Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Bet This Crossed Your Resolution-Making Mind, Too...

image via junk yard gypsy

Every time I read Rachael's blog I sit slack-jawed in amazement at all she manages to accomplish. So much to learn from this gal! So happy to have her at Bloom today with a few very helpful tips on time management and efficiency.

Confession: every day there are a lot of things I wish I’d accomplished that I just didn’t have time to get to. I’m not a dazzling paragon of time management—I spend my fair share of time scrolling through blogs while my kitchen floor languishes unmopped. But (allow me to mount my soapbox for a minute) I’ve discovered five things that work for me that I’m excited to share with you today. (This post is written from the perspective of a mother of young children; it’s not an attempt to exclude but rather a reflection of the stage of life that I’m in right now.)

Make lists

Daily routines

On my refrigerator, I keep a list of routine daily tasks (Monday through Saturday) in a plastic sheet protector. These are the essentials that keep my house running smoothly. When I finish a task, I draw a line through it with a whiteboard marker; at the end of the week, I erase the whole thing and start again. This helps me to feel like I’m on top of the day because I always know what else needs to be done at just a glance, rather than feeling like there are a million things I should do but I don’t know where to start.

My daily lists cover everything from laundry (which I do four times a week), basic cleaning, bill-paying, thank-you notes, and special projects. Essentially, I sat down and wrote out everything I do on a regular basis to keep things running smoothly, then assigned them all to various days. What this boils down to is doing a little every day, rather than having a day of crisis-cleaning and catch-up every week or so.

I’ve built in a catch-up day on Fridays that is inevitably needed and helps to reduce the stress. I also include daily story-reading with the kids and “floor time,” where I am 100% focused on playing with the kids and ignore ringing phones, blinking emails, etc. This helps me feel like I’ve gotten some quality time in with the kids every single day, because I’ve prioritized it along with all the other things I want to accomplish that day.


In addition to daily tasks, I also need a way of tracking other things to do, like changing over the car insurance, paying my husband’s tuition, making visiting teaching appointments, etc. My new favorite list-making tool? That little task thing in Gmail. So easy to use, and plus you have the satisfaction of crossing it out when you’re done.

Selective multi-tasking

The reality of life with small children is that many things proceed at a snail’s pace. You can try to fight it, or you can embrace the inevitable and learn to make use of this time. (This is most successful when you stay in the same room with them and continue to carry on a conversation. I should also note that we’ve chosen not to have a TV in our home, so I can’t plan on doing chores while my children are occupied by a show).

For instance, try some of the following:

· Clean the bathroom while your kids are in the tub

· Start a few dinner preparations while they eat an afternoon snack

· Clean the ‘fridge while they’re eating lunch one pea at a time

· Fold laundry together while you listen to music

· Encourage your children to help with “fun” tasks (for some reason, my kids get no end of glee out of mopping the floor and dusting)

Plan ahead

Flying by the seat of your pants and never thinking ahead can be cute when you have no responsibilities. It’s not so cute when you’ve got a real job, small people who rely on you for sustenance and clean clothes, or a house to run.

Plan meals for the week so you only have to go to the grocery store once. Pack lunches, backpacks, and diaper bags the night before. Set the table for breakfast after everyone is in bed at night. Schedule appointments back-to-back. Keep all the library books in the same spot. Prepare for things ahead of time as much as possible so you’re never scrambling at the last minute. If you don’t have a good calendar to keep track of your life, invest in one now (I’m partial to the whiteboard calendars myself). Bottom line: preparation = peace of mind.

Consider your day

When are you most productive? When do things get crazy? When do you just need to collapse and not think anymore? Build your day around these times and plan accordingly. It’s not realistic to expect that you’ll be super-efficient at 5 pm if you’re trying to make dinner, placate a crying baby, and mop a floor simultaneously. Literally, sit down for a minute and think about a typical day.

For instance, my kids always run off as soon as they’re done with breakfast and play happily together for the next hour. This is when I try to do all of my cleaning, bill-paying, and phone-calling. If I read stories with my oldest daughter and play with her for about half an hour after the other children go down for their naps, she will be content to color by herself for the next hour until the baby wakes up—a perfect time to get a jump on dinner preparations or anything I didn’t finish in the morning.

Plan your day. Consciously consider what you need to do and the best times to do it. Pretty soon, you’ll find that you’ve developed a comfortable routine that works for you.

Schedule regular downtime

I have three children. The oldest one is four and the youngest is six months. I teach part-time at Purdue University, I’m obsessed with cooking, and I’m a neat freak. Translation: I am always busy and someone always needs me. But every single day I do two things: exercise and read, even if I didn’t necessarily get everything else done that I needed to do. If I trade out my “me time,” I’m a wreck. Find what rejuvenates you and make sure that it happens regularly. In my home, once the children are in bed, I’m done for the day (unless I have to grade papers).

Once a week, I take a night off. I’ve used this time to attend yoga and quilting classes, meander around Target, go out with friends, or browse the local libraries. What I do isn’t so important as the time I have to simply enjoy my own company and the pleasure of occasional solitude. For the last three years, a good friend and I have done a standard weekly playdate where we take turns watching the other woman’s children for a few hours. Our kids love it, and we both know that every other week we have two precious daytime hours to employ however we see fit. Build in time for yourself, and your family will benefit as well.

And now it’s your turn! What tips or tricks do you have for managing your time efficiently and helping your life to run smoothly?


Jenny said...

Great tips! I was surprised to see that I actually use some of them already...so why is my house not cleaner? :-)

Abbie said...

Great post. It just shows, once again, that we American womenfolk are a lot a like (Target!), even if we put our own spin on things.

I am I timer cleaner - I love racing myself to get it done. I also like to pack my Mondays and Tuesday to the brim, so the rest of my week is more relaxed and fun. And I totally agree with the Me Time - I love my naps, GNOs, and reading time. And what we would do without lists? Bless the lists! Bless them!

Valerie said...

I also write lots of lists!
I also know when my children are going to break down and need attention and not be occupied. It comes at about 3:30 every day and last until Dad gets home. If I don't have an activity planned for them to do, dinner won't get made and the night falls apart, so I always have an idea for something for them to do.
Because my kids don't nap anymore, we have an hour of quiet time and I also have a minute to get things done.
One thing I need more help on? Managing how much time I spend on the computer ha ha ha

LJ said...

Bloom and I must be on the same wave-length as I just made myself a very detailed "Daily Routine" chart in the hopes of becoming more productive and efficient! So, thanks Bloom and Rachael (by the way the link to her blog wasn't working when I tried it--and I'm now dying to see all that she accomplishes in her day!).

Rachael said...

Hey ladies--thanks so much for the kind comments! I'm having fun reading what everyone else does. And LJ, the link to my blog is http://theirchronicles.blogspot.com/

Tia said...

Don't have children ;) Totally kidding! Without kids my life is packed, so I have no idea where I would find the time to be a parent!

Even sans kids your lists ring true to me. I love lists and the satisfaction of crossing something off of it. I'm totally on board with "me" time. I usually bargin with myself that I can watch that hour-long TV show, but I have to be productive during the commercials. It's a great way to get lunches packed, coffee pot ready for the morning, counters wiped down, etc, but still relax with TV time.

Erin said...

Thank you Rachel! I have also been amazed at all you are able to accomplish. I am for sure going to start a binder with daily to do things. Excellent idea!

Trina said...

I love the plastic sleeve & dry-erase marker idea!

We live in a Zoo! said...

I love the multi tasking idea. Not that I don't already but I had never thought to use bathtime as a time to clean the bathroom! Excellent idea!

Melissa said...

Great tips and so necessary. I am a Julie Morgenstern follower, but no matter how much I know about my time and what I need to do with it, it doesn't always happen. I say when your kids are little, go with it. They won't ever remember how clean your floor was, but they'll remember that you played with them. Mine are both in elementary school now. I have gobs of time to clean my house. You will too, someday very soon. One thing I love is the fly lady's 15 min. "blessing your home" idea. I have turned that into a 15 minute blitz. I'll zip around my house in the morning with an actual timer on and spend 15 mins in each room. I can't believe the focus I have when I'm racing against the clock. :)

marymary said...

I especially loved the "selective multi-tasking" list. Very helpful. Overall a very helpful post. Thank you!

Sally said...

I so very much needed to read this today. I go through spurts where I am super organized but then I always fall off the wagon and end up trying to clean and check everything off my list in one day. I hate it. Now I am motivated again. I think I will head to the store tonight and pick up some dry earase markers. Thanks! Oh, and I love your idea about cleaning the bathroom while the kids are in the tub!

Kristyn said...

I had never thought of actually thinking through my day beforehand. I just now realized how much I was reacting to the needs of my kids rather than planning around them ahead of time. Nor had I thought of planning in thank you note time, or craft time. They happen, but just stress me out. If I plan a time for them then I'll get them done and not feel badly for ignoring something else.

Thanks for the tips. It's really nice to get some concrete ideas of what I can do differently.

Rachael said...

Oh--one thing I should mention--I switched to those non-toxic green cleaners when I started cleaning the bathroom while my kids were in the tub! That way I don't have to worry about anybody inhaling weird fumes...

Barb @ getupandplay said...

I try to selectively multi-task, too. I like to do the dishes while returning phone calls, for example, because I can do both those things at the same time without messing either of them up!

Aren't the little games we play with ourselves so funny (but effective!) I don't often do the timer for cleaning (although I should!) but I will set a timer for doing my homework (I'm in school part-time).

These are great ideas- I'm off to set a more structured schedule for my week!!

jeanine said...

Thanks for the ideas! Today I cleaned out a few cupboards while I waited for my boys to finish their lunch!

Erin said...

I squeeze in a little pampering during my son's bathtime now and then. It's a good time to put on a face mask or some good lotion or file my nails.

Matt said...

I love what you said about "it's cute if you don't have any real responsibilities." I think sometimes it's easy to take this job of a homemaker lightly, but we have a great opportunity to teach our children so many true principles, if we take the time to think about it.

Learning how to work, and stay organized, self discipline, delayed gratification...all such important parts of a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for sharing this! :)

Kathryn Palmer said...

Fantastic ideas! Thank you:)

Jessica said...

I needed to read this today! Thanks so much for all the great ideas. I have a constant battle with what needs to get done in a day. Our apartment is ALWAYS a mess. I am going to try the timer and daily task chart with markers. I am hoping it will help me get done what needs to be done rather than procrastinating. Thanks so much!

Katie said...

Thank you so much for posting this!! I use some of them already, but some of them are new, and some I'm in the process of learning to implement! :) I really appreciate your honest look at your life, embracing where you are, and being okay with imperfection yet striving to be productive. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I Love your blog! Waiting for another entry! Keep them coming please! Thanks for taking the time to write such fun things you two girls are great!