A few years ago, I wrote about priortising time so I could fit I wanted/needed into my day. Things like exercise, general family stuff, blog/freelance work, cooking, housework and the odd coffee with friends. When I did up the list, I still had one child at home with me (you can read about it here).
Things have changed over the years, and all my children are at school now. In one sense, I have more interrupted time during the day, however in other ways, it’s busier than ever with the kids doing more extracurricular activities; the older the children get, the higher level of school commitment (which means a lot of driving-around-dropping-kids-places for me).
I did a feature with Kidspot this year as one of their Voices of 2015 Ambassadors. It’s about my everyday-day while our family is in Auckland, and it made me think about how my priorities have changed. Below is the mini feature.
The strategies I use to prioritise my time this year compared to a few years ago are essentially the same, but it looks different, and there are a few interesting things I’ve tried with surprising success this year so I’ll share them here.
Systems keep me sane. I have systems for packing school lunch boxes, organising school bags, general school stuff, and a lot of other things. I always look to run systems rather than do chores. Sometimes systems can take a while to establish, but in the long run, they help me make the most of time.
Look for Alternate Pathways to Maximise Time
I tried different ways to maximise time. I’ll set out an example:
My four children are spread out at three different schools this year. The schools are actually quite close to each other, and it would be easy for me just to do a round trip to drop them all off/pick them up. However, I looked into busses for the older two children for a few reasons:
- Fostering independence is something I’m focusing on, especially as the children get older
- It allows me 30-45 minutes to utilise on other things each day
- It staggers the school routines
Dropping all the children to the various schools each day would save me money, but interestingly, I have found staggering the routine minimises stress and rush. Not only does it minimise stress, the drop off/home times allow for better connection. In the afternoons, I pick up my younger two children, feed them afternoon tea and hear about their day. Twenty minutes or so later, my second child arrives home and I focus on her. Then half an hour later, my eldest arrives home, and I greet her with a big, “HELLO!! Is that my eldest child!! Is she home?!”
It would make sense to just drop everyone off while I’m out anyway, but looking at different pathways to achieve the same thing (e.g. get to and from school), has proven to be worthwhile, and it’s taught me the importance of looking for the right pathway (not always the obvious one) for the best use of time.
Make a list of tasks
No day looks exactly the same, but there are certain repetitive tasks that need to be done and listing them all down was a start.
After writing a list, I break it up into what tasks take up the most brain space, and I do these when I work best during the day (and when I can while juggling family stuff). This has been a massive win for productivity and I’ll list more about how it works further below.
Draw a Schedule
I slotted the colour coded tasks above into a daily schedule that is also colour coded in terms of what I know about how my day works best from experience.
I have to say here that I DO NOT keep to this schedule strictly every day. It’s not designed to constrict, but the opposite: it gives me the freedom to achieve what I want to/need to. For example, if I have a deadline coming up, and I know I need a few solid work sessions, I will make sure I have that ‘Work Block’ period of time free so I can focus. I won’t do housework, errands, or have coffee with a friend. On those days, I won’t fully clean up all the breakfast mess until the afternoon. In the past, I would gasp at that, but I have learned the importance of throwing myself into certain periods of time and not feeling guilty about allocating non-urgent work (like stacking the dishwasher) to other times.
The other thing is by categorising periods of time for certain types of work, it creates a flow that is sustainable and buildable. For example, I research for social media in the evenings and have a system for storing that data, and then the morning (when I don’t have a lot of time but am fresher), I schedule posts for the current day using what I researched the night before. This means I can focus on the Work Block period later in the day for the tasks that take up the most brain space. The same goes for writing content and editing. I develop and write content during my Work Block, but I will often leave editing to a different time so I get a fresh perceptive.
Over the years, I have discovered that I do my best work (when I’m most focused) from about 9am to 3pm. That is why I prioritise that time for certain types of work. It’s easier for me now the kids are all at school, but even when I was doing paid work when I had kids at home (I did less then), I still utilised that time period.
I aim to exercise every school day. I’ve had periods of no exercise and daily exercise, and what I found is the time invested in exercise doesn’t tend to affect how much I get done each week. I do a relatively sedentary job, so moving each day is important. I either do it in the morning after dropping the kids to school, or once a week, I do boxing in my lunch hour to mix it up. Exercise has proven to be good for my productivity and mental health. I don’t always feel like doing it, but I never regret it so I just smash it out.
Allowing for The Unexpected
I’m the sort of person that runs to maximum most of the time. This isn’t a negative thing necessarily, but what I have found is that I often don’t allow for the unexpected, which in family life, seem to happen A LOT. To help me with this, I broke certain time periods into two different scenarios. For example, after exercise (before my work block) is a good time for me to do a bit of grocery shopping. There’s a little local shop where I love to stop to get fresh veggies, free range eggs and fresh flowers (as a treat). Or, if I need, I can use that allocated time for errands (“Mum I need a new note book”), appointments (I am being treated for back pain by a physio), and housework (if I need to get on top of the house).
Same goes for the afternoon: it’s focused on the kids but I may (or may not) squeeze a bit of work in. If I have less work to do on a given day, I might chill in the evenings after the kids are in bed, but that doesn’t seem to happen very often – ha! If I am chilling, say in front of the tv, I’ll usually have my laptop with me.
In a nutshell, breaking up certain time periods into different scenarios has helped me to manage my time better.
Working from home is ace, but it’s also a challenge to switch off because it’s always (always!) there. Having the schedule helps me protect family time. In the afternoons when the kids are home, I don’t work a lot, although, there is usually a small window after I’ve fed everyone (they all disappear), where I can get a little work done. This has proven to be a consistent thing, so I’ve highlighted a small block in the afternoon. In the summer, the kids and I might head down to the beach and chill. They are precious times.
My husband and I both do housework as we go each day. The kids help too and this keeps things functional at home. I do the bathrooms each week and my husband allocates a time to do the floors. It’s a family effort and responsibility so that is why it doesn’t feature heavily on my weekly schedule.
I’m a terrible multi-takser. Sometimes, it’s just pure procrastination. Having a schedule helps me to focus. Multi-tasking is not often productive in the long run.
Throw it all out
Some days, I throw it all out. I go and visit my husband at the hospital for lunch. Stand in a second hand book shop for an hour. Clean the house all day long.
Fast but Slow
I enjoy filling my days to maximum, and I also love weaving small joys into my day. I like to work fast, but live slow. It all started when I came out of a haze of depression and needed ways to connect again. That is when I designed the Love the Moment challenges because they help me be present which slows me down (ME down, not time).
Sometimes, I will take my computer down to a local cafe and work from there for a change. Sometimes I will buy flowers from the local store on a Friday because they are cheap and beautiful. Sometimes I will pack salad sandwiches and the kids and I will head down the shore for a picnic dinner. Sometimes I will stand in the sun for 2 minutes and enjoy the warmth on my skin.
I have a schedule to help me achieve what I want each week, however I am, in essence, against compartmentalising my life and putting it into boxes. It seems like I’m doing just that with my working day schedule, but it doesn’t produce that kind of thinking for me. Time is time. No one has more or less of it each day. I focus less on looking to find extra time and more on making it count.