In today’s society, and especially as a parent, having to deal with a busy schedule and an overwhelming to-do list seems to be normal. Not only is this kind of hectic lifestyle impossible to maintain in the long term, but it also drains the energy resources you need to take care of yourself and your family. Fortunately, with the right time-management strategies, you can get things done and still find time for yourself.
Get enough rest
More than a series of subsequent tasks, your daily schedule should include regular breaks and downtime for self-care. Why not walk to the post office instead of driving, for instance. It might take you longer but it will give you the opportunity to get outside and exercise a little. Or maybe you could plan in a 5-10-minute break to just close your eyes or even meditate. Planning an hour or two to have a coffee with a friend, read or take a bath is also a good option.
Time-management is also about defining priorities for yourself and stick to them. This will often involve setting boundaries with other people (including your children, e.g. if you are working from home) and saying no. Remember that your already tight schedule won’t allow you to accommodate everybody’s wishes. Identify what is important and make sure it’s prioritized. Your to-do list should reflect these priorities too.
Know your limits
Notice when you need rest and take it. Sometimes, making room for a 20-minute power nap before you tackle the next task turns out to be more efficient than struggling to complete it because you are just too tired.
Don’t be too ambitious with your to-do list – setting more realistic goals will save you some frustration and dissatisfaction. And if you do more than what you had planned, then you will be even happier.
Combine tasks smartly instead of multitasking
There’s no such thing as multitasking. When we think we are handling several tasks simultaneously, we’re actually switching between them and therefore fractioning our attention instead of engaging fully in one task. It has been proven that focusing on one thing at a time is much more efficient and requires less energy.
However, do not confuse multitasking, which refers to trying to do two tasks that need focus at the same time (e.g. writing an e-mail while you’re on the phone) with combining tasks that need little attention. There’s nothing against listening to an audiobook while driving, folding the laundry while watching TV or dusting while on the phone. It will even help you make boring activities more fun.
Another way to combine tasks which works well for me is to complete a task while the children are doing something that might require your presence but not necessarily your constant handling. For example, I like to clean the bathroom while my younger son is taking a bath or folding the laundry while he’s picking up his toys before going to bed.
Luckily, there are many things that can be planned in a household.
- There are many ways to save time with meal prep. For instance, you can cook more and freeze the extras or take advantage of a quieter day to cook various meals in advance – whatever works better for you.
- Also, preparing the next day during the previous evening will save you some stress and dramas in the morning: make sure school bags are packed, clothes are picked, breakfast table is set, etc..
- Use time-management tools such as family calendars or synced calendars on mobile for the parents to make sure every family member is aware of their schedule and responsibilities. I find setting up reminders on my phone for various tasks very helpful.
Establish routines and habits
Establish routines and stick to them. Not only does a daily routine give children a sense of security, but it will allow you to get things done, teach healthy habits and ultimately share your values. You can basically set routines for everything: from morning to bedtime over weekends and family activities.
However, make sure your daily routine is not a series of chores and duties. Make room for fun activities and special moments. Children particularly enjoy them and, often, will remember them as adults.
Also, even though it’s important to be consistent, that doesn’t mean you should stubbornly stick to a routine that doesn’t work for your family. Remember that every child is different and that their needs will change as they grow. So don’t hesitate to adjust or change the system if necessary.
Let go of perfection (it doesn’t exist) and re-adjust your expectations.
Healthy meals don’t need to be complicated. Often children enjoy dishes with fewer ingredients more than anything else. Also, opt for easier recipes when you don’t have time to cook. Sandwiches, wraps or a salad/soup with bread can be healthy and quick options.
Depending on their age, your children don’t need to change outfits every day. Wearing some pieces of clothes twice will already save you some laundry. Also, whenever possible, buy clothes that don’t need ironing and are less prone to get dirty.
When it comes to house cleaning and organizing, try to focus on the essential. Of course, the house needs to be clean and tidy but there’s no point in exaggerating it. Accept that it will not look as perfect as it might have before you had children and don’t be too obsessed with it.
Share your workload
Do not hesitate to assign some chores to your kids. Even though they might complain, giving children responsibilities will boost their self-confidence and confer them a sense of belonging to the family. Of course, another benefit is that it will take some workload off you.
According to your children’s age, chores and responsibilities could range from setting the table and picking up toys over folding the laundry to preparing their lunch bag or packing their sports bag.
Besides the obvious workload, we often forget about the so-called “mental load”. It refers to the invisible planning and organizing work around the household that usually relies on one parent (often the one staying at home): e.g. buying milk, remembering the dentist’s appointment or washing your child’s sports clothes so they are clean for the next game. Make sure you and your partner are aware of this additional and often ignored burden, and distribute it between the two of you but also among the children. Maybe you could decide on who is responsible for which areas so that not only one parent is making the thinking for the whole family.
As I was mentioning earlier, you shouldn’t be obsessed with having a perfect household, your goal should be to have a picked up and uncluttered home at the end of the day so that you can relax or focus on other tasks once the kids are asleep.
Moreover, if everything is in its place, you won’t waste your time looking for items. Try to find functional ways which will also allow your kids to put away their things on their own. Usually, baskets, boxes or bins work well. You could also focus on areas that tend to be messy such as the entryway: everybody should know where to put away their shoes, bags, coats, etc.. Also make sure the items you need for specific tasks are stored where you need them and can be easily put away.
Organizing also means getting rid of unnecessary or redundant items. For instance, toys are usually an area where there is room for improvement – maybe you could find time before Christmas or the kids’ birthdays to donate toys or get rid of broken ones.
Remember to fit organizing into family routines. A common way of doing this is to have children pick up their toys before going to bed or tidying up the kitchen immediately after meals. For instance, to help my older son learn to how to declutter and organize his room when he was younger, we would schedule a whole afternoon on a quiet week-end and spend it re-organizing his room.
I guess we all know that proper time-management is key for parents – and maybe you already apply some of the listed strategies. However, we often make the mistake of trying to fit in as many tasks as possible into our daily schedule and tend to forget to plan time for ourselves. Instead of getting as much as possible done, our goal should be to maximize our time so as to get things done and find time to take care of ourselves and spend quality time with our loved ones.