There never seems to be enough time in the day. Ever. Especially when you’re the working mom of 7 kids and they all expect your time at any point in the day. It’s a rather common occurrence for me to get mobbed seconds within walking in the door. In fact as soon as one of them hears my voice, I hear a chorus of “MOMMY!!!” and then a bunch of little feet scampering over baby gates and up stairs to get to me. Not that that’s a bad thing but it is a reality.
With such a busy schedule, and I’m sure other people have equally if differently busy schedules, one might wonder how to possibly fit everything into the finite amount of time that we’re given. Here’s some tips that I use to accomplish everything on my to-do list on a regular basis.
1. First, HAVE a to-do list!
Nothing makes life easier than not having to remember what’s going on today. For my memory-saving tool, I use Wunderlist. I like Wunderlist because I can sync it across android and windows, plus I can share lists with the family. So I set it up on all their devices and when their are tasks they need to do, I can just assign it to them. THAT part doesn’t work as well as I’d like mostly because Lilly and I are the only ones who regularly check it but one can hope.
In Wunderlist, I have lists set up for all kinds of things. I have daily, weekly, and monthly recurring lists for all the chores that need to be done. For example, each day I have a recurring task to read my Bible, make my bed, and set my clothes out for the next day. I also consider it a “daily” task to start a load of laundry, and to clean out my bathroom sink, but I don’t do these two tasks on Sundays. I set up weekly lists for all of my weekly cleaning and it displays on Mondays – it gives me all week to get the chores done before they recur, and it gives me the added incentive of finishing ON Monday so my list is empty the rest of the week. For weekly chores I have kind of general cleaning tasks (like Clean Master Bathroom), but underneath those tasks are the specific items (windex mirror, clean counters, clean toilet, clean bathtub, change linens, etc). I can check off the sublist items too so as they get done by me or others we can keep track of what’s been done so far. Same goes for monthly tasks but this is more for things like washing the car, or re-organizing the clothes and school supplies. Things that still need to get done just not that frequently (though more frequently than I’d like!!)
I also track my baking list, my shopping list, and my list of projects. Believe it or not I’ve already started making Christmas presents for this year! I assigned myself 1-2 a week but I’ve already finished 7 (1 a day since Monday!) Some of them are just short little projects that don’t take long but I am working ahead in my free time.
I have Wunderlist set up so I just look at Today. It shows all the things I need to do Today. This is a wonderful motivator for getting things done. And for those who might be thinking “Well I assigned my kids a job to clean their room but I know it won’t get done and then that’s something I’ll have to remember to check their lists for…” Not at all! I have the same issue so I just added matching recurring tasks on my list, but instead of saying “Clean your room” with all of the subtasks listed, I made “Ensure Lilly’s room is clean” with all of the subtasks. That way it’s at my fingertips and it gets done because since it’s on my list, it reminds me to go look and see if, in fact, they did their chores.
2. Along with that to-do list, utilize a calendar.
I use Jorte for my calendar on my android devices. Really it’s using Gmail, and truly any kind of calendar will work – I just like things to be pretty! I know I tend to use things more if they’re prettier. If you’re that type of person, take an hour, two, or more when you start this system and make it pretty! I gave every person in my family their own Gmail calendar, with their color (Lilly is pink, Sierra purple, Jordan blue, David yellow, Mark green, Luke orange, Matthew black, Shane red, and I am sometimes pink, sometimes purple, whatever looks good that isn’t someone else’s color lol).
I set up a Master Schedule calendar so I can keep track of whose day it is to do such and such a chore. Right now it’s just tracking early morning kid duty on the weekends, but at one time it was tracking who makes tea that day, who cleans up the kitchen, whose bathroom duty day it is, etc. As our household has evolved, so has what is needed to be tracked. However the master schedule eliminates arguments and fighting because it’s there, plain as day, whoever it’s supposed to be.
I even do my menu planning on Gmail. During the week (or at least on days I work) I plan breakfast, and I plan a dinner for every night. I plan a week in advance so this helps me on baking day – I just put on my baking list whatever it is I’ll need to prepare for the week for breakfast (french toast, sausage biscuits, egg muffins, whatever it may be so that my kids have 5 hot breakfasts a week), plus three sweets, plus any supplies I need to restock on (like brown sugar, powdered sugar, and barbecue sauce).
Every time someone has an appointment, I mark it on my calendar, under their calendar. This allows me to easily see if an appointment might conflict – and it also helps me to not forget appointments! You could set them up with reminders, but I regularly check my calendar so generally I don’t need reminders.
I also have a calendar for finances with a listing of when my bills are due. I have them setup to recur too – every 30 days, once a month, every first of the month – whatever that particular bill is. This part took me a few months to figure out because I wasn’t 100% sure on all of them. Now that they’re there, though, I can see when each bill is due which helps me when budgeting to know which pay period a bill needed to be in.
Finally I have a school calendar. I use this one, along with my other calendars to plan out school days. I automatically make all holidays and birthdays a school holiday, as well as any vacation days I have off work. Then I fill in between that with the 180 days of my school year. I do this a week at a time when I do lesson planning. Then I know at a glance which day of the school year we’re on.
3. Make a baking and preparation day.
I cannot tell you how much time this saves me during the week. When I was growing up, every morning for breakfast was cereal. Which was ok because I liked cereal, but there’s something old-timey in my bones that makes me want my kids to have a hot breakfast every day. And hot cereal every day just won’t cut it. Besides there’s so many yummy hot breakfast foods and I just don’t have time to make them during the week, and I usually feel too lazy to on the weekend. The solution? Baking day! I make french toast, pancakes, sausage biscuits, omelets, bacon egg muffins, sausage gravy, all kinds of things – and then freeze them.
When you buy frozen biscuits they’re not cooked – so I thought – why not make my own and freeze them? So I usually do this once a week – biscuits are easy to make and hot and yummy in the morning. Especially with sausage gravy, or sometimes sausage biscuits. I’ve made breakfast burritos and frozen them. I have made egg muffins and frozen them (uncooked) and then cooked them in the morning. About the only mornings either I or Shane cook breakfast is on oatmeal, grits, or toast day (cheese or cinnamon toast). I usually do 3 days a week of pre-prepped breakfast food. This morning, the kids had biscuits with jelly.
I also prepare my from-scratch items. I make my own barbecue sauce, maple syrup, brown sugar, powdered sugar, and other things. I’ve made my own coffee creamer before. It just depends on what I need that week. In the semi-near future I’ll probably keep ranch dressing made up – we can’t really have salad right now because we haven’t gotten Shane’s lower dentures yet so he has trouble with raw veggies so I haven’t really made much ranch lately.
Finally I prep my three sweets for the week. One of these is always some kind of brownie or cookie product so I can have a snack in my lunch during the week. I almost never buy cookies. I will buy animal crackers, but that’s usually it. I make the rest of the sweets for my kids. Coffee cake, sweet tea and lemonade cake, brownies, pudding, fudge, muffins, cakes, pies – whatever is seasonally appropriate. At Christmas I had fruitcake cookies, a gingerbread house, and gingerbread cookies on my list. On birthdays I put a cake on the list. At Thanksgiving, the three sweets were the Thanksgiving desserts. On weeks where Shane lets me know in advance there’s a football game, I make snacks for his game (that last later than the game of course!) But my rule of thumb is always 3 sweets a week. For a smaller family that might be too much and for a bigger family that might not be enough. But 3 a week usually lasts us through the week. Not always but usually.
Another thing I do to save time during the week is pre-prep all of my lunch stuff *FOR THE PAY PERIOD* I get paid less than once a week – it’s twice a month. So I have to prep lunch foods for the 15 days between pay periods, but only week days. Originally this just involved bagging cookies and brownies. Then I evolved to cutting up pickles and bagging them too, as well as bagging up chips. Now I have everything in assembly line form. I made all my sandwiches, chips are bagged, pickles bagged, yogurt is in individual containers, fruit is ready to go, cookies are bagged. It literally takes me 30 seconds to pack my lunch for the next day now. The only down side to this method is that I don’t have leftovers ready to go for the next day’s lunch but on a particularly yummy leftover day I’ll ask Lilly and Matt to set me some aside in a smaller container when they clean up dinner that night, so it still works out. Plus I have the added advantage of already having all of my lunches prepared so it’s not as big a deal if the kids eat all of the bread because we’ll have more groceries before I need it again.
4. Locate items in convenient and easy to access places.
This one might seem silly and well duh, but let me illustrate with some examples from my household.
We have three bathrooms, and five chemical storage areas (well ok, it’s just four right now but when the boys get older and stop getting into stuff in their bathroom it will be five). Each bathroom, the kitchen, and the mud room has the same sets of chemicals: windex, paper towels, all purpose cleaner, mop detergent, toilet cleaner, etc as is appropriate for that room. The upstairs bathroom uses the mop detergent from the kitchen, and the downstairs bathrooms use the mop detergent from the mud room. Having the chemicals separated out like this saves a lot of time. Yes it means I have about 6 bottles of windex in my house between storage areas and “stock”, but it makes things go smoother. On Monday mornings when I get up – I go to the bathroom and get dressed and spend less than five minutes cleaning up the bathroom (leaving only the tub, and vacuuming and mopping the floor to do in the afternoon) because everything is right there. I don’t have to go upstairs or into another room to get anything I need. Similarly, I keep my spare bed linens downstairs in the mudroom so it’s super close when I exchange the sheets. Makes things really easy. Everyone also has their own hampers. The girls have one in their bathroom, Matt has his in his room, and the boys have theirs in the mudroom only because they apparently can’t be trusted with ANYTHING in their room so we’ve banished everything from their room except their bed (that’s a whole other blog post there!)
Having multiple storage locations makes things super easy to access. It’s an obvious concept too – think about the kitchen. That little bucket of utensils beside the stove – it’s usually filled with the most commonly used utensils. For me that would be whisks, wooden spoons, and rubber spatulas, along with a few other things. I also keep salt, pepper, and my spray bottle of oil handy for easy accessibility. I still have a long road ahead of me on kitchen organization, but some of it is there as far as ease of accessibility.
I’ve posted about the wonders of multitasking before but really it is a tremendous time saver. As usual, some examples.
I’m sure there are some people out there who are awed by the wonders of their baby as they nurse them. I am not one of those people. I’m more of a “ok, he’s nursing… and his eyes are closed… now what?” type of person. So it was obvious to me that nursing children was the perfect time for catching up on email, facebook, even the occasional blog post. I also will take that time to research recipes that I need soon, perhaps an idea I had about how to improve some aspect of my life, and much more rarely I will watch Netflix.
When I’m playing World of Warcraft with the family, it’s not non-stop action. Frequently there are breaks. Someone has to go to the bathroom, Shane gets us coffee, kids need to be corralled, Shane takes a smoke break – any number of reasons for a break. During these breaks, I multitask while gaming – and work on crafts. So I can spend time playing games and working on the crafts I need to be doing. This is another reason I like getting all my chores done on Monday – it means I don’t have to multitask by cleaning then!
People make fun of me for multitasking. I often have ten tabs open in my browser, using all of them for different mini things I’m working on at the moment, and knowing exactly what is on each of the tabs. The way I’m able to do this as effectively as I can, though, is I mentally plan and prep. When I’m laying down at night, after prayers, I lay out my day in my mind. I check my calendar and to-do list, and I imagine how my day and week will go. In this way I know – oh I don’t have a project tomorrow, maybe I can work ahead. Or, oh it’s going to be sausage red beans and rice tomorrow for dinner, I need to soak the red beans in the morning and have kids pull out the sausage to defrost. Little mental notes. This isn’t the BEST method because sometimes I forget those but it does give me a general idea of how my day will go.
I save time during the work day by working while I eat lunch – I know that option isn’t available to everyone but if it is by all means take it! For me anyways, I’d rather be at home with my family for that extra hour, than at work. Plus having an earlier start to my evening (4 instead of 5 or later due to traffic) makes life easier.
I even multitask when I homeschool. While one child is doing a lesson, I set the other children up with lessons, and then check what’s next on my list. In this way my 45 minutes to an hour in the mornings is maximized with the kids and I’m usually able to finish all three of the boys’ preschool lessons and about half of Sierra’s first grade lessons. Plus now I’m trying to encourage Lilly’s grooming into good habits by brushing her hair and putting it up in pig tails every day – she’s yet to reach the age where she actually cares about her appearance yet, even if I do care! So that’s our compromise. It takes five minutes of my time but then I don’t have to see her with a giant rat’s nest in her hair.
6. Utilize every moment of available time with something productive.
This one might seem like a well-duh one as well, but here’s some things you might not have thought of.
In the office environment, at least, it seems like a good bit of time is “wasted”. Now I don’t mean to say that work doesn’t get done because that’s not the case at all. Work gets done but in between work getting done sometimes there’s downtime. This might manifest as smoke breaks for some people, or chatting at the coffee pot, or an extended lunch break, or anything like that. I would say instead of engaging in those activities, find productive things to do during that time. For me this is checking up on my family – seeing if they need anything from me for homeschool, adding to my blog, working on school lesson planning, etc. I’ll admit sometimes I feel like this is a gray area, particularly as a Christian. But then – there’s only so much work you CAN do. Because after that there is no work available. It’s a little talked about thing but you can actually work yourself out of work. And I’d rather have a little bit of work here and there than a long period of no work. So during slow times I balance. During busy times I usually get so lost in work I forget to notice it’s time to leave and I end up working later than I intend, but eh lol.
I would imagine that in every job there are down times. And while every job might not allow you to have, say your cell phone with you (mine does, but Shane’s didn’t even though he would do it anyways), you could still perhaps have paper and a pencil and do a menu plan while you’re waiting for more work, or jot down some ideas for school plans, or whatever the case may be. A spare five minutes here and there can make all the difference.
7. Take a day of rest.
Whoa wait, DON’T be productive? WASTE time? By utilizing the time you can find with productive things, it makes later times easier and more relaxing. For me I work hard six days of the week so I can basically do nothing on Sunday. Sometimes I work so hard there’s practically nothing to do on Saturday too! Besides that, I think seasonally too. By working hard now on my projects, it will make Christmas so much more relaxing. This past year I finished up Christmas presents by December. And it made a world of difference not stressing about whether I’d be done by Christmas or not. For me that was a big thing.
The Bible says to take a day of rest and I think sometimes people think it’s like a punishment or something. But really it’s a blessing. It’s a day you’re given divine permission to NOT work lol. Focus on God, relax, go to church, pray, read your Bible, and relax your mind and body. By resting one day a week it gives you a two-fold benefit – you have something to look forward to each week which is encouraging (would you really feel like getting up every day if your first thought was ‘ug more work today’) and you start your next week refreshed. I read a blog yesterday that talked about starting your week on Sunday instead of “being lazy”, but I wouldn’t do that. It’s tempting to try and get started on your week early, but really, to what end? What day of rest would you then be working towards if you work on your day of rest just to get to the next week?
8. Delegate and feel great!
At least that’s what someone told me once! Whether you’re a working parent or not, sometimes you have to delegate. And truth be told this is not a big ugly D word. Kids need responsibility. Kids need the opportunity to do work. Idle hands and all that are a bad thing. I can strongly attest to that as can my overly-destructive-because-they-get-bored-too-often children. I think it’s healthy for kids to have regular chores (like cleaning their own rooms and bathrooms) but I also think it’s important for them to chip in on family chores regularly as well. The older the child the more family responsibility they should have. When I was growing up and both of my parents worked, my sister and I had to do all of the weekly cleaning. Now I don’t shuck all of the cleaning on my kids but I will delegate. For example, if I’m in the kitchen cleaning counters, appliances, and cabinets, then I’ll ask Lilly to sweep the porches and deck outside while Matthew and Shane (not a kid I know but still he asked me to delegate to him!) work on getting the downstairs windexed and vacuumed. If we all work together we can get all of the weekly chores done in less than an hour. Which means by 5 I’m sitting down waiting on dinner to cook, instead of still cleaning at 7 and dinner’s not done. Makes life go a lot smoother, especially when you consider I still have to finish Sierra’s homeschool when I get home from work.
9. Sometimes you have to eliminate obligations.
I think six days is plenty to get all of your work done. If it really isn’t and you’ve done everything you can do and delegated what you could and you STILL don’t have enough time, it might be time to cut out some tasks. I had to do that. I had signed up to work on a volunteer Bible project when I was unemployed and we weren’t sure what the plan was. I didn’t hear anything back from them. Then we decided I needed to work so I started looking for a job. I hadn’t found anything but I heard back from the Bible app people so I started working with them. It was a volunteer position so I still had to find a job. I did finally find one but then I had the problem of too much to do and not enough time. At the time I was working, trying to do that Bible app, working on my own personal programming project, doing crafts, homeschooling 7 kids, plus cooking from scratch and the regular cleaning. It was too much. I couldn’t do it all and some of that stuff I just couldn’t delegate. Some of it I wasn’t willing to stop doing either. I was committed to homeschooling, keeping my house clean, doing my crafts, and cooking from scratch. I had to work. So that meant the volunteer programming project had to go. By bowing out of that, it freed my mind of so much worry. I actually felt guilty for not being able to put in time to a volunteer project because I was too busy. At some point in my future life might be quieter and I might have time then. But in this season of my life I am too busy with other responsibilities that I think are more important for my family right now.
Sometimes you just have to eliminate to save time.
10. Find your most productive time of day and run with it.
When I was a stay at home mom my most productive time of day was nap time. I could get through all the homeschooling that was left then, and get chores done while kids were sleeping, with enough time to catch a quick nap myself. Now that I’m working the mornings are the most productive time of day for me. I can get a good amount of chores done, get most of my homeschooling responsibilities done, and finish the day’s work at work in the morning. Which is a good thing because I start feeling braindead around 1-2 in the afternoon (aka siesta time!) But since I work I can’t nap so I have to muscle through it. Knowing when I’m most productive, and knowing the rhythm of my day, helps me to plan out when and how to do the chores that I have to do.
In practice what this looks like is this – I do my usually weekly chores in the morning on Monday before work. If it’s the first of the month, I wait until the next day a lot of times and do them all in the morning too. This isn’t a hard and fast rule but I usually try and get everything I can get done in the morning hours and then during my less productive afternoon hours I try to work through what I can, even though it’s harder to focus due to sleep deprivation issues associated with being the mother of a baby lol.
Since the morning is the most productive time for me this is when I get homeschool done. I do my best to finish school with the boys every day before work. In order to do this, I get to work about fifteen minutes later than I would like to but those fifteen minutes in the morning would be like an hour in the afternoon trying to get the boys to focus at that time. Just wouldn’t be as time effective. It’s kind of like when you buy something and overall it’s cheaper than another item, but per unit it’s three times as much. I go with the cheaper-per-unit item. Same with my time. Go in a little late to work, leave a little later, but get a lot more time in my day.
So there you go. Ten ways I use to save time during the week. I hope some of these are useful to you. There are probably other things I use as well, but these seemed like the big ones I use regularly!