If you are coming to this site from Laura Vanderkam’s site, welcome! For those of you who don’t know Laura Vanderkam’s work, she is the author of two excellent time management books I highly recommend, 168 Hours and I Know How She Does It. Laura’s mantra is “you have more time than you think.” In her website and her books, Laura tells countless stories of very busy women who still find time to do things that are priorities to them.
As a long time follower of Laura’s sage advice, I’ve kept time logs a few times, and I always come away with new insights into ways to manage my time better. More importantly perhaps, the logs give me a new and more positive perspective on the things I am able to accomplish in a week.
When the triplets were born, I thought it would be interesting to keep some time logs so that I could have actual data about how long it takes to care for the triplets. I did a log in February 2016 when the triplets were 4 months adjusted. I did another time log when they were 9 months adjusted, and another when they were 15 months adjusted. Here are some of the trends I noticed after recording over 500 hours of my time.
When the triplets were 4 months adjusted, I averaged 6 hours of sleep a night. That’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. I would assume there are other moms of four month olds who get that amount of sleep and only have one baby. When the triplets were 9 months, I logged an average of 7.5 hours of sleep a night- not bad when I seem to function best with about 8 hours a night. By 15 months old, I averaged 7.4 hours of sleep a night, but the triplets were not the reason I wasn’t getting more sleep. It was because I was staying up late by choice or it was because my husband was on call and we’d get hospital phone calls in the middle of the night. Neither of these sleep deprivers are great- I function better with more sleep- but the fact remains that my sleep is something I have more control over now (go to bed earlier, sleep in another room when my husband is on call). I should add one caveat about my sleep trends. I was pretty strict about getting the triplets sleep trained at an early age. My ability to sleep 6 hours very early on was likely because of that sleep training. I regret not keeping a time log when the triplets were even younger and not sleep trained, but to be honest, I definitely was getting much less sleep and I was not in any state to keep a log. Regardless, these logs confirmed to me something that I’ve been trying to convey here in this blog. Sometimes people get the narrative wrong about how hard it is to have triplets. Yes, sleep deprivation is the worst, and yes, my logs show that I was often awake a few times a night with different kids, but overall, the sleep deprivation with my triplets wasn’t too bad. I’m not trying to downplay the challenges that other triplet moms may have with sleep, or say that it should be smooth sailing for everyone. Don’t get me wrong- we have nights that are very rough, and they get worse quickly when one baby wakes another one or two babies. I have one triplet who is not a great sleeper, so I also know sleep luck can vary greatly depending on children with different sleep proclivities. I’m just suggesting that it could be much better than people imagine.
When the triplets were 4 months old, I averaged 2 hours of personal time every day. Some of the activities I characterized as personal time included reading, watching TV, shopping, and even going to the gym. I was able to go to lunch with my first grader and read a story to my son’s preschool class. It is important to me to spend one-on-one time with each of my older kids, but it’s also important to me that we plan activities that include all five kids. On this particular logged week, we were able to have an outdoor picnic lunch with all 5 kids and my sister who was visiting from out of town. I was able to devote almost an hour to writing on the days I spent some time on the blog.
By the time the triplets were 9 months old, I was getting about a half an hour more of personal time a day. I had cancelled our gym membership because I wasn’t getting to the gym often enough to make it financially worthwhile, but I was also outside more and getting exercise that way. I have a watch that counts calories and I was pleasantly surprised that just taking the babies up and down the stairs a few times a day was pretty good exercise.
By 15 months I had more available “me” time, but I shifted my personal time into spending more time on this blog. This is a great example of something I learned from Laura. I do have time in the day for myself- I just have to be clear on my priorities. My time working on this blog is a bit of fun and a bit of work. I could easily characterize this as personal time and say that I am now averaging about 3 hours a day in personal time. I simply like to separate the time because I’d like to see what kind of time I can devote to professional pursuits while still at home. However, this is all a matter of personal preference. Sometimes its good to just take a step back and see that I am in control of what I do, and if I am spending time on something I want to be spending time on, that’s good.
Baby Care versus Big Kid Time
I tried to separate the time I was exclusively taking care of the triplets, the time I was with my older kids, and the time we were together as a whole family. I was interested in seeing whether the triplets really took up double or triple the amount of hours I had in the day for family. The results didn’t show a definite trend, partly because I was subjective when totaling each category (I characterized pumping as triplet care, but sometimes if I was eating ice cream or browsing Facebook while pumping I thought it was more personal time). Also, because the babies hadn’t totally consolidated naps at 4 and 9 months, the periods of wakefulness and corresponding caretaking/playing hours were varied, making trends difficult to discern. At the very least, I was able to see that even though the triplets got more time and attention on every time log, I was spending significant quality time with my other kids too. At 15 months adjusted, the triplets now have two solid naps a day, so the fluctuations have died down. That also means I have larger blocks of time when I can do things I want to do. When the triplets are awake, they need less physical care and want to play more, so we’ve logged more time as a whole family.
My Time Insights
Even though I do have time for myself, I don’t have as much as some people, so I do have to be smart about maximizing activities in my free time that are restorative or pleasant. For example, I hate all forms of shopping, and while I do have to grocery shop, I rarely log time at the grocery store. That’s because I order groceries online, the store shops for me, and my husband picks up the groceries on his way home from work. On the other hand, I log a lot of time cleaning up the house. I could devote less time to cleaning or consolidate the time to one point in the day, but that’s not good for me. I am happier when the house is periodically picked up, so I do it for my own sanity, knowing full well that I could be doing something else. This is something I write about a lot. I am Type A, and I’m trying to be true to myself while still caring for my kids. I feel better when the house is picked up and when I’ve showered, so I make it a point to fit those things into my day. And there is certainly time for me to do those things.
If there is anything I’ve learned through the time log process and through my own trials and errors, it’s that I have to plan on a smaller scale so that I’m happy with what I accomplish in any given day. This is exactly like planning your free time on a weekend- except that I’m planning for free time on a daily basis. So first thing in the morning, I think through and make realistic goals for the day and I tackle those goals when the opportunity arises. The goals when the triplets were 4 months old were simple- like showering, filling out a yearbook order form for my first grader, or vacuuming my room. If I have those priorities in mind at the beginning of the day, I can get to them at some point in the day and I feel happy that I am doing things I care about. Otherwise, I may find myself aimlessly doing activities that aren’t really restorative for me, like browsing Facebook or watching TV, when I could be doing something that actually energizes me.
I am sure our life will get more complicated as my school aged children get into more after school activities and the triplets begin preschool and grade school, but I am also confident that with the insights I’ve learned from Laura, we will find a way to make time for things that are important to our family.
Have you ever kept a time log? If not, I highly suggest it, especially if you are currently pregnant with triplets (here’s Laura’s template for time tracking- but feel free to use whatever works for you). After you’ve tracked your time, look for items that you are proud about or happy you accomplished. Then look at things you wish you spent less time on. Remember the things that you are proud of doing and keep those in mind when your triplets arrive. Make it a point to try to continue doing things that feed your soul- even if it’s not for as long as you’d like. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what a big difference this can make during the first year with triplets.