Could you do with a few extra hours a week? How do you free up time as a parent? Do you have any free time at all? Are you a stressed parent? Do you have routines that work? How does thinking about your daily schedule and family routines make you feel? We are already busy with our parenting, professional, and personal commitments. It seems impossible to find a spare minute as it is. However, freeing up time and reducing stress will result in organisation and productivity increase.
As a mum of 5 in a blended family, a business owner, and a reformed people pleaser, I found myself overworked, tired and downright stressed. Getting through my day-to-day was a complete struggle. I would wind up exhausted at the end of the day with an unfinished and forever-growing to-do list, haunting my mind as I went to bed.
Every day, there were new jobs to be done, and more chores were piling up. I was losing my ability to take care of myself, let alone put in the time and effort that I wanted as a mum. Not only did I feel like there are not enough hours in a day, but I also found that I didn’t have the time to be present with my kids. I also found that it was interfering with my ability to be affectionate with my kids.
Stressed Parents, Busy Parents, Tired Parents: The Effect on Families
As parents, it’s not only our own lives that we have to take care of; we are also responsible for organising and caring for our children. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to steer through stress and time constraints in a way that is calm, constructive and compassionate?
To add to our worries, we often feel concern for how our stress and actions affect our kids. Psychology Today states that there is a link between parental stress and child behavioural problems.
“Parents with high stress demonstrate less warmth, lower levels of responsiveness, less affection, and are more likely to use discipline that is either harsh or uninvolved. They are also more likely to use controlling tactics to get their child to obey. In contrast, parents with less stress use more positive parenting behaviors such as warmth, sensitivity, listening, understanding, and scaffolding.”
Time and energy play a huge part in adding to the stress. It can hinder our ability to parent the way that we want to, and the way we feel about and take care of ourselves. If you have a mountain of obligations, tasks, and chores piling up, plus stressful factors occurring in your life, you may feel that life is getting the better of you.
Average hours per day parents spent caring for and helping household children as their main activity – American Time Use Survey
The key here is to find work-life balance. It is about having enough time for you, your kids, and your career. It is also about letting go, honouring yourself, and being able to feel okay within yourself when things don’t go according to plan.
Things won’t always go to plan, and routines won’t always go smoothly. The fact of the matter is that you have kids, and it is not a kid’s job or nature to stick entirely to a regimented structure. They are too busy being kids, and that means the need to learn and explore. Kids benefit from some structure, but holding yourself hostage when they are unable to follow is not useful for you or them.
If you are not spending time being present with them, you may notice when you take a step back and look at the big picture that they are acting out. They do this not because they are being ‘naughty’, but because they are crying out for your presence and attention.
Stressed parents and tired parents will result in a tired family and family difficulty. These can then lead to family and relationship problems, and we will find it challenging to experience the joys of life, the joys of having kids, and the joys of our family.
The following strategies will help homes with nuclear families, single parents, two working parents, one working parent, both parents working full time, part-time work parents, stay-at-home parents… you get the picture. It will be beneficial for all parents.
Imagine if you could;
- reduce overwhelm,
- become more productive and present,
- free up precious hours of your time.
Not possible, you say?
Over the years, I have created and mastered a few strategies to do just that. I am going to share them with you below.
Reducing Overwhelm and Stress: Let’s Free up Your Brain Space
Your most valuable real estate is your mental and emotional real estate.
As parents, we feel life’s daily pressures and often don’t take care of our emotional and mental wellbeing.
When we fill the space of our brain with to-do lists, constant thoughts, and clutter, it is a recipe for tiredness and stress. We feel worn out and can’t think clearly. It can affect our ability for decision-making.
You have a decision-making quota. This quota means that your brain is limited to a number of decisions that it can make. Many people don’t understand the decision-making process and wonder why they feel too depleted to make even the simplest of decisions.
As a parent, you are making more decisions than most. You aren’t only making them for yourself; you are making them for your kids and partner. In fact, you are making decisions every single minute of every single day. What will I feed my family? What do I have to get done today? When is this bill coming? How will I pay for that? What will I wear to work? What will my children wear to school? When will I fit this in? What do I need from the store? Why is my partner feeling low?
Have you ever felt worked out mid-week? It is because your decision-making quota has been used up in the first few days of the week. You are experiencing a little thing called ‘Decision Fatigue.’
Decision Fatigue: Clearing Space for Bigger Decisions and Creating Calm
You can conquer decision fatigue by cutting down on the number of decisions you have to make. This way, you are freeing up brainpower and decision-making energy for the more critical decisions.
Barack Obama wore the same black or grey suit every day that he served in office. This wasn’t because he was obsessed with the colour grey, or he felt that blue complimented his eye colour. It was a strategic tactic to help free up his decision-making quota.
When he was interviewed as to why he wore the same colour suit every day, he responded with, “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
President Obama had some pretty big and important decisions to make, and he didn’t want to waste his time, energy and power focusing on the small ones.
As a parent, you also have big and important decisions to make. So, let’s help you cut down on the smaller ones.
The average person makes around 35,000 decisions a day. As a parent, you are not only making decisions for yourself, but also your children. Add that to your other obligations, such as work and committees, your decision-making ability is stretched to its maximum.
The following strategies are designed to help you clear space in your mind, free up time in your day, and reduce the overwhelm and tiredness you feel.
Uniform for Success
Choose and lay out clothing choices for yourself and your children a week in advance.
- If your children are old enough, let them choose their clothes.
- If you aren’t sure of the weather, place out two options.
You waste the same time, energy, and decision-making ability picking clothes as you do working out what to cook and eat every day. It is a smart move to plan and prepare your meals in advance.
- Use a meal planning app such as ‘Mealime’ to generate recipes, a weekly or monthly meal plan, and shopping lists for you.
- Map out time once a week to cook and prepare your meals in advance.
- Prepare and freeze ingredients for quick go-to meals (e.g., portioned fruit for smoothies; veggies and protein for quick dinners)
- Cook in bulk, so you have large quantities left to freeze and use as necessary. Check out Making 50 Freezer Meals in One Day for inspiration and guidance.
Saved by My Shopping List
Keep a pen and paper stuck to your fridge and pantry. Every time you run out of something, jot it down on your list.
When you head to the brick and mortar store or order online, take the list and stick to it. Otherwise, you will be stuck thinking and trying to remember what you need. You will be distracted by all of the specials that are presented in bright colours.
Online shopping is a godsend. You save time and stress by not having to race to the store between jobs or after work. You also don’t have to drag your kids around and keep them occupied.
Everything gets delivered in lovely little boxes to your door, or you can simply duck down to the shop and pick it up when it is ready.
Food Box and Meal Kit Service
Juggling work, life, family, kids, babies, obligations, and committees is hard work. Sometimes, shopping isn’t the best option, and takeaways can get expensive.
It is a great idea to include a food box or meal kit service to your routine to free up time and save you from decision fatigue.
Reduce Overwhelm, Increase Productivity, and Get Tasks Done
How often have you had a to-do list in your head or jotted down on paper, and the thought of it makes you feel tired, overwhelmed, and even physically ill?
Not having a strategy to manage your tasks and time can impact your brain, stress levels, productivity, and focus.
This simple two-step process will reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. At the same time, you can beat your brain at the games it plays to make you feel like not doing anything and keeping you from being productive.
Step 1: Jot It
Write down all of the things you have to do.
This is important. When we let thoughts float around our head, that is exactly what they do. Float around, in and out and then in again. Taking up space and making us feel uncomfortable and under the pump.
You may find yourself thinking of a task that you need to do and worrying that you will forget it. So you use up energy to make sure you remember.
Having our to-do lists in our head will result in feelings of anxiousness. Jotting tasks down help us feel a level of comfort.
Step 2: 2-To-Do
Now that you have your to-do list, your brain can relax because you have a record of it.
However, if your list is looooooong, this is also not helpful.
Your brain is lazy; it doesn’t like working. It is fundamentally designed to keep you safe and alive. One way your brain does this is by trying to get you to conserve as much energy as possible. It prepares for a fight or flight event, such as needing to run from a predator.
Yes, our brains are primitive. This is why going to the gym is hard if you have not turned it into a regular habit
You will look at your never-ending list and instantly become distracted or not feel like doing it. Thank you, brain.
Furthermore, your brain will look for things on that list that are easy, comfortable, familiar, and quick.
So you need to beat your brain at its own game by doing one simple thing… Reduce the number of things that it sees.
A list of 30 things will instil instant overwhelm while a list of two things will spark feelings of manageability. Reduce stress, overwhelm, and procrastination with this simple ‘2-To-Do’ Strategy.
- Take your jotted down list and pick the two most important items.
- Place those two items on a BRAND NEW PIECE OF PAPER.
- Put your jotted down super long list in a drawer where you can’t see it.
- Go about your two items.
- Tick and cross off items as you complete them to spark your brain’s reward system (everyone is conditioned to recognise ticks and crossing off items).
- Once you have completed your 2-to-do, you may pull your other list out of the drawer and add two new (no more than that) items on your 2-to-do list.
I Want To vs. I Have To: A True Representation of Time
You need to understand exactly how much time you ake doing your day-to-day tasks and obligations. A lot of time is taken up in our own minds rather than really recording what it is we do and how much time each task takes us.
This can be a confronting exercise. It is vital to go into it with the understanding that you are simply doing something that you deserve to do. That is, freeing up time and reducing overwhelm from your life.
If you haven’t honestly recorded how you spend your time before, you may find that:
- You aren’t actually as time-poor as you first thought.
- Your schedule is so full that you have no idea how you haven’t dropped from overworking yourself.
- You have a pretty good understanding of how you spend your time.
Either way, this is fantastic. Remember, this is simply a starting point to help you free up more time for yourself. Be proud of yourself for doing it and don’t let the shock of it stop you from continuing the process.
The ‘Have To’ Lie
There is often a stark difference between the tasks and duties we have to do, compared to what we want to do.
I spent some years working with parents across the globe to reduce stress. One thing I found as a general consistent across the board is the long line of obligations parents felt they had to keep, when in fact, they didn’t have to keep them at all.
Take, for example, one particular mom of three named Jane (her name, of course, has been changed). She was the typical PTA mom. She had put her name down and signed up for various coaching roles, club duties, secretarial, and community roles. Jane felt so much pressure from all of the hats that she was wearing. There was no time left between work and ‘obligations’ to consider herself, let alone run a family. She was desperate, anxious and downright tired. I don’t blame her.
The thing about Jane when she came to me is she felt she had to fulfil all these roles. She felt she had to sign up to prove something to herself and the world.
It wasn’t that she had to hold any of these rules, no shackles were keeping her entwined to her various committee commitments. But she felt like there was.
It wasn’t that she had to do anything. The problem was she felt like she had to, because of the pressure from the world to be the ‘do it all and keep it together mum.’ She didn’t want to let ‘anyone down’.
This is classic people-pleasing. It is also what I like to call ‘Superficial Committee Commitment Syndrome.’ This is a subconscious tactic that we use to gain External Validation, and it is at plague levels. We feel like we have to be extraordinary and a super parent to be worthy. We then misguide ourselves into thinking that we HAVE TO DO things that we DON’T WANT TO DO and find ways to fill up our time to earn validation from others.
The other example I like to use to describe how we fill our days with things that we feel we HAVE to do is the “My Money is More important than Me” condition.
This is when we fill our time doing things we could outsource to other people. There are plenty of people out there willing to do your cleaning, washing, cooking, folding, for a price.
I Want To vs. Have To: Time Freeing Instructions to Increase Productivity
This will be broken down into a step by step process:
- Want To vs Have To – T Diagram. Sort your obligations and tasks into the things you ‘want to do’ vs the things that you ‘have to do’.
- Time Map. Record all of your tasks and obligations into a time map so you can really see how much free time you have, how much time certain tasks take, and how much time you take doing things you want to do vs. doing things you have to do.
- DDO. This is a process to help you analyse tasks you can get rid of or give to someone else to free up your time.
- Pleasure Planning: Insert More Want To Do’s. That is right, replace tasks you don’t like doing with tasks you like to do.
Want to v Have to – T Diagram
- Place T diagram on a piece of A4 paper.
- Label one side with ‘have to’ and the other with ‘want to’.
- Write down all the tasks you have to do and all that you want to do or enjoy doing. Even if you don’t have time to do the ‘want to dos’, put them down anyway, you will have a chance to add them into your schedule later.
- Now that you have recorded these things, put an asterisk next to the ‘want to do’ tasks that you don’t have the time to do.
Now that you have your Want To vs Have To T diagram, it is time to take note and record how much time each activity takes.
- Create a weekly time map, just like the one shown in the photo below.
- Honestly and accurately record your tasks and the time you take throughout the week.
Time Clearing: D-D-O
This process is about clearing up your time by getting rid of tasks you don’t want or need to do or finding different ways of getting tasks done.
After mapping out your obligations’ tasks, and duties in your ‘want to and have to’ time map, it is time to: Dispose – Delegate – Outsource.
Take out three coloured highlighters to represent each and mark them accordingly.
Just like throwing an empty can in a garbage bin, dispose of the tasks that you don’t want and have to do. Get rid of them. Make the phone calls you need to make and write the emails you need to write to cancel unwanted responsibilities and obligations such as committees, appointments, and coffee dates.
NOTE: People-pleasing is not an obligation.
- Do I want to do this? Do I have to do this?
- Is this task serving my family or me?
- Am I doing this to people-please, keep others happy, and to prove that I am a super parent?
If you answered no to all the questions, you can hurriedly remove them from your schedule and free up space for better things.
Delegate any tasks you don’t have to do yourself to someone else.
This is such an interesting process for parents to go through if we are doing everything to prove something to others or ourselves.
It is also interesting for parents who do not feel that they have anyone to delegate tasks to. Don’t be hasty and make up your partner’s mind for them that they won’t help. You do not get your answer unless you ask.
Examples and options:
- Give and support your children with child-appropriate chores.
- Ask your partner to take on some of the tasks.
- Ask family and friends to help you with some of your tasks.
Outsourcing is employing or hiring someone to do tasks for you.
Examples and options:
- House assistant
- Nanny, babysitter, house assistant
Many of us don’t consider outsourcing the tasks we do not want to do or have to do because of one simple thing: money.
In fact, I myself struggled with this concept for a long time. I spent hours every week keeping my house clean, slaving over washing, and organising meals. All because I didn’t want to pay someone to do it for me.
I didn’t want to let go of the money until I valued how important my time was. Now I will never look back, and I can’t believe that I didn’t do it sooner.
My inability to hand over money and instead resorting do it all on my own was detrimental to the wellbeing of myself, my relationship, and my time with my children. I spent time being tired instead of being free, and I was busy instead of being blissful.
I came to realise that a few dollars here and there helped the wellbeing of my family, improved my connection with my partner, my kids and myself, and… It helped the economy.
$40 for a cleaner for 2 hours was definitely worth it.
Think of all of the hours of self-care, date nights with your partner, and playing with kids you would have if you hired someone for a few hours a week.
In the end, I weighed the pros and cons. I decided that my sanity and the health, happiness, and closeness of my family was more important than the price it costs to pay a cleaner for a few hours or a person to manage my bills.
Pleasure Planning: Insert More Want to Do’s
Remember the T diagram that you completed in step one of this process? Remember the asterisks you placed next to the things you want to do but don’t have time to do?
Now that you have freed up some time in your week, it is time to make room for pleasure and play. It is time to put in more of the things that please you and your family.
The instructions are simple:
- Recreate your time map now after doing the DDO step.
- Insert more of your ‘want to dos’.
Organisation and Productivity Increase When You Reduce Stress – Expert Roundup
It really does take a village to help raise kids. Sometimes we can take ideas, examples, and failures from other parents who have achieved what we want and integrate it into our family routine.
I asked a few parents who are also organisation and routine experts to shed some light and offer their best tips for family productivity and organisation.
How Do I Get Chores Done With My Children Around? How Do I Get My Kids to Help With Household Chores?
Darla DeMorrow is a mom of two. She is the owner of HeartWork Organizing, a professional organizing company based near Philadelphia, PA, and author of Organizing Your Home with SORT and Succeed.
Productivity in parenting may sound like a strange concept, but it’s still the same concept we apply to our work lives: doing the right things to get the best results.
Good organizing when it comes to family management is 50% systems and 50% parenting style. Both have to work together to support children so they can thrive and learn solid organizing skills.
Let’s be honest. Being a parent is hard enough when everything is going right. Most of us could use a bit more help at home, and at the same time, many parents would like their kids to get off the screens and participate in life just a bit more.
You can have it all, at least when it comes to getting help around the house. You just might have to take on a teensy bit more work at the start to make this work for you.
My own kids are both around 10 years old, and they are willing to do chores to get screen time… Just maybe not the chores I want them to do at the moment. So we’ve posted a list of chores that they can pick from. It’s not a checkoff chart; it’s just a list. They feel a little more in control because they get to pick their poison. The list is posted at their height. I get chores done. Everyone is at least a little bit happy. You can print off your own chore list, and even customize it for your family at this link.
Chores are not things they are expected to do, like making their bed and feeding the cat. We talk about how those are their responsibilities and theirs alone. Chores in our house are things that help the entire household, like taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, and running the vacuum.
Because they are doing the choosing, sometimes the same chore gets done three days in a row, while other chores are left undone (or done by me), but the kids are still learning that everyone in the house helps to keep the house nice.
Sometimes the kids fight over who wants to do the “easy” chore. “I want to sweep under the table… No, I want to do it!” is music to a mom’s ears.
The last part of this formula doesn’t work in all homes: none of our screens is readily available for the kiddos. They have to ask to turn on the TV, Kindle, or computer, and they should only do that after they have done everything on our “Screen Time Rules” list. That just doesn’t work in a house where the TV or computer is on 24/7.
Think about how this works in your house when trying to limit screen time, or it’s going to be another battle. I didn’t have to buy another gadget, and I am not doing check marks or stars or any other tracking chart for them. When they ask if they can have their Kindle or can they watch a movie, I simply ask:
“Have you done everything on the list?”
Sometimes I have to ask the question multiple times in order to direct them back to what they need to do to earn their screen time. It’s not all drudgery, since “doing something creative” and “play outside for 30 minutes or more” are required. You can even make some of the chores fun. Here are my little ones cleaning dirty doors one summer day. Give kids a spray water bottle and let them at it!
We’ve been doing all of this since the kids were small, starting when my oldest was about 6. They both got their own Kindles years ago, and there are days when I’m super grateful to have these electronic babysitters, like on snow days and long summer break days. But even in those cases, my husband and I are getting help around the house, one chore at a time. It’s gratifying when one of my girls decides to write in a new chore or asks if I’d be willing to pay them for doing extra chores. I am not making this up! On a regular basis, they will usually come to me and say the following:
“I’ve made my bed, cleaned my room, scooped the kitty litter, played outside, and swept under the table. Can I have my Kindle?”
Is this approach perfect? Nope. If you find a perfect parenting approach, will you please contact me ASAP? But with one posted list and one simple question, you can completely change your relationship with your kids and their chores.
What Are Some Things to Consider to Reduce Stress While Dealing With Mess?
Marieta Ivanova is currently a blogger and home improvement expert for Fantastic Services Australia.
It is good to have a routine, but it’s more important to have an effective routine. The difference is in the results. A routine should help reduce stress and make life easier on you. But if after a certain period you continue to feel on edge, perhaps it is time to reevaluate it. Don’t hesitate to spare as much time as necessary to carefully consider and create a new daily plan. It will certainly pay off. Since you already know what the problem was before, you will be able to work on it and come up with a routine that fits you better.
Reducing Mess and Stress
Living in a messy and cluttered home can have a negative effect on our mental health. Still, with kids around, it’s hard to keep the place in perfect order at all times. One way to make things easier, though, is to embrace a minimalistic approach. Decluttering could be the first step towards making the place more comfortable for everyone. The second could be to try and preserve the results of this process by limiting some purchases in the future. Having fewer things means cutting significantly the time spent on home cleaning and organisation. You will also enjoy some extra space around the house that will certainly come in handy.
A Final Note to Help You Establish New Family Routines and Strategies
Taking on anything new, whether it be a new routine, a time-saving strategy, or getting your house organised can take time and practice. If it is not something you are familiar with and have implemented as your daily norm, your nervous system and brain may have a bit of a fit over your attempts.
Have you ever decided to start exercising and found that getting in the mood, getting out there, and doing it was a struggle? Did the thought of it make you tired?
It is the same concept. If you want to succeed in implementing any of the strategies above, make sure you commit to it and do it regularly. Eventually, you will find that it is as natural as going to the toilet because it will become a habit. You will form new brain pathways, and your life will become naturally more organised, productive, and stress-free.