One of the books that made an impression on me when I was a kid was Cheaper by the Dozen, an exuberant 1948 memoir by siblings Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey about growing up in a family of twelve children.
Last night, I thought about that book for the first time in years. For the record, I’m a mom of two, but for a long time after reading Cheaper by the Dozen – probably at age 10 – I wanted to have a dozen kids myself when I grew up.
I liked the idea of a big, happy family – impractical as it might have been – but I was also intrigued by the fact that the father was an efficiency expert, incorporating all kinds of little time-savers into the family’s everyday life.
I guess the book came to mind last night because yesterday was a long stay-at-home, catch-up-on-my-to-do-list day. Despite the number of items I crossed off my list, I would have liked to accomplish more.
I do have strategies for staying focused and getting things done, although some are better than others.
For a journalist, there’s nothing like an imminent deadline to intensify focus. Early in my career, someone I interviewed gave me a card with the saying: “If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done!” It hung on my bulletin board for years.
It’s not that I’d recommend leaving things to the last minute, but it’s reassuring to know that it’s possible.
There’s also the “Swiss cheese” method, which involves breaking down an intimidating or labour-intensive task into manageable chunks. I couldn’t remember where I’d heard of it, but apparently it originated in a 1973 book by Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life.
That strategy was especially useful when my children were young, and my free time was fragmented and defined by their schedules.
Another helpful tool is the question I often ask myself: “If I get nothing else done today, what one thing do I want to do?”
This morning it’s posting my blog entry.
I may also want to revisit Lakein’s book, but not today. I’ve added it to my list.