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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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“big rocks”

Juggling Act

Back in October, as I was striving to find balance in my life and juggling all of my time demands, I wrote about the concept of “big rocks.” The idea is to prioritize in terms of what is most important to you. These items are your big rocks. I established mine as Writing, Health and Frankie. It’s now almost six months later and after a brief interlude of sanity, I’m back to struggling. My big rocks are sinking me.

So, I’ve taken a pickaxe to them. I don’t think this is what Stephen R. Covey had in mind when he introduced the concept of big rocks in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Don’t get me wrong — the exercise has been helpful. Knowing what the most important things are in the larger picture of my life is invaluable. It helps me every day when I scan the to-do list and decide what can wait. I’m just sick of the carry over. If I have to look at ~organize photos on computer~ one more day, I’m liable to lose it.

This past week, my big rocks took some major hits. After much discussion with my writing coach, it was decided that instead of the time-consuming written critiques I’d been doing on the computer, I’d provide only verbal feedback to my fellow writers. We also discussed the option of attending the group once, instead of twice a month. I don’t think I’ll do that since it would take away from my “me time.” (More on that later.)

I took a major chunk out of my Health rock when I put the gym on hold for two months. Disabled gym goers have one advantage. We may have fewer places where we can work out independently, but at least there’s no contract allowing a health club to continually suck fees from a checking account regardless of attendance.

Lastly, I asked my mom to take Frankie more. She misses him. He loves visiting her. It’s a win-win situation. In fact, as I write these words in peaceful solitude, he’s over there bugging her cat instead of mine.

After I had more manageable pebbles to deal with, I made some new rules. Rule 1 — schedule only one appointment per day. By the time you add in the time it takes me to ride the bus there and back, we’re talking about a half day anyway. Rule 2 — Keep one weekday free from appointments. I mean really free. No grocery shopping, no lunch date, nothing. I’ve realized, particularly as a writer, how wonderful a large expanse of free time feels, how ripe with possibility. Never underestimate the mental well-being gained from having nothing on the calendar. For those of you with full-time jobs five days a week — I’m sorry. What can I say? This is one of those disability perks I talked about.

Having knocked time off my big rocks, I’m focusing on taking the next several weeks to resolve some major projects. This brings me to New Rule Number 3 — Only one big project at a time. This seems obvious enough, but last month I took on getting a new power chair, physical therapy for my shoulder and updating my website. No wonder I felt stressed.

Finally, if I can leave you with just one thought. Don’t sacrifice your “me time.” This is one area I never skimp on. My me time is sitting watching the waves with Frankie, going out with friends, or enjoying a meal in front of a recorded movie (I never eat on the run.) It may be a little selfish, but this way, if everything else crumbles, one thing is sure to survive — you.

Big Rocks First

I would like to dispel this notion that disabled people sit around all day and watch daytime television. When I worked full-time, I would long for a sick day to sleep late, stay in my pajamas and watch The Price Is Right. I still have that dream. Just because I don’t receive a paycheck doesn’t mean I don’t get stressed or have a problem with time management. I do. Okay, maybe I watch an episode or two of HGTV’s House Hunters over lunch, but that’s it. I wake at 5 a.m., “quit” at 5 p.m. and still feel I don’t have enough hours in the day or days in the week.

The problem became apparent in the last few weeks as I tried to juggle writing a weekly blog, finishing a book and walking Frankie every morning and evening. And let’s not forget that when you’re disabled, everything takes longer. Getting a shower, fixing a meal, transferring to my power chair with an excited pooch at my feet. Everything. I can spend a half-hour pecking out just one email!

So, I started researching organization and was introduced to the concept of “big rocks”  from Stephen R. Covey. He wrote the widely popular The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989. That’s right — 1989. And I’m just now learning about it. Ironic that I never felt the need to be even slightly effective before becoming disabled. (I’d argue that being productive and successful matter more when you’re doing something you love, but that seems like another post.)

Anyway, the idea is to prioritize. Your big rocks are what’s important to you in the overall scheme of things. The big picture. It’s personal. Maybe it’s time spent with family. Maybe it’s giving back — a charity or other service. The point is to get the big rocks in there and not squander away your time on hold with the cable company or reading email jokes.

One of the concepts I picked up during my web surfing is this: you have to follow your compass before you watch the clock. In other words, before you can manage your time, you need to know where you’re going, your priorities and goals. Instead of focusing on what’s urgent, learn what’s important to you. Where you are headed is more important than how fast you are going. Think of the Titanic.  

I thought about my big rocks and came up with three non-negotiables that I simply must make time for. Frankie (if you’ve read some prior posts, you know how much I get out of his walks,) my health (maintaining my current mobility is crucial to my continuing to live independently) and my writing (my passion and purpose.)

As it turned out, that covered two of the seven habits. I don’t know the others yet, so I’m only mildly effective. Habit 3 is putting first things first or prioritizing. In Habit 7, you focus on finding balance between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual areas of your life. This jives with my big rocks. Physically, I’m taking care of my health and exercise. My mental rock is my writing. And Frankie is a two-for. I cover my emotional needs by having social and meaningful interactions with others (just today I ditched my planned routine and went down to the local coffee shop with him at the invitation of a friend.) I think I successfully cover the spiritual side of things when I commune with nature on our walks and meditate seaside.

What are your big rocks? Think about your compass. And next week, I’ll get into the nitty-gritty of the clock. For now, I’m running out of time to post this.

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