Good Enough: Suggestions for Balancing Your Precious Time

Time, like money, is a precious and finite commodity. And since there’s no way to give everything full attention all the time, stop being so hard on yourself.

People who are just getting to know me typically assume three things: 1) I was a cheerleader in high school, 2) I was in a sorority in college, and 3) I’m a perfectionist.

None of these are actually true. While most people are surprised to hear that my perky personality didn’t translate into traditional school spirit, they downright refuse to believe that I’m not a perfectionist.

I take this as a good sign that my plan is working. I’m not trying to fool people into believing I’m something I’m not. Rather, I deliberately choose what will get my full attention with Grade A effort and what won’t. My former boss will tell you that I was a model employee, but my husband will tell you that “It’s good enough,” is one of my favorite phrases at home.

I’m sure a lot of you make similar trade offs. And if you don’t, maybe you should.

For a study called The Mosaic Project, time management expert Laura Vanderkam asked successful working mothers (who earned at least $100,000 a year) to keep time diaries. One key takeaway from the women who efficiently managed their time is to budget it, like we do our money. This makes sense. Time is a valuable, finite resource; how we use it needs to be prioritized.

I wonder, though, how many of the women in the study and how many of us at large do this unapologetically, without feeling compelled to justify the areas for which we choose not to give our full effort.

For example, the weekend before Thanksgiving, my family and I rented a house with a group of friends to celebrate “Friendsgiving,” a tradition we started long before children entered the picture. It just so happens that this year we would also be together on Thanksgiving Day, and I was hosting. That meant I had a lot of cooking and cleaning ahead of me, so I strategically chose to make a simple side dish for Friendsgiving — stuffing right from the box.

With a glass of wine in hand, I watched my friends spend the day in the kitchen making their various specialties, and I couldn’t help but feel bad, like I was somehow cheating. No one else seemed to care that I was shirking responsibilities on Friendsgiving, but I called it out repeatedly over the weekend.

I’m done with that now. I’m embracing my Good Enough approach to life without guilt.

I’ll continue to wash all of my family’s clothes in cold water without sorting them. I still won’t attempt to make adorable crafts with my kids. I will wait too long between haircuts for myself and my children. I will run out of milk, but somehow have seven cans of tuna fish in the pantry. I will forget to pick up the dry cleaning, and I will always be frantically rushing us out of the house to make it to school on time.

I figure if my household duties are only getting, say, 80 percent effort, then I can dedicate the remaining 20 percent to the things that really need my full attention – like holding steady against an epic tantrum or mustering enough patience to help my kids constructively work out a toy-sharing conflict.

Everything else probably isn’t getting done, at least not that day.

After all, even the people who thought I was a perfectionist never expected me to be perfect. Perfection is a moving target. But hitting the mark about 80 percent of the time? I can do that, and I’ll feel good about it.

This is another tip that Vanderkam recommends — looking at time in the big picture, instead of measuring it as 24 hours in a day. One of my first mentors gave me similar advice years ago. She admitted to having weeks or even months when work was her primary focus. Then, when the hectic period ended, she devoted more time to her family. She forgave herself the nights she worked late because it balanced out in the long run.

Research supports the idea that there’s no right amount of time to spend with our kids. It’s about how we spend it, and the relationship we’re developing with them while we spend it. Making it home in time for dinner is nice. But ignoring the family to respond to work emails may not be as helpful as coming home later and spending focused time putting the kids to bed.

You should be proud of the kick ass job you’re doing at whatever you deem important and allow yourself to be much less than perfect at everything else. This way, you won’t be half-assing your responsibilities. You’ll be four-fifthsing them on average, and, I promise you, that really is good enough.

Posted on Categories Parents as People