Motherhood feels like a downward escalator. Without effort, we fall backwards into the abyss of laundry, dishes, cranky children, frustration and lack of time. If we attempt to walk up, the repetition of daily to-do’s feels like little or no progress. And, if we spring upwards with gusto, we are at the top, breathless for when it all starts over the next day.
Surprisingly, we can actually manage that valuable commodity we never feel we have enough of: time. We can feel on top again. When I transitioned from full-time to part-time work so I could be at home with my son, I didn’t know it would be a constant uphill battle. I lost control of time and was continually overwhelmed by “things.” I moped around and threw myself glorious pity parties. Ultimately, I was a bad worker and a gloomy mom. It wasn’t until I made some serious time management commitments that I was able to make it through the day with a positive attitude and optimistic outlook. Here are five things I would suggest.
1. Plan and prioritize. With what little time you have, you must plan and prioritize to be effective and efficient. I use a weekly calendar, which includes to-do items, outings, and even recurring weekly events. In addition, I have a monthly overview and a work calendar, all in one place. Visually, it helps to see everything, and the upfront investment to plan helps me avoid time spent mulling about it. This way, I’m able to better manage my time around “to-do’s.” If we have a playdate at 11 AM, I know my son’s naptime should be spent preparing food and responding to quick e-mails while the chores wait. Tomorrow will vary and we can eat lunch in, giving me more time to tend to the house during his nap.
The second part of my planning comes with distinguishing between what can be done now versus later. Will my son really care if the dishes are done or the living room is tidy? I’ve found that investing some time to play a game while he’s awake uplifts us, makes me feel good as a mom, and pushes me to plan time for my son and those other necessary things.
2. Make it manageable. I used to only run the dishwasher when it was completely full. When I needed some kitchen utensil in the morning, it was dirty. I began running the dishwasher at night, regardless of how full it was. It is nice to always have clean dishes at the beginning of the day. This small change made the sink manageable and helped me feel more in control of time I didn’t have.
A similar occurrence happened with laundry. When I was single, I could go a few weeks without doing any laundry. I would still have clothes to wear and only had a small load of “dirty” clothes. After marriage and children, waiting turned into a never-ending laundry nightmare. By splitting the laundry into reasonable loads, I am constantly doing laundry. But, each time I am doing it, it feels doable. In reality, I am probably putting the same amount of time into it, but my mentality is better when it doesn’t feel like my life is laundry. We all have quirks and preferences that can be better managed so life feels possible.
3. Adapt and Smile. Our plan will not always go as desired. Sometimes change, welcome or not, is necessary. It is nice for my son to have matching socks, but if we’re running late and the morning has really been hectic, something from the sock monster pile it is! I’ve learned to adapt to the situation, no matter how awful or unplanned, to make the most of it and to move on with a cheery attitude. Choosing to have a positive reaction helps me get by and motivates me to plan better next time. My hope is that this also teaches my son to avoid frustration and welcome cheerful optimism.
4. Be creative. I try to structure my “to-do’s” creatively. I continually push myself to be more effective and efficient than I was last time. I experiment with unloading the dishes, trying to see which items have the shortest path to their rightful place in the cabinet, thereby setting the tone for the rest of the unloading. I think of routines, how to be quicker and how to improve. I think of ways I can work out while my son is awake. Sometimes this means sacrificing, like running with him in a stroller (I hate running) or putting on an old workout DVD while I’m watching a TV show with my husband. I experiment with multitasking but am cautious of not paying full attention to anything. I experiment with separating the clean laundry into piles before folding. I experiment with innovative chore games with dual-purpose. Seeking ways to improve will help you keep your game up and be quicker and better.
5. Reward yourself. We mothers are often too hard on ourselves and tend to focus on what we have not accomplished instead of what we have. Obsessing over time could be better directed towards more productive things. In the meantime, we should enjoy our wins. We all know the inherent rewards in motherhood, like the content way my son snuggles next to me (and only me) while drinking milk, or his shriek of excitement when we run around the house. However, sometimes tangible rewards, like fancy ice cream or a pedicure, are also nice. Make sure you are considering both types of rewards to motivate yourself. Motherhood is a hard job, but nobody is more qualified than you!
These few tips have helped me manage my time as I slowly go up the motherhood downward escalator. One day, I will be running, but until then…at least I’m not falling backwards.
QUESTION: Do you wish you had more time? What would you do if you had more time, and how can you create more time by using the five tips?
CHALLENGE: Use any one of the techniques, and see if you notice a change in your time management abilities.
Photos courtesy of Daisy Phillips