Do Less and Accomplish More:
Time Management for Mothers
It’s 9:00 at night and the kids are finally in bed. You sit on the sofa for what seems like the first time all day. Then it hits you. You’re exhausted but can’t remember why. You know you’ve been going strong all day but when you try to remember what you did, well...there are some missing pieces. Come to think of it, many of your days end this way. This is not the direction you had hoped your life would take as a mother at home. You have the same amount of time everyone else has but it seems you get cheated day after day. The very thing you intended to do yesterday has been put off until tomorrow. Again. What is the cause of this exhausted and frustrated state of mind and how do you get things going in another direction?
This Info Guide will help you examine some simple, yet often overlooked, strategies that can absolutely change your life for the better! You can effectively run your household and still feel good at the end of the day. Remember, corporations, small businesses, schools and hospitals all have plans for how their systems will operate. Employees don’t just show up and start fighting fires as they come up. Your job should be no different. So let’s get started on the road to progress!
Setting goals are essential. Don’t let the word goals scare you. We’re not talking about quotas, deadlines or something you have to broadcast to the world. An at-home mom needs goals for her family, herself and her household. Without goals you are going to experience a lot more days like the one described above.
As you read this Info Guide, let all of your preconceived ideas about mothering go out the window for a few minutes. Just because you’ve always done it a certain way doesn’t mean you have to continue. Be willing to dream a bit and take a risk, at least on paper, and imagine some changes you can make on the road to achieving your goals.
Write the top three to five things you would like to see happen in your household. (You can expand your list as time goes on, but only tackle a few at a time so you and your family don’t get overwhelmed.) Start by listing them monthly and then yearly. Remember, these are your personal goals that only you have to see. Maybe you have a weekly goal that you cook five nights out of seven and stop ending up in a fast food restaurant three nights a week. Perhaps as a yearly goal you would like to see your children be self-sufficient in cleaning their rooms, doing their laundry and choosing their own school clothes.
Don’t be afraid to write goals that seem overly simplistic such as going to bed early and getting up earlier. Remember, things don’t happen by chance and in order to makeany change, you’ll need a goal and a plan.
With your goals in place, now you’re ready to plan how you’ll achieve success. Your individual plan will be personalized just for you. You write the goals and you write the plan.
A planning notebook can be your best friend. Keep a notebook that has a calendar and a space for notes, appointments, to do lists, etc. Commit yourself to writing in it and referring to it daily. A good place to begin is by writing birthdays, anniversaries and other special dates. From there you can include school plays, piano recitals, vacation, dentist and doctor appointments and other key commitments.
Include in your planning notebook your personal approach for achieving your goals. Refer to them often and mark your progress. If your plan is not yielding the desired results, evaluate and rewrite if necessary.
Keep your notebook handy, preferably open to the calendar section and placed strategically where you see it several times a day. You will not be a slave to your calendar but will find yourself liberated by using a planning system. You will have a greater control over your schedule because an organized and methodical plan allows greater flexibility than no plan at all.
Planning will actually keep you going with gusto! You’ll have a plan, complete it and have a great deal of satisfaction through your achievements.
ROUTINE JOBS MADE EASIER
Menu planning and grocery shopping:
Once each week sit down with a legal pad, cookbooks, recipes and pen and prepare your shopping list and menu simultaneously. On the top third of the page write your menu for the coming week and use the bottom section to make your grocery list. It’s not necessary to write every meal. Breakfasts and lunch are generally not “planned” meals but cooking for dinner will be a breeze if you don’t spend 15 minutes running from the pantry to the refrigerator and back to the pantry trying to come up with a meal for the evening.
Grocery and meal planning pays benefits too by reducing your time in the grocery. You will not have to “plan as you go” and wander around hoping you got it all. Having a list also cuts your extra expenses by allowing you to buy only what is needed.
A system that works itself is a beautiful thing. Try this for sorting laundry: use different baskets for dirty items. For example, use a white basket for whites/lights, a blue one for jeans, a pink one for towels, etc. Design your own system and teach your family how to use it. If you have difficulty putting clothes away straight from the dryer, buy two baskets of each color and use the same system when the clothes are clean. You’ve then created a “holding” place for the clean clothes and you and your family will know where to look if a certain item is needed before they are put away.
Cutting A Rug
Sometimes it seems you’re in a jitterbug contest trying to get the vacuuming and dusting jobs out of the way. It’s strenuous, lots of moving and leaves you panting. Keep your dusting supplies in a basket that has a handle and carry it from room to room. At the end of your work, discard the dirty dusting rag in the clothes hamper and go ahead and stock a new one. If dusting your daughter’s dresser takes an hour just to clean all of the notes, earrings and make-up containers, have a plastic bin where you can politely place her things and let her decide what to keep.
On the vacuum front, there is no way to get through this easily--unless your family helps. Teach them to keep an eye out for things that have “left home.” Anything on the floor other than furniture has “left home.” Balls, game pieces, books, old cracker boxes are all going to have to be moved before you can vacuum. When someone sees a homeless item, it’s his or her responsibility to escort that item back home. If your family does the prep work for you then you can glide the vacuum across the floor with ease and cut your vacuum time.
Whether it’s feeding the dog or loading the dishwasher, you can and should delegate responsibilities. Prepare a chart and post it in a visible place as a reminder to all. Even little ones can get in on this. Reward systems work well for younger children. Older children should realize that work comes before play. If your children learn to live by this rule, their spouses will thank you and, believe it or not, one day they will thank you.
LEARN TO BE LESS OF A PERFECTIONIST
Perfectionism sounds like a worthy goal and coveted characteristic. But it's actually a very draining mode in which to live. Getting frazzled over the little things is a major energy buster! Let's face it, there are things that we can let go. For example, imagine the time saved over a year if you decided cleaning the bathtub every ten days was sufficient rather than every seven days. How about letting your dirty laundry wait until a designated laundry day? Don't spend every day throwing in a load here and a load there. Tell your children that, unless they have an emergency, they will have to wait for their favorite jeans until Monday or Wednesday or whatever day you set aside to do laundry. You will still accomplish the goal, feel good about it and have more time for the things that are more important to you.
Check your expectations. Do you expect your house to look like a picture from a magazine even though you have three young children? If so, you'll have to realize your expectations just aren't in line with reality. A home where children live, learn and play is bound to have that "lived in" look. That's okay. Don't look back on these years with your children at home and regret that you spent most of it worrying about having things perfect.
Is this the place you find yourself most often? An organized and clean kitchen makes cooking more enjoyable. You probably have more usable counter space than you realize. Evaluate the placement of the microwave, coffee maker and other small appliances. Can they relocate and give you more workable space? If you only use your coffee maker when you have guests, find extra cabinet space and give it a new home.
The kitchen is often a gathering place for homework papers, mail piles, keys and a whole host of things that don’t belong. You can eliminate a lot of clutter by establishing homes for all of those items that shouldn’t live in the kitchen. Remember, you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Cutting clutter will cause you to be more efficient. Take time to throw away all of those lids that don’t fit anything, tools that are never used and other items that just take up space. If an item is not useful to you, chances are it’s just taking up space. Be bold and get rid of it!
Arrange your kitchen in a logical way. Sound obvious? Check to see if the placement of your centers and tools are actually conducive to efficiency or just abstractly placed. Keep dishes used most often closest to the dishwasher and you’ll save steps when unloading. Keep knives in one area, baking tools in their own area and staples within reach. Don’t overdo it on gadgets. Simplicity is your safest route in a room where appliances and tools are a must.
Consider using a cart on wheels to help you in the kitchen and dining room. You can load it with the dinner dishes and take them to the dishwasher. You can also set the table easier by taking all the dishes to the table on the cart. If a cart isn’t practical for you, consider a large plastic basket or bucket. You’ll save steps and time.
THE “N” WORD
We’ve all heard it but few of us actually say it. “No.” You may want to practice saying it a few times right now. To be efficient in our job as at-home mothers, we simply cannot agree to do all that is asked of us. One of the biggest myths about at-home mothers is that we can do everything that comes down the road because we don’t work. That’s simply not true. Because we have such a diversified job description we must carefully weigh and assess the activities and endeavors with which we choose to be involved.
Choose carefully. If you spend all of your days running here and there, being a room mother, accompanying every field trip, trying to have lunch with friends and keep your household running, you will quickly resent your job out of weariness. Don’t be pressured into too many commitments. Spend time on activities that mean the most to you.
If saying no is difficult for you it will be a struggle when you first try. Remember, you don’t have to give lengthy explanations about why you can’t get involved with the school’s fund raising efforts and bake 48 dozen cookies for the bake sale. A simple and firm no will set you free.
Inefficiency is at its peak when we continually put off those things that need our attention. Our energy is drained, we are frustrated and we feel the burden of things hanging over our heads. Try setting deadlines for yourself. Write them on your calendar and take them seriously. If deadlines are too heavy for your mind, decide to rate your “to do” list. Complete the following exercise based on your workload and commitments beginning today and going through the next seven days:
|MUST DO||SHOULD DO||WANT TO DO|
The items in the must do column should be the first things to be completed. Being able to mark through a completed item will give you a greater sense of confidence and accomplishment than letting things go undone. Try it and you’ll be amazed!
OUR CLOSEST FRIEND AND NUMBER ONE ENEMY
It can be a link with sanity after a day of toddler talk but it can also carry us to the brink of insanity by it’s incessant ringing. The telephone interrupts our lives without asking. With no warning whatsoever it rings and demands our attention. We have to decide in a matter of seconds whether we want to take the incoming call. Is it an “emergency” every time your phone rings? While your own method of time management will be a personal choice and will uniquely fit your life, consider the following where the phone is involved.
Caller ID can become your best friend. The small box is attached through your existing phone line and identifies, in most cases, the incoming caller. You have the freedom to decide if you need to take the call or let your message machine intervene. There is a small monthly fee involved but the time you save by deciding if and when you can take a call will prove worthy of the expense.
Allowing your answering machine to fill in for you is a great time management technique. When your machine takes the message, you already have some information before you return the call, thereby saving a small amount of talk time. Most people are now comfortable leaving messages on answering machines and can do so with efficiency. If a caller doesn't leave a message, don't worry. You probably didn't miss a thing but saved yourself an interruption in your already busy day.
Put time limits on your phone calls. Without being rigid, give yourself a time frame. Don’t let your conversations drag on about nothing to the detriment of your children and housework. Remember, you are employed 24 hours a day as an at-home mother. If you were working in an office, you wouldn’t be allowed to talk on the phone with lengthy personal calls. View your job at home as every bit as important as the office employee. Your family is counting on you to come through and do your job well. You’re going to have a difficult time being efficient if the phone constantly grabs your time.
Choose an afternoon or two a week to make calls to your friends with whom you want to say hello. With list in hand, begin calling. An opening line like, “Hi, Cheryl, I just have a short time this morning but wanted to call and say hello and see how things are going with you this week.” Immediately, Cheryl knows you’re operating on a time limit so after you’ve talked a few minutes you can say to her, “I do need to get going....”. This kind of phone call has a purpose. When you operate on a time limit you are more likely to get to the point and come away with an accomplishment.
FINANCES & BUSINESS MATTERS
If you handle the checkbook and bills in your family, consider on-line banking. As a routine part of your day you can pull up your account, check off entries that have cleared the bank and take the guesswork out of your checking account. You’ll save loads of time when the statement arrives each month in your mailbox because a great deal of the work has already been done.
Take the time to set up an organized filing system for your bills. This will pay huge dividends because each piece of paper related to your finances has a home. When you need to retrieve a document you won’t waste time fumbling through stacks or wondering if you threw it out.
R & R
Be sure you include rest and relaxation in your plans. That may mean a tennis match with a friend, a nap every now and then or getting away with a good book. You can have a quiet time at home believe it or not! Treat your children to a new batch of library books and an easy snack. Set a timer for them for an hour or so. While they enjoy their books, you enjoy yours. Yes, you may have to “train” them in the beginning but they will soon learn what quiet time is about.
You may have discovered several ways in which you can better utilize your time. That’s great! Along the way, you may regress, plans may go or a certain strategy may have to be revamped. That’s okay as long as the determination is there to continue working at managing your time so that every minute counts.
Make sure your goals are realistic and don’t demand an overnight change for those in your family. If goals are unreasonable they will surely be met with opposition. Be flexible and stay open to ideas and suggestions from your family.
Enjoy your new schedule and all of the free time you gain for yourself and those you love!