Tips to quell the chaos

So much to do, so little time. Effective time management can quell the chaos whether at home or in the office. Former OHbaby! editor Ellie Gwilliam, offers her tips.

Remember the days when you had time to spare? A blank page in your diary? The serenity of being idle? Yes, well, probably best we change the subject. Amidst the multi-tasking mayhem through which us mothers routinely navigate, we can count ourselves lucky if we have enough time to reply to a text message some days.

Motherhood is often associated with feelings of being overwhelmed. There is an infinite number of things to do but  a finite amount of time and energy. Time is a precious commodity. And like money and other disposable resources, it is up to us how we use it. Unlike money, however, we can't generate more time. As yet, there is no iPhone application offering an upgrade on the standard 24-hour plan.

As constrained as life might feel, we make choices every day regarding how we spend our time. In the corporate world, time management is pivotal to job success, and efficiency and productivity rule. How do these concepts, if at all, relate to motherhood? Productivity can help alleviate feelings of being overwhelmed because you are building up your sense of achievement.

With the goal being to have happy and healthy families, I've put together the following ideas to help kick-start some serious time management. Obviously, we are all very child-oriented and having fun with our kids is the priority, but the other stuff still has to be done. 

Make a list
Sad as it may seem, I am passionate about to-do lists. My love of the list is multi-faceted. Firstly, I actually can't remember everything I need to do unless I write it down. Secondly, committing things to paper is the first step towards committing them to action. If they are on the list, I feel there is a greater chance they will actually get done! And lastly, the satisfaction of ticking something off is hugely motivating.

The master to-do list can be broken down into weekly, or even daily, lists which can help you address items in order of priority and ensure you meet deadlines.

Have a look at the week ahead, perhaps on a Sunday evening, and get your head around the agenda. Find a diary system that works for your family, ideally one where you can map out where everyone needs to be and when. There are calendars available where each family member can have a column for their appointments. The upside is you can see everyone's schedule at a glance.  The downside is that everyone can see that your three year old has a busier social life than you.

More helpfully, look for over-commitments and clashes. Some weeks, you will be stretched in all directions. This is unavoidable, but identify what pace is sustainable for the long haul. After a crazy-busy week, schedule in some down time. Take a longer-term view and book a weekend away when you need it.

In planning how you will use your time, look at jobs and decide what has to be done, what would be nice to get done and what can wait till next week (or next year). Prioritise, and then try not to second-guess or feel bad about your decisions on how you are spending your time.

Keep in mind that while the never-ending list of practical tasks generated from life and work both in and out of the home are important, even more important, but less demanding and more easily ignored, is the need for spending quality time with our families - our partners, kids and for ourselves. Scheduling time to play with our kids, have an uninterrupted conversation with our spouse or to get some exercise means the important does not get lost in the urgent. Of course, one still has to exercise discipline to ensure the plan is actually adhered to but practising such routines will change habits, and ensure we spend time how we want to as well as how we need to.

Of course, don't go scheduling all the spontaneity out of life - it's too short not to be able to drop everything and make the most of a sunny afternoon at the playground. The to-do list will still be there when you get back. The key to any time management plan is being kind to yourself. As a mum, especially with babies and small children, your time management plan needs to be flexible as there are a lot of variables. Recognise that some days, if you get the dishes off the bench you have achieved. 

Break it down
Break down your to-do list into manageable tasks. A lot of household tasks are less time-consuming in reality than in our heads. A house full of murky windows, for example, can seem an overwhelming job but one window actually takes only five minutes to clean, so doing windows one room at a time over a week makes the job much more manageable. But let's not get too concerned about dirty windows - cleaning windows is no more than an annual job, surely!

We recently moved house and the thought of packing and unpacking with kids and a part-time job kept me awake some nights. But in reality, when I tackled the job one box at a time, grabbing five minutes here or half an hour there, it all got done, with minimum angst.
Look for productive time slots, which will vary from family to family, but in our household I find I can knock over a task or two while my kids are eating breakfast or watching their favourite TV programme (oops, I mean reading their favourite book). Establishing a routine whereby you put the washing on while the kids are getting themselves dressed, for example, can earn at least a couple of ticks on the to-do list each day. Similarly, identify unproductive times of the day, when your children are tired or irritable perhaps, and opt for sitting on the couch together with a book, as opposed to attempting to mop the floor.
Maintenance is more manageable than a major overhaul. While everyone works differently, a housework system whereby you do one or two things each day can be much easier to achieve than finding a whole day to clean and tidy the house. Depending on household income, it is well worth looking at your budget and considering paying for help if you can afford it. If you have spent all week working long hours outside the home, paying someone to help with cleaning means you can spend your precious free days on more meaningful things.

Procrastination is a big  waste of time
There is a significant difference between relaxing and procrastinating. Rest and recreation are vital to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, so while this may seem an oxymoron, relaxation is actually productive. Procrastination, on the other hand, is a complete waste of time. You can't properly relax if you are procrastinating, as the task you know you really should be attending to will be nagging at the back of your mind. Hence the rather naff maxim, "work hard, play hard". Do what needs to be done first, so you can then get down to the serious business of relaxing, guilt-free. I am by no means advocating that every task is completed before we stop for a break, because with that approach the break would never come. What I am suggesting is to have a plan and work to priorities, then take a well-deserved break enhanced by the feel-good factor of achievement.

10 time-savers

  • Keep the nappy bag stocked and ready to go. Replenish supplies as soon as you get home and keep a few essentials in the car (nappies, wipes, a snack or two), in the hope of making it out the door in time.
  • Keep an eye out for time-wasters and work to eliminate them, for example, unnecessary travel across town for things that could be achieved locally.
  • Weekly menu plans, slow cookers, freezing meals, making lunches in advance, setting out breakfast the night before... all help ease chaos in the kitchen.
  • Buy groceries online. Buy anything you need online for that matter. Keep  a shopping list on the pantry door.
  • Put a load of washing in the machine before you go to bed, ready to turn on  in the morning.
  • Keep the house organised and decluttered with a logical place for everything. Things will be easier to find if they go back where they belong!
  • Multi-task - tidy a drawer while you are on the phone, pack lunches while you are waiting for the toast to cook.
  • Adopt a "do it now" mentality and pass this on to your children. Put shoes away as soon as you walk in the door, unpack your bag as soon as you get home and clear the table when you finish a meal.
  • Establish housework routines with jobs delegated to all family members. Get children involved in the running of the household from an early age.
  • Have a rest! Putting your feet up for half an hour each day, with a book and cup of tea, may seem like an unachievable indulgence, but it's a whole lot better than spending a week in your sick bed.

OHbaby! staff member Ellie Gwilliam learnt the value of being organised while moving house earlier this year with two pre-schoolers and a baby on board. She survived despite Auckland's delightful humidity.  A well-deserved holiday is planned for year.



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