I consider myself to have fairly good time management skills. I am often asked, "How do you get so much done?" and the answer is simple: I love to be efficient. Webster's defines the word efficient as "productive of desired effects; especially productive without waste." Throughout my day, I am conscious of how I can do things efficiently. Without waste. I want to make every moment of my day count, whether I'm doing chores, playing with my kids or vegging in front of the computer.
I certainly don't have all of the answers to help make the world a more productive place, but I do have some suggestions to help you get more out of your days. Here are my...
Top 10 Tips for Effective Time Management
- First Things First: Prioritize. What is most important to you? Your friends? Family? Hobbies? As Christians, our priorities should be: God, spouse, kids. In that order. THEN come other people, yourself and your hobbies. It is the way we were designed and, although some may argue that our kids should come before our spouse, keeping your priorities in the order I mentioned will keep all of your relationships healthy. Your marriage will suffer if you put your children before your relationship with your spouse. Your children will suffer if you put outings with your friends above quality time with them. YOU will suffer if you don't put God above all else and carve out time each day to spend with Him and in the Bible. Once you've established your priorities, it's easy to weed out the to-do items that don't fit into the bigger picture. Become comfortable saying, "no" to things that take too much time away from your priorities. Someone else will step up to lead the PTA or the church picnic or the soccer team's community car wash. If you're passionate about those things, by all means, DO them, but know your limits. Make sure your volunteer efforts for complete strangers don't interfere with what's most important in your life.
- Get enough sleep. Recently, someone asked me, "Do you ever sleep?" I know she was kidding, but I do, actually. I'm a grouch when I'm sleep deprived. I need at least eight hours of sleep each night, preferably nine...it's kind of a nuisance! I truly believe that I get more done during my day because I'm well-rested. I could possibly do even more if I cut out an hour or two of sleep each night, but I wouldn't be the gentle, pleasant, calm wife and mom that God calls me to be. (Believe me, even with enough sleep I struggle with that - I need all the help I can get!) I heard once that Martha Stewart sleeps 3-4 hours a night. That explains how SHE gets so much done, but it also gives some insight into the rumors that she's difficult behind the scenes, don't you think?
- Early to bed, early to rise. I'm not naturally a morning person. I am very productive at night, but I've recently realized that I'm a happier person if I wake up before my family. I took Sarah Mae's challenge of waking up at the crack of dawn and joined the 5:16 girls. (I'm actually a 6am girl, but it totally counts because my kids aren't up until 7:00) If you take that time to prepare yourself, your heart and your home, you will be shocked at how fluid the rest of your day can be. Not every day will be rainbows and puppy dogs, but your attitude will be better as you tackle each situation with love and grace. My new habit is to pray first thing, in the dark, by myself...even before I get out of bed. Sometimes my prayers are 2 minutes, sometimes they're 10, but giving God the first fruits of my time pleases Him and sets my day up for success. I pray for my husband, for wisdom as I guide my kids throughout the day, for gentleness and for grace, plus whatever or whoever else pops into my head.
- Develop a routine. Even if you spend most of your time at home, giving your day a routine will give you and your family a predictable rhythm to follow. When we moved into a 2-story house, I found myself (and my son) in our PJs long after the breakfast dishes were done. We just didn't seem to make it back upstairs! So I determined that we would get dressed, brush our teeth and make our beds all before going downstairs every morning. Once it's done, it's out of my mind and I am more motivated to be productive. Developing routines for recurring tasks (laundry, paying bills, making dinner) will shave time off of each job and allow you to spend your time doing other things. Personally, I've finally conquered the never-ending pests of dishes and laundry. I live in Phoenix, where we are given "off peak" hours to use our electricity at a discounted rate. Off peak hours begin at 9:00pm and end at 9:00am, so I've gotten into the habit of starting my dishwasher and a load of laundry every night at 9:00. While the kids are eating breakfast in the morning, the clothes in the washer go into the dryer and I unload the clean dishwasher. I fold the load of laundry before we leave the house and put the clothes away so that chore is completely done and off my plate. Dishes and laundry no longer pile up in our house because I have a routine.
- Keep lists. Don't trust your memory! Let's face it, people - we're losing brain cells every minute and as moms, we're not getting them back. I love lists. The grocery list on my fridge keeps me from running to the store for that ONE last thing. I add to my to-do list as I think of items, then I look at it daily. Be sure to put big and small items on different lists so you can begin feeling a sense of accomplishment. ("buy a gift for Tommy's birthday party" and "tile the kitchen" should never be on the same list unless they're getting done on the same weekend) Star the things that need to get done today and don't feel overwhelmed by the other items on the list. You can work on those tomorrow. For long-term goals, I was recently encouraged by some friends to make a 101 Goals in 1001 Days list. It's a great way to cross off some of the major items in your head with a more realistic, LONG-term timeframe.
- Do the worst thing first. In the book, "Secrets to Getting More Done in Less Time" by Donna Otto (a book I HIGHLY recommend) the author makes a profound statement in one of the chapters: It's not what you DO that wears you down, it's what you DON'T DO. Think about that for a minute. We tend to get the "easy" tasks done first and put off (or sometimes never even do) the tough stuff. I am a natural procrastinator. I figured out years ago that if I hurry up and cross off the worst stuff on my to-do list first, a weight was lifted off my shoulders for the rest of the day. Start slow - pick out the top 2-3 most important tasks that you need to do today and do one of them before anything else. What are you dreading? Giving the dog a bath? Labeling items for your garage sale? Calling your sister to apologize for snapping at her last night? Try doing it first thing in the morning. I think you'll be surprised how nice your day is when those things are done at the beginning of the day. It's quite freeing!
- Guard your child-free time and use it effectively. For those of you with kids, especially young ones still at home, are you conscious of what you can accomplish with the kids around versus your time alone? I have a mental list of things that I do during naptime: check emails, blog, scrapbook, catch up on recorded episodes of American Idol or Jon & Kate Plus 8. (This is a great show to recharge your mommy battery!) I don't do those things during my kids' waking hours. But there are a ton of things that I CAN do while they're awake, things that I've resolved to avoid during naptime: dishes, laundry, dust, pick up toys, make meals...not only can I do these chores with the kids in tow, they can benefit from watching me do them and have eventually learned to help. My nearest grocery store has a Kids Club, so I don't mind taking the kids shopping with me and they LOVE going to Costco to sample all of the snacks, yet taking them to the post office or to the dentist is a nightmare...so I save those things for days that I have childcare help.
- Consolidate errands. I try to go to the gym every morning. (Side note: Daily workouts guarantee me an hour of time all to myself while the kids run wild in someone else's care - I highly recommend joining a gym! SO worth the investment...) Our gym is near a major shopping area in my town, so I always try to run an errand or two on the way home. I'll get gas at Costco and run to Trader Joe's or return something at Target and run into Joann's for some scrapbooking supplies. For the kids' sake, I usually do one short errand and one that might be a little longer. By doing 1-2 errands a day, I rarely feel overwhelmed. Plus it gives our day variety and gets the kids out of the house.
- Plan interruptions into your day. Are you usually late? Racing to get from place to place, hoping to avoid a speeding ticket? Yeah, I was like that too. Then in college, someone gave me an amazing timeliness tip: However long you think it will take you to get somewhere, add 10 minutes. If you think it will take you less than 20 minutes to get somewhere, double the time. (for example: if you assume it will take you 15 minute, leave 30 minutes beforehand and when you think it will take 30 minutes, allow 40 minutes travel time) Suddenly, I was on time everywhere I went. Or *gasp!* - 5 minutes early. It was an amazing paradigm shift. The extra time allows for the unexpected: getting caught at every red light, needing to stop for gas, forgetting the diaper bag and needing to turn around to get it...the list goes on and on. By trying to do that one more thing before you leave the house, you are beginning a domino affect of inconvenience to others. I felt so selfish when I realized that when I run late for the doctor, they run behind all day long. Yet now, I get to sit in the waiting room for an hour because someone else ran late at an earlier appointment. Break the cycle and resolve to leave 10 minutes earlier everywhere you go.
- Discover and utilize useful resources. I've mentioned that I let my kids play at the Kids Club at the gym and at the grocery store while I workout and shop. What kinds of resources do YOU have that you may not have discovered yet? Last year, I met a neighbor with kids near my children's ages and we utilize each other every week. On Monday mornings, we trade babysitting. One week she has my kids and I get things done around the house or around town, the next week I take her kids while she has free time. Then on Thursdays, we meal-swap. One week I double my dinner recipe and bring her family a hot, fresh meal at 5:30pm, the next week I don't cook and she brings our family dinner at 5:30. It's a great trading system. And there's an added bonus: I've found that my kids disappear when her kids come over every other Monday. I actually slate that time to deep-clean my kitchen while the kids play in the backyard and I peek at them out the window.
Okay, so what do you do with all of this overwhelming information? Start small. Just like I recommended when tackling the to-do list, pick a few of the items I've listed and try incorporating them into your life. You have the ability to be productive and efficient with your time - you just need to grow and develop the skills to incorporate more into your day. So...which items are you going to try?
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