Trying to work on a non-child-related creative project when you’re in the middle of raising little kids is impossible a challenge (my answer depends on the day you ask).
I always have a few projects going, and even though it seems impossible, sometimes I even get the pleasant surprise of having one or another of them actually make it all the way to completion. Along the way, I’ve developed a few strategies to keep things moving forward even amid the vagaries and demands (and joys!) of life with small children. Over the holidays was one of those wonderful and sometimes surprising completions, when I finished a Christmas poem about St. Joseph, which in turn sparked a conversation with a mom friend about the difficulties of pursing these sorts of things.
Everyone with young children knows the problem: you ain’t got no time. Raising kids and running a home are all-consuming (but then, we are talking about bringing new life into the world, teaching those new lives about God and the world and how to love and live, forming life time memories and family traditions, passing on faith and forming characters of truth and charity and courage and all that kind of stuff, which is a pretty big job, even aside from potty training, so I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised to discover it’s fairly time-intensive and demanding). But then while you’re in the middle of everything that raising kids entails, as you’re already being pulled in a thousand different directions at once, you still sometimes think: hey, I’ve got an idea! And then you wonder how you can actually work on it.
I’ve got an easy solution. You just sit your children down and explain to them that henceforth you’ll be needing an hour of uninterrupted work time every day, so from now on could they please remain quiet and peaceful and leave you undisturbed between noon and one o’clock each day?
Ha! I crack myself up. Which is good, because it means I can make at least one person laugh—and some days if you aren’t laughing, you’ll be crying.
So we all know that kids can be cruel taskmasters. This isn’t even about behavior. Even the best-behaved kids are going to dictate the schedule of your day, and not the other way around. Because kids have needs. Like eating. And sleeping. And playing outside. Pesky things like that. And they are totally dependent on us. So we parents are in the business of meeting those needs — after all, if we don’t do it, no one else will. And what kind of a childhood would that be?
So we do our best and end up with a schedule not of our own devising (at least not entirely). And we’re just talking about the theoretical schedule we try to adhere to even before all the little interruptions come along — you know, the spills and potty breaks and things like that, things that come when they will and need to be attended to right now, no matter what else you may have had planned. Not to mention the days when you totally chuck the normal routine because a nap doesn’t happen, or a child is sick, or one of the kids was up all night. Sometimes you replace the normal plan with something simpler like: try to survive this day. More or less intact. Coffee, please.
So being aware of all this, my friend asked how it was that I was able to write a poem (it’s funny, people who don’t know what it’s like to be home with kids ask what you do all day; people who do know are more interested in how you manage to shower and drink a cup of coffee each morning). Which got us onto a conversation about time strategies.
I’m always on the lookout for new time and productivity ideas. The thing is, you tinker and experiment and try different things until you hit on something that works well for your situation, and then just when you figure it out, your situation changes. Because the kids are always changing. So you end up forever seeking new ideas.
Thus, in the New Year’s spirit of sharing the nitty-gritty mechanics of trying to make things work, here’s what I’m doing now to try and keep forward progress going on some of my creative projects while still attending to my primary duties: raising my kids and making a home for them.
Basically, I try to capture an idea when I get it, before it floats away again, and then devise a system to harvest little bits of time to keep the idea alive and growing until, eventually, it can one day reach fruition.
Specifically, I’ve been using a pocket recorder, pocket notebook, making sure I keep a place to store projects that are currently underway so I can retrieve them again when I get some time to work on them, and I’ve been using a printer to make use of stray minutes.
The St. Joseph Christmas poem is a good example of how it looks in practice for me right now. I first got the idea and then started working on it on a trip to the horse farm. My kids love horseback riding and it’s about a 45-minute drive to where they take lessons. I brought a pocket recorder for the trip and worked on the poem as we went, recording ideas as I drove. Incidentally, that also meant I had the recorder handy to catch a great — and extremely loud — rendition of “Everything is Awesome,” the theme song of Lego movie fame, belted out by four little kids in unison as we be-bopped along the highway. And the kids LOVE listening to that recording — over and over again, so be warned before you start capturing magic moments on your pocket recorder!
At the horse farm I used earbuds to transcribe the recorder into a pocket notebook. I could only get a little transcribed that first trip. The kids are happy sitting on the bench in the riding arena watching their siblings straddle an old cayuse and waiting their turn for equestrian glory for only so long. Then they want to explore and play around the farm. So while they were content sitting and watching, I transcribed, making additions and changes as I went. When they needed to perambulate, I put the poem away to await another day.
The St. Joseph poem became my “horse farm” project. I’d remember it whenever we were getting ready to head for the farm and run and grab my recorder and notebook. Over several months (and several more equally stirring renditions of “Everything is Awesome” — I have my horse farm poem, the kids have their horse farm song), I got more ideas recorded and eventually managed to transfer everything to the notebook. The recording and transcribing went on from about August to December of 2016. Then Christmas hit and I put the poem away while I was busy with the holidays. I’ve got a storage bin where I keep idea notebooks and I label the notebooks so I can find projects again when I get a chance to go back to them. This is the “storage and retrieval” component: you may not be able to get extended periods of time to work on a bigger project, but you can string together lots of little work sessions.
When I went back to the poem a few months later, the next step was typing the text from the notebook into the computer — again rewriting as I went. This was an on-again-off-again undertaking, ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there, taking opportunities as they presented themselves.
The last part of the process, one that is new for me and has been super useful for writing projects, has been getting a printer. I got it this year, and it has been wonderful. Printing allows you to work on a project away from the computer, which is a huge time saver and boost to productivity. First, you can put a copy on a counter or shelf, somewhere you’ll see it and be able to work on it for a few minutes between other tasks in your day without having to sit down or turn on the computer. Second, you can fold a copy up and put it in your pocket to take with you for odd moments that might come up. If nothing else, it’s handy for keeping little people occupied: it means I usually have a piece of paper (blank on one side at least) and a pen for little hands to draw with when need arises.
Once the poem was printed, I kept the current version out around the house, working on it off-and-on as opportunity permitted, printing a new copy of each latest iteration as it progressed.
Until one morning between making breakfast and doing dishes I stopped and picked it up again and as I looked it over the thought struck me: I think it’s actually done!
So I sent it off and moved on to a new project.
The main goal is finding ways to make ten or fifteen minutes useful. I can usually find ten or fifteen minutes here and there throughout my day — larger blocks of time, not so much. The good news is that “micro work sessions” strung together can be amazingly productive. So if you can harness those stray moments, then, as they as they say in Lego land, everything is awesome!
Particularly when it comes with a shower and cup of coffee.
Copyright 2018 Jake Frost