If you’ve recently returned to work after time off caring for young ones, you’ll know what a juggle the whole children, work, home thing can be. Throw in some study and it’s an even bigger battle. Perhaps your children are older, you’re caring for elderly parents, or you might be a single parent with too much on your plate. There are lots of great time saving tips to help you cope.
Too much to do, with too little time is an all too common complaint. For most people, life is busy enough without making it even harder by cramming too much into the day. A big part of feeling more organised and saving time day to day is to simply de-clutter your life. That means taking stock of what you’re trying to achieve and working out whether it is actually necessary. Here’s some of our tips to save time while you’re working it out:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: With more than 25 million copies in print, the philosophy outlined by Richard Carlson in his bestselling book ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ has touched many people. His views on putting things in perspective is great advice for parents navigating the day to day hustle with children. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we need to let things go. I try as a parent to ‘pick my battles’. With children, there is often something to argue about, to say no to, to discipline about, or nag on, so pick your battles carefully, and just choose to let some things go – otherwise you may end up spending your whole life in a negative cycle.
- Limit choices: This is especially important for young children where problems can arise if they’re given too many choices (which you can’t or simply don’t want to fulfil). Children can take ages to think about and decide on what they want if offered too many alternatives. By all means offer them a choice but limit it to just two. The same applies to adults – the fact is we spend a lot of time making decisions which could be avoided. A simple example is my weekday breakfast. I rotate three options every week – some weeks choosing the same every day and others rotating them. The important part here is that I have three tried and tested options that I enjoy, are healthy and keep me satisfied till lunch time. I still have a choice but I don’t spend any time thinking about what I’m going to have. This strategy can be applied across many more aspects of our lives.
- Plan your day: Preferably this should be done the night before – work out who needs to be where at what time, pack bags, get lunches ready, put clothes and shoes out, get breakfast items out, write ‘to do lists’ – whatever it takes to help you get out the door in the morning. My experience is that children are SLOOOWWWW in the morning. If they have a little routine they can follow with only a few expectations, everyone will be calmer and things will run more efficiently. At first, it can seem overwhelming to be doing this planning at the end of a busy day when you just want to sit down, relax or go to bed! Dedicate just five minutes to doing whatever you can get done and once you start you will be surprised at how quickly and easily it can all be done. You’ll save way more time in the morning than it took to actually prepare the evening before and it will be worth it!
- Plan your shopping: Keep an ongoing shopping list – when you run out of things, add it to the list so you don’t have to think about it when it comes time to shop. I recently downloaded an app called ‘Our Groceries’ and it’s a lifesaver. It allows you to share your list with others and whenever something runs out you simply add it to the list straight away. When it comes time to shop, your list is ready to go and you don’t buy unnecessary items. No more calls from my husband on the way home from work asking if we need anything from the supermarket and no more complaints from the teenagers about running out of things.
- Plan your meals: This is a big time saver with many other benefits including better quality, healthier options, at a lower cost. The effort involved can seem daunting, but even just planning the accompanying parts of yours and/or your children’s lunches on a Sunday is a big time saver – putting aside some fruit, and getting other food like snacks out and wrapping or individually prepping them so they are ready to go straight in the lunch box saves so much time in a busy morning. Likewise evening meal planning is essential, so you’re not tempted to grab takeaway at the end of a busy day. There are lots of great online resources and Apps to help – here’s a few of my favourites: For recipes, try Clean & Green or Taste. For meal planning and recipe organisation, try Plan to Eat or a subscription service like Hello Fresh, which provides all the ingredients and recipes for simple, healthy meals that you cook yourself.
- Diarise everything: Buy a big family planner or diary and block out daily commitments and activities for everyone. This allows you to see at a glance what your day looks like and how much time you’ve got to work with. It also helps you recognise if you really are trying to cram too much into your week and where you might be able to cut down.
- Focus: I used to be a big fan of multi-tasking and pride myself on keeping multiple balls in the air! However, it’s been proven time and time again that this concept makes life more difficult. Try focusing on one thing at a time, and you will see significant improvements to your productivity. The only time this may be an exception is where you might be able to combine an activity that requires no active thought (such as travelling on public transport or as a passenger with someone else) with a simple task like reading or listening to a podcast.
- Track your time: Spend a day or a week recording what you do each day – then eliminate anything that isn’t productive, delegate or outsource where you can, and consolidate similar tasks – often we do things out of habit that may not be 100% necessary.
- Stick to routines: This is especially important for babies and young children but issues inevitably arise so be flexible. Following set routines most of the time ensures higher productivity. If you have tasks that have to be completed every day, or most days, try to complete them at the same time each day.
- Put things away: Teach your children to do the same. How much time do you spend looking for things? I have a friend who gathers up items around the house once a week and puts them in a washing basket – at the end of the day whatever hasn’t been claimed (and put away) is thrown away. Brutal, but it works!
- Say no: Over-committing is one of the biggest time wasters – both socially and in work situations. Know that it’s OK to not say yes to everything and set realistic deadlines so you don’t set yourself up for failure.
- Take advantage of energy: Schedule complex tasks at times when your energy levels are at their best, and save the routine tasks for low-energy times.
Just do it! No matter how busy you are, you can create more time in your day with conscious effort. It might take some hard decisions but making a commitment to implement some (or all) of these tips is a great start.