How To Be Efficient As a Busy Mom And Still Chase Your Dreams
Haven’t we all been there? Going from being frazzled and all over the place to being efficient and feeling like a super-woman, then back down again? I’ve been through my fair share of daily vicissitudes that have left me in shambles plenty of times. Being a mom of two kids or having a professional career alone can easily take up all the time, effort, and patience one can conjure up.
So, I wasn’t surprised when several parents asked me how I managed to finish reading those books or teaching that dance group or even taking up new hobbies. While I attribute a significant part of my success to having a supportive and loving life-partner who contributes equally in running the house and raising the kids, there are some good time management habits I have cultivated over the years that have served me well.
I was a perfectionist once (before kids, of course), then a realization dawned upon me that the pursuit of perfection leads to frustration more than a sense of accomplishment. I now aim for a job well done and from there on, constantly try to improve. This approach helps me pursue things I love like reading, dancing, and teaching and to also dabble in others like arts, crochet, fitness and well…writing.
I want to share some tried-and-tested tips in the hopes of helping another busy and always working mom maximize the use of her time and feel like an achiever, no matter her personal situation. (I love and live by lists, so it’s no wonder that my first article contains a list.)
Using calendars for jotting ALL activities
Both my husband and I extensively use a family calendar and note down every activity that we sign up for. This ranges from all kids activities, classes, sporting events, study meetings, social gatherings, personal appointments like hair, dentist etc. – you get the idea. Add every event, big or small, to the calendar and make sure to either “invite” your partner to that event or mark in the shared family calendar. We love using google calendar since it’s very handy and easily accessible via the phone. This also allows us honor each other’s commitments, as well as ensure we are not double booking our time or missing a planned event.
Enabling reminders on phone
A phone notification can be such a hot trigger for attention and extremely hard to ignore -and very useful if used wisely. I use the reminder tool on the phone liberally and set it to a date and time I think is the most appropriate to getting the task completed. Not too early or you can procrastinate and not too late or you may not have sufficient time to finish it. The items I enter here range from ‘call mom for her B’day’ to ‘sign up kids for music class’. This is particularly helpful when you randomly think of a task that you might forget later, and it’s best to capture it on the phone reminder right away and set it to a time when you can act on it.
Planning meals ahead of time
Coming from a family that values home-cooked meals, we developed a habit of planning our daily meals (including kid’s school lunches) ahead of time, over the weekend. This has a two-fold advantage. First, items in the refrigerator get utilized and second, we make a grocery shopping list for the week ahead. In addition, the pressure and dilemma of what to cook each day is eliminated. In fact, I think this offers a lot of flexibility when cooking meals. Once the pressure of deciding what to make each day is off, you can actually take the time to cook up something new, if you so desire!
There are times when complete focus on tasks is required, such as writing a work email or studying with kids. Then, there are other tasks that do not require as much mind labor – like folding laundry. I use such menial tasks to perform what I call “good multi-tasking”. I call a friend or listen to music while folding laundry. Or, read a book while waiting in the car to pick up my daughter from a class. Try brainstorming other menial tasks that you can use for “good multi-tasking”.
Developing a consistent schedule for kids
Having a consistent schedule for kids (meal times, waking and bedtimes, etc.) not only helps kids maintain a regular routine, but also allows us an opportunity to carve out time for ourselves. We have our kids in bed latest by 8:30 pm on weeknights and 9:30pm on weekends. Weekend nights then turn into binge watching sessions for me and my husband since we both love good TV shows and good movies. A caveat is that we only watch TV over the weekends. Weeknights, after kid’s bedtime, are spent either surfing the web, catching up with family or friends (on the other side of the ocean) or reading.
I extensively use office calendars to set tasks for certain days of the week well ahead of their planned completion date. I recently learned this technique has a name called “time-boxing”, where you block a period of time on your calendar to perform a task. The key is to plan ahead and then honor that blocked time. I also set calendar reminders for topics that I need to bring up during a meeting or discuss with my manager right before the meeting is scheduled, so that I don’t forget them.
This day and age of instant communication warrants us to constantly check our emails and messages. For emails, I use ‘Unread’ marking to stow important emails for later when I can carve out more time to address them and then mark them with a ‘Star’ if it’s something I’ll need to reference later. I like to mark all others as ‘Read’ to minimize distraction. Gmail has some cool features like auto categorizing promotions and social emails, follow-up tags and adding flight details to calendar.
Using texts over phone calls
Sure, there are times when you want to hear the voice of a loved one or talk to a friend, but for the most part, communication can be handled via a text (or WhatsApp) message or an email. Get to the text messages within a few hours and all at the same time. This helps me to not miss out on messages, which is an important asset when handling multiple responsibilities. Missed communication or not able to respond timely may cause you to drop a ball and leave you with a feeling of frustration.
Efficiently doing daily chores
Having a consistent schedule and a time chalked out for daily chores helps keep those nagging thoughts out. We set a weekly and a daily routine for home chores, such as laundry or deep cleaning on certain days of the week, cooking and daily cleaning at certain times of the day. Also, get older kids to help out wherever possible as a bonus.
Making a commitment to taking care of yourself
Lastly, commit to taking care of yourself and valuing your own personal time. Try blocking out at least half an hour or one hour 2-3 times a week for self-improvement or fulfilling activities. Occasionally, I go out for a girl’s night out and my hubby for a dinner out with his friends. This provides us with our space and helps us honor each other’s personal time. Use your personal time for things that help you rejuvenate and revitalize and work towards fulfilling your dream.
These techniques are my life (and time) savers. If they seem overwhelming at first, start with just a few. With patience and practice they can turn into your best allies. I would like to leave you with a quote from Daisaku Ikeda, “Everything depends on what is in our hearts. If we decide that something is impossible, then, consistent with our minds in thinking so, even something that is possible for us will become impossible. On the other hand, if we have the confidence that we can definitely do something, then we are already one step closer to achieving it in reality.”
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Author: Kranti Shalia
An aerospace engineer by profession, Kranti spends her time juggling family and a career while chasing her many dreams. Originally from India, she migrated to the States for higher education and now lives in Southern California with her husband and two kids. Some of her interests are spirituality, dancing, reading, travelling, and teaching.