If staying on top of your work, social, and personal schedules was difficult before having kids, the concept of “time management” when you are a parent is almost laughable. Life with children is unpredictable: will you be able to get to work in time for your 9:00 am meeting, or will you have to break up three fights and chug three cups of coffee before you even step out of the door?
The truth is you will not always be able to avoid the chaos, and that’s okay. Parenting is beautiful, rewarding, and amazing. But it also is hard, exhausting, and stressful. The good news is that there are ways to optimize your time, so you don’t feel like you’re drowning in an ocean of unfinished to-dos and neglected chores.
So without further ado, here are our 6 favorite time management tips for busy moms and dads.
Rethink meal planning
You’ve probably heard about meal planning: the idea is to decide, shop for, and cook all of your family’s meals in advance instead of doing the “what’s for dinner” dance every night. But with everything that you have to do during the day, you’ve probably asked yourself more than once, “who has time to plan their meals every week?”
Meal planning is great, but it doesn’t work for everybody. So if you find the thought of writing down and preparing a bunch of food in one sitting a little intimidating, you might find the 3-list strategy more useful. Here’s what you have to do:
Before heading to the grocery shop, take a few minutes to write down three lists: one for snacks, one for food groups, and one for freezer meals.
List 1 – Snacks
Make a list of quick and healthy snacks that don’t require a ton of prep or cooking. These are foods that you can take out of the fridge or pantry whenever your child comes up to you with the famous words “I’m hungry, what can I eat?”
- Sample snack list: apples, strawberries, carrots and hummus, cucumbers, popcorn, apple sauce, veggie chips, grapes, yogurt, granola bars, etc.
List 2 – Food groups
This list consists of the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Write down specific foods or ingredients for each group and bring the list with you when you go to the store.
Sample food group lists:
Carbs: rice, cereal, whole-wheat bread, pasta
Fruits and vegetables: broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, celery, potatoes, onion, pumpkin, apples, pears, blueberries, watermelon, bananas, figs, oranges, pineapple
Protein: lean meat, beans and legumes, fish, eggs
Healthy fats: avocado, peanut butter, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds (watch for choking hazards), salmon
List 3 – Freezer meals
Write down a list of meals that you can prepare and freeze in bulk for a later date. Buy ingredients for each meal.
Sample freezer meal list: soups, pasta dishes, casseroles.
Keep these three lists on your bag, car, or phone so you can access them easily when you’re out shopping.
Give everyone a job
Kids can start taking on small chores and household tasks as early as two years old. Yes, sometimes it is easier and faster to do things yourself, but in the long run, teaching your kids how to do simple tasks themselves will not only build their independence, it will also eventually free up some time for yourself. Here’s a quick list of ideas for age-appropriate chores for children:
Kids ages 2 to 3:
- Put toys away
- Wipe up the table
- Wash fruits and veggies
- Choose clothes
- Put clothes in the hamper
Kids ages 4 to 5:
- Fill pet’s food dish
- Set and clear the table
- Water plans
- Clean spills
- Fix no-cook breakfast (cereal, cold sandwich)
- Make their bed
Kids ages 6 to 7:
- Sort laundry
- Take out the trash
- Help make lunch
- Sweep or vacuum floors
- Keep their room neat
- Bring in the mail
- Clean the bathroom
Kids ages 8 to 10:
- Fold laundry
- Change bed sheets
- Load dishwasher
- Put away groceries
- Basic gardening (rake leaves, water plants)
- Fully take care of their personal hygiene
Kids 11 and older:
- Walking the dog
- Doing the laundry
- Washing family car
- Mopping floors
- Babysit younger siblings
- Cook simple meals with supervision
- Mow the lawn
We all think that we are great at multitasking. After all, how hard is it to answer your work emails while you’re going over your daughter’s homework? That is, until you realize you attached a math worksheet instead of that important document in an email to your boss.
Research shows that when we are constantly bouncing back and forth between tasks, we actually become less efficient and more likely to make a mistake. There’s even evidence that multitasking causes your productivity to go down by as much as 40%.
Instead of multitasking, make it a point to tackle one task or chore at a time. Stick with one item of your to-do list until you’ve finished it, or, if your attention starts to wane, switch to a different task and give it your full attention.
Keep your home clean and organized
Chaos beckons more chaos. Living in an environment that’s messy, cluttered, and disorganized drains your energy and focus, even if you don’t realize it. But it can be difficult (and daunting) to find the time to clean and organize your home when it looks like it was hit by a tidal wave. So what’s the secret of people who always have a clean house? They clean a little every day.
The fact of the matter is that your house will never stay clean if you keep doing those marathon tidying sessions where you spend five hours scrubbing every nook and cranny and then forget about it for the rest of the month. Instead, committing to clean your home every day for 15 to 20 minutes helps you stay on top of the mess and frees up time to do other things. Some tricks that could help:
- Have plenty of baskets so your kids can put away their stuff instead of dumping it all over the place
- Do your dishes after every meal (don’t wait until the kitchen sink or dishwasher fills up)
Wipe down the mirror and bathroom counter after you’ve finished brushing your teeth (and ask every member of the family to do the same)
- Scrub your toilet every morning before heading out
- Wipe down kitchen counters after cooking
- Sweep the floors each night before going to bed
Guest Author: Marie Miguel
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.