The Most Important 20 Minutes of the Day

My son had a basketball game today for his middle school team.  He’s on the C team (which comes after the B team which comes after  the A team) so we’re not talking a glamorous, high profile game.  But when I walked into the door, saw his face light up and then proceeded to witness his game and his constant looking over at me, I knew the 20 minutes of play time he got today were the most important 20 minutes of my day.

For working parents, being able to attend these events is hard.  Looking around today, there weren’t that many parents at the game. I’m sure every parent who was NOT in attendance had very good reasons and it had ZERO reflection on how much they love their child.

My son has Autism so communication, verbal communication, is really hard.  He doesn’t like to have conversations.  He’s not capable of sharing his feelings verbally.  When I try to tell him how I feel about him, he doesn’t want to have that conversation either.  As I’m connecting with more and more parents of typical kids, I’ve learned that my teen with Autism isn’t so different than a typical teenage boy.  My ACTIONS need to be the way I tell him how much I care about him.  Today, I was able to tell him I love him by attending his game.  And he was able to tell me that he’s glad I’m his mom.

But making this 20 minutes happen took a lot of planning and preparation.  I’m hoping that sharing how I accomplished this helps another parent get the same 20 minutes I got today.

Block Your Calendar

When I got the basketball schedule, I added the games to my work calendar along with travel time.  This way, when others are trying to schedule time with me, they know that I’m busy during this time so they can find a better time that works for both of us.

Set Expectations

I’ve let my manager and my team know that attending these games is important to me.  I try to structure my work so it’s about what I’m delivering each week rather than how much time I spend at the office.  This helps.  I set goals based on a full workload for the week and then juggle the time as necessary to meet all of my commitments for both work and home.

Carve Out Time

Even when you block your calendar and set expectations, it’s still hard to find the time to do it all.  Sometimes I get up early so I can start on my work day earlier.  Commute time takes up at least 45 minutes each way.  Today, I worked from home and got 90 minutes back.  I got my full workday in AND made it to the game.  I also reduced travel time by staying closer to home for the day.

It Goes Both Ways

Often, spending time at a school event in the afternoon means I need to focus on work in the evening–and miss that time with my family.  I try to use this to teach my kids about trade offs and balance.  I want them to be hard workers when they have jobs.  I want them to see that when I leave work early, that time needs to be made up somewhere.  It’s a good lesson to teach them.

Let’s face it, we’re all very busy.  It’s easy for the pressures of work, meetings, deadlines and commuting to cause us to miss opportunities to really connect with our kids.  But with a little planning and preparation, we’ve got a better chance of catching some of the precious moments before we lose track of where all our time went and our kids grow up faster than we could have ever imagined.

Are you navigating your life with a map or with GPS?

Many of us have been in the situation where we thought we knew where we were going but our GPS got us lost.  Something happened to me this week that made me realize this may be an interesting analogy to life.

My babysitter is out on vacation so my mom was kind enough to come visit us and watch the kids – for a full week and a half!  (Thank you, mom!)  While my sitter was away, I needed my  mom to pick up my son from middle school after track practice and pick up my daughter from her elementary school after her school play rehearsal.

We sat down with a map and showed her where she was, where the schools were and the routes to take.  The next day, she went to the places with the babysitter.  But on her first day solo, she got lost.  As we figured out where she went wrong, it dawned on me that she knew where she was going, but she listened to the GPS instead of herself.  If she had trusted herself, she would have been fine.

The day she got lost, I stayed on the phone line helping her find her way to my son’s school.  The entire time, the GPS kept telling her to go the wrong way.  After she reached her destination, it just struck me how this scenario feels a lot like life does sometimes.

How often do you feel like you know where you’re going, in life, but you listen to the louder voices telling you to take a turn that you feel may be a wrong turn?  And then end up lost?  Or you try to ignore all this advice but it’s so loud and persistent, you finally give in and follow it?  And then end up lost?

At a micro-level, how are you planning your days?  Are you spending your time where you know you need to?   Or are you allowing your calendar to be filled up with meeting requests and just go from meeting to meeting without your goals and priorities, your destination, in mind?  Are you spending your days doing what you need to do to reach your destination, or reacting to the different directions life is pulling you in?

At a macro level, how are you managing your career?  Your family?  We have all sorts of voices telling us which way we should go all the time, just like the GPS that doesn’t have the right destination. As you drive, the GPS is yelling at you,

“Turn right.  Re-calculating.  Turn around.  Turn left. Re-calculating.”

As we drive forward in our careers, we hear direction from all kinds of sources,

“Spend more time with your family.  Re-prioritize. Don’t take that promotion (Turn around). Make a lateral move instead.”

So we re-prioritize which leads to a totally different sent of directions,

“Lean into your career.  Push harder.  Reach higher.  Demand more.”

As we navigate our life, our career, our family, our day, we need to have the destination in mind.  It’s not a literal destination of course but an idea of what we’d like our life, our career and our family to look like “down the road”.  We need to define what success and happiness means for ourselves.  We need to be deliberate about the priorities we set and live them.  We need to know where we want to go.  And then we need to ignore all of the things that are telling us to go the wrong direction.

My mom used the GPS as a safety net.  It was supposed to help her as she reached intersections where she was unsure which way to turn.  But it lead her astray.  In life, it’s appropriate to look for advice when we’re unsure of what direction to take our families or trying to figure out how to navigate our careers.  But we need to take that advice and ask ourselves if it will really help us get to our destination.

So the next time you read an amazing article or book, or get that great piece of advice from someone you look up to, or add another commitment to your calendar, spend some time considering what it means for you and where YOU want to go.   If we blindly follow any guidance or say yes to any commitment, we may get lost.  But if we carefully choose which directions to follow based on where we know we want to go, the route there will have a lot less twists, turns and recalculations.


How To Set Up A Calendar for a Busy Family

If you’ve got kids who are involved in after school activities, this blog post is for you.  If you’re a Stay-At-Home-Parent, you’re trying to coordinate everything and make sure the kids are where they need to be.  And you want them getting picked up and dropped off on time.  If you’re a working parent, you’re trying to coordinate all of this with your child care provider.

Our family had a busy week this week.  It was the first week of track practice for my 13 year old son in the 7th grade AND it was the first week of rehearsals for the school play for my 9 year old daughter in the 4th grade.  I faced the week with great trepidation.  Looking at my calendar, I think you’ll see why:


To try and tame the chaos, I color coded my son’s activities in red and my daughter’s in blue.  I told my sitter, “Let’s just plan to text each other a lot to get through this first week on this crazy schedule.”  On Wednesday, I had the pick up time for Play Rehearsals wrong.  And my sitter was having a really hard time understanding all of this when looking at it on her iPhone.

My son has Autism, so it’s particularly important that he understands the schedule using the visuals of a calendar.  When I got this text message from him on Wednesday night while he was with his Dad, I knew I needed to do something to make this calendar easier to understand:


Looking at the calendar, I had everything crammed into ONE calendar.  I had more details than were really needed.  Too many things were overlapping each other.  I needed to simplify the calendar.  My babysitter needed to understand when to pick the kids up and where.  My son needed to understand his own schedule, know when he was getting picked up, and not have his sister’s activities cluttering up what he was looking at.  He needed to see what HE cares about.

What to do?

I created a separate calendar for my son.  It’s under his account, but I set things up so that I can edit it directly while using my own account.  I also set up an account for my daughter while I was at it.  Next, I got rid of the overlap by moving my son’s track stuff into his calendar, my daughter stuff into her calendar, and then focused the family calendar on pick ups and drop offs.  The new version is much better:


Notice the tabs across the top.  Each tab represents a different calendar in a different color.  You can show multiple calendars at once.  And when you turn off my daughter’s calendar, it was a much clearer picture for my son.  We sat down and reviewed the schedule again.  Here’s what he is seeing on his iPhone now:


And here’s what the babysitter was looking at (on a Windows Phone), because my son’s calendar is NOT in view:


I’m hoping that the schedule will be more clear.  Everyone will be happier.  And I won’t be distracted with lots of text message from a frustrated babysitter who can’t figure out where I need her to be because I haven’t set her up for success.  Yes, we’re using multiple calendars and sharing them.  It may sound complicated at first but once it’s set up, you’ll wonder how you ever functioned any other way.

For those of you interested in some of the nitty-gritty details, keep reading.  For the rest of you, happy scheduling!

Some details for me to explain:

What is “Juanita House”?  We are in a split family.  Since the kids have 2 homes, “home” isn’t clear.  I call my house “The Juanita House” so they know where they need to be.  I don’t want to call it “Mom’s House” or “Mom and Jeff’s House” because it is “Our House”.  Dad didn’t name his house (because he’s functioning like a normal person 😉 ) so we just call his house “Dad’s House”.

Who are all of these people?  Dad is Dad.  Jeff is my husband.  Marie is the afternoon babysitter.  Lauren is my son’s ABA therapist (Autism services aide).  When I set up appointments with Lauren, I actually email those to her so they are on her calendar.  Dad also has the appointments for “which house” on his calendar as well as anything that is on the days when the kids are with him at the end of the day.  There’s a lot going on here but this way, everyone has what they need on THEIR calendar.

Please send me your follow up questions!  I’d be happy to do a dedicated blog post to deep dive on any questions you have.