Yes, I am driven. Yes, I am ambitious. And yes, I will be late to most things. Time management is something that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember.
Although I quit my corporate job, managing time is still important. I think it’s essential for life in general, no matter your profession or whether you have kids or not.
The more efficient you are, the more you can get done, and the less stressed out you will be.
I worked full-time from sixteen years old to thirty-five, without any real gaps except for three months of maternity leave for each child (and a couple months of redefining myself at twenty-five). The last seven years of my career was juggling work and kids, with the last 3.5 years of it with two kids in the picture.
Over the years, we picked up a few things that helped us manage our time more effectively. These things could apply to someone with or without kids.
1. Make the lunch the night before.
I’ve heard some people make lunches for themselves and/or their kids in the morning before they leave for work. To me, that is crazy. Mornings are hectic enough. Spend five minutes the night before and make the lunch(es) ahead of time. It will make your morning a little smoother, and allow a bit of buffer in your schedule to account for traffic on your commute, a shirt you didn’t realize was stained until you put it on, or a blown-out diaper (sorry for those of you without kids, gross example, I know).
2. Pick out your clothes the night before.
This goes for yourself and anyone else you’re helping get dressed in the morning. Like making the lunches the night before, a little preparation ahead of time goes a long way. Here’s something that could happen if you don’t pick out your clothes in advance: you forget that you haven’t done laundry in a while, and the clothes you prefer to wear are all dirty. Now you’re running around trying on all the clothes you hate but refuse to get rid of, and have changed your outfit three times… or maybe that’s just at my house ? Once kids are old enough to have opinions on what they wear (how dare they), this example applies to them, too.
3. Try to think one step ahead.
I’m more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” type of person, so this one really goes against my nature. A memory that sticks with me is when I was newly reporting to a boss and was figuring out how to still be ambitious at work with a twelve-month-old (that I was still nursing) and four-year-old.
I had to leave work for an important doctor’s appointment for one of the kids straight from a meeting we were in. As we were walking towards our meeting, I reminded my boss I’d be leaving, and he said, “why don’t you go grab your things so that you don’t have to walk all the way back to your desk before going?”. Umm, great idea… I listened to him and saved myself the anxiety of rushing back to get my things later.
I tend to focus on just getting through one aspect of the day – it’s my way of coping with stress, and it works; it keeps me from getting overwhelmed at times. The key words are “at times” because sometimes all that does is shift the stress later. With practice, you can get better at knowing when to plan and when to be in the moment.
4. Decide what is most important to you, and let the rest be what it will be.
Yes, that’s another way of saying “prioritize,” but in a way that speaks to me. You are in control of what’s most important to you – isn’t that nice? Anything outside of that will work itself out, have faith in it. For me, it was important to spend time with my son each morning to eat breakfast and watch kid shows, while getting in extra snuggles in bed. It can be hard having both parents work full-time, and those moments were the highlight of my day.
Because I had identified that as important to me, we made sure to make the lunches and pick out clothes the night before to have the snuggle time in the morning.
I’m not saying that you should half-ass anything that’s not important to you, and “important” doesn’t always mean it’s something you enjoy.
In terms of managing my time more effectively, it helped me to think more about the things that were important to accomplish and start there.
In addition to getting more done, it allowed me to feel happier and more in control vs. overwhelmed.
Your homework: write down the things that are important for you to accomplish each day.