Do your hours keep slipping away? 5 time-management tips that work for me.

I thought I’d re-publish a post from my archives that explains some tricks I’ve learned in my mothering journey that help me make better use of my most precious resource – my time. Enjoy!

time management for moms

I’ve not always been good at managing my time. I’m amazed sometimes when I look back at my pre-kid life and consider all the hours upon hours I frittered away, without even good grades in school or career advancement to show for it.

Having kids didn’t immediately improve my time-management skills: it wasn’t until I had my third child and decided I needed more structure to my life to function–and, at the same time, decided to take a real, serious stab at writing professionally–that I started, out of sheer survival instinct, to develop habits to help me get things done.

Now, several children, four books and many published articles later, I’m still not perfect but I’ve got a much better handle on using my time efficiently. Here are five of my favorite tips and tricks for making good use of time:

  • Pay close attention to what makes you tick…and what doesn’t. My first child fit pretty well into my free-form, no-schedule lifestyle, but when I added my second just 22 months later, everything fell apart. Suddenly it became clear that what I’d seen as a laid-back, type-B mothering style was actually a chaotic life ruled by inertia. Trying to protect myself from failure, I’d set low, low expectations of what I might be able to accomplish in a day. And (just like in high school and college) as it turned out, the less I expected of myself, the less I delivered. I realized my true colors: I need deadlines, I need expectations, and I’m really not that type B, after all. Maybe you’re the opposite–overloading your schedule when what you really need is some breathing room. We’re all different. Just be sure you’re clear about what really helps you, not necessarily what you think should help you. (And try to ride the middle a bit, either way – if I had suddenly ramped my expectations way, WAY up, I would have burned out fast.)
  • Always leave a room better than you found it. I’ve shared that one here before, but I believe in it so strongly –and find it so helpful–that it’s always worth another mention. There’s no need to spend lots of time picking up and decluttering if you build cleanup naturally into your day.
  • Create good habits. We all have habits that drive us throughout our days. Some habits help us and some make our lives more chaotic. For example, if you never start thinking about what you’ll have for dinner before 5 PM, you’ll probably waste a lot of time, money and energy trying to figure out what you can throw together (or pick up from the drive-through) on super-short notice. It does require a re-wiring of the brain to start preparing for dinner at 3 PM instead–or better yet, plan it out the day or even the week before–but it doesn’t take any extra time. In fact, it’ll save you time and energy, because you can prepare in stages instead of madly trying to throw everything together and realizing at the last minute you forgot to defrost the chicken…again. (hint: while you’re trying to turn something new into a habit, you’ll probably need an external reminder, like an alarm on your cell phone, or the end of a show you watch every day, or a routine like the Kitchen Hour to “peg” the activity to.)
  • Write it down. Getting my to-do list out of my head and on paper is an essential just-before-bed exercise. I keep a notebook with my running list next to my bed and look at it first thing in the morning: that way I don’t waste time futzing around on the Internet while my brain tries to wake up enough to remember what I was supposed to be doing today. There it is in black ink, and just seeing the words on the paper brings me back to the mindset I was in when I wrote the list and helps get me on track.
  • Identify your values. The word “values” is not inherently laden with judgment. Perhaps you value sports more than your neighbor. Maybe your best mom friend values preschool education more than you do. That doesn’t mean she’s right and you’re wrong or vice versa. Even if you and your sister are both into healthy eating, maybe one of you is opting for local farmer’s market fare while another does her best at Aldi and another shops the organic produce at Whole Foods. It’s only when you understand your own specific values that you can prioritize. Try making a list of ten things you really value, then look at your how you spend your time (try this downloadable time log): do your actions reflect your stated values?

I’ll share five more tips in the coming weeks. In the meantime, readers, I’m curious: what’s one bad habit you could turn into a good habit, that wouldn’t take any extra time or energy, but would actually save you time and energy in the long run?

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