You sat down with a book, or a computer, or your knitting. Or maybe you’ve just closed your eyes for a power nap. What was that? Oh no.
“Mom!” you hear, pleading in the distance. (Or for the newer moms out there, maybe it’s just a little “wwaaaahh.”) You don’t literally parent 24/7. But it certainly feels like you do...
Events totally eat up your day
A recent study titled "When an Hour Feels Shorter: Future Boundary Tasks Alter Consumption by Contracting Time” begins to explain this effect. To make a long story short, this set of experiments found repeatedly that people subconsciously build in some buffer time when they’re trying to use the time left in between the present and an upcoming event.
This isn’t totally a bad tendency. Sometimes you actually need that buffer time, just in case. But your mind seems to include buffer even when you don’t actually need it. And in a day with several scheduled events, your subconscious buffer can accidentally eat up all the remaining time.
Plus, unpredictability is hell
For a new mom, if you’re just at home a room away from your sleeping baby, it’s actually ok to do something else - but the automatic buffer time might cause you feel like you can’t. Making matters worse, parenting-related tasks don’t even have fixed times. That nap will end 20 minutes (or 90 minutes) from now. Your kid will play with that new toy for 5 minutes, or maybe an hour. They’ll wake up in the morning from 60 minutes after to 120 minutes before you (ugh). It’s stressful to remain on-call, indefinitely.
You can try to schedule everything, but attempting anything stricter than an ultra-flexible basic routine is an exercise in futility. So many aspects of family life are inherently unpredictable: when people need to sleep, eat, puke, cry, and more (yourself included!) There are good reasons to live large blocks of time unscheduled, too - free time helps kids to become self-assured and self-directed.
Tiny tasks are actually doable
Happily, there's a partial fix. If you break up your tasks into little chunks, they magically become manageable. You can’t fold all the laundry, but you can pair the socks. You can’t cook dinner, but you can chop an ingredient or write a grocery list. You can’t clear out the backed-up family paperwork, but you can pay one bill or make one call.
Your mini-task won’t feel like a watershed accomplishment at the time, but they really add up. Don’t let productivity or scheduling perfection become the enemy of the good.