Do you ever feel like there’s a large ticking time bomb hovering maliciously above your head as you rush through the day, tripping over the never-ending To-Do list, trying to get everything done on time before the bomb goes off and blows up your carefully cultivated life?
One of the most confusing conundrums of this unique and redefined midlife is how - when we have all this extra time to live - do we never feel we have any time?
If you’re looking around you in surprise wondering where al this extra time is lurking that I’m talking about, let me explain.
There has never been a midlife like this one.
Firstly, we’ve been gifted an extra twenty or thirty years of life expectancy. To put this in context, when my mum was born in 1934, her life expectancy at birth was fifty-nine. That’s not a typo. Fifty-nine. Because of incredible advancements in healthcare, she was in fact, eighty-three when she died. When my last daughter was born in 2010 her life expectancy at birth was eighty-three (likely to be adjusted to 100). So between my mum and daughter, there is more than twenty-five years of extra living.
But that’s not what makes this time so special. What makes our generation so different is that these extra decades are to be lived in the middle of our lives, not the end.
In midlife, not in old age.
Potentially we have more than two extra midlife decades, along with choices and chances that women before us could only have dreamed of. AND, we are living a third to half our lives post-menopausal and for the first time in history, have the chance to live creative, vibrant, fulfilled lives not just in relation to who we are to others, but who we are to ourselves.
For millennia only valued as wives and mothers, today women no longer even have to have kids. Or get married. Or follow any of the cultural expectations that harnessed women into very clear roles and responsibilities. Not that there’s anything wrong with those roles - they are fulfilling and valuable for those who want them. They just no longer have to be the only roles that give us value.
Now we have at least two decades to explore a new landscape where we can be whoever, and whatever, we need and want to be.
All this extra time! So why does it feel like a bomb ticking?
‘Having it all’ can just feel an awful lot like doing it all. “Busyness” has become a badge of honour, rather than the long suicide plan it really is. We are so conditioned to do, we can forget how to be, especially in the mayhem of midlife when we are juggling so many responsibilities, people, jobs, expectations.
There are three elements of time management I use with my clients who are trying to create a life where they get to be a human being, rather than just a human doing.
Here are some quick exercise you can do to start feeling you are running your time, rather than be run down by it.
This is just taking stock of the various external demands /activities on your time (and being curious how much of your internal needs are being met there too - rest, nourishment, inspiration, rebooting, fun! etc). So when are you needed and by whom / what throughout your week? When is it intense, and where are the lulls?
Once you’ve done this, look at see when you might have Golden Time (time just for you that you are in control of), Silver time (time you can have some control of but there’s a caveat that other’s might need you), and Bronze time (your time is not really your own).
When one of my clients came to me because she had no time for herself and felt her life was drained by external demands, she did this exercise. I asked her why, when she wanted time to do some study, did she clean the house and prep the dinner when her two young kids where in Montessori? That was her Golden time. Housework could be done in Silver time along with including and playing with her kids when they got home. (This led to discussions around her beliefs that the house had to be perfect. I told her that two toddlers weren’t that picky, AND if they always came home to a perfect house, was she teaching them those same beliefs? Showing (and including them in) the process of when and how to tidy up was a better option AND she got to do it on their time. Win, win!
Now track your own personal energy flow, both for the day and over the course of a week. As I explain in this quick video, knowing when you are likely to function well, and when you need rest, when parts of the week you are energised and when you feel drained, really help[s you plan your activities better. Always resisting the gym / Pilates class on a Thursday evening? Maybe that’s because actually your energy is low because of something that happens Thursday morning and so you’d be better off changing the time for exercise instead of constantly tying to fit it in when your energy flow never supports it. At midlife, our energy flow might be changing and so it’s really important to be aware of how you feel, when. When am I most energised? When am I most creative? When is my mind feeling like mush? I know I’m more mentally alert in the early part of the day, so I always plan my writing and thinking work elements then, rather than late afternoons or evenings.
I had a client who kept telling me “I have no energy.” She had a big garden project she just couldn’t get done and felt overwhelmed. When she did this exercise she realised it wasn’t that she didn’t have energy - there were plenty of times she felt energised, but she also tended to experience an energy lull in the afternoons… exactly the time she always set aside to do this high-energy work. She changed around her schedule so that she worked on the project three mornings a week (when she had previously gone to visit and help her ailing mum) and visited and sat wit her mum during her lower energy times. She ran her day around her natural energy flow rather than against it.
Now track what people and activities you are directing your time and energy on throughout the day and week. So these could be made up of - kids to school, work (you can break this down - responding, creating, admin etc), friends, fitness, housework, kids, partner, chilling etc
Now mark them with a D (drain) or a G (gain). Have a think about the balance and where the D’s are.
Some activities can’t be changed so you may need to change your attitude. For example, I realised a big drain and chunk of my energy/time was family meal production. The thinking about it, the shopping for it, the making of it, the clearing up of it and it was a huge, horrible drain. I was resentful and I tackled every related task with a sense of dread. As a single mum to 3 teens, I couldn’t exactly decide I wasn’t doing it any more, and so I needed to change my approach. I got a new cook book, ordered a meal ingredients delivery service two nights a week, and decided to use the cooking time to catch up on podcasts.
I had a client who was in the midst of a divorce and couldn’t get to grips on figuring out how to rebuild her life. When she did this exercise she realised she was investing a huge amount of energy and time dwelling on, talking about, and engaging in activities relating to the marriage breakup. It was incredibly draining. We slowly shifted her energy and time in the direction of actives related just to her, and her future life.
The real key to feeling you are more in charge of your time in being really intentional about how you want your life to feel.
These are just a few simple ideas to try and tip the scales in your favour so that you can take advantage of this incredible redefined midlife. We have all this extra time... let's make it run for us, not after us. If you'd like help making your life work for you, maybe coaching can help. Check out my coaching options here.