Time Management and Living an Integrated Life
By Allie Bradford Brown
Welcome to the Youth Work 101 Series! Student U started this blog series to support youth work practitioners, educators, advocates for young people, and after-school professionals in their work by sharing what has worked for us. For insights on this month’s topic, Allie Brown, Student U’s Advancement Writing Associate, interviewed Amy Salo, Student U’s Chief Operating Officer.
Whether you’re still on fire with your New Year’s Resolutions or you’ve already fizzled out, chances are you’ve got a lot keeping you busy. Every day of the year, we have work to do to make our spheres of influence a little brighter. And we all share the same constraint: time.
Managing and balancing time can feel like a full-time job in itself.
To capture some wisdom on the matter, I interviewed Amy Salo, Student U’s Chief Operating Officer, who is also a wife, mother, and human with various interests and responsibilities. Here, she shares her mindful and strategic approach to the way she thinks about and spends her time. We hope these tips and ideas will help you make time work for you.
The Privilege of Living an Integrated Life
We started with a discussion of the term “work-life balance” itself-a term that imperfectly captures “trying to do it all.” Amy prefers to focus on living “an integrated life,” where her employment, home life, and hobbies are all part of her holistic self and no facet of her life is fully separate from the other things she does. Working at Student U aligns with her values and interests, her entire family spends time together at Student U events, and family and career each give way to the other when pressing needs arise.
However, Amy was quick to acknowledge what a privilege it is to be able to live an integrated life in this regard. For some, work is just a job that pays the bills and may not relate to what one cares about outside of work. Jobs do not always allow the flexibility to prioritize home life or personal interests. Working in mission-driven work and deriving deep satisfaction from what we do is a privilege that makes an integrated life more attainable.
Challenges and Obstacles to Work-Life Balance
Living an integrated life also comes with challenges. In some lines of work, it can be unclear when the work day is over and the mission can be so important that it’s hard to ever feel finished. If you don’t clock in and out, or if you have a flexible schedule, you can always be “at work” if you let yourself. As Amy put it, “I really care about this work so it can be hard to put it away. And it’s too easy to stay connected.” Add to that being a mother of young children, and Amy has felt the need to be particularly mindful about the way she uses her time and energy.
Practical Time Management Tips
Through intentional study and lived experience, Amy has developed time management systems and some stellar practical advice for approaching that elusive “balance” in our lives. You can also download an additional free resource on Practical Time Management Tips for Living an Integrated Life.
Approach emails as a list of decisions to be made.
Although Amy did not invent this concept, she uses it as a guide to handling her inbox. Your email can serve as a to-do list-emails may mean someone is waiting for a reply, there’s a task to be done, a decision to be made, or a question to answer. In this mindset, Amy can put more boundaries around the use of her inbox and remind herself that there is more to her job (and her life) than responding to the influx of information and requests. Sometimes, she makes it a game: “Let’s see how far I can get through this list in 5 minutes.” Then when the 5 minutes is up, she moves on to something else. She also tries to follow the “2-minute rule:” If something will take two minutes or less to take care of, just do it right now. Don’t wait, don’t “star” it, don’t set up a reminder-just get it done. (By the way, this strategy applies to so much more than just email management!)
Be realistic with yourself.
Amy says there are a couple of pitfalls when it comes to planning our time use: underestimating how long something will take to finish, and underestimating what else you’ll want to do that is not on the list. To avoid these traps, Amy suggests building free time into your day. “I do a lot of budgeting and budget teaching,” she says, “And a budget is only successful if you give yourself some money to play with.” The same principle applies to budgeting our time. We need to build in space to have a conversation, respond to urgent needs, or seize opportunities without having the constant stress of being productive all the time. These things will come up anyway, and we will fail to do it all without a little extra space.
Functioning well in shared workplaces and family units means managing a lot of moving parts. Set aside time to tell your colleagues or loved ones what you have on your plate and what you need from them to accomplish what really matters. Try to include everything, like who will prepare meals, clean, handle appointments, or manage paperwork. There are family and workplace organizing apps (think Sortifyd or Slack) and you can’t go wrong with the shared whiteboard or handwritten to-do list. Effective communication is made simpler with the right tools and intentional, willing participants.
Relax & Be Mindful
Finally, at the risk of sounding like we think productivity is the pinnacle of perfection, we are putting in a plug to be mindful and relaxed with your time. Some of us live with a sense that we need to optimize every second we have and be as productive as humanly possible. But Amy cautions against measuring your worth as a person by how much you can accomplish. She muses, “What if I just sat? Walked outside for a few minutes? Could just be?”
As Amy points out, no matter how meticulous we choose to be about efficiency, it’s a lie to believe that if we do enough, we’ll have free time. Our tasks will always expand to take all the available space, leaving us frantic and frazzled, if we don’t learn to approach time management intentionally.
To conclude, I leave you with one of my favorite sayings that helps me relax when the urge to accomplish something interferes with my fun: Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.
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