For the sake of context, I’m going to talk about myself for a moment. In addition to being a new contributing writer here at Hack Library School, I am an LIS student at the University of Maryland taking 2 classes, or 6 credits, each semester. I work 30 hours a week at another academic library, have 4 children under the age of 7, and teach yoga in my spare time. I make time to go indoor rock climbing at least twice a week, practice yoga, and wake up early to take a spin class at home at least 4 times a week. I eat well, have a good relationship with my husband, and prioritize dedicated quality time with my children every day. Now that it’s summer we even frequently go to the pool and spend leisurely time with friends. I did not list this out for the sake of bragging, in fact, my schedule sounds a little insane when I describe it to others or even write it down. But this is my life, and, mostly, it works.
Things I do not do right now, include: have a spotless house, keep up with laundry, make time for my more creative hobbies, bring homemade treats to family events, or force my children to wear matching outfits. I do truly wish that I could see my friends and loved ones more often. But I know that those close to me understand my family’s temporarily extreme schedule; young children + library school + two working parents is no joke. The only way that any of this is manageable, mentally or emotionally, is by being extremely intentional with my time. By intentional, I do not mean rigidly adhering to an hourly schedule or task list, rather, I make sure each day and major blocks of time are accounted for in a meaningful way. I would rather have a lazy Sunday afternoon mentally blocked off as family and relaxation time than spend all of my energy worrying about my latest assignment. However, when it is time to do the school work, I dedicate 100% of my attention to my assignments. At work, I strive to maintain my focus, so I am able to let it go completely when I am off the clock.
Maximizing small pockets of time, like squeezing in an hour to go climbing, are the best way I make my life feel full. Date nights are scheduled weeks in advance. Haircuts and pedicures are snuck in stolen hours. Cleaning happens regularly, but not regularly enough. And this is all perfectly okay with me right now. Life is long, and I am not willing to sacrifice my dreams or my family. I know a clean house, knitting projects, personal writing, and homemade treats will still be there when I have a little more breathing room.
I recently discovered an author whose work perfectly captures many of my ideas about this season of life. In her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam explains, based on her research, exactly how people who have seemingly punishing schedules manage to “get it all done.” In Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy while Getting More Done, a follow-up work, she even lays out how to maintain focus with the purpose of truly feeling free when not at your desk. The findings in each of her books were not that these people were superhuman or had stumbled upon the world’s best list of “life hacks.” (Although, admittedly all people she tracked were operating from a place of privilege.) Ultimately, it comes down to being mindful and intentional about time and taking in the whole picture of your life, not just one day.
One day may easily feel unbalanced, with too much time spent at work or in class. But, calculating your own personal balance is fundamentally different when considered from the perspective of the whole week. Most of us do manage to make time for the things we value over the course of a week, in a way we may not in any individual day. One way to be intentional with this time: in the morning, squeeze in a quick workout or creative practice before even opening email or social media. Another, instead of obsessing about a work project when relaxing with family, mentally put down the load and make family your sole focus. Do one thing, meaningfully, and let anything else rest until you are ready to focus on that task.
The best way to truly get a handle on your time priorities, according to Laura Vanderkam’s research, and my own experience, is to create a time log. Take a week, start tomorrow, and log every single half-hour interval. This can easily be done using a simple notebook or spreadsheet. When you are done, I promise that suddenly large blocks of time will appear that you didn’t even know you had. Do not beat yourself up about wasting that time, but think about how you could use it in personally fulfilling ways (not every moment needs to be productive!). An intentional Netflix binge is way more satisfying than getting caught up in reruns when you should be writing a paper.
Remember, “balance” is arbitrary and we do not need to consider our lives in 24-hour intervals. Yes, there will be some times when you go a day, or even days, without a meaningful break. But also, hopefully, there will be others when you do not even think about library school. There is more to life than librarianship, even when you’re trying to hack library school!