When I reflect back on 2015, by far the fastest year of my life, gone in a flash, what I’ve learned wasn’t so much a series of life lessons–which is usually what I talk about in these annual posts–as it is a great question.

The great question was this: How do you want to spend your time?

This was the question that haunted me when I was overwhelmed, and that guided me beautifully when I wasn’t. It was both my albatross and my anchor, in equal measure.

How do you want to spend your time?

In other words: What really matters to you? How do you want to feel? How will you feel if you spend your time on this, versus that? What brings you to a state of Really Fucking Happy? How do you choose from among multiple competing priorities, to get done what needs to get done while also having a moment to…breathe?

What I discovered in this inquiry sometimes surprised me, sometimes reaffirmed something I already knew but thought I’d forgotten.

What I learned in 2015 was how to answer the question, “How do you want to spend your time?” and in so doing, how to manage my time.

How I Manage My Time (Warning)

There’s a quick caveat that you absolutely must take to heart before you read ANY further. You should really read this section if you want to understand how to manage your own time.

The warning is this: how I manage my time will probably have nothing to do with how you manage yours.

In other words, you know how there are these articles with X Tips for Time Management? Or being more productive?

One thing I discovered as I undertook a serious understanding of how I wanted to manage my time as a new mother and business owner was that those tips are all end games, and knowing the end game is not as helpful as is being able to assess your life and see what you do with your time, whether or not that’s working, and understanding why it does or doesn’t work.

In other words, I can tell you how I check email, and you might step into that end game and check email in the same way that I do–and it might be overwhelming and a disaster for you, because the end game of “Do it this way” isn’t what you need.

What you need is to understand overwhelm, see what you do with your time, see whether or not that’s working for you, and understand why the things that work, work–and why the things that don’t, don’t.

How I Manage My Time (The End Game)

If you skipped the section above, for serious, go back and read it.

I learned that checking email first thing in the morning overwhelms me, completely. Now, I sit down and get my creative work done, first. I learned that the reason I’ve checked email first thing in the morning for all these years is that I was actually afraid of prioritizing my creative work. This realization was shocking for me. I had had no idea.

I learned more time hacks that work. I looked at the things that were most important to me: meal-planning, for instance. I want to eat healthy food. I prioritized finding meal ideas that were healthy and then finding ways to “time-hack” getting that part of my life done. What was the least time I could spend on something, without sacrificing quality? This took time to learn, but with everything from doing laundry to finishing a business task to eating healthfully, this was my undertaking.

I learned that my life is worth more than resentment, and that resentment is a time management issue. Resentment sucks your energy and ultimately, your life.

I learned how relying on others more for emotional support saves time like crazy. I learned that it’s okay to trust gut feelings on who I rely on, rather than looking for specific qualities of loyalty or trustworthiness or work ethic. It’s just a feeling of resonance, a kind of mysterious chemistry. It’s not personal.

I learned that (for me) the key to motherhood and work-life balance is all about boundaries. When I’m working, I need to be fully working. When I’m with my daughter, I need to be fully with my daughter. That’s just the end game, though, because actually figuring out what the boundaries are and how to hold to them? That’s what’s tricky.

I learned a lot about time from triathlon training, but my most important takeaway isn’t actually what people usually think it is–people think that the big time lesson with training is going to be how to fit your workouts in. My big lesson was that I could fit in any workout that I valued enough to do, and that how I felt about myself when I didn’t arrange my life in such a way to meet my commitment felt really shitty. Thus, if I didn’t want to feel shitty, I needed to make that workout happen and stick to my training program, not because of anything related to performance on race day, but because breaking commitments to myself is a crappy way to treat myself.

I learned that when you become a mother, time management becomes a gender issue.

I learned that part of being a happy parent and mother means not being self-sacrificing, 100% of the time. It’s hard to get out of that mode, but I don’t feel pulled by the mother guilt as often as I did. And when I find myself stuck there again, worrying that I should be doing more, I remind myself that it’s good for my daughter to be cared for by others rather than exclusively by me; that it’s okay if she doesn’t always have what she wants; that she is allowed to feel feelings of frustration and that it builds resilience; that it’s healthy for her to see me modeling a life with interests that are outside the home.

It’s especially okay when this means that when we are together, I’m truly able to be present and be with her.

In Essence

In essence, I learned how to be sovereign over my own time.

I don’t expect that I’ll never again feel overwhelmed. I’ll hit places in my life where I’m looking around going, “Uh, wait, what was it that I understood about time management, again?”

Time is fluid. Life is fluid. It’s all expanding and contracting. It’s a dance.

My hope is that when I hit those moments, I’ll come back here. I’ll read this. I’ll remember to trust what I already know.

That’s how you work with overwhelm, with a full life, with the endless decision-making, with the challenges–you learn how to dance.