I’m on a constant journey to live my best life by balancing (is that even possible?) or at least having a peaceful coexistence between my job as a mom and my work in my photography business.  Since both of these actually happen at my home during the summer, it has its challenges. I listened to “Off the Clock” by Laura Vanderkam via audiobook several weeks ago. I checked it out from our local library and listened to it twice in the two weeks I had it.  I then went and purchased it because I just had to highlight it and note it up to read and reread again–I highly recommend you do the same. Time management books hold a special place in my heart. The overarching theme of the book is a directive on how to achieve those moments of freedom that you feel when all of your everyday responsibilities and obligations are otherwise taken care of or not present.  One can simply enjoy the present and the peace–the wonderfully liberating feeling of being ‘off the clock’.  

She outlines 7 key ideas to attain this feeling.  I found four of them especially interesting and have been working to implement the principles into my life with intentionality.  I’ve got a blog series planned for these four ideas. This is the first of four in the series.

leather bag spilled out with books, iphone and notebook showing

Finding Mindfulness

In her first chapter which Vanderkam titles ‘tend your garden’, she explains how we can start by taking a mindful approach to our daily time.  Mindfulness is a great way to talk about how we can stop allowing our days to ‘happen’ to us. We can take control of our days. My experience, when I started staying home, were full days where I could not remember sitting down the entire day, yet I’d fall into bed at night and wonder what I had done all day.  This was juxtaposed with my life before stay-at-home-mom-life when I worked in an office, with schedules, deadlines, and a wonderful sense of accomplishment each day when I had met my own goals and those of my organization.

Michael Hyatt, another author, is one of my favorite resources for developing mindfulness in my professional and personal life.  I listen to his podcasts, but he has also written several books and sells a line of planners targeted at no-nonsense professional types (which are right up my alley).  I took a long hard look at using this type of planner, along with a number of others, but settled on a bullet journal. This habit alone has made me vastly more productive and mindful of my days and where my time goes.  More on that below.

One of Hyatt’s main lessons is the Big 3.  Choose only three things to focus on each day.  When you put 27 things on your to-do list, you will never get them all done, and you’ll just feel defeated at the end of the day.  I choose three items that can each tie back to my yearly big goals –and if I can’t relate something back to my yearly goals, then I really question whether I should be doing it or not.


We can each be mindful to increase our awareness of time’s passage and our perception of it.  Vanderkam refers to our ‘blind spots’. This is a nice way to say that, in general, humans lie to themselves about just how hard they work.  She has researched extensively in this area and has found that for most people, even those that think they work 50 or 60 hours per week, work about 40-45.  They may have had one week that required a much larger effort, and our brains single this week out and choose to remember it as the ‘norm’. Or our brains lump in our commute, the personal errands we ran at lunch, the call with your mom that you took in driveway when you arrived home all as part of our ‘workday’.  Time tracking can help us realize just how much time we spend on each task. So how do we logistically track our time? Vanderkam promotes a system of tracking in an excel sheet in 30 minute increments. This is too much effort for me, so I sometimes use an app called Lifecycle. I’m sure they are collecting all sorts of data on me and selling it to an advertiser somewhere, but at least it automatically tracks my time with minimal input from me.  Since I work from home, I do have to tell it when I am working, but for the most part, this makes my own time tracking much easier. It also makes me aware of how much sleep I’m getting (or not getting)–which I have to prioritize to avoid being a pretty cranky mom.  

Make a Choice

Most importantly, one has to CHOOSE their priorities, set goals and then TAKE time to do those things.  If you don’t make changes, nothing will change. I like to tell myself a story that I can’t grow my business in the summer because my kids are home.  I have to actively tell myself this is not true each day as I make my to do list and concentrate on creating actionable goals at the beginning of each week.  At the beginning of the summer I had planned to arrange childcare on Tuesday and Thursday each week in order to get uninterrupted work time, but so far that has proven ineffective and just not that realistic.  When I only have care for my kids that sporadically, I end up making appointments on those days and there is not real time for deep work. Only upon thinking about this for this post have I come upon the idea that I should plan an hour into my early morning, before the kids are up, to do a bit of writing, reaching out and planning, in order to advance my business.  I’ll let you know how that goes in a few weeks. The point however, is just that through mindful attention to my daily goals and time log, I have realized I’ve not been dedicating the time I want to dedicate to my business and want to find more time to do so. 

My Personal Values Guide My Priorities: My Faith, Husband, Children and Business

How I bullet journal:

I’ve learned a lot about bullet journaling in the last year.  The short version is that a bullet journal can really be whatever you want it to be–there are a million different variations.  My daily ritual is to record the date, my water and food log (I make sure I get three big bottles of water and 3 servings of veggies and 2 fruits at a minimum), and then a list of daily tasks on the left with my schedule on the right column.  At the end of the day, I write 3 things I’m grateful for and my prayer list. Most of this happens at night. In the morning, I take a few minutes to review this entry and my calendar–both my phone version and my printed one–yes, I keep both.  I also cross off completed tasks from the previous day and copy down or plan for anything that I didn’t get to the day before. 

As they come up, I add in lists and goal planning wherever they fall in my timeline. The first page of each journal is a table of contents.  Truth be told, I’m not great at keeping up with the TOC. The magic of this type of journal, for me, is that at one time I would have had 6 different notebooks with a few pages used in each one.  Now, I keep them all together and with me all of the time. I have my yearly goals (I recopy these on the first page of each new book). My monthly goals (which are the small parts of my yearly goals that I can reasonable accomplish in the shorter time frame) fall in line.  I also keep lists such as upcoming blog ideas, books I’d like to read, and project plans–for me, my active ones right now are the VBS planning I used at church, an upcoming community camera class I’m planning and a women’s retreat I’m working on for my Sunday School class.

Bullet Journal Entry

Do you bullet journal? How does it work for you?