Many working mothers experience the same daily stressors: the personal desire to be successful, the raging mommy guilt associated with not spending every waking moment with your family, and a seemingly endless to-do list of household responsibilities. With so much on your plate it’s easy to become overwhelmed and slip into survival mode just to make it through the day.
As a mom of two under three, with a full time job as a teacher, and a small handmade business and The Hive to run, I completely understand how things can spiral out of control, but fret not! I’ve made a list of my top five time management tips to help you!
1. Prioritize and make a list.
Make two lists. Identify what is required vs. what you’d like to do. Be careful when making your list. Sometimes we confuse these two categories and the things we have been telling ourselves we have to do, aren’t really required, and the things that we think are just wants should really be on the required list.
Yes, you may need to cook dinner, but does it have to be every night? Can you make a larger meal every other night and freeze the leftovers for another night’s dinner that you don’t have to make so that you can have a few more minutes with your family? Does the house have to be immaculate and magazine ready or can it just be clean and comfortable? Sometimes we make our lives harder by thinking that we have to be Stepford wives in a Pinterest-inspired home, when really we’d be happier with a slightly less tidy house and a happier family. The same applies to your business. Be strategic when deciding where to put your energy. Pick the items with the largest wow factor for your business as your required task, and leave the ones with less impact as a “want to do” list item.
Make sure your “required” list includes tasks that rejuvenate your soul as well. As moms we often sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of our families. We give up frivolities like eating (I mean enjoyable, healthy eating, not grabbing a Pop-Tart at midnight and calling it dinner…) and sleeping to make sure the kids are fed, the house is clean, and that we have enough time to work on our businesses. You can’t pour from an empty vessel, so make sure you add in time to read, go for a walk, go to a yoga class, or to just eat a leisurely meal and sleep to refresh and refuel yourself. These seem like wants, but if you never take time for yourself it’s unhealthy and you are really doing you and your family a disservice and teaching your kids that always being on the go and frazzled is normal and acceptable.
2. Plan Ahead
Consider rearranging your activities so that you work on the more complex tasks during naptime or at night when the kids are sleeping and the more simplistic tasks are save for attempting during the day when you can handle a few interruptions. Better yet, see if you can arrange time to have someone watch the kids so that you can have a few hours of uninterrupted time to focus on your to-do lists. Try getting a babysitter or bartering a time trade with your spouse or significant other, because chances are, they’d like some time to focus on their lists too!
Attempting to focus when you are constantly being interrupted is frustrating and makes difficult tasks even more complex. Trying to concentrate on doing your taxes while your kids are asking you 20 questions will only increase your stress level and leave you open to making mistakes that require time to fix. Plan to do things like cleaning or organizing your shipping supplies during times you’re more likely to be interrupted and save the more complex tasks for times when you can concentrate on your work and have fewer distractions.
3. Stop Multitasking
Seriously, don’t do it. You can’t do multiple things at once and do them all well. Instead, create time limits for yourself and focus all of your attention on one task at a time. The key is sticking to the time frame. If you say you’re going to work on task A for 30 minutes, be sure to stop after 30 minutes and move on to the task B. Trying to do too many things at once can make you feel like you are struggling to tread water or worse, drowning. Picking one task at a time, and completing that task, is far less stressful and it makes you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something. It also lets you cross it off your list, which for most of us is very rewarding.
4. Involve your kids
I’m not advocating child labor, but involving your kids in your work can be a very important life lesson for them, and it can be very helpful for you. It also sets up an opportunity for you to bond with your children as they gain some understanding of what you do and how hard you work. It doesn’t matter how old your children are, give them an opportunity to feel like they are part of your work, because let’s face it, we’re really working so hard just for them aren’t we? We’re all really just trying to find a way to do something we love, and can get paid to do, so that we can help provide for our families and give our kids all the things we want them to have. So why not involve them in the process?
My toddler will often sit next to me while I work to help me “sew” dinosaurs, (he has a whole collection of the little cardboard cut outs you can lace string through so that he can sew like Mommy.) I can remember helping my father stuff folders and envelopes with marketing material when I was little, and as I got older I would help my mom with the business she owns by doing odd jobs around her office for minimum wage. It gave me a greater appreciation for the work my parents did, it helped them out a little, and as I got older, it helped me to earn money for things I wanted to buy.
Stop trying to do it all. You can’t. Sorry. Try identifying the tasks that only you can do, or that you do best, and delegate as many of the other tasks as you can to someone else.
Can you hire someone else to clean your house once a month? Is there anyone you could employ as an assistant to do some of the basic business related tasks that you don’t like to do, don’t have time to do, or aren’t the best at? Even something as simple as paying a neighborhood high schooler to babysit the kids for a few hours or to stamp your shipping materials with your logo could be a huge time saver.
Don’t be afraid to give your kids chores to help you around the house. Everyone benefits when everyone helps out and doing age appropriate chores can give kids a sense of ownership or at the very least a vested interest in keeping the house tidy. (I once overheard one of my students complaining to a friend that he was annoyed because had cleaned the kitchen floor the day before only to find that a sibling had tracked mud all over it that night. He was proud of his work and he also told his sibling that he had to take off his shoes the next time he came home!)
Be creative. My toddler loves vacuums so I bought him a little Swiffer vac and set him free (well, not completely free, Mommy is always close by) to chase down the “furs” on our wood floors. Is it the most perfect vacuuming job ever? No. But, it is super helpful for tidying up and getting rid of the tumbleweeds of dog fur that roll through during shedding season and he is always proud to be helping me out.
Older kids can be more helpful, but there needs to be an incentive. Consider giving them an opportunity to pick from a list of chores with set rewards, either financial or activity/incentive based. Make the difficult or unpleasant tasks worth more than the easy ones. This way they can pick the ones they are willing to do, and know that there are extra opportunities to earn more of a reward.
Have another great time management tip? Share them in the comments!