I quit my full-time teaching job when my second daughter was born, and for four years after that, I worked part-time, only in the evenings. It was a grand life, and I was able to take my girls to do all sorts of fun things in the daytime and later to help care for my mom when she got sick and eventually died of pancreatic cancer.
For the most part, those years were a very special time of my life filled with fun, fun, and more fun with my kids. We were really able to do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, as long as we were home by suppertime. We went to the library a few times a week, spent time with friends, and passed lazy days at Hersheypark. We played on playgrounds and at parks and spent a lot of time outside.
Those days are gone. The company I worked for part-time eventually closed its doors, and I had to go back to the world of full-time jobs. I am still blessed to work from home, but as a full-time employee, I now have to work a “normal” 7:30-4:30 schedule five days a week. In addition to that, I run this blog and homeschool my elementary and middle school children.
You know the feeling because you're busy, too. In fact, I bet if we compared notes, you may be even busier than me, even though sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by everything I have to do.
Sometimes, we all feel like we're drowning in commitments, am I right?
So what's a girl to do?
To be perfectly honest, I rarely feel like I'm drowning these days, thanks in large part to the tips below. I have found a stride that allows me to accomplish everything I need to accomplish in a day and a week and a month, and I do it while leaving lots of time for self-care and downtime for me.
I won't lie – it is a balancing act. But I do feel like I'm doing pretty well at it FINALLY after several years of full-time working.
25 Simple & Easy Time Management Tips for Super Busy Moms
- Write everything down. And I do mean everything. Get a bullet journal or the planner I mention below, and use it to write down everything that pops into your head that might need to be done. Don't evaluate whether the thing is important or essential or totally skippable. If you think about it, write it down. Writing things down signals your brain to let go of them because they're recorded. It frees you up to think about the stuff that really matters.
- Use a goal-setting planner. I have used the same iBloom paper planner for four or five years, as long as they've been publishing it. It's a great planner designed for home and business use, and it tracks goals and progress towards them. I love it. But during Amazon Prime Day last month, I saw a great deal on a Panda Planner Pro and bought it on impulse. I'm so glad I did because I love the Panda Planner, too and started using both every day.
Basically, I scheduled my day out in my Panda Planner every morning, and then I transferred my daily To Do items into my iBloom planner, mostly because it could sit open because it has a spiral binding (where the Panda Planner can either lay flat, taking up half my desk, or be closed). But then, I realized that my iBloom planner didn't have enough space to list out all my To Dos for the day (intentionally, I think, to help you focus on the most important items, but that was no longer working for me).
See, I like to cross things off my To Do list, so I write every little thing down. Pay bills. Call field trip destination. Check bank balance. I write these down just so I can cross them off, and the iBloom planner didn't allow me to do that. So I went looking for a To Do list solution and found the Bloom To Do List pad on Amazon, and it is perfect. It's an 8.5×11 tear-off pad with plenty of space for To Do items as well as daily schedule, and a bunch of other stuff. Now, I plan my day in the Panda Planner and transfer to the Bloom pad to sit out on my desk all day.
Here's what I love about the PP:
- Daily gratitude section
- I'm excited for section
- Daily goals
- Daily recap: today's wins
- Daily recap: how I can improve
I love that the Panda Planner is so positive and upbeat in its approach to daily and weekly and monthly goals. It sets my day off on an awesome start and helps me to focus in on what will move me forward personally and professionally.
- Do a nightly review. One of the things I really like about the PP is that it has a nightly review section for each day. You think about your wins from the day and what you can improve, and that leads into the next day. I have a really good book on productivity called Eat That Frog (where the concept of doing the hardest task first came from, incidentally), and in that book, the author says you should always make your list for tomorrow tonight, before you go to bed. He says that your brain will work out the details and problems coming up while you sleep. I don't know if it's true or not, but it makes enough sense that I've been willing to give it a try.
- Brain dump in a master To Do list. I sort of started a master To Do list in my bullet journal but gave up on it and just keep in my Panda Planner every day. Wherever you do it, write down everything you can think of that you need to get done, from the load of laundry to calling the cable company to completing the online course you bought. Get it all down and totally let your brain off the hook.
One more thing. I make To Do lists for personal, blog/business, and work. That way, I can see what needs to get done in each of my different priorities. I think it helps a lot to separate them, especially given my block scheduling system which is in point #5 below.
- Set 4 priorities every day. This is kind of like your To Do list, reworked and pared down. In your Panda Planner, you will identify 4 priorities every day, though you will may also have a longer list of tasks you want to accomplish. The idea is, if those 4 priorities are all you get done in the course of the day, you will have been successful. The little tasks can get moved from one day to the next without guilt, but those big 4 things need to be done. If your schedule allows, you could have a time block for each of the 4 priorities, to allow time to fully accomplish each. More on time blocks below.
- Schedule your time in blocks. Block scheduling make so much sense. I may do a full post on this idea sometime soon because it makes so much sense, but for now, I'll give you the Cliff Notes version.
Think back to your life in high school. You had certain things you had to get done in the morning. Then you had a block of time for math, English, chemistry, and so on. Whatever didn't get done in the morning had to be left behind; you couldn't brush your teeth in math class. Whatever didn't get done in math had to wait until after school, because you couldn't do your math homework in English class. That's how the block schedule works.
My blocks are 2-3 hours long. I have a morning block, an a.m. work block, a lunch block, a p.m. work block, and so on. During my morning block, I walk, make and eat breakfast, make the girls' breakfast, read my devotional, pray, and write in my journal. If the end of my morning block comes along, and it's time to get to my home office for my a.m. work block, whatever didn't get done is left behind. I don't do my journal writing during my morning meetings. That's how my schedule goes all day long. I do have set times for work meetings, but in my planner and in my brain, I have blocks of times assigned to certain blocks of tasks.
- Use reminders and alarms. Your smartphone has reminders and alarms built in, so start using them. Set reminders for the things that absolutely need to be done and for the end of your blocks throughout the day. I have reminders for piano practice every morning, calling my OA sponsor, and sending in my food plan every evening. I have alarms for 15 minutes prior to and the end of most of my time blocks. I also have an alarm set on my phone for 1 hour and for 10 minutes prior to every activity/appointment for which we need to leave the house. Do I have a lot of alarms? Yes. Do they keep me on track and prevent me from forgetting important activities? Absolutely.
- Set a timer. This is closely related to your alarms and reminders, but a little different. I use timers in two ways:
- Figure out how long certain tasks take. I time myself doing things, like my daily walk, emptying the dishwasher, and doing a load of laundry. Once I figure out exactly how long these things take, it is easy to schedule them among my other tasks. I know, for example, that a 3.5 mile walk takes exactly 61 minutes, a 4.5 mile walk takes about 75 minutes, and a 5.5 mile walk takes close to 90 minutes. I can plan the rest of my day around how much time it's going to take me to do the walk I want.
- Block off time for certain tasks (especially ones that bum you out). We all hate cleaning up our living room, but since my kids continue to play there and make messes, it has to get done. So we will set a timer for 10 minutes, and everyone contributes to the cleaning process until the timer goes off. At the end of the 10 minutes, we quit and move on to something we like to do.
- Celebrate your wins. You accomplish a lot every single day, I promise you. You get out of bed, you exercise, you read, you make meals, you make your bed, you brush your teeth, and on and on and on. At the end of every day, take a look at what you have accomplished that day, and celebrate your wins. In the Panda Planner, there is a little Day in Review section at the bottom of every page where you actually list out your 3 biggest wins from the day, but if you don't have a PP, you can still do this in a bullet journal (which I also use but not for the same things; should write a post on how I use that too) or even in your head. Although, I do think writing them down is better because you can look back later and celebrate what you have accomplished.
- Practice gratitude. Gratitude is a huge, huge, huge part of having a joyful life. Seriously. There is so much research out there that grateful people have good lives, so if you want to get more done, you need to start a list of things you're grateful for and add to it every single day. There is a section to write down 3 gratitude items in the PP every day, but I also write mine in my bullet journal where I have anywhere from 3-10 per day. I do this as quickly as possible without duplicating what I've written the day or week before.
- Leave downtime in your schedule. I am so, so bad at this. I have major FOMO (fear of missing out), and I want my kids to be able to do all the things. We go to festivals and classes and camps and lessons and practices. Sometimes they hate it because they just want to sit down and watch tv or play Barbies.
We recently had an entire weekend where we didn't do a single thing. The only appointment we had from Friday afternoon until Monday morning was a 1-hour phone call with my OA sponsor. The rest of the family was completely open for 48 whole hours. We played games. I worked on my blog. We didn't even clean. The whole weekend was spent puttering around, taking naps, watching tv, and resting. And it was GLORIOUS. Resting is something we (collectively, you and me) don't do very well, but it is so essential to our very constitution.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. -Genesis 2:2-3
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” -Mark 6:31
God designed us for rest, but you can't find rest if every minute of every day is scheduled and busy. If every night of the week has you running to different practices, appointments, and lessons, or worse, from one to another to another, you may need to look at your obligations.
Here's an example from my own life. I'm totally embarrassed to admit this, and I haven't even told my husband about it because he would totally say, “I told you that you have the kids in too many activities!” Here's what happened. Grace and Allie wanted to try a new dance class, called Contemporary Dance, after seeing it at the dance recital this spring. The class is Tuesday evenings, and it started the first week of September so obviously wasn't on the calendar for the summer.
Grace and Allie wanted to join cheerleading, and the practices for cheerleading could either be Monday or Tuesday evenings. I instantly nixed Mondays because Joe and I see our counselor every other Monday. So it had to be Tuesdays. I looked at the calendar (back in July when practices started), and saw that there was nothing scheduled on Tuesday nights, so I agreed to Tuesday nights, running the whole way through the end of October.
As I was creating a schedule for August, I realized that cheerleading the same night and time as dance. The end result is that I have to pay for dance for September and October even though my kids won't be able to attend; they'll be at cheerleading practice. But if I don't pay now, they won't be able to participate from November to May of next year, and I want them to have that structured program and exercise through the rest of the school year.
Less is definitely better.
- Say no. You are probably doing too much, committed to too much, saying yes to too much. Every time you say yes to a new commitment to the PTO, the co-op, the church, the neighborhood, or your friends, you say a no to your family or worse, to yourself. I'm not saying this to make you feel guilty, but I am lovingly reminding you that you probably need to try to do less and bow out of some of the things you've agreed to do.
I don't have any idea what other people think of this, but my default answer when I'm asked for a favor, is no. Seriously. If I don't have a compelling reason to say yes, I don't. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm busy (overwhelmed even), and they understand that I can't do a good job if I overcommit. The only way I can feel good about my commitments and be open to really excellent and worthy things is to say no to most of the requests that come my way, and I do so completely without guilt.
- Be realistic. You can only do what you can do. You can't “do it all” and anyone who says you can is a big, fat, liar. You may have done a brain dump and written down every single thing you could think of that needed to be done, but I guarantee that you can't do it all today, and probably not even tomorrow. Be realistic when you prioritize, and don't set yourself up for failure by trying to cram too much into your day.
- Do a time audit. Several times in my life, I have done a full time audit, and I think it's a great exercise if you've never done one or especially if you haven't done one in this current phase of your life.
What is a time audit, you ask? A time audit is simple. It's a list of everything you do for a whole week. Every time you change activities, you write it down in a notebook. Yes, it takes a lot of time for that week, but it is so telling. You will see where you are wasting time. You will see if Facebook is sucking up an hour a day in little breaks throughout. You will see how you are really spending your minutes, and I guarantee you'll learn some things about your schedule and your tasks.
- Maximize your moments. I think, when you do your time audit, you are going to see that you're spending a lot of time on social media, and you're spending a lot of time waiting. If social media makes you feel fulfilled and happy, by all means, continue doing it. If not, replace it.
And those waiting times? Do something that fulfills you. I like to crochet while I'm waiting. I make big progress on my current project, and it is soothing and mindless and allows me to think through everything in my brain. (I would actually prefer to read while I'm waiting, and occasionally do that at the doctor's office, but if I'm waiting at a piano or voice or dance lesson, I'm usually half paying attention to the lesson itself, and I can't read while I'm doing that. My brain can't do both.)
- Get up early. There were periods of my life (like the first 35 years) when I could not possibly have imagined saying those words. Now that I've shifted my schedule to a consistent early bedtime, I love the early morning hours. I set my alarm for 5:15 but usually end up getting out of bed around 5:40. (I would like to stop hitting snooze, so if you know of a plan to quit that habit, I'm all ears.)
This early wake up time means that I have time to walk at least 3 miles every morning, write in my journal, read devotions, and several other tasks, all before I start working. It's great and makes me feel super productive before a lot of people even wake up.
- Go to bed early. It is so tempting to soak up the hours after your kids are in bed by relaxing, watching tv, or whatever it is that you want to do do, but resist the temptation to stay up late. Go to bed early so that you can get up early in the morning. There is no point to short-changing yourself on sleep – you won't be productive, and you'll probably be downright miserable to be around.
- Take good care of your body. If you're going to be productive, you need to exercise, eat healthy foods, stay hydrated, and get adequate rest. Even though those will all take time out of your schedule, you will be better able to accomplish your goals because you'll feel better.
- Set some routines. Routines are your friend. Routines are like dances where you know all the steps and the order you take them to get done what you want to get done. Routines within your time blocks make all the difference in the world. For example, within my morning block, I go in this order:
- Wake up
- Make bed (sometimes)
- Drink glass of water and take medicine
- Put on shoes & headphones
- Drink glass of water
- Start cooking omelet
- Check email – I don't even consider looking at my email before this.
- Make kids' breakfast
- Read devotional & text to OA buddy
- Write in journal
- Eat breakfast
I do those steps every morning in exactly the same order. I never skip a step unless I run out of time. I just do it by memory. That's the beauty of a solid routine; it just works, and you never forget a piece because you're so used to doing it.
Think of how you shower. That's also a routine. I get my hair wet, get my body wet, put shampoo in my hair, shave, rinse my hair… you get the idea. You have your shower routine, too, and I'm willing to bet that you do it exactly the same way every single time you get in the shower. That's a routine.
If you're struggling with your own morning and evening routines especially, check out Crystal Paine's Make Over Your Morning and Make Over Your Evening courses. I've taken both recently and found them really helpful in defining exactly what I want in my routines. They're very inexpensive too, which was nice.
- Delegate. I know, delegating is hard. You have to train someone else and then pretend to be okay with it when they don't do it the way you wanted. But make no mistake: you have to delegate if you're going to be successful. Seriously. Sloppy success is better than perfect failure, so let your family or an employee help you out.
We recently hired someone to mow our lawn. He's a recent high school grad who is working his way into a landscaping business, and it feels good to support him. Joe feels great not having the lawn hanging over his head every weekend. It's a win-win because it provides a job for Brandon, it releases Joe to work on things only he can do, and it really doesn't cost that much. And, Brandon was willing to do some bigger landscaping projects like clearing the brush from our big hill for not that much more money, releasing us from another project that had been taking up our emotional energy.
- Automate. When you can't delegate, automate. Setting things to automatically take care of themselves not only frees up your time, it frees up your mental energy for more important tasks.
- Set your bills to auto pay. Who needs to write checks?
- Set your prescriptions to auto refill. Even better if the mail order pharmacy will contact the doctor to renew.
- Why, oh why, can library books not auto renew?!? Oh, I know. It's because they want my money when they are overdue every three weeks. (I just spent $41 on library fines last week.)
- Amazon lets you subscribe and save to groceries and household supplies on whatever time frame you want; we have cat food and many other essentials on an every other month plan. Bonus – You save 5-15% on subscribe & save items, depending on how many you have per delivery.
- Use Peapod or your local grocery store's shopping service; you can even have these delivered if you're willing to pay a small fee.
- Use IFTTT to automate social media stuff, like updating your Twitter and Pinterest profile pictures when you update Facebook and storing your Instagram photos to Evernote or Google Drive. Poke around in their site; they can do thousands of useful automations. I love IFTTT.
- Establish good habits. Your habits make or break your life, not to put too fine a point on it. The things you do, day in and day out, are the things that make up your life. Do you default to scrolling on Facebook every time you have a free minute or do you default to looking a person in the eye and talking to her? Do you read your Bible or check email first thing in the morning? Do you sleep in or exercise before work? I'm not judging you, truly. Your choices are yours alone, and my choices are mine. But think of what you want your life to look like next year, and start building those habits today. Not tomorrow, today.
- Multi-task. Multi-tasking gets a bad rap. Scientists say that we need to focus on just one thing, and I understand that intellectually. Really, I get it. It takes a lot of mental energy to switch gears and shift your focus and attention to something else. But come on. Why can't you put a load of laundry in to wash while you're making dinner? That's multi-tasking in the best possible way. Why can't you make a double recipe for dinner so that you can have leftovers for lunch the next day? Multi-tasking. Why can't you call a friend while you're driving to your hair appointment? Multi-tasking. Why can't you listen to a podcast or audiobook while you're walking or driving? Multi-tasking. It works.
- Get a buddy. I have an OA friend who texts me every single morning with a synopsis of her devotional. I text her back with mine. Her texts are so motivating to me because they remind me that my time with God is a priority, and if I haven't gotten to that part of my routine, I feel a little healthy pressure to not let it slide since she took the time to text me hers and will be waiting for mine. A friend could remind you to put your dinner in the slow cooker or challenge you to exercise, but having a friend to whom you're accountable will help you to be successful in whatever you're trying to do.
- Put down your phone. I'm sorry. I had to go there. Successful, productive people do not have their focus and attention enveloped by Facebook and Instagram and email during every previously unfulfilled moment of their days. They just don't. They take that mental space to think about other tasks, to be creative, to work out problems and solutions, and to connect with the people around them.
I see you, mama. I know you are overwhelmed and exhausted. Heck, this list might even have made you see how much you're not doing. Please believe me that wasn't my intent.
My goal here is to show you some tips and ideas that are working for me to manage my time and structure my days to get everything done that is important to me. Believe me again when I say that I don't “do it all.”
Let me repeat that lest you think I'm superhuman. I don't get it all done.
Far from it, actually. If you've ever seen a photo of my house, you will know that it looks like a tornado hit it. It is always messy, very messy, and usually dirty. I consistently choose self-care and family fun and blogging over cleaning my house. That's my choice. You can make your own choice and decide what's the most important and what can slide for you. And then live without guilt over your choice.
What time management tips have I missed above?
© 2018, Tara Ziegmont. All rights reserved.