Time Management (From a Mom With No Time To Manage)

The new year rolled in a week ago, and to be honest, I almost didn’t notice. I rang in the new year sitting in the nursery, nestled in my mother’s rocking chair she so kindly bestowed upon me just before my daughter was born. They say that whatever you’re doing when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve is something you’ll spend all year doing, and it couldn’t be more accurate – I was feeding our newborn baby, and for the rest of this year, she’ll be taking up almost all of my time.

The Pendulum from moonsea on Etsy
Time flies – Moonsea on Etsy

Mind you, that’s not a complaint. I’ve always wanted to be a mother and I’ve been over the moon since I found out she was on her way. It was, however, a difficult pregnancy. With complications early on that made me fear the baby wouldn’t make it, I was put on light duty right away. No lifting of anything, try to stay off my feet, take these extra pills. Then when I started having problems with low blood pressure, staying off my feet wasn’t a matter of trying – It was a choice of either sitting down or passing out. I went suddenly from being a normal,  healthy and active person to being someone who could only be up for a few minutes at a time,  and it forced me to take a good look at something I never had to worry about before: Time management.

I get bored easily. I need to have something to do, something to keep my hands busy, or I get restless. And when I do something, I tend to get so engrossed in it that I lose track of everything else. If I clean house, for example, I won’t stop until the entire house is clean. Or, that’s the way I used to do it. I had to learn to do things in smaller, bite-sized pieces, with lots of space for rest in between. And now that the baby’s here, I still have to do things in smaller, bite-sized pieces, with lots of time for taking care of her in between.

There’s a million places online to read about time management, but a lot of what works for me is the exact opposite of what I’ve read in the past. There’s as many ways to do things as there are people in the world, after all, and who knows. Maybe some of these will work for you, too.

1. Keep a list – A very thorough one.
Keeping a to-do list is a pretty obvious way to keep yourself on task, but generally speaking, if you’re filling one out, you’re going to try to put everything down as big jobs. Examples of this might be something like “Clean the kitchen”, which is pretty broad. And unless you have a sizable chunk of time to devote to doing it all at once, you won’t be seeing any progress on your list for a long time. Instead, try breaking larger duties down into smaller tasks. Instead of just noting that you need to clean the entire kitchen, try making note of specific tasks, like “Wipe down counter tops”, “Unload dishwasher” and “Clean stove” – Little jobs you’ll be able to accomplish one at a time by sparing only a few minutes here and there throughout the day. Remember to write down mundane things, too. “Eat lunch” may not seem like something you’d need to write down to remember, but if it’s going to take time out of your day, it’s best to keep track of it on your list. Seeing those little tasks scratched off is not only encouraging, but it helps build momentum as you work through your day.

2. Don’t multitask.
It can be so tempting, but don’t give in! Multitasking will only slow you down. Sure, you may think you can wash the dishes while you talk to your mom on the phone, but you won’t be giving either of those things the attention it deserves, and you’re likely just going to frustrate yourself when you’re attempting to juggle both things at once. Always take your tasks one at a time. Don’t try to munch a sandwich while you’re shooting off that business email, give yourself time to eat and time to work and you’ll find that you’re more rested after the meal, and more focused and relaxed when it comes time to write that formal reply.

3. Do the small tasks first.
Most people suggest tackling the big objects on your list first, but I disagree. Maybe it’s just me, but seeing that long list of things I’ve got to do feels like staring up at a mountain and knowing I have to climb it. Sure, you could run right in and blaze a trail up the side of that mountain, but sometimes it’s just easier to take care of smaller things, first. The other things on your list may seem trivial compared to that one big, important task, but if you try to tackle the big thing first, all the little stuff you haven’t done is going to nag at you the entire time you’re trying to work. And if you’re anything like me, that means you’ll be distracted, and just won’t be able to give that big job your all. So before climbing that mountain, take a moment to tie your hiking boots. Put on sunscreen. Make sure your iPod is charged. Then you can start your journey.

4. Recognize what really needs done.
The Pareto principle is the idea that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your work. This is always a good thing to apply to your to-do list. I still think it’s important to break everything down into tiny, bite-sized bits that can be done a little at a time, but it’s also important to look at those bite-sized bits and see which ones really need to be chewed. Does your car have to be washed this week? Do you really need to go grocery shopping, or is there still stuff in the pantry you should use up before you go? Realizing which tasks are important and which ones are time wasters is an important skill to master. Once you’ve written out your to-do list, complete with everything broken down into goals that will only take a few moments to complete, take some time to see which ones really need to be done. If it turns out they’re not as important as you thought, mark them off.

5. Don’t worry about interruptions.
Interruptions always come at the most inopportune times. They get in your way, they slow you down, and they make you want to tear your hair out. Don’t! There’s nothing you can do about some interruptions. If you’re in the middle of something and a neighbor stops by for a chat, don’t grit your teeth and try to find an excuse to send them on their way. Embrace the moment – It’s not a distraction, it’s a break. If something interrupts your work, take it as a welcome few minutes of respite instead of getting stressed over all the things you’re not getting done. Everything you have to do will wait, it will still be there whenever you have a chance to come back to it. So live in the moment, enjoy the unexpected break. Go with the natural flow of daily life and you’ll find yourself much more relaxed, and the tasks you complete will feel that much more rewarding.

Have some unusual time management tips of your own? Go on, share them!

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