Tucked away in a quiet-ish corner of the children's soft play center, I've got one eye on my almost-two-year-old and another on my computer. A message pops up on my phone from my eldest daughter's pre-school about the parents' meeting, to which I quickly add a "+" in reply, and, meanwhile, I'm trying my best to drink a cup of coffee while it's still warm. As almost any mom who loves a cup of the dark stuff will know, this is a luxury not to be taken lightly.
Life as a parent is truly amazing, but we all have to admit it's non-stop. And the back-to-school season can be especially stressful. If, like me, you've ever wondered how some parents at the school gates seem to manage it all, without a hair out of place, keep reading. More than likely, behind the scenes, you've probably got a stressed mom and dad, just like you, doing their best and making it look easy. So, then, what is the secret formula? Or is there one?
7 Tips for back-to-school mom time management
As a working mom, I’m still trying to find that perfect balance between work, home, and squeezing in a tiny smidgen of me time here and here. These are some of the tips that I try to use to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible, and I hope they help you too.
Remember: Not everything will go according to plan. Give yourself a break and try again tomorrow.
No.1: Plan ahead
Notepads, diaries, the notes section on your phone, a calendar, if you're a mom, these are probably already your go-to items for planning everything in your life. And at no time are they more important than the back-to-school season.
With classes, schedules, hobbies, and more to remember, these are your best friends right now because we all know that not-so-good feeling when we forget something—hello, mom guilt—even if you really should give yourself a break. So, how to plan ahead effectively and get what you need to do done? Here's some ideas that can help:
- Choose a format that suits you, and you can share with the family (no, they're not psychic and don't know your plans)
- Add in events, must-dos, etc., as soon as you know about them. That way, you're less likely to forget
- Plan clothes and meals in advance. Yes, it's extra work in the evenings when you'd rather be relaxing, but it's also so much less stress in the morning when you're not rushing to find a missing hat while still half asleep
- Schedule family time. Even if it's just a couple of hours, switch off and enjoy each other and forget about everything else.
Not everything will go to plan all of the time, but by planning ahead, you and your family know what to expect for the day, and it makes it so much easier—and less stressful.
No.2: Make to-do lists
Following on from point no.1, to-do lists can be helpful tools in helping you complete everything you need to do in a day—if you use them right. All too often, we burden ourselves with too many tasks, too much to do, and this is simply unachievable.
In short, we set ourselves up to fail and feel bad when we do, adding more mom guilt. Not only that, but we can create an emotional blocker that prevents us from actually completing the tasks that were possible as we just get so overwhelmed. This is a vicious cycle, and the only one who can take control is you.
That's why creating smarter to-do lists is the way to go. It helps focus your mind on achieving smaller steps and reduces the focus on unachievable expectations or goals. So how does it work:
- Choose between one and three significant tasks (depending on size) that you need to do in a day and focus on them.
- You can add in small tasks, too, providing they only take a minute or two. For example, if a task takes less than 5 minutes, I try to do it right away. This may mean unloading the dishwasher as the kettle boils or taking out the trash—job done, zero stress added.
- Don't over plan. But how will you know? At first, it's tempting to add too much into your to-do list. You'll learn over time how much is physically achievable for you.
- Go digital. Writing things down on paper can be relaxing, but for a busy mom-on-the-go, sometimes digital is the way to go. As an added bonus, you can share these lists with your family too.
If a task takes less than 5 minutes, try to do it right away. Letting these tasks built up can leave you feeling stressed.
No.3: Prioritize effectively
Something has to go! Yes, I know everything is important, but the truth is you can't do it all. Yes! You are amazing. You're a super-parent, in fact. But you are also human, and you need to make time to rest. That's why you must prioritize and save your physical and mental health.
So, how exactly do you decide what's important and what has to go? Time to take a lesson from the project manager's playbook—after all, parenting is one long-term project.
Step 1: Write down everything you need to do in a day/week/month.
Step 2: Allocate a responsible person. This is who answers for the task.
Step 3: Now divide your tasks into these categories using the Eisenhower matrix:
- Urgent and important—needs to be done, now
- Not urgent but important—schedule these tasks for the future
- Not important but urgent—consider delegating to your co-worker (aka the other parent, where available)
- Not urgent or important—leave on the back burner for now.
And voilà, you did it! Now, all you have to do is put your plan into action. By following a list of priorities, you are more likely to succeed in getting the important things done.
No.4: Keep multitasking to a minimum
We all do it! Eating our dinner while writing an email. Replying to a message while watching a movie with the kids. Singing a lullaby while mopping the floors. Or even repeating math homework while cooking dinner. And that's not even the half of it.
But what if, for once, you did just one thing at a time. What if you forgot about all the multitasking and stress? Would the world fall apart? The most likely answer here is no. So, just this once, give yourself a break and just do one thing.
Not only will you notice that you are calmer, your productivity levels will increase too. Being in the moment is all about mindfulness and being present. By doing this, you are more likely to feel happy and take joy from the small things in life.
Remember: happy mom, happy family
No.5: Learn the word "NO" and own it
As a mom, you probably feel like every second word out of your mouth is "NO" —"no, you can't have those sweets" and "no, five minutes are over," but this isn't the big N-O that I'm talking about. The NO that I'm talking about is about learning to say no to the things that don't work for you.
Just the same way that 5 packets of candy aren't good for your child, signing up for more things than you can physically do isn't good for your emotional or mental health, and, in fact, can be just as bad as those sweets. Instead, by teaching yourself to say no when you need to, you are creating a healthy structure for yourself and your family.
Too often, we pack our schedules to the brim, get used to them, and wonder why we are exhausted. So forget about that, it's time to say learn to say "no" and own it. Do what makes you happy (providing it doesn't hurt anyone else), discover what works for you, and let everything else fall by the wayside. This is your life. Your family. So, when something isn't working, it's time to accept it, say "no," and move on.
Saying "no" is powerful. Learn to look after your mental health and accept your limits.
No.6: Forget about "Doing it all" and focus on being happy
Those dirty dishes can wait. No, missing one piece of homework won't matter much in the long run. And neither will it mean a great deal how fast you replied to that email. What does matter, however, is family. Always make family your number one priority. They only get one of you, so make you count.
Does this mean you should compromise on your career ambitions? Should you do less? Be less? Or not try in life at all? No! Absolutely not! You also deserve to be happy and, of course, that means putting in effort and getting things done. But, at no time, should you compromise your needs for anyone else's—it's about finding the balance between things you need to do and your mental health.
Focus your attention on finding this balance and seek out what happiness means for you and your family. It won't look the same way for everyone. Look for contentment in every moment because it's true what they say—life goes by too fast. And life is what you make of it, so create one that you can be proud of and don't stress about all the rest.