills. What really bothers me about not having a job to go to in NZ, the uncertainty I fear, is that if I don’t work while we’re away, I will lose a lot of the skills and knowledge I have. On the back of 2 lots of maternity leave fairly close together, how on earth would I going to function competently in my job once we get back at the end of 2016?

My job is part of who I am. No, it doesn’t define me, but it is part of me. That is, part of ME. Not “me” the mother or “me” the wife but just “me”. I go to work and leave the rest of my life behind for 10 hours. Not that I don’t think about them, show people pictures of the kids, text Mr L and curse that I forgot to take that night’s dinner out of the freezer but at work I get to talk to people about things that don’t need to involve any of that. And it’s nice.

I’ve worked for my current employer for more than 10 years. I like the people I work with (most of them, anyway) and in that time some have become good friends. But even when I do the odd bit of work somewhere different, where I don’t know people so well, I get the same feeling of “me”-ness. So I can’t even say it’s just about my work friends, it’s obviously more than that.

People talk a lot about work-life balance. But I wondered exactly what they say, so I Googled and ended up on Wikipedia (where I end up a lot). Surprisingly and somewhat reassuringly, it sums up what I’ve been trying to describe, only much more eloquently (but with annoying Americani”z”ation):

“By working in an organization, employees identify, to some extent, with the organization, as part of a collective group… However, employees also identify with their outside roles, or their “true self”… In other words, identity is “fragmented and constructed” through a number of interactions within and out of the organization; employees don’t have just one self. Most employees identify with not only the organization, but also other facets of their life (family, children, religion, etc.). Sometimes these identities align and sometimes they do not. When identities are in conflict, the sense of a healthy work-life balance may be affected.”

I don’t think my identities are in conflict, as such, in fact I think I have a pretty good work-life balance. But if I return, deskilled and unable to function at the level I do now, I know I’ll find that really hard to deal with.

Happy Australia Day!

It looks as though January 26th this year was the last Australia Day we will spend in Australia for a while. We’re moving to New Zealand!

Mr L has, for some time, been looking for a new challenge at work and so when one presented itself he was keen to seize it. I had known of his aspirations to spend a couple of years working overseas ever since I met him and, although “live overseas” was also on my Life List (kind of like a mega to-do list), I still find the prospect of upping and moving (even if it is just across the ditch) somewhat confronting, especially when everything seems to have fallen so nicely into place for 2014.

Funny, because in many ways the thought of stagnating here scares me too. So many people say “It seems like only yesterday my son was in nappies/learning to walk/starting preschool. Last week he turned 18/35/52”. I love our life here at the moment but I don’t want that to be me, saying “Master L turns 21 next month, maybe we should look at moving/renovating/getting a life of our own”.

So I drew up a quick list of pros and cons.

Starting with the pros:

  1. I’ve always wanted to live overseas for a year or two
  2. We love NZ, at least to go to on holidays
  3. Mr L is convinced it’s the right thing for him and is clearly excited about it
  4. It’s really not that far away
  5. It’s exciting!
  6. Now is the best time to do it, before the little Ls are settled in school
  7. It might be the change I need from my job, which I love but I have started to think “what next?” a bit.
  8. It’s a great chance to declutter!
  9. It might be the perfect opportunity to have that 3rd baby

 In fact, the only cons I could come up with were:

  1. Master L is starting preschool and it looks amazing!
  2. I’ve managed to establish a very neat work, preschool & childcare schedule
  3. We love our nanny
  4. We love our house
  5. Mr L has just finished building a cubby house
  6. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get a job

1 & 2 were, literally, the first objections that came to mind. Matters of convenience. When children (and life in general) have a tendency to be inconvenient, it’s tempting to hang onto the bits that work. But there will be other preschools and other serendipitous work-life arrangements. (Hopefully, that is. See con #6)

3, 4 & 5 are really matters of sentiment. Ok, so having a nanny you love is also an issue of convenience but there will be other nannies. And who’s to say our current Mary Poppins won’t get her umbrella out of her bag & fly away soon for her own reasons? The house will still be here when we get back. (I keep trying to tell myself it’s just a house, but it’s not, it’s our home. It’s the first home Mr L and I bought together and it’s the first home for Master and Miss L.) We like our neighbours and our neighbourhood. But I know there will be other amazing houses, nice neighbours and great places to live. And, should Mr L see fit, there will be other cubbies.

6 is slightly more complex. Being a few years older than Mr L, and in a different line of work, I’ve reached a point in my career where the major hurdles are overcome. That’s not to say I’ve gone as far or as high as I can go, but from here on my career path is more of a ramble- I can go to different places and visit things that interest or stimulate me, but as far as money and career-standing go, I’m pretty much there. It’s a fortunate position to be in but it does lend itself to a bit of “what next?”-ing, or else it’ll be this until retirement.

I do, however, have a job that I need to actually do in order to remain up to date and skilled. Finding another job would help me maintain these skills (to varying degrees depending on the job) but the main issue is there doesn’t seem to be any jobs for me where we’re planning to live in Kiwi-land.

So, the options for me would be:

  1. Keep asking around and hope something comes up
  2. Get occasional work either back here in Sydney or out of town in NZ
  3. Study something
  4. Get a job doing something totally different
  5. Have a baby

I should point out that having another baby isn’t meant to be a last resort. We have been talking about having a third anyway. It’s more a question of: if I’m going to be off work anyway, what better time?

I don’t have a lot of experience with uncertainty. I’d say every year since I was born, I (or my parents, before I could talk) would have been able to tell you at any time where they saw me the following year. And we’d have been right, probably to the nearest hectare. So just saying “we’ll see what happens” is a pretty big deal for me. Yes it’s exciting but there is a nagging apprehension at the back of my mind, when I say that this time next year, I don’t know with any certainty what I’ll be doing.

But I’m fairly certain we’ll have wished our friends at home “Happy Australia Day” from afar and that we’ll be gearing up for Waitangi Day instead!