I have three small children (a six year old and wild twin boys that just turned four), I am an avid writer, volunteer in the community, and actively involved in our church. A personal question I often get is “how do you do it all?” or “how do you get everything done?”
My schedule is active, yet I am not stressed or over worked. I get a great deal done because of my time management skills. These skills were not acquired overnight. It took time, study, and an objective awareness of my usage of time that led to a more organized, practical, and easy way of managing our household and my time. I want to share my tips with fellow parents so you can best optimize your time and in turn get more quality time with your family in the long run.
Essential Time Management Tips for Parents
1. Know Your Hierarchy of Importance
What is most important to you in life? What is your priority? You need to decide what is most important in this life. Determine what you value most in life in order to filter obligations through your personal lens of what is important to you and your family. When you are presented with opportunities to sign up for another school committee, another group activity, or another opportunity to volunteer, you need to be able to assess whether the activity aligns with your values and priorities. You also need to assess whether the activity will take you away from some other activity that aligns with your values, obligations, and priorities.
When you say “yes” to one activity you are saying “no” to something else, because you can’t do it all. If you say “yes” to that new book club, you may be saying “no” to family dinners on that night. If your priority is to have family dinners together consistently, then the book club may not align with your values. You need to first decide what things are your priority and of highest value in your life. Then when you are presented with opportunities that take time, and they all do, you can be better equipped to determine what things you want to say “yes” to and which you want to decline.
It becomes easier to say “no” to activities when you have clearly defined values. Your obligation in life is to uphold those values and doing so will make you a happier person and better parent in the long run. If you are constantly saying “yes” to every opportunity that crosses your path you will become overworked, over-scheduled, and spread too thin. The result is a parent wound too tight and easily upset because they have to much on their plate.
2. Don’t Do Too Much for Your Kids
Many kids are involved in far too many extra curricular activities. If you value family and you want your children to develop strong family bonds with one another, it becomes challenging to make that happen when you have everyone in the family going in a different direction each night of the week. Don’t have things scheduled every night of the week. If you do, you are going to miss out on family time at home, dinners together around the table, and the down time that everyone needs.
Allow for at least several days a week where no activity takes place. You come together as a family in the home and spend time with one another. Not in separate room, but together doing things such as working together to make a meal, planning your weekends, playing board games, sitting down to dinner as a family, or just having conversations about life. Don’t miss out on life as a family by being an over-scheduled household.
If you find this season in life to be spent in the car taking kids to and from activities every single day of your life, then you probably need to assess which activities are vital and which are not. Is Suzy going to be a prima ballerina one day? Probably not, so maybe you can take a break from dance lessons for a while. She doesn’t need to be doing dance, music, karate, and a sport all that the same time. It creates too much pressure for kids and for ourselves as parents. We need down time and so do they. It is great to expose kids to different activities, but it doesn’t have to be done all at the same season or time of life. Spread activities and involvements out, so that your child doesn’t get burned out from too many activities. Every activity in which they are involved becomes your commitment as well because you are the parent. For your own sanity, don’t go overboard on extra curricular activities.
Yes, we all want our kids to be successful, but what about creating bonds and a connection within the immediate family that last a lifetime? The more time you spend just being together, outside of all those extra curricular activities, is time invested in being a family. Those bonds are so important if you want your children to have the desire to come home for the holidays as adults. Keeping them busy outside of the home is busyness that can impede on family bonding time.
I spend time with my children so that I can help teach them to be decent human beings. That is on my list of priorities far above them becoming great soccer players or accomplished piano players. Would I like the other things for them? Of course, but we only have so much time with our children in this lifetime. They become adults and move onto independent lives as adults. I want my children to be able to go out into the world and be good, decent, caring people who can make a positive impact on the world.
I work to prevent over-scheduling my kids so that we have time together as a family, so I can be the one who teaches them right from wrong, good from bad, and the life lessons that are most important to our value system. If you want to instill your values in your child, then you better spend time with them making it happen. It takes practice, repetition, and most importantly time invested in a child to make a positive impact on their character development.
3. Keep an Organized Home
Your home does not need to be perfectly well kept. Nobody has time for that. However, if you have an organized household you will find that life runs so much more smoothly. If you spend more than 10 minutes a day looking for something on a regular basis, then you are not organized enough.
You and your household need systems in place that help everyone keep track of their stuff, so it can be easily grabbed on the way out the door. Keep jackets and backpacks hung in the same place every day. Teach children that it is their responsibility to put these items where they belong from the moment they walk in the door. If they fail to comply with the rules then there should be consequences. An easy and effective consequence is losing time on their favorite form of technology. For my kids it means they lose time on their tablets for that evening.
Wallets, purses, and keys should have a specific place within the home. If they are plopped on the couch one day, on the counter another, and on your bed the next day, it becomes far too easy to misplace these items. You end up spending countless minutes searching for these needed items every day. If they are placed in the exact same place every day, then you gain back that time you would have otherwise spent searching. You also become a less frustrated individual. When you spend time searching for something you need and you are on a time crunch, it can be extremely frustrating and upsetting to not find what you need. You end up running late which sets the mood for the entire day. Don’t be the frustrated parent.
Implement a plan for where things will be placed within the home when each member of the family enters the home. Everyone enters the home and has stuff in hand, whether it’s a backpack, diaper bag, purse, coats, keys, lunch boxes, briefcases, or shoes. Think through all the things that are brought in and out of the home each day. Then pick a place for these items to be placed each day. You may need to create some organized space within the home to make this unloading each evening and reloading each morning go more smoothly. Our laundry room is our area. We utilize cubbies for each the kid’s shoes and then a coat rack for backpacks and jackets. Its not rocket science, but it will make your life much easier if everyone in the family gets with the organized home plan.
This also means the rest of your home is relatively organized. Every single thing within your dwelling should have its own home or place. For example, where are your flashlights, candles, or matches? Would you be able to easily find them in a power outage, or would you be searching through drawers? If you have a specific home for these items, for example, in a bin in your pantry that is labeled on the outside, it makes it very easy to find it when needed. When the items are used they are returned to their home after usage. For tips on implementing a bin method for organizing your home, please go to my article: The Bin Method.
Keeping an organized home is a great skill to teach your children. It takes practice, but don’t give up because you will all have a more sane and easily run household when you can find what you need when you need it. You will also save money in the long run because you aren’t purchasing secondary items because the first one is lost somewhere in some drawer or cabinet in the home.
For more tips and detailed instructions on how to live an organized life, check out 50 Ways to Make Your Home More Organized. Being more organized is the accumulation of habits and practices over time.
4. Let Go of Perfect
Too many parents put too much pressure on themselves and their children to live up to a certain standard. It’s good to have standards, but if perfect is your goal then you need to let it go. Trying to be perfect takes far too much time and energy. Sometimes getting the job done just good enough is all that is needed. Most of the time you are the only person that will notice the difference anyway.
One of the biggest wastes of time in your household is you, as the parent, trying to do it all. You need to delegate. Children can be assigned chores from a very young age. If they can walk and talk, they are capable human beings. Making their beds, picking up their belongings, doing the dishes, taking out the garbage, sweeping the floors, dusting, are just some of the duties that very young children are capable of doing. If my four year old twins can do these things, then so can yours. Give them some credit. They are capable of navigating your smart phone, so don’t you think they are then capable of picking up a room of toys?
Make it clear what duties are expected from each member of the household. Post a chore chart for your children. It makes life easier for you as a parent when they can go through their daily chores and duties without you having to take the time to tell them each and every task that needs to be done. It takes time in the beginning to get them started with chores and teaching them how to do things correctly, but with practice they will soon be able to do these daily tasks independently from you. An allowance or reward system helps this fall into place more easily. Kids get with the program when they know what is expected and the rewards/consequences for completing or failing to complete their chores.
For every chore that another person in the household completes, which you used to do, is more time for you to do something else. Freeing up time is a gift to yourself. You are also investing in your childrebecome better, more self sufficient humans when they have a role and responsibilities in the home. Don’t take that away from them. Give them daily chores and allow yourself some flexibility to get other things complete in the meantime.
If you can afford hired help in one or two areas, such as some babysitting or house cleaning you are also delegating. Getting help is not a weakness, it is striking a balance to keep the household running smoothly and harmoniously. Look at how to best spend the money you have to delegate so that you are freeing up time and energy for yourself in the manner that best fits your needs.
6. Routines are a Must
Routines are the lifeblood of the household. If you have a daily schedule that is regular and consistent you will find that your household runs more smoothly and efficiently. When you create household routines try to stick with them. This will help your household in managing time expectations.
Kids have internal clocks. They can adapt to a routine and stick with it more easily when you are consistent with the schedule. Bed times should be the same each night. School days should also have a consistent morning schedule from waking up to getting out the door. If you feel rushed every morning, then you need to get everyone to bed earlier and get up earlier until you find the time that works best for completing all that needs to be done in the morning.
7. Work as Though Everything was Urgent
This is one of the best ways that I get things done in our home. I don’t complete tasks slowly. Once I set out to get something done it is done as though it needed to be done yesterday.
I often set a time limit for myself. For example, this evening when I go to clean out an attic space I will allow myself exactly one hour for the job. I will tackle the biggest messes in that space and get done all that I can optimally in that hour. If I don’t set a time limit, I can see myself opening up bins and sorting through old memories, decorations, and things that need more time than an hour to complete. The goal is to clean up the attic to make walking space. That can be done in an hour if I stay on task and work quickly during that time. If I take breaks, or deviate from the task at hand it won’t get done in that time period.
Setting the time limit and expectation with what exactly I plan to complete in that time limit gets me moving with urgency so that the job gets done efficiently.
8. Gourmet Meals are Taking a Break
Before my husband and I had kids we would leisurely make dinner together and the food was top notch. We would look up different recipes we wanted to try. We took the time to shop for special ingredients and make each dinner special and enjoyable. Things have changed now that we have three small kids. Most kids don’t appreciate gourmet anyway, so why waste the time, energy, or money. Our meals are quick, easy, and kid friendly. There are evenings when we feed the kids first and then enjoy a nicer meal after they are in bed.
However, most evenings we sit as a family and eat more basic meals. I buy bagged salads that require less preparation, meals that come in kits, and frozen meals that are simply put in the oven and baked. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy doing gourmet meals for my family every night, it’s that I have decided it’s not a priority since the effort is basically wasted on the kids and I end up frustrated that they don’t appreciate the effort. Less effort means less frustration when they refuse to eat the meal and they end up with a bowl of cereal at the end of the night.
Doing easy, kid friendly meals does not mean you need to sacrifice quality or freshness either. There are plenty of home delivery options on the market today that will deliver pre-packaged meals with fresh ingredients making it easy to make a meal in under a half hour.
9. Be Honest about Time Waste
When you are sitting at a doctor office waiting for your appointment, how are you spending that time? Are you reading the latest gossip magazine or did you bring along some work to do while you wait? If you brought along work, you are winning! You can use that time to catch up on thank you notes, respond to emails, or update your to-do list, just to name a few good options.
Learn to take advantage of waiting time. Car line at school is another time when many parents have daily wait time. Make sure you have a plan for how to wisely use that time, so it is not wasted and then at 10 pm when you are laying in bed you remember several emails you forgot to respond to and you could have done so while in the car pick up line at school.
There are some ways that this era of parents is sucked into wasting time. How much time do you spend scrolling social media each day? Be honest with yourself and the amount of time you are spending online shopping, surfing the web, or on social media. We place limits on our kids with technology, why wouldn’t we do the same for ourselves so we too can optimize our time during the day?
10. Keep To-Do Lists and a Calendar
Keep a running to-do list that you carry with you in your purse or brief case. Keep it handy so when you think of something that needs to be done it gets added to the list. Things in life often don’t get done simply because they are forgotten. Life is full of a flurry of daily activities. We can only concentrate on what is in front of us. If you have a list, you can shift focus to do the activity later and it won’t simply be forgotten.
Don’t just write it down though. If it is a task that will require any substantial amount of time (even an hour or two), then schedule when you can get that done and block out the time on your calendar to get it done. Hoping that time will magically appear to get it done is not good planning, as hope is not a strategy. Write it on a to-do list and then schedule it on your calendar for completion.
Keep a calendar and take it with you wherever you go. Many people use their phone for keeping track of their schedule. I personally use a monthly paper calendar. That way I can see my entire month at a glance. When you are using your mind to keep track of your activities, it takes up too much time and energy. You are constantly trying to remember what you have planned for the day or in the next week. You have to mentally remind yourself about your activities so that you don’t forget anything important. Free up your mind for other things by using a calendar. Everyone needs a calendar, even stay at home moms. Keeping track of doctor appointments, birthdays, and household activities is important stuff. Don’t allow yourself to minimize your importance or the value of your role by not utilizing a calendar.
It’s not easy to be parents, and it always seems that we as parents are always lacking time and energy to handle everything that we need to do. Learning how to manage time wisely is essential to taking care of your family as well as yourself. I hope these tips can help you stop being busy and overwhelmed!
Featured photo credit: Jonathan Borba via time management for parents