I have four children ages four, five, eleven and sixteen. Each of my children is involved with school and one extra-curricular activity. I run a YouTube channel, write a blog, and contribute to social media regularly. I started seminary part-time last month, play on my church’s worship team, and am vice-president of my child’s school PTA. I also host a weekly dinner at my home (affectionately called the “Monday Night Dinner Party”) and try to spend one-on-one time with each of my kids several times each week, if not every day. Oh yes, I also have a husband I like to talk with and even spend time with now and then 😉
On top of all this, my husband and I are foster parents, with me running point on all of the appointments that go with foster parenting (though my husband is an excellent wing man and has changed his work schedule on many occasions in order to, in his words, “support the team.”)
With all of this said, obviously my life is busy. Yet I don’t typically feel burned out or overwhelmed (though I do feel very tired when I go to bed at night!)
Recently, with all of the above in mind, a friend asked me to share some thoughts on time management. I gave it some thought, and here’s what I came up with. Perhaps you will find some of these tips helpful!
- Be diligent with keeping your calendar. I use the Inner Guide Planner (a paper planner, as opposed to Google calendar or some other electronic planner). I do not commit to something ever until I have consulted this planner. (Or, if I do, I usually regret it!) If it is not written in my planner, it is not happening in my life. Before going to bed at night, I look at the following day’s schedule and commitments. This enables me to mentally prepare, set my alarm a bit earlier if I need more time in the morning, and set out anything I need to bring the next day.
- Hold a weekly family meeting. I have done a video about this, and I can’t express how much this has meant to our family’s sense of connection, communication and well-being. Going through the calendar for the upcoming week is part of Family Meeting, which means everyone is (literally) on the same page. This cuts down on last-minute surprises, as everyone is usually pretty aware of what is coming up in the week (and the kids often remember the week’s plans better than I do!)
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day (and get enough sleep!) I aim for eight hours each night. Ideally, I go to bed by 10:00 and get up at 6:00, but lately it’s been 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM. Either way, it sets my body on a consistent rhythm, which is part of maintaining the routines that help my family to run smoothly.
- Routine, routine, routine! I believe so strongly in the empowering nature of routines, for my children and myself. Our daily routine consists .of a morning checklist, which each child knows and is capable of following. (That does not mean they are always cooperative, but I find the routine of offering a short screen time for everyone who is ready to go by a certain time helps! “When you have completed your checklist, then you may have PBS Kids, but only if you are all ready by 8:00 AM” (or whatever time works for you). I devote Monday and Wednesday mornings (while my preschoolers are at school) to my school work and the remaining mornings to all the tasks related to running a household. Our afternoon routine on days we don’t have appointments or extracurriculars consists of snack (3:30-4:00), quiet “reading” time in their rooms (4:00-4:30) and free play until dinner. If my presence is required for free-play (like if they want to ride bikes in the street, which requires adult supervision), I bring a chair out to the street and work on my seminary reading while supervising their bike riding. But they know that from 5:00-6:00, I’m prepping dinner, and they have to play inside the yard or inside the house. (Don’t get me wrong: they complain and whine when I tell them they have to stop riding bikes! But not for long, because it’s all part of our routine.) The nighttime routine consists of a checklist the kids do after dinner, and they know they each get fifteen or twenty minutes of screen time each evening after they are all ready for bed, so they don’t ask to watch TV too much during the week (we are trying to have screen-free weekdays, besides their bedtime screen time, which is really just the carrot to get them through their nighttime checklists! Again, “When you have completed your checklist, then you may have fifteen minutes of screen time, but only if you are all ready by 7:45 PM” (or whatever time works for you). Most nights, by 9:00, my husband and I are on the sofa with popcorn and This is Us/The Resident/Manifest/The Good Doctor, which means we’re heading to bed around 10:00 or so. If one of us has something in the evening, like worship team practice or a PTA meeting or work-related catch-up tasks, we skip the TV show and just chat a bit before bed. I also have very simple cleaning routines that I do throughout the week: wiping down bathroom counters, tub, sink; sweeping the main living spaces; etc.
- Meal planning! This is a huge part of my time management. I plan meals, snacks, etc. each week and do as much batch cooking as I can, so that I am not scrambling in the kitchen while the kids are losing their minds during the witching hour. I do a lot of one-pot meals or stews with rice. I use my Instant Pot almost every day (mainly for rice and beans or chickpeas). For breakfast, the kids either take care of themselves by getting cereal, or I make a big pot of oatmeal for everyone. I keep things streamlined and very simple! Same for lunch, when I use these wonderful little containers to make simple lunches for everyone, including myself. If it’s nice outside, we almost always eat outside on a picnic blanket, either on the playground at my kids’ preschool or in our own front yard. Meal planning also simplifies and streamlines my grocery shopping.
- Streamline Groceries! Speaking of grocery shopping, I have a standard grocery list that I use to check inventory before going to the grocery store or placing an online order. I can add things I need that I don’t usually keep on hand during the meal planning stage (which is usually at night before bed). This is how I keep from running out of things like toilet paper, shampoo, dish soap, laundry detergent, cat food, etc. By checking the inventory before heading to the store, I keep things pretty consistently supplied. Lately I have been trying to do my own shopping, because I am pursuing a #zerowaste lifestyle, but when I’m really pressed for time, I pay $4.95 to have the grocery store clerks shop and box everything up for me so all I have to do is drive up and have them load the groceries into my car!
- Trade childcare with friends! I have a friend whose daughter goes to preschool with my two youngest kids, and we trade one day of babysitting most weeks. One day, she brings my kids home with her and that gives me an extra few hours for appointments or house projects (like a deep houseclean) or making videos for YouTube or writing and scheduling a week’s worth of blog posts. Another day, I do the same for her. It’s so helpful!
- Identify and cut out the time-sucks. Look at your life and get real about the places you are wasting time. Too much social media? Get an app that holds you accountable for time spent online. Spending a lot of time talking with friends on the phone? Set a timer for fifteen minutes and get off the phone when it goes off. Getting sucked into the vortex of YouTube videos late at night when you should be going to bed? Set a timer and close your computer when it goes off.
- Set timers!! Speaking of timers, I use timers and alarms on my phone all the time to keep me on track with my time. If I am facing a mountain of laundry or housework, I set a timer and get what I can done in thirty minutes. Grocery shopping? I set a timer so I don’t get caught up in the joy of meandering through the grocery store and waste my entire morning walking the aisles. If I am monitoring my kids outside, I set a timer and let them know they have X minutes to do whatever requires my supervision before they need to come inside (where they can play without my supervision). If I need to do homework, prep for a PTA meeting, get music together for worship practice, write blog posts, edit a video, catch up on email or financial tasks or whatever, I set timers for each task in fifteen or thirty minute increments. This helps me stay focused and “gitterdone.”
- Leave margin in your schedule to breathe. We all need to have things that help us relax, unwind, and calm down. For me, this includes my first morning cup of coffee while I pray and read the Bible, yoga, incense, hot tea, quiet meditation, and, at night, drinking herbal tea or golden milk while listening to my favorite ASMR channel on YouTube. It also often includes sitting with my dog and just petting him for a bit, ditto the cat. (It used to also include drinking wine at the end of most days, but I removed all forms of alcohol from my life over a year ago, and it was one of the best things I ever did for myself!) It’s a bit paradoxical, but I have found that the more I am trying to get done, the more I need to guard the times when I’m not doing anything! I try to spend Sundays entirely focused on my family, avoiding social media for the most part and just being fully present. With the exception of occasionally volunteering in chapel at our juvenile detention center, I keep Sundays for family time—Sunday dinner, time in the garden or just playing with the kids, Family Meeting and sometimes a movie.
- Embrace minimalism. We have drastically cut back on the amount of toys and clothes and clutter in our home. The bathroom is pretty sparse, which makes it really easy to clean. Fewer toys and clothes mean fewer messes. Less clutter means less to clean. While I still have a ways to go, I have cut back on the contents of our house, which makes life feel easier and less chaotic, and makes time feel more manageable.
- Simplify your wardrobe. One of my mom-heroes, Cara, who owns the Etsy shop Time and the Bell, gave me some great advice right after I became a mom. She said I need a “uniform,” something I could just grab and put on without giving it any thought. At first, my uniform was something I could wear all day, sleep in, and wear again the next day! That’s how crazy my life was! But now I have a simple uniform that consists of jeans (grey, blue, black), a simple top or tee shirt, and a sweater or blazer. I wear a lot of black, white and grey, with occasional splashes of color. In fact, most of my tops and bottoms work together. While I don’t quite have a capsule wardrobe (I love clothes and thrift store shopping too much to maintain a capsule wardrobe!), my clothes are organized and easy to see. Same with my hair and makeup routine. I don’t wear much makeup most days, but I do like to put on at least a BB cream to even out my skin, mascara and lip gloss. Most mornings, I go from pajamas to ready-to-walk-out-the-door in less than ten minutes, thanks to everything being so streamlined.
- Learn to say “no” and to let things go. For all the things I say “yes” to on a regular basis, there is a lot I say “no” to! Likewise, while I try to keep an organized and fairly tidy house, the truth is it is usually only really tidy a few times a week. The rest of the week it is in various stages of chaos. Once or twice a week, the family goes through and does a “sweep,” putting things away, purging clutter, etc. But I have learned to be OK with going to bed even if the clean dishes are still in the dish rack or there is a basket of laundry to put away or my kids’ rooms are messy. As my mom often tells me, these years will go by quickly, and once everyone is out of the house, it will stay clean again!
This has been a much longer post than usual, but I had a lot to say! I hope you find some of these ideas helpful if you struggle with time management.