1. Wake up at least 30 minutes earlier than your children! I know sleep is at a premium, but spending a few quiet, uninterrupted moments to get dressed and plan your to do list for the day will reward you many times over. An afternoon quiet time/nap time for your children (depending on your children's ages) is also a lifesaver for at least an hour of productive time as well. Plan it into your day! My oldest daughter (11) uses this time to sew in her room while my son (9) builds masterpieces with Legos or Contraptions. I plan this time to coincide with my toddler's afternoon nap and do the bulk of my work for the day during this window of time.
2. Organize your work area, which also includes your home, as it is an extension of your work area. It is near impossible to concentrate on lucrative projects when the desk is piled high with papers, all the horizontal surfaces are covered, and nothing is where it belongs (or even has a place where it belongs!) It overloads your mind with distraction and sabotages your time management because nothing is ever where you can find it. Take the time (a few days if necessary) to clean and declutter each area and start fresh.
3. Make a Toy Bin. If you have toddlers or preschool age children, keep a laundry basket filled with favorite toys and bring it out only during your work time. Blocks, books, and puzzles are great! Your children will look forward to the special time of day when they are allowed to play with their favorite toys and you can accomplish tasks in the same room with them while they play. Be sure to put the basket out of sight and reach when the business-related task is over to maintain the new and exciting allure of these toys.
4. Limit Screen Use. You will be tempted to place your preschooler in front of educational television and your older child with your extra laptop or smartphone, but resist the urge! Yes, they will be quiet and engrossed in the entertainment but it is a disservice to them and can very well have detrimental effects on their physical and mental development. Depending on age, you could allow 30 minutes - 1 hour of TV or tech gadget use per day per child, and planning those minutes to occur during your most intensely productive work sessions can be helpful.
5. Hire a Mommy Helper. If your profession requires your young children to have outside care for a couple of hours per day, consider a "mommy helper" instead. An older child or preteen who is not yet old enough to babysit alone can be a wonderful help to entertain your children while in the house with you and under your supervision. They will often work for a minimal amount compared to a daycare (clear with their parents first, of course) and it can be a positive first-time-job experience for them as well.
6. Implement a Chores/Cleaning Routine. Stop the marathon cleaning once you have completed the initial de-cluttering and cleaning of your house (see tip # 2)! You must have a daily plan, and different methods work for different situations. Consider dividing your weekly chores throughout the week: vacuum on Mondays, sweep and mop on Tuesdays, clean bathrooms on Wednesdays, etc. Wash a load (or two) of clothes daily, dry them, and put them away. Or, if you prefer a one day chore day, delegate 2 hours on Fridays for the basic cleaning routine. You will find that keeping the house uncluttered and organized will help you save time cleaning! If your children are old enough, involve them in the weekly chores. My oldest children vacuum and dust their own rooms, and one cleans the toilet and sink in their bathroom while the other cleans the bathtub. One sweeps the bathroom floor and the other mops it. Every week, they earn spending money by doing their chores well and without complaining. Spend 15 minutes a day (set a timer) removing clutter from one room/area or doing detailed cleaning (windows, corners, etc.) to stay on top of these "extra" chores. Be sure to daily put dishes in/empty the dishwasher, clean off the table, go through the mail, and put things back as you use them. It will change your outlook as well as your results!
7. Develop the Repeat Menu. If you already cook with creative variety and serve only the most nutritious meals without stress or fatigue, skip this tip. If, however, meal preparation is still overwhelming and takeout is becoming more and more of a regular option while you dream of the gourmet meals you will prepare in the future, here is the solution: Accept that it is completely okay for you to serve the same basic "family favorite" menu every single week. These are the meals you know your children love (nutritious, yes) and you have cooked them a million times so you do not have to spend a lot of brainpower preparing it. If there are 14 family favorites which are fairly quick and not terribly intensive to make, create a rotating two week menu. If you only have seven, repeat the same week over and over. Now that you have made your list of meals, pick a day to serve each one (Fridays are homemade pizzas at my house, for example. Mondays every-other-week: blackened chicken pasta with a salad. Sunday nights might include popcorn, apples, and cheese. You get the idea.) Now, this will take a few minutes, but you only have to do this once! List the ingredients needed for each week's meals (either on paper or a spreadsheet where you can easily reorganize or even a grocery list app on your phone). Reorganize the list by the item's location in your favorite supermarket (canned goods, meats, produce, etc.) Now, you have your weekly grocery list! Make copies to take with you to the grocery store to mark off as you fill your basket. Stop stressing and buy the same things over and over! If you want to cook something different and fun on the weekend or once a week, leave space to write in a new recipe's ingredients and designate a day to prepare it. Adapt this to work for you and your lifestyle.
8. Invest in Quality Time. The truth is that quality and quantity of time are important with your children. It is easy to forget that just because the children are always with you doesn't mean you are actually with them. When your mind is focused on work and you do not drive away from a literal office building, it can be even more difficult to put work aside and give your children your undivided attention. It is critical that you find a way to connect with them! Try setting a timer for 30 minutes a few times a day to look your child in the eye as he or she talks to you and play with him or her or accomplish something fun together. Also, after dinner is over and the kitchen is clean, spend time reading with your children and showing them affection. They need you, and not just your physical presence, but your mental and emotional presence as well. Giving them your full attention during specifically scheduled times will help you not to break the "appointment" but it will also help your children not to be as needy during the times when you must focus on your professional tasks. They will come to relish and excitedly anticipate their one-on-one daily times with you (and you will be amazed at how connected you will feel to them and how it will bless your own heart!)
9. Eliminate Time Wasters. You probably already know what they are without much introspection, but take a few minutes anyway and list the activities you tend to use as diversions from your responsibilities. Maybe it is a social network or television channel or... you get the idea. Whatever it is that helps you procrastinate needs to be contained in a specific time period and then put away for the day. For example, you can have your cup of coffee in the morning while you spend 30 minutes of computer time on personal interests and then check back in with e-mail for 15 minutes after lunch. The important thing is that you have a plan and stick to it so that the diversions stop eating the time you could be connecting with your children and/or profiting in your job. Also, think through your routine and find ways to make it more streamlined: Do your quick wipe of the sink and brushing of the toilet as soon as you finish your getting ready routine in the morning and don't go back in there until necessary. Clean up after your meal before you leave the kitchen. Have your older children bring their dirty laundry and put it in the washing machine instead of trekking to each room to do it yourself. Find ways to save steps and, subsequently, conserve energy and time. You will find you get better and better at this as you begin to practice it.
10. Refuel. For the majority of moms I know, this is the most difficult appointment to keep, but it is the most important one. The stresses of work and parenting and life in general take their toll on your mind, body, and spirit. You absolutely must plan to rest! Exercise daily. (This can be done with your children running around in your yard. Be creative and think outside the box). Take a soothing bath after the kids are in the bed. Spend a few minutes reading at bedtime instead of watching television as it helps your body to relax and your sleep to be more restful. Connect with your spouse and invest in your relationship. Go to bed at a reasonable time instead of staying up late. Set aside Saturday (or at least most of it) as a day for family fun, a day when your children know you will not be working at your desk and making phone calls all day. You need it, and they need it. Sundays are a day of rest in our family. We go to church to worship and spend the day simply being together. Take time to nurture your spirit and the benefits will astound you. Resting is not being lazy. It is a much-needed reprieve from the daily grind and it will actually energize and fuel your productivity and success.
These life improvements can be slowly added into your routine. Take one step at a time and don't let yourself get overwhelmed by all the changes you are trying to make. Allow yourself (and your schedule) to be flexible. No one can follow all of these every single day: Children get sick, obligations change, holidays happen. Focus instead on what you can implement now and reap the rewards as you grow, learn, and discover your biggest and best life with your family!
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