Managing the time management challenge

By Lisa Sugarman

Too much to do, too little time.

Hands up if you feel that way on a regular basis. (For the record, both my hands are up.)

Actually, it feels like that’s the only thing coming out of my mouth lately. And judging by the conversations I have with time-challenged friends on a daily basis, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

I mean, who among us hasn’t been that frantic mom in the market, cornering our carriage on two wheels around the produce section, desperate to check everything off our list and make it to our spot in the school pick-up line on time? 2347335500000578-2840015-image-53_1416349028824Or the lunatic dad trying to simultaneously drop all three of his kids off at different soccer practices at three different fields at opposite ends of town? Or the psychotic mother frisbeeing an Eggo Waffle across the kitchen at her son as he’s grabbing his backpack, while we’re signing a permission slip with one hand, and writing out a check to the PTO with the other, simultaneously digging our daughter’s Spandex shorts out of the laundry pile with our teeth?

But it doesn’t stop there. It continues. Forever. On an endless loop of time-sensitive tasks that are eventually completed, only to be replaced by more tasks. It’s exhausting and emotionally draining. And everything we do always seems to take place in increments of twenty minutes. I’m not sure why, but it does. All. Day. Long.

It can get a little overwhelming and slightly ridiculous after a while.

Think about it… sitcoms make fun of it, books are written about it, time management consultants make buckets of money from all the crazed people out there who struggle with it. So clearly, time management is a real issue.juggling

For most of us, it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the stuff that needs to be done. We struggle to fit it all in and to get everywhere on time and to clear all our daily hurdles without nicking one, but inevitably we feel overwhelmed and frantic and behind the eight ball at least some of the time.

On average, anyone with a family or a job or a house to take care of, is relatively strung out the majority of the time. It’s just the nature of the beast, unless you live somewhere, completely off the grid, in a lean-to, on the island of Foula, just off the northern tip of Scotland. Those folks are completely relaxed and stress-free all the time.

And while I realize it’s not like I’m POTUS or anything, with a daily to-do list of protecting the American people or reforming healthcare, I do still have a decent amount of relevant stuff on my plate. Stuff that, if it doesn’t get done, people don’t eat or wear clean underwear or have their inhaler for track practice or their suit for their business meeting or an inviting front walkway with dozens of pretty impatiens welcoming you to the front door. See what I’m saying.

So this is that moment when I take a giant step backwards and deconstruct my problem in an attempt to fix it. Like when my Uncle Marvin used to take apart the entire engine of his station wagon and lay each piece on the front lawn to find the broken one. (For the record, he fixed it every time.)

How, then, do we accomplish everything on our list?

The answer is: we don’t. We just do the best we can with the time we have. Cause it’s impossible to finish an endless list. And for most of us, that’s exactly what we’re dealing with. The fact is, we’ll all be doing laundry and food shopping and paying bills and running errands forever. Not to be a buzz-kill, but that’s just the reality.

So that leaves us with two choices: we either knuckle down and attack the list or we have a breakdown in the corner of the bathroom, totally inundated by what we have to do.2014-09-26-timemanagement

Personally, I choose the first option, what I call the Pit Bull Method.

Simply put, I prioritize. Let me say that again because it’s so important. I prioritize. I circle the most important, time-sensitive stuff on my list and then I attack it like I’m a starving pit bull and the list is a piece of tenderloin on a hook. Instead of fearing what I have to do, I pull a NIKE and Just do it. No complaints, no procrastination, no distractions. Just focus and Rudy-like grit. Then I celebrate the stuff I got done and push what’s left over to the top of tomorrow’s list. It’s as simple as that. Then, after a healthy pour of wine and a good night’s sleep, I hit it again. And again. And again. Always keeping one main goal in mind: Someday I’ll retire and move to Foula where I’m hopeful they don’t allow To-Do lists.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

An homage to single parents everywhere

By Lisa Sugarman

So Mother’s Day has come and gone and, as usual, I did an awful lot of reflecting about my mom. (No big surprise there.) Of course I spent a little time thinking about how much I love being a mom, but this year, most of my thoughts centered around her and her general all-around awesomeness.

But there was one thought that I couldn’t help circling back to. It wasn’t that she made the absolute best grilled cheese sandwiches, cut into quarters, with the cheese oozing out from every side with a big mound of Fritos in the middle. Or that every single solitary time I was ever sick—rain or shine—she humped it over to my favorite pizza place and got me a piping hot cheese pizza (somehow never letting it get cold on the drive home). Or that she tirelessly Con-Tact papered and carpeted all the rooms of my dollhouse every time I changed my mind and wanted a different color scheme. (Too often). Or that, even though she might have been exhausted or frustrated or overextended, she always slapped a smile on her face and got down on her hands and knees to play Barbie with me on my bedroom floor.

The thought I kept fixating on this year was that she did everything she did as a single parent. And let me tell you, as the mom of two girls with a rock-solid guy as my wingman, I just can’t fathom what it must’ve been like to be that single parent who carried the whole load. Every minute of every day. Year after year.rsz_shutterstock_370521506-566x401.jpg

Cause we’re talking like ev-er-y-thing. And that’s because the single parent owns all the carpooling and shopping and cooking and housework and nurturing and all the stuff in between. The single parent is like the Sherpa who carries the hiker’s gear all the way up K2 while the hiker gets to check out the view and meander her way up the South East Ridge, unencumbered by all the extra crap.

Look, those of us with kids know that, even on a good day, parenting can be a thankless job, especially when our kids are young. But single parenting, well that’s a category unto itself. Single parents are on call for the long haul. No time off, no pinch-hitters, no understudies. In fact, it almost seems impossible that one single mom or dad could juggle it all successfully. Yet so many do. And they do it in such exceptional ways that defy explanation.

I mean, looking back now, through the eyes of a parent, I have no idea how my mother kept all those balls in the air without ever letting a single one hit the pavement. Now granted, she had only one kid, but that didn’t matter because my elderly grandmother moved in when I was twelve and mom took care of her too. So I feel like we can almost count grandma as another kid. Oh yeah, and she was also working during the day and going to college at night to get her degree. (She actually did all of her homework at four o’clock in the morning to fit it all in.) singlemoms_thumb.jpg

And there are so many stories like that out there.

Now in my mom’s case, she didn’t exactly sign on to be a single mom raising a child alone. Just like so many other single parents who were married or in a relationship with someone one day and then single the next, she was happily married to my dad for almost twenty years. But the universe had other plans and he died right before his forty-sixth birthday.

That was the day when my mom inherited every decision, every stress, and every responsibility associated with keeping our little family together. Like so many other single parents out there who’ve lost a spouse or gotten divorced or chosen to go it alone.

And that’s the part that blows my mind. That whether you’re the single dad or the widow or the divorcee, it’s all you all the time. Whether your head is in the game or not. Whether you’re craving alone time or not. Whether you’ve got a hundred and two fever and you’re hugging the toilet bowl, or not. Raising a family as a single parent means you put yourself last on most days.

That’s why I think you all deserve some major props for being everything to your kids, day in and day out. And even though your kids may not be aware of how heavy your load is right now, they will be. One day, when they’re grownups themselves, they’ll get it and it’s going to cause a shift in the way they think about you. It’s going to grow the respect they have for you exponentially. single-page

So as a kid who was raised by a single mom, I just want the single parents out there to know (including and especially my own) that we know what you do and we love you for it. (Or at least we will once we mature a little.)

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn/. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

Our kids are home from college. Now what?!

By Lisa Sugarman

So last fall, millions of us sent our kids off to college for the first time. (Emotional pummeling, for sure.) We packed them up, crossed our fingers and toes, and sent them off into the big, scary world to more or less fend for themselves for the first time. The first time ever, in most cases.

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Then we went home, curled up on their sweet little beds, grabbed hold of their ratty, old pink bunny rabbit, and cried until we couldn’t breathe. (It was an emotional, snotty mess.) And then, faster than we could ever have imagined, we’re packing them up all over again. Only this time, it’s to come home for the summer.

It’s crazy, really, how fast that first year goes. And how much they change being out on their own.

They go from living under our roof and following our rules and mixing their lights in with our darks to living on their own, making all their own choices, heading out for the night at eleven o’clock, and doing most of their color sorting themselves.

And it’s a mind shift for sure. For them as much as for us. And since this is my first time experiencing the re-entry, I’m honestly not sure what to expect. Could rip us all to shreds, or, bring us closer than ever. (You can probably guess where my money is.) The over-under around the house, though, is around 50/50 right now and my palms are actually a little sweaty thinking about which way it’s likely to go.

I mean, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t praying for a harmonious lovefest for the next four months, but I think that’s just straight-up delusional. Riley’s been on her own since September, answering to literally no one and regardless of how chill Dave and I may be (very, if you ask me), the simple fact is that now she has to go back to considering us in her day-to-day decisions. And that can be stressful. Definitely enough to throw off anyone’s rhythm.

But what I never really considered, since she was our first to go off to college, was how her living on her own for the last year would impact her coming back to live with us again after school was over for the year. Sorry, but my brain was kind of preoccupied with the whole notion of sending her away that I really didn’t spend an awful lot of time thinking about the back end. But lemme tell you, it was a sobering thought once it really started to seep in.pic2.jpg

Will she just slide right back into the family routine? Will it be business as usual? Will she all of a sudden start doing the food shopping, food-prepping, and cooking healthy, well-balanced meals three days a week? Will she introduce herself to the washer/dryer? (Because they’ve never met.)

Or, will she reject all forms of authority? Will she even consider any advice I may have to offer from this point on? Will she bother to tell us where she’s going, who she’s with, and what she’s doing? (Because it’s bad enough knowing she’s out til whenever with whomever doing whatever when she’s away, but it’s a totally different ballgame when all that’s happening and she’s back living across the hall.) Will she and her sister kill each other before June?

All these unanswered questions and so many more are now floating around in my head just waiting for answers. And that’s why I’m trying to stay hyper-conscious of the fact that re-entry is probably, no, definitely, going to be a sticky wicket.

So in an effort to stay sane and maintain some sense of normalcy in my house, Dave and I have decided not to get too far ahead of ourselves predicting how this is all gonna go. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, I’m setting my own personal expectations bar low. Like ground-level low to avoid any unnecessary disappointments. Although I do have to say that I’m optimistic.pic.jpg

That’s why we’ve decided to buy ourselves a little dry-erase white board (Dave’s idea) so we can keep track of the Number of Days Since the Last Incident. You know, a tally board to help us keep track of how many amicable days we have together. To date, she’s been home for one day and we’ve got one hash mark. So far so good. Fingers are crossed and we’re hoping that watching the tally marks add up will inspire everyone to stay in line. I know this may sound slightly redick, but I really don’t have a better idea for keeping the peace so we’re going with it for now.

So I guess the big question is, Will we still like our kids when they come home from their first year away at school? (God, I certainly hope so.) But it’s definitely a crapshoot. And, maybe more importantly, will they still like us? Time will definitely tell.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

You were new at stuff once too, remember?

By Lisa Sugarman

Ever notice, after we’ve been doing something for a while, how we tend to forget that we were ever new at it to begin with? Whatever it is we learned becomes second nature and we forget altogether that we ever had to figure out how to do it in the first place.

You know, stuff like riding a bike or playing an instrument or hula hooping. It’s like once we’re solid with whatever we’re trying to absorb, the memory of the actual learning process just fades to the back of our brain and lives there quietly forever.

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Funny how that happens, isn’t it? Personally, I think it’s amazingly cool how it all works. The whole science of how our brains learn new skills absolutely fascinates me. I mean, neurons are being stimulated, connections are being formed, skills are being embedded. (I don’t know about you, but that just lights me right up.) It’s a pretty intricate and miraculous process when you really think about it.

I think that sometimes, though, in spite of how amazing it is to learn something new, we can be a little too quick to forget that we were once newbies who had to learn how to do everyday things. And because we forget, that can cause us to become intolerant of other people when they’re struggling to learn the same things. Sound at all familiar?

Take driving, for instance. It’s something that any of us who are on the road today (all 240 million-plus of us) had to learn how to do before we were allowed to get behind any wheels, yet somehow many of us seem to forget that small factoid when we’re on the road behind a slow driver.

We forget that we were once the cautious, timid new driver trying to get our bearings. That we weren’t born with Indy-driver judgement and reflexes. (As much as many of us would like to think we were.) That we didn’t have a clue what the hell to do when we were boxed in by dual eighteen-wheelers, in the middle lane, on the highway, and we needed to get off at the next exit. That we don’t just instinctively know the most direct route to the mall since our parents were always driving.

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We had to learn this stuff, regardless of how capable we were right out of the gate. Because that’s the thing. Life is not a level playing field. And we’re not all born with the same ability levels or confidence or motivation. So that means we learn at a different pace and sometimes that pace is decidedly ahead or significantly behind the people around us. Yet, uncannily, most of us figure it all out just the same.

And that happens to be the exact situation I’m in right now with my youngest daughter—right smack in the thick of teaching her how to drive. (And all that that implies.) So, consequently, I’m finding myself reaching back to that part of my brain that remembers what it’s like not to have good judgement or instincts.

But even more importantly, I’m crossing my fingers that all the other nice people out on the roads with us will remember, too. Because the very last thing that a conscientious beginner driver needs is for some impatient idiot to lean on his horn while they’re counting One, Mississippi… Two, Mississippi at every stop sign. Cause it doesn’t help the learning process at all when the people around you can’t support you while you’re trying to do the right thing.

In fact, it only creates more fear and self-doubt in our kids if the people around them—the adults around them—are intolerant and belligerent. Not exactly the best behavior modeling, if you know what I mean.ff11d4a1711a747198f9a78580e1aa056044b4be

Then why the sudden focus on this? Well, the obvious reason is because I’ve got a kid out there learning how to drive and I’m hopeful that you’ll all go easy on her as she’s riding the learning curve. That maybe you won’t be so quick to throw up a middle finger when she’s trying to parallel park. That maybe you’ll bite your tongue instead of rolling down your window and yelling something mean when she’s on Point Two of her Three-Point Turn. The second thing I’m hoping to accomplish is to spawn a whole new level of self-awareness in people that enables us all to take a step back when we’re feeling intolerant with other people.

So that’s my point. Be patient with newbies. Don’t compartmentalize too deeply the fact that you were a newbie once too, at some point. Be a little compassionate and tolerant with those who are just starting out. Cause they need it. We all do.

Oh yeah, and if I catch you making a face when my kid is practicing her parallel parking, we’re gonna have ourselves a little problem…so be nice, dammit.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn/. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

I just lost a friend…and I’m sad.

By Lisa Sugarman

I just lost a friend. A really, really good friend. Someone I loved and respected and admired. And I’m going to miss him. Terribly.

His untimely and decades-too-premature death has had a profound effect on me. More so than I would ever have expected. And I know I’m not the only one who’s grieving over the loss. He was a friend to many. And not just a casual friend, either. We let him in to places in our life that not everyone was allowed to go. What we had with him was very unique.tears

I mean, we’ve all got lots of different types of friends—people who help and support and inspire us in very diverse ways. We’ve got the friends we can and can’t confide in. We’ve got the friends we travel with and the ones we grab coffee with and the friends we share our secrets with. And while each of them is meaningful in their own way, they’re all different. But we only let a chosen few into our core. And he was one of the chosen.

He comforted and consoled me as often as he inspired and energized me. He was one of the ones I turned to during times of struggle, in times of joy and change and fear, and everything in between. And I was grateful to have him there because he always seemed to know exactly what to say.

The person I lost wasn’t a parent, thankfully. Or a spouse, God forbid. Or even someone I knew personally, believe it or not. We’d never even met, crazy as that sounds. Yet he was a consistent part of my life from the time I was in high school until now. That’s why this is such an unusual kind of loss—the kind that makes you wonder exactly how to grieve.

The fact is, he was such an integral part of my history for the last thirty-plus years that I’m having troubling picturing a future without him somehow woven into the background. Because he’s been such a constant throughout my life.

See, in spite of the fact that we never came face to face or spoke a single word to each other, he was a very real, very significant part of my youth. And, consequently, my life. He was there for everything—all through high school, for the entire summer of senior year, on my first road trip and every road trip since, every dance party and mixed tape.

My friend was a singer, an artist, really. And I celebrated every word he sang—every yell, every scream, every pause—because each one meant something.

Even as I’m sitting here typing, listening to him wail away, lip syncing along with him, my throat is tightening ever so slightly and my eyes are starting to tear. That’s because the soundtrack that he created over the last three decades was the soundtrack of my life. Of Dave’s life. Of our life together.soundtrack to my life.jpg

His lyrics were there to comfort and inspire me, graduate me from high school and from college, and mark every milestone in between.

He taught me it was ok to be different and to find my own beat and to follow it. And while I’m well aware that the relationship we had all these years was very one-sided, almost surreal, I still can’t help but feel a strong sense of loss that this person who’s been such a big part of the fabric of my life is gone. And Dave feels it too.

Does this mean I’m paralyzed by grief and won’t be able to move on? Of course not. But to me and my generation, he was King. He was soulful and humble and driven. He was passionate and gifted. He was an icon. And for those of us who loved and admired him and kept him close decade after decade, the idea that he’s gone is just hard to fathom. Because what made him such a good “friend” to all of us and what makes his death so profound, is that he was whatever we needed him to be whenever we needed him. And he brought out the best in us, even during the worst of times.

So while I may have only seen him perform twice, his shows, like his career, defied explanation.chrisr_1446829728_Prince2015

Honestly, I think he described his relationship with all of us best when he said …We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. And that’s exactly what he helped us do every single time we heard his voice, in a very unique and memorable way for each and every one of us.

Rest in peace, Prince Rogers Nelson. Rest in peace. You’ll be missed.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/itIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.