By Jan S. Gephardt

Am I using my time well? It’s been my most persistent self-question this summer. I “wear a lot of hats” these days, which means I’m busier all the time. I’m quite possibly doing more things and being more productive than at any other point in my life.

But am I using my time well?

I’m the Chief Cat-Herder and Manager of Weirdness for Weird Sisters Publishing, which means I’m not only an author, I’m also involved in editorial oversight, I’m the Art Director, and I’m also the Director of Marketing. That’s a fair number of “hats.” As more projects come together, it’s on me to package and market them. As well as (in many cases) to create them in the first place.

Thus, if I’m using my time efficiently to accomplish a defined set of goals, I can hope I’m using my time well.

Weird Sisters Publishing: We have tales to tell. This picture shows covers for The XK9 Series, Deep Ellum Stories, and The Windhover Tetralogy.
We have a growing list of tales to tell. (See credits below).

Am I Busy with the Right Things?

I’m busy for sure. But am I busy with the right things? We never get it “all the way right,” I think. I remember sometime back in the 1980s or ‘90s sometime the business concept of “kaizen” or “continuous” improvement” was the buzzword of the moment in American business. I guess it had jumped the Pacific at some point not long after WWII, but somehow it took a while to be the Next Big Thing. We didn’t hear so much about it here on the Plains after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.

But the underlying concept is the basically-sound principle that you try something and learn from it. Did it work? Okay, do it again. Did it flop bigtime? Why was it such a failure? Where was the flaw in our thinking? Did it semi-flop, and there are things we can salvage? “Learning by doing” is what teachers and parents would call it, and it works in all kinds of concepts.

That does mean I have to continually interrogate my practices. Am I busy with the right things? Am I using my time well?

It is not enough to be busy . . . The question is: what are we busy about? – Henry David Thoreau
That really is the question, H.D.! (Rescue Time).

What you Need to Do Depends on Where you want to Go

The Big Question all self-employed people must answer each day is: how shall I structure my time? How do I figure out what’s the best thing to be “busy about”?

My son and I have been freelancers for years, so we’ve been refining the way we use time for a while. On the other hand, my Beloved just recently retired. People and events have been filling his time ever since, and I have a sense that he’s been feeling “drowned in stuff to do.”

Ty and I have tried to offer suggestions, and I think he’s beginning to get the hang of this self-time-management thing. But his struggles have given me a new chance to re-evaluate my own time-use habits and practices.

“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” — Stephen R. Covey
Confusing, after what I just wrote? Yes. But it’s the latter half of that quote we truly need to heed. (Quotefancy).

Establishing Goals

When I ask, “Am I using my time well?” what I’m really asking is whether the things I’m doing are helping me achieve my goals. As my Beloved has begun to learn, to achieve them, first you must envision them. After that, it’s easier to set priorities to reach them.

A good, achievable goal is both a vision and a commitment to act. “I want to be rich and famous” is just a pie-in-the-sky dream without a plan full of specific steps and a willingness to work one’s butt off. Also: fair warning from people who’ve been there. Being both rich and famous is a hazardous quest that may or may not be worth the prize at the end.

Am I using my time well? I believe that yes, you really can be “too rich and too thin.” You also can be too famous – certainly, it’s possible to be too famous to keep (or even legally expect to keep) your personal privacy. So, ditch the clichés. They’re not helpful. Each of us must decide for ourselves – specifically – what “success” looks like for us.

“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” — Anne Sweeney
Sounds simple, but it’s actually a call for soul-searching. And being specific. (Quotefancy).

Charting a Course Based on Goals isn’t Straightforward.

Setting priorities helps answer the question of “am I using my time well?” However, they’re not the whole answer. I still have to get from “here’s my vision of what I want to accomplish,” to “I’ll get there by doing these specific things.” And now I’d like to add one more, very important note. What you want, and how you think you’ll get there, will change.

My sister wrote a great blog post on how she found that out the “long and interesting way” in the course of her career. I won’t call it “the hard way.” That puts a needlessly negative spin on the journey of discovery that is everyone’s life. It can be hard. But it can also be joyous and rewarding (pro tip: how you look at it determines what it will be for you).

So, like everyone, I must define my goals. Use them to refine and hone my priorities. Then prepare to be flexible. G.’s vision of “what she wanted to be when she grew up” evolved over time, and so will anyone’s. The more we explore and learn, the more we’ll be able to judge whether we’re still on a good course for our personal lives.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” — Stephen R. Covey
In other words, make sure you visualize where you want to go before you try to figure out what to do today! (Quotefancy).

It Still Gets Messy

Even then, it can get messy. It’s possible to pull up short at any moment in the journey and realize, “Oh, rats! I made a mistake! That’s not using my time well at all!” A process I envisioned as easy or productive turns into a logistical nightmare. Or maybe it takes, like, ten times longer than I expected – and unfortunately the learning curve wasn’t the only reason it took that long!

No one is immune – certainly not me! Anyone who thinks they have all the answers is fooling themselves. I try to remind myself: Kaizen, Jan, and hold fast to the reminder that no, “kaizen” is not the giant kaiju rising up out of the Pacific to destroy my schedule and spoil all my dreams.

This is a montage of two cartoons. In the first a knight is confronted by a fire-breathing dragon, and thinks, “DARN! There goes my To-Do list for today!” In the second cartoon, the first panel is marked “Your ‘Plans’.” In it, a person rides their bicycle up a straight, slight incline to a checkered flag. The second panel is marked, “The Universe’s Plans for you.” In it, our bicyclist confronts: 1. a much steeper incline. 2. a pit full of rocks. 3. a rope bridge over another pit. 4. a choice between a lake full of water with a boat and a steep climb to get out or a zipline. 5. More hills. 6. A steep canyon with a ladder to climb up the other side, but it’s raining on it. 7. Another steep incline – but there’s a sun shining from above. The checkered flag is not visible.
Time for a few more “learning takes”! (See credits below).

Instead of despair, what’s needed is what my son’s kindergarten teacher called a “learning take.” Oh, yes, and patience. Lots of patience. Maybe also some humility. We must be willing to admit we called it wrong and try again. Take a run at problems from another direction, and it might just unlock new insights.

And really, isn’t gaining a new understanding that unlocks a better way of doing something valuable in its own right? Yes, learning from a failed plan or a bad idea is frustrating. But gaining new insights and improving how I do things most definitely qualifies as using my time well!

IMAGE CREDITS

Once again, Quotefancy made it much easier to develop this post than it might otherwise have been. Many thanks to them for the two illustrated quotes from Stephen R. Covey, as well as the one from Anne Sweeney (see individual URLs in the cutlines). The Henry David Thoreau quote came courtesy of Rescue Time. Many thanks to both!

The Weird Sisters Publishing array of “Tales to tell” incorporates cover artwork © 2019-2022 by Jody A. Lee, Lucy A. Synk, and Chaz Kemp. That header image and the cartoon montage at the end of this post were designed and built by Jan S. Gephardt.

We owe particular thanks to two different sources for the cartoon montage. First, many thanks to cartoonist and “Psychotactics Blog” author, the talented Sean D’Souza. He created the “To-Do List”-busting dragon cartoon (read the blog post, while you’re at it!). Second, we really appreciate Doghouse Diaries, the original source of the much-reposted-but-seldom acknowledged cartoon about how one’s plans too often stack up against “The Universe’s Plans for You.” Thanks, Will, Ray, and Raf! We at Weird Sisters and Artdog Adventures appreciate you!