In praise of tiny time

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 This interesting blog post   made me reflect on my own experiences with time over the last 5 and a bit years of studying. I started my undergrad degree when my younger son was 2, and by some miracle managed to complete it in 3 years, sanity more (or less) intact. Ok, less. But it *might* have been worth it…

Whilst it was never easy, I learnt some lessons which are worth thinking about.

1. With small children, 15 minutes can be a long time, easily long enough to focus and get a chunk of study done. If you’re going anywhere, take a book, pen and paper as well as all the detritus required by small children. Your book will get rice cracker crumbs and peanut butter all over it, but you can read a whole chapter and take notes.

2. You can work in the park, a soft play area, a cafe, the car, the school gates, a train, the library, the aerobics studio when a class starts late. If your kids don’t need you, do some reading! You soon learn to block out the noise and only focus on the particular pitch of your child screaming for you.

3. The car is the best place in the world to work. I still do a huge amount in the car whilst waiting for my kids to finish their tennis lessons, play ping pong or do other stuff. Nobody wants to talk to you when you’re in the car, few demands are made on your time, so make the most of it. The fact that your laptop battery is running down focuses the mind enormously.

4. The park is your best friend. Your kids get exercise and to socialise with others, you get to study. Win win. Just glare at any other mums who look like they want to be friendly. You don’t have time for friendliness.

5. Camping holidays are great for studying. Except for that one trip to the Loire at Easter where it poured with rain and the wind battered the tent and the kids couldn’t go outside. That wasn’t very productive, and when we returned home I had to lock myself in the lounge and ignore my kids for an entire day to write an essay from scratch whilst dashing to and from the washing machine, throwing toast at my hungry kids en route. Generally though, camping trips are wonderful. The kids play football and make new friends, you can sit in the sun with a cup of tea and your books. Bliss.

6. Having to work in tiny chunks of time makes you more productive. I learnt to work smarter not harder. Targeting the ‘must-do’ stuff works wonders for making the most of your time before you have to cook dinner/force your children to eat fruit/cook another dinner for your husband/do yet another load of laundry/take the kids to an activity/do the washing up/read to the kids/do yet another load of laundry. Study even becomes a little bit of a treat after all that drudgery!

Whilst using tiny time is a necessity with tiny kids, it also fits in with my philosophy of studying. I’ve chosen to do a degree, an MSc and now a PhD, and whilst my family is a priority, studying is an important part of my life. I know the constant refrain is ‘treat it like a job’ when it comes to doing a PhD, but it’s much more interesting than a job. I’ve never been good at a 9-5 slog. Besides, I have to leave uni at 2 to do the school run, that doesn’t fit with a 9-5 schedule! Another PhD student I know talked about ‘weaving the PhD into the rhythm of her life’. This seems like a more realistic approach. If I can read a book whilst stirring a risotto, or think about the papers I’ve just read whilst going for a run, that’s much more in keeping with my approach to life and treats my PhD with the contemplation time it needs. This may change in the future, but for now it works for me.

Now that my kids are older and I have more uninterrupted time, I sort of miss studying in those tiny times. I’ve turned to using the pomodoro method for imposing my own version of tiny time. Just like studying with toddlers, only much more predictable!


(photo from Flickr CC


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