Dealing with or overcoming time scarcity

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Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: May 29 2009
Posts: 148
Dealing with or overcoming time scarcity

I have stepped up my permaculture and homesteading efforts over the past couple of years.  I planted a good part of a forest garden, plant and maintain a sizable vegetable garden, work on building/remodeling projects around the house -- all work I greatly enjoy, and work that I would gladly concentrate most of my time on if I were able to do so.

Except I'm not able to concentrate on it primarily.  I also have a demanding job in engineering/construction, along with 2 young kids (6 and 2) and 2 dogs at home.  Plus, my wife also works full-time as a school guidance counselor, so for about 10 months out of the year, things are pretty hectic during the week.  In fact, I often feel like we barely have time to breathe, between just going to work, preparing/eating dinner, taking care of homework, baths, and getting ready for the next day.

One of the main reasons I got into homesteading and permaculture is that I want to transition away from my current job, one that leads to more atomization and disconnection between the various aspects of my life (work, family, community) and toward a livelihood that integrates these aspects.  I also want to move in a direction where I can experience time as it was really meant for us to experience as humans -- not the kind of hurried, constantly distracted existence encouraged by modern, industrial society.  In short, I want to experience the kind of personal transformation and re-integration described by Geoff Lawton in this video short:

But here's the rub -- the more energy that I put into my permaculture and homesteading efforts, the greater sense of time scarcity I feel, which ends up leaving me feeling even more stressed.  I know that there are others out there who are going through the same thing, trying to balance the demands of work and family with creating a better life for yourselves and your loved ones.  How do you deal with it?  Are you able to get past this feeling of extreme time scarcity?  How do you keep yourself going through it?  Is it just on the promise of a better day ahead for the work you put in now, or is there something else I'm missing?

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
I can relate to much of what you say, Christopher

As my kids have gotten older (they are now 9, 11, 13, 15) it has gotten easier in certain key ways, as they're better able to a) get their own needs met as needed, b) wait patiently for my help if they can't do something on their own, and c) help out with the "work of the family."  They need a lot less tending and a lot less "management" than they did when they were small.  I like to think they've grown up knowing their value in the family, and they are generally cooperative and helpful kids.  I like to think I influenced that outcome with some of the choices (and sacrifices) I made when they were little.  I don't know if those things are true, but it brings me hope when I allow myself to believe that my stubborn insistence on living the way we do laid some good foundation when they were younger and had a healthy outcome.

I hate that desperate, rushed feeling, trying to live in concert with my values (which means not taking cheap, empty "shortcuts" sold by mainstream culture) and thus trying to cram a ton of stuff into every day (which means being frantically rushed sometimes, which is not in concert with my values!)  Sometimes it seems like I'm trying to live a contradiction.

The thing that gets me through is choosing to believe that things will get easier as the kids grow, and that once certain house/homestead projects are done, or relationships built, or preps in place, that initial effort will not need to be repeated for a long time.  Projects build on other projects, just like we climb up a ladder, hand over hand, rung after rung.  It's hard work and sometimes very tedious and trying, but we are getting somewhere.  We are going forwards, not backwards.  I try to channel my efforts into having things eventually be less complicated, even if it initially requires a push.

I think it takes some kind of faith to raise kids, and also faith to prepare for a future that is very different than what we used to anticipate. You might call it faith, you might call it optimism, you might call it something else, but it's a belief that the actions we are taking now will impact our families' future, and it inspires us to continue even when it's hard work.

Take note of the moments when you do get to breathe/enjoy/relax...don't let them fly by with everything else. And remember to go easy on yourself.  You can only do what you can do, and finding peace with that may be challenging, but it is important.

RoseHip's picture
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Joined: Feb 5 2013
Posts: 150
I also relate

To your story Chris. In many ways our stories are very similar. I have 2 children ages 3 and 5, and we are trying to transition away from traditional employment and into a life closer to the land creating healthy living soil communities. I am also struggling with the day to day get up, go to work, come home in the evening, baths, dinner, bed time then do it all over leaves little time for any real enjoyment or healthy relationship to time. In addition we have been actively trying to move out of our inflated morgage and other debt and into more sustainable payments. Thus decreasing the need for dual employment. This has been where our challenges have surfaced. Unable to sell the house to brake even, even though we went in up 70k. Unable to find a suitable property that has enough room to grow on and have decent school choices for the girls. Plus we just look like crazy people to those close around us, family and friends. They see us with elevated levels of cynicism, decreased levels of trust for all things government and don't understand why we back away from debt like the plague. But the more we do, the more enjoyable our intentional experiences become. For instance, I really enjoy knowing that I would rather swim in a river or soak in a natural undeveloped hotspring than a clorinated pool, and it free minus transporation.

The thing I think your missing which we all are is a culture that is conductive to community building. Most of the people that surround me think of community as a meeting you go to twice a year about homeownership issues. Their is no real need to have community because money keeps us happy and disconnected where we don't really need each other, so we don't naturally intact in these ways. The best thing I have done to deal with these issues is joined a men's circle, where we meet for 3 hours a week and have intentional conversations with a moderator who brings structure and insight. Making for easy and enjoyable vulnerable exchanges that remind us that sharing your feelings is a really really good thing, we have to expercise our emotional bodies just like our physical bodies.

I was really suprised what I learned about myself and others thru this experience. I highly recommend it to all my friends and family now.


jdye51's picture
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Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 157

Good for you Rosehip for taking time to nurture yourself so you can be more present and aware the rest of the time. That kind of deep sharing creates a safe space for learning. My experiences have taught me the similarities between people, the commonality of the human experience. I've also gained in my understanding of others and with that has come more compassion. It's all too easy to jump into judgment before having all the information on a person's situation. I'm curious as to some of your insights if you are open to sharing them.


Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1988
I hear you, Christopher

I was under the same sort of time-management gun for years, with three small children. I worked full time (office temp with three placing bidding for my exec admin skills) plus taking care of my elderly mother. And as soon as the eldest child was old enough to watch the others, I added going to college to the mix, and a second part time job that I did during a long commute via train. Like Amanda I had to do it all as a single parent.

What helped was this: taking the time to simplify  - and plan things.

  • Saturday mornings were for lounging around watching cartoons until about 10 or 11 AM, and then we agreed on something fun to do and would not go do it until the house was clean. They chose the event. We did everything from roasting hot dogs at the park to going to a free event:: concerts and movies, usually, but sometimes parades or a beach or fishing - whatever they wanted off the "free or cheap" things to do in the Friday paper. They were motivated to get finished with their chores! No whining.
  • As to the chores, even the youngest helped. They chose what they enjoyed--one kid actually liked dusting, another enjoyed running the vacuum, an one liked shining things with Windex--and we rotated who got stuck with unpopular chores like taking out the trash. No chores done, no allowance: they did not get paid for breathing.
  • I made a menu for each week and a grocery list from that. One inexpensive supermarket chain would take my order via the internet and we picked up the groceries they assembled for me after church. This saved hours of wandering through the store, kids in tow.
  • Then, each Sunday afternoon, we cooked the meals for the entire week as a family - from scratch. They learned to cook! Half the cooked meals went in the freezer for later in the week. They helped bake things for their lunches (rice krispies treats, brownies, cookies) and make up snack bags of things like popcorn. This saved us from the dreaded "what's for dinner?" question being asked of tired parents.
  • Here was a big one: I gave them the TV guide from the Sunday paper and asked them how much TV they thought was reasonable. They chose 1.5 hours a day, 4 hours on Sunday morning, and maybe 2 hrs on Sunday and thought about what they were going to watch in advance, highlighting their choices. This kept them from being TV Zombies, and left more time for homework and being read to at night.
  • Reading to them at night stopped the whining about bedtime. They actually looked forward to hearing the latest chapter of A Cricket in Times Square, The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Hobbit. Again, the library is your friend. Sunday nights, while they watched a movie or played a video game. I cleaned out my purse and each one of their backpacks. This flushed out things like permission slips that needed to be signed.
  • We lived and died by a big calendar that kept track of doctor visits, school things, and other appointments.

I hope some of this helps.

Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
Status: Peak Prosperity Team (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2008
Posts: 409
Great ideas, Wendy! Love it.

Wendy, I am nodding my head to your list, and have done similar (though supermarket delivery sounds like an awesome luxury).  In our case, I would sometimes (randomly, as needed based on the state of the house) declare a movie night -- we have no TV, so it was extra-special -- but no movie until the common areas of the house were cleaned.  It was so helpful to have a positive motivator.  Thanks for sharing your hard-earned wisdom, on this and other topics.

Christopher, I think it's important to just matter-of-factly keep moving forward.  For me, efficiency and organization are hardcore survival skills.  And keep your blinders on with regard to how the other families around you function -- there is no point in comparing or imitating (unless one of them is headed by Wendy!)

Joe Budai's picture
Joe Budai
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Joined: Aug 5 2013
Posts: 2
time scarcity

A few years ago I woke up to the reality that most of us see around us nowadays with a feeling of dread for being unprepared for what may lie ahead.  I jumped in feet first and over 3 years learned how to plant and maintain 2 small fields and a flock of ducks.  I was never in better physical shape from all of the hoeing and digging.  However I found myself losing sleep worrying about squeezing in a half hour of weeding or organic spraying between or after work, trying to work around the weather was rough.  I could not keep up the pace due to work, family, and stress.  However, in the process of those 3 rewarding years I went from city boy never grew a cucumber, to running out of freezer space from all my produce.  Now my small garden produces fresh salads and winter greens, eggs for omlets still come in season as well.  But knowing that in a pinch I could be back in the field planting gives peace of mind that only comes from hands on experience.  

Christopher H's picture
Christopher H
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Posts: 148
Thanks for the thoughtful replies and helpful advice, everyone

Amanda - I'm hopeful that after my son turns 3 next year it will open up some time to not having to supervise him quite so closely when we're outside.  With him being 2, if we turn our back on him for 15 seconds he can literally be halfway down the driveway to the road in that time.  I also know that I need to keep these kinds of things in perspective, and maintain the attitude described in Chris's article about "the next thing."  It's just hard when you feel like you start each season with 6 projects you'd like to get done and after reality intervenes, you've barely finished one.

RoseHip - The end of your post encapsulated some of my thoughts on this recently, at least in terms of recognizing one thing that I need but currently don't have -- a community of like-minded people with whom I can actually engage in real time.  Forums like this are certainly beneficial in that regard, but they don't replace the importance of being able to meet other like-minded folks in the flesh.  I know that this is an area of my endeavors that is sorely lacking, and perhaps with fall and winter closing in it might be high time to initiate some local organizing efforts toward that purpose.

Wendy - After reading your post, I was left thinking, "And here I am complaining about not having enough time compared to what you were able to do."  I know it's not a competition in any way, but still....  I like a lot of the suggestions you offer here about getting little ones involved in taking care of things around the house.  My wife and I are often trying to go down this road with our daughter, but too often it ends up being unfocused or, perhaps worse, we don't get her involved because it will just take too long.  Lots of practical advice here for me to try out and see what works for me.  Thanks so much.

Joe - Thanks for the perspective on why we do these things, and that perhaps sometimes it's more important to scale back and note the knowledge we've gained and keep faith in our ability to scale things back up if we really need to.

Peace and thanks to you all,


ferralhen's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 14 2009
Posts: 151
while others have focus on

while others have focus on very good practical and efficient ways of using time, i'd like to comment on one's mindset.

the saying : "slow is faster" trying to do things in a rushed/pressured state is usually less efficient and definitely not enjoyable. dealing with that "rushed" feeling is on us to figure out how to deal with it inside our own heads. most people think getting everything on the list done is the only way to make that rushed feeling go away.

just taking a moment to slow down, even stop can help. stop to think is it logical to rush? where are the pressures coming from?.usually yourself.

time management: see how long it takes to do a task in a comfortable relax state. ok, then you know it takes X amount of time for that task. if you see you don't have enough time, and you choose to do it, then you are the one pressuring yourself by setting yourself up to rush.

i think we try to do too much in a day. 100 years ago choice was severely limited naturally. there weren't cars and planes to zoom us around to 6 soccer games.

being busy and tired at the end of the day is a lot different than being frazzled at the end of each day.

the judeo/christian suggestion is to rest one day out of seven. try absolutely resting on one day. it's very difficult at first to starts to see that things go on just fine without your franic rushing around.i've gain alot of perspective thru a day of rest every seventh day.

i have found now, that my body anticipates the day when i rest.

i think we each find our own way on this.

i have a sister-in-law who treats each task as a crisis. it's just her. i just don't let her contaminate my peace or perspective with her panic.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
burn-out and time management

Christopher A. - that was then and this is now.

At this point in my life I am going through a "phase transition," like from solid to liquid, or liquid to gaseous. I'm going from burned-out New Yorker engineer to a new equilibrium as a semi-retired homemaker, gardening consultant, and about having a rerun of the empty nester stage, courtesy of my step-daughter moving out in a month. I've gone from Northerner to Southerner, from long-term single to remarried, from overstressed to a quieter lifestyle. From wanting to prep to being able to, to running out of funds to do so on a grand scale.

And things are, as any regular reader of this site can see, rapidly going downhill in the financial markets, and in other glocal and national ways.

Often, my reaction to it all is to retreat into a shell. It's too much change, in too many areas of my life, and it feels like it's happening all at once. I have to remind myself, as Dr Chris put it, to "Do the next thing," even if the next thing is to just water my garden. Otherwise, paralysis is a lousy time management technique.

gyrogearloose's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 8 2008
Posts: 549
Where does the time go...

At one place I work, the guys just cannot believe that we have 4 kids and don't have a TV.

If we had one I don't know if we would even bother watching it.

To busy doing things, building fences, giving mouth to nose to near a death newborn calf in a snowstorm at midnight ( it must be some wierd reverse survival mechanisim, a neighbour had twice the normal number of calves born during the storm as the preceding and following fine days !!! ) digging gardens playing monolopy with the kids, teaching them how to build a fire, etc

And the odd time we are visiting where there is a TV, we just look at each other and think ' no wonder we don't watch it...'

So busy we sort of forget about the future, so busy with the present.

Here and Karl Denningers Market ticker is about the only place I go to keep up with the (future) news, and remind myself of where we are going.

I think we are pretty lucky, we have sort of got far enought along now. Our house has no internal doors(yet), bare concrete floors, is less than 1/2 the size of a 'standard' home, but it is our home, and we love it.

I guess  for us it comes down to 'wanting what you have' and treasuring the good moments


Cheers Hamish


Doug's picture
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Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3207
Interesting conversation

Recent lesson:  prepare for the unknown unknowns.  This image comes from the barn across the street and about 30 yards away from my own barn a week ago.



Fortunately, my wife, daughter and I were home.  We were able to get our cars out of the driveway (between the barns) and away from danger, and I was able to hose down my own barn.  The heat was intense.  A large area of vinyl siding on our house, even further away, was melted.  All those little fruit and nut trees and shrubs you see in the foreground of the pic are singed and some probably dead.  We are fortunate they are very young and easily replaced rather than mature producing trees.  The only prep I can think of for this sort of thing is producing surplus food to ride out crises.

As to the topic of the thread, I totally admire the single moms who are prepping with young kids and limited resources.  I am thankful that I have a fully cooperative wife and our kids were in HS when we started prepping.

That said, perhaps I can lend a little perspective of a family that has been at this for a while and who are a bit older than most who have posted above.  We gave up trying to organize our small community and concentrated on cultivating a network of people further removed, but who are also prepping, and also with a large local Amish community who are well versed in resilience.  This approach has produced numerous benefits, not least of which is a growing group of friends from a wide variety of backgrounds.  As our food production has increased, we are giving out surplus to neighbors and a local food bank created by the daughter of our other next door neighbor.  Plus, the community is curious about the strange goings-on we are engaged in.  More and more conversations have sprung up without ever having to bring up our overall philosophy, although many are expressing more unfocused feelings leading to the same conclusions.  Lead my example, not preaching.

We are lucky in a number of ways that many are not.  Totally by chance, we are located in an area conducive to prepping and on a piece of land that makes it all easier.  Nonetheless, our experience has taught us some valuable lessons.  Perhaps our greatest achievement was to get out of debt.  Nothing is more freeing.  There is a mind set that comes with that.  Every significant purchase we make is carefully thought out in terms of investment in the future and separation from mindless consumption.  You single moms have learned that lesson the hard way, but everyone can benefit.

I confess I don't have a lot of empathy for those who are forming men's groups and such, as my life view was largely formed by growing up the son of a 'Greatest Generation' dad whose formative years were spent in the dust bowl Great Depression and coming of age was in Europe and N. Africa fighting the Huns.  I grew up among such men and think they would have little sympathy, rightly or wrongly, for such activities.  They, and I by extension, take a more direct view of life.  Do what you can do without help and if you wish to take it to a larger audience, do it through your church, Legion club, Moose club, Grange, Chamber of Commerce, volunteer fire company or other established community organizations.  If that doesn't work out, oh well.  Do what you can as an individual and family.  Don't stress out about lack of progress with the community.  Look at it as less time spent organizing, and more spent with the family in the garden.

Enough for now, got other things to do.


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