You’re late to work – again. You were doing great until your toddler fell down and got mud on the one clean outfit he had left. You spend your lunch dashing out for cookies to take to a class party. And then you have to turn down your boss’s request to stay late because childcare charges you a dollar per minute after 6 p.m. Nobody is happy, including you. Is there a way out, short of sticking your head in the sand until your kids are off to college?
Well, yes and no. Working moms are always going to have too much on their plates. But you can make handling your competing workloads more doable with a few basic time management strategies:
1. Make two lists
Studies have shown that multitasking really isn’t very effective. When both tasks require intense brainpower, it usually results in neither task being done well. With that in mind, keep two to-do lists, one for home and one for work. Separate lists will help you focus – you’ll be less likely to try to round up volunteers for the school fundraiser while you’re preparing an important financial report.
2. Stop doing unnecessary work
Sometimes we continue doing things out of habit, long after the need has passed. For instance, do you really need to compile that weekly report that nobody reads? If nobody is using the information (or if there’s an easy way for people to get it for themselves), ask your manager if you can scratch that task off your list. And do you really need to spend an hour a month balancing your checkbook when you can check your balance online? Do you even need to write transactions down in your check register when they’ll show up in your online account almost instantaneously? If the task won’t make a difference in your life two years from now, let it go.
Sometimes procrastination can be a good thing. Don’t clutter up your to-do list with items that aren’t due in the immediate future. There are any number of to-do apps that let you set a task to pop up on a certain date. That’s a great way to make sure you don’t forget about it without losing your focus on immediate priorities.
4. Rebel against tyranny of the urgent
“Tyranny of the urgent” is when you spend all of your time putting out fires rather than the things that will move you toward your goals (whether business or personal). It’s the little things that pop up and take precedence over the important things. If you find yourself spending a lot of time putting out fires, think about whether you can delegate those tasks to someone else. If not, try setting aside a particular time each day when you’ll handle urgent tasks, and protect the rest of your day for the things that are important.
5. Set the (figurative) table the night before
Before you leave work at the end of the day, take the time to straighten up your desk and gather the things you need to tackle your first task in the morning. Aside from giving yourself a more peaceful evening, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running the next morning instead of trying to figure out what to do. At home, set out the kids clothes and make their lunches the night before so that you’re not scrambling in the morning.
6. Take up freezer cooking
There’s nothing quite like leaving work at the end of a draining day and realizing that you still have to cook dinner – after you stop at the grocery store on the way home. With freezer cooking, you devote a few hours at a time to prepping as many meals as you can and freezing them. Each evening, just take out whatever you want to serve the next night, and move it to the refrigerator to thaw. Slow-cooker meals make things even easier, and you can pop most of them in straight from the freezer.
7. Don’t let things pile up
Sure, there are days when you can barely prop your eyes open until the kids go to bed, and you certainly don’t feel like folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen. And that’s OK once in a while. The problem arises when you have a lot of those days in succession, because you’ll find yourself so far behind it’s intimidating to even think about tackling the backlog. Face it – you’re never going to be completely fresh and rested, and least not until your kids grow up. It’s better to buck up and get things done rather than putting them off. The same is true for the work tasks you keep putting off. One workplace cliché that’s really true is, “Eat a frog first thing in the morning.” As unappetizing as it sounds, it’s good advice. It simply means to tackle one task you’ve been dreading as soon as you get to work each morning.
8. Eliminate distractions
One study showed that the average American employ spends 28 percent of their time being interrupted and trying to refocus. If you work an eight-hour day, that’s almost 2.1 hours per day. Would you like to get that time back? Then do everything you can to minimize distractions. If you work in a cube farm, start by wearing some noise-reducing headphones to filter out all of the background noise. If you have an office, shut the door and let everyone know that only a true emergency merits an interruption (you may have to close the blinds so that you’re not distracted by your employees standing woefully by your office waiting for you to reemerge). If your employer allows it, try working from home once or twice a week. If home isn’t an option, try a library, a coffee shop, or any other place where you can hide out and fend off interruptions.
9. Stop cutting corners
When you’re truly overwhelmed by your responsibilities at work and at home, it’s tempting to start doing just the bare minimum you can get away with. While that seems like a time-saver, it really isn’t, because you’ll often have to come back and fill in the holes you left or correct mistakes you made because you were rushing and just trying to get it done.
10. Make the most of your commute
If you have access to good public transportation, use it. You can answer emails, respond to phone calls, read briefing papers, or even create a presentation while you’re on your way to and from work. If you have to drive, see if there is anyone you could carpool with; on the days it’s your friend’s turn to drive, you can get some work done.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to add more hours to your day. But these ten tips will help you make the very most of the time you have.