How I Do It All

013“How do you do it all?”

This is the question I get asked most frequently. I have four kids. I play flute, lead a church choir, write music, write for magazines, and write fiction. Christian and I teach and promote natural family planning, and we (sometimes) and I (often) do a fair amount of disability advocacy. So how do I do it all?

The short answer is, I don’t. My house is never clean, for instance, and this year my outdoor landscaping/gardening was abysmal, because I just couldn’t take the time. A better question is: how do I get done as much as I do? That’s a question I can answer:

1. I am married to a really good man who supports my working from home, even though it means the house is continually not in the condition that the house he grew up in was; a man who never even hints that I’m shirking my responsibilities, and who, in fact, when I get a call from the civic orchestra looking for a substitute third-flute players, doesn’t hesitate to tell me to be gone half the afternoon and the entire evening, because he knows how much I miss playing in orchestra. And who has the dishes done and the kids in bed by the time I get home.

2. I don’t really sleep. I get up between 5 and 5:30 virtually every day, in part because I have to take my temperature, but also because that is the only time of the day when I’m sure the phone isn’t going to ring and no kid is going to demand something of me. It is my daily readings & reflections, followed by my freshest, most concentrated writing time. And if I can’t get to sleep, or back to sleep, at night, I often get up and do a brain dump at 11p.m. or 2 a.m.

3. I don’t watch TV. It’s a guilty pleasure to rack up an hour and a half’s worth of laundry folding so I can put something on Netflix and fold and watch.

4. I’m very protective of my writing time. In fact, I’m protective to a fault; that’s something I have recently realized I need to work on.

4. I spend a lot of time planning and writing in my head. In the car, while I’m doing dishes, and so on. I plan a lot so that I spend less time flailing and getting my bearings when I do have time. And I am constantly planning logistics of how to get things done in the most efficient manner possible.

5. Finally, but not least important, because this speaks to the second-most-frequently-asked question I’m asked (or maybe needling is the better word): I get it all done because I don’t have a smart phone. You would not believe the amount of flak I catch over this. People seem utterly unable to believe that I could possibly have a well-thought-out rationale for choosing not to jump off the cliff with everyone else, but in fact, I become more convinced all the time that I don’t want one. Not having a phone with unlimited minutes, text and data means that I can leave the house and be off-limits to phone calls from Omaha Steaks and Direct TV and even the perfectly valid business and personal calls. You don’t have to answer every call, but the ring alone disrupts my concentration and that’s thirty seconds of productive time that I can’t get back. Plus, it’s human nature to think, “Oooh, am I missing something important?” Again: distraction! Not having a phone with internet access means I can take my computer any old place and simply not connect to the wireless, and I don’t have the option of getting distracted by Candy Crush, angry kittens, or whatever viral sensation is coating the social media waves on a given day.

I also can’t be texted. The vast majority of the time, text messages are an exceptionally inefficient mode of communication–talking is much faster than typing–so again, not having a smart phone means I’m immune from that particular time waster. And although everyone says you can turn off your phone when you don’t want to be interrupted, we all know how often that happens. There’s even a slide show going around about “what we look like on our phones.” Connectivity is good, but beyond a certain point it’s just noise. I get things done because without a smart phone, I have less mental and visual noise in my life. I can hear myself think.

So that’s my answer to everyone who has ever asked (or just shaken their head in wonder) how I do it all. There’s another side to this, of course, but I’ll address that separately another day.