Sunday, May 28, 2017

One sock at a time: Making time to write (or garden or cook or travel...)

by Julie Tollefson

Years ago, when my son was little and time was at a premium, I had an epiphany: I could carve out precious minutes for myself if I stopped doing some of the things I loathe, the things that supposedly make you a grownup. My house, my rules, after all.

So I stopped folding and putting away socks.

On laundry days, I spent minutes that seemed like hours sorting socks, matching them up, and bundling them into pairs, always with unmatched strays left over. After my epiphany, I adopted a “sock bin” method, where every clean sock gets tossed into a laundry basket, newly repurposed as the hold-all for socks. When a member of the family needs socks, they know where to look. Sure, we each have to dig through dozens of individual socks—different shades of pink, white with blue stripes or gray stripes or red stripes, black crew or black no-show styles—to find a match.

It’s a terribly inefficient system when dressing in the mornings.

My working theory, going on more than a decade now, is that if someone in the house hates the sock bin enough, he (ahem) will fold them himself. So far, that has not happened. Well, maybe once.

Now, what have I done with that extra ten or twenty minutes a week? Dunno.

What I do know is that there’s still never enough time for all I want to accomplish, and distractions (24/7 news, Internet, social media) are abundant. Every extra minute counts.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for saving or managing time. How do you drag yourself away from news (or is it just this former journalist who can’t control that obsession right now)? Do you have creative tips and tricks that help you do more—more writing, more family togetherness, more gardening, more projects?


  1. Julie – your sock time management solution reminds me of grocery stores that now “allow” you to check out and pack your own groceries, saving them time and money, and shifting the burden to others.

    The best two time management tools I have employed are to (1) concentrate on a single task, thereby eliminating the pick up/ put down inefficiencies, and (2) carve out a specific time and make it sacrosanct.

    Good luck with it.

    ~ Jim

  2. I try to focus on the long-term savings, such as freezing meals I've made ahead. However, I have to admit, the time that goes into doing that just allows me to be lazy at the predinner hour, when I feel like a slug. It doesn't really allow me more writing time. I've spent the last two days' free time reading and editing stories for a short critique group I'm in. It's worthwhile, but it does take time!

  3. Julie, the sock thing sounds like a great idea.

    Jim, I'm with you on the single task thought. That's one of my mantras too. Start it, finish it - besides, the sense of accomplishment that goes along with that is energizing.

    Julie, this month's edition of The Costco Connection has an article titled Time after time--it's about apps to help and ways to prioritize. Since I'm a calendar junkie, I'm going to be checking some out this weekend, so your post is especially timely for me. There are a couple of free ones there that look enticing.

  4. Jim - So true! I may be the queen of shifting the burden to others! Your advice to concentrate on a single task is excellent, and it's one I struggle with. There are always so many things competing for attention. I've tried to remedy that by getting up earlier every morning than anyone else in my house so I have quiet time to write, but even that doesn't always work.

  5. Elaine - I love having frozen meals to count on on busy days or lazy days. Just last night, in fact, I stood in the pantry with the freezer door open hoping to find leftovers I'd forgotten about. Alas, nothing. I ended up eating a bowl of cereal for dinner instead.

  6. Kait - I love calendars and productivity apps and anything that promises I'll be more efficient. I find, though, that I sometimes spend more time messing with them than actually doing the things I need to do. At the moment, I've pared back to just using Google calendar and its task list functions. I color-code calendar events depending on which family members are involved. I hope you'll share any awesome apps you find.

  7. I knew a mother of six in Georgia who made the executive decision the day school ended to throw out every kid sock in the house. The kids did swim team, so they wore flip flops most of the time. Before school started in the fall, each child was issued a brand new six pack of socks.

    During the local running shoe store pre-Christmas sale, I buy each member of the family running socks, a different color for each person. I know at a glance who's been fishing in my sock drawer by the bright blue socks.

    I took the advice of a writer friend, who hides for a few hours on Sunday afternoon to create a writing plan for the week. I do that, and add jobs around the house and garden. On weekends I critique for the short story group, catch up on Goodreads postings and my own notes on books I'm reading, and do major house and yard projects.

  8. My epiphany moment came when I realized that I didn't have to do crafts (crochet, scrapbooking, etc.) and that I didn't need to feel that I was missing out on something that every woman did. I would love to have a drawer full of beautifully hand knit sweaters or give them as gifts. But the time spent working on crafts was time away from things that I really wanted to do. It reminds me of the year I ran out of time and didn't send out Christmas cards. It was amazing, but the world did not come to an end. (Though I did get two letters from out-of-town friends who wrote to ask if my husband and I were getting divorced!)

  9. Socks - the struggle is real!
    Even with a (partially) empty nest, the socks keep disappearing! Perhaps going sock-less is the answer, at least for the summer.
    Time management is a struggle for me (I worked for a newspaper, too, and it does get in the blood, doesn't it?) So I go to the library and work offline - my version of writer's jail.
    A professor introduced me to the calendar/spreadsheet concept she called "slow bowling." She made columns for each arena of life or project - writing projects, household projects, family projects - and used this visual to-do list to keep track of each. I'm a visual person, so seeing all the tasks like that makes me more confident that I'm not missing anything.

  10. Margaret - I may have to purge the sock bin at some point. I think some of the socks in it haven't been worn in years. I've started adding a loose writing plan to my calendar every week, and I usually block out times for running or yoga, too. It seems to help keep the focus on things that are most important to me.

  11. Oh Grace! The Christmas card story is too funny. I think the last Christmas card we sent was more than 15 years ago, a parody of all the Christmas letters people put together. We made up outrageous life events for the past year -- we had a great time with it, but some recipients were puzzled (and maybe even offended). After that, we dropped Christmas cards from our list of Things We Must Do.

    Shari - I may have your extra socks. Feel free to check the bin. With the "slow bowling" method - do you enter tasks into cells and delete them as they're accomplished? Then another task moves to the top of the list?

  12. Since I've been living alone for twenty-seven years, I usually cook something that I can eat for three or four days like Chili, spaghetti, or chicken vegetable soup. When I eat out, I rarely can finish my whole meal so I bring it home.

    The other thing is I don't obsess on being Mrs. Clean. It's not that I let my house go completely, but I don't worry so much about the piles of papers on my dining room/library table where I do most of my work. I only run my sweeper once a week, and sometimes not even
    that, but I do wash my dishes every day and make my bed every morning even though I rarely
    get visitors except for occasional ones or when I host my book clubs or family at Christmas.
    I clean the bird cages and litter boxes (Yuck!) and brush my shaggy Maggie at least once a
    week between her visits to the groomer. I would rather have my incredible amount of books
    in every room than having shelves bare of books. I'd rather have them than a pristine house or one without pets.

  13. Once when I was in elementary school I slept with my clothes on so I would have to dress in the morning. I did not sleep well. My clothes were quite wrinkled by morning. My mom made me change before going to school.

  14. My epiphany, which I think is fairly unique to me, was that I can do things in small increments and get them done eventually.

    I was raised with the "if you start it, finish it" mindset, and never really questioned it until I discovered, well into my 60's, that I have a significant heart defect. Being oxygen-starved most of the time was a way of life for me.

    It was quite a shock to realize that most people do not have to worry about collapsing, short of breath, when they cart the garbage cans out to the edge of the road. Or passing out when they bend down to tie their shoes. I'd always assumed everyone else just handled the discomfort better than I did. But once I got a patch put in my heart, it made a tremendous difference! However, I still don't have a "normal" heart. Hence the effort to tackle what I need/want to do in small steps, and stop when I start feeling bad.

    And, I am now getting more done than I ever have before. I'm not reluctant to tackle projects since I've given myself permission to stop when I'm having problems and take it up again later.

  15. Warren, when my kids were young, I gave hem alarm clocks and the responsibility to get themselves ready for school on time. One of them chose to get dressed the night before & sleep in her clothes. She was a bit wrinkled, but it worked. She did it for the better part of two school years.

  16. Julie, I'm not Excel-proficient enough to take out cells, so it's just paper for me and a nice big black Sharpie to cross things off!

  17. Shari - Crossing things off is MUCH more satisfying than deleting electrons, in my opinion!

  18. KM - I think more people need to give themselves permission to take projects at a comfortable pace for them. I'll admit I have a problem with comparing myself to others and it's hard to break those patterns.

    Warren - Such a great idea foiled!

    Gloria - Smart ideas. I usually dislike cooking when I'm the only one eating. Last week, for example, I had a bowl of cereal for dinner rather than cook!