How to Make More Time without Really Changing Anything
Make your life easier without spending money, expending massive effort to change your habits, or hiring a live-in nanny.
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You're a mom! Congratulations. That means that the health, wellbeing, and constant freaking amusement of at least one small human rests on your very tired shoulders.
It also means that your life is absolute chaos.
Why is Parenting So Hard?
Man is that a loaded question. Let's come back to that big boy and answer the slightly-easier-to-explain "why is parenting so chaotic?".
The big problem with parenting is that it is absolutely impossible to unitask as a parent.
Unitasking (a word that is only slightly made up) is the opposite of multitasking. It's the art of doing one thing at a time and focusing properly on that one thing. Business experts, psychologists, and productivity gurus alike all declare the virtues of doing one thing at a time, about focusing on a single task until that task is complete, and other habits that basically boil down to unitasking.
...but you can't do that as a parent.
You may be changing a diaper, but you're also trying to keep them from rolling off the table and explaining private parts to an utterly-perplexed onlooking audience of older siblings. Yes, you may be washing your hair, but you're also holding (aka trying not to drop) a slippery baby and attempting to verbally contain an older kid inside the general bathroom area so they don't run unsupervised throughout the house leaving a trail of uncapped sharpies and discarded legos in their wake.
Kids are to complicated, too danger-prone, and too energetic for a parent to ever do just one thing. Even when you're sleeping, I guarantee you are subconsciously listening for sounds of trouble from your kiddos. My daughter has made noise from her room down the hall in the deep, dark, middle of the night and I've woken up before it even registered on the baby monitor. No, I don't have superpowers, moms just know that they're NEVER off duty, even when they're unconscious.
So How Do I Make My Mom Life Easier?
Well, you may be forced to constantly multitask. And that's okay. That's the name of the game when you're a parent. It's a sucky standard of living, but it comes with some incredibly-adorable perks.
One of said perks is currently sleeping on my chest and snoring very cutely as I type this, simultaneously making both of my points.)
So if you can't avoid multitasking, how do you make life as a parent easier?
There are certain habits that can be adopted without that much effort that can save you massive amounts of mental energy and free up your mind-RAM for other things.
I say "without that much effort" and I do truly mean it. This isn't like "get in the habit of working out every morning" habits that actually require a Herculean amount of willpower to accomplish. They're more like "put your keys in this tray when you come in the house" type of habits. They may take a little practice, but they take no extra time, money, or effort.
Actually, Let's Talk About Keys for a Second
I'm not sure who it was, but when I first started driving (and consequently worrying about losing my newly-borrowed car keys) I asked someone how to avoid losing my keys.
Their answer has stuck with me for close to two decades now.
Only ever put your keys in two places. When you are in your house, your keys are only ever set down in Location X. When you are out of the house (unless they're in the ignition) your keys are only ever set down in Location Y.
Location X could be a bowl by the door, a hook near your purse, or an end table in the entryway. Location Y could be your left back pants pocket, a special compartment in your bag, or carabiner-clipped to your belt loop. Wherever these two locations are, you only ever put your keys down in two places.
The magic of this solution is that it takes no extra time, but you never have to look for them. If you literally never set your keys down anywhere but Location X or Location Y, then you only ever have to look in two places in order to find them. It takes no extra time and possibly less energy than the alternative, but it completely eliminates the wasted brain-power you used to use wondering where your past self put your keys.
That is the kind of tricks we're going to be going over here.
Habits to Make Momming Easier
Nothing is going to revolutionize your entire life. They're all small fixes. However, each one of these habits is going to be 100% free and will free up (pun intended) key mental resources that you can devote towards...being a sane human being? Not snapping like Bruce Banner when your kid tests your patience? You choose where you want to spend your spare neurons.
Create Logical Systems for Everything
The most organized people aren’t just born that way. It is a habit that they have to work at and focus on, to help them to be as organized as they are. If you think you are quite disorganized and want to change, there is one simple question that will help you to get more organized in your life.
"What system would make this easily explainable to a toddler?"
I first came across this magical question in organizing my house. If you have a set of random crap that lives on a bookshelf, it won't look organized until you can point at each shelf and say what lives there in simple, toddler-friendly language. Books live there, stuff with wheels goes in that bin, candles and other stuff that makes good smells happen goes on that shelf, and so on.
This simple litmus test is genius for home organizing, but it also works for literally every other area of your life. Stressed at work? Create systems a toddler could understand. Rules like "I handle other people's problems from 9-10am but in the afternoon I only work on stuff that I have chosen as important" or "I have to finish whatever project I start before I get to start a new one" are things your 3-year-old would totally understand, but they also happen to be insanely helpful best practices for you as well.
Also, when you make happy little systems, it saves you the mental energy of having to make millions of minute-to-minute decisions. If you always go to the grocery store on the way home from drop off if there are more than 5 items on your shopping list, you never have to wonder when to go to the store, you never have to worry if you're running low on stuff, you can free up your mind for more important stuff.
Become a List Person
When you write things down in the form of a list, you don’t have to think about it anymore.
The human brain can only remember so many things, and devote your mental energy on things like "buy eggs" or "call the doctor", you won't have it later when you need to do actually-important things like parent your kids or do your big-girl work.
You will only make things more complicated for yourself if you solely try to work on remembering important dates, things that need to be done, or other reminders, when they are only in your head. So from everything from shopping lists to meeting dates, birthdays, and home to-do lists, write them down in lists.
I'm a huge fan of having one giant to-do list on my phone (one and only one...don't let stuff get dropped between the metaphorical couch cushions of multiple to do lists), but you can use whiteboards, pads of random paper, sticky notes, or whatever works for you.
All that matters is that the second something comes up, write it down.
Make it a habit. It needs to be instantaneous to work. Not "oh I'll write that on my list in a minute". No. Right away. Take the 14 seconds and put it on a list THE SECOND it comes into your mind.
Turn that into a habit and you'll be shocked how much mental energy you free up.
Set Yourself Reminders
A reminder is really just a to do item that politely taps you on the shoulder at a specific time.
Do you have a massive to do list? (Duh, you say. I'm a mom. Of course I have a massive to do list.) Chances are you're not going to remember every item on it. That's kind of the whole point.
If you know something is important, schedule a reminder in your everpresent smartphone to give you that boost of energy to do the thing at the right time. This way you can remember to call the HVAC repair place when they're actually open. You can remember to hit the grocery store on the way home, rather than after you're already in for the night. You can fill out the permission slip before the kids leave for school rather than having to fax it frantically to the office.
Don't set reminders for too much (or you'll just start ignoring them), but if you have stuff with a logical time or day to complete it, a reminder will save you from having to remember when that is.
Avoid Procrastinating (It's Not What You Think)
I know, I know, this sounds like drudgery.
If you're a lifelong procrastinator, I'm betting you skipped over this paragraph entirely. (I could be writing about tap-dancing elephants and you'd never even know it.)
However, I'm not talking about procrastinating as in "the bad habit of scrolling through Facebook when you should be working". That's between you and the productivity gods. I'm talking about a different kind of procrastination.
My anti-drug when it comes to procrastination comes in the form of the two-minute rule. I've talked about this before in the context of how to keep your house clean, but it can really be applied to anything.
Here's the two minute rule. When you notice something needs to be done, you have two possible courses of action:
1) If it would take less than 2 minutes to complete, do the thing RIGHT NOW.
2) If it would take more than 2 minutes to complete, write it on your to do list RIGHT NOW.
Notice how, either way, you take action immediately? This is why it's the anti-drug to procrastination. You don't have to always do everything immediately, but nothing ever falls through the cracks because it is either taken care of right away or it's remembered on a to do list to be taken care of later.
Example: If your children need something for a school project and you know it's buried under a pile of crap in the craft room, go get it immediately even if it's a pain in the neck (because you secretly know you can dig it out in under two minutes). However, if you have to run to the store to get it (the voyage will most likely take more than two minutes), so whip out your phone and put it on the to do list (and maybe even set a reminder) right away.
This can go for all areas in life and the home, from cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and planning out activities.
Give Everything a Logical Home
Nothing pisses me off, ruins my mood, and makes me want to go on a Godzilla-like rage bender like a messy house. (My poor kids, right?)
Just like we were talking about with the keys, when all of the items in your home have a home, then you will know exactly where to look for them. This is especially true for things like wallets, purses, and other small items that are often misplaced, but it's also a great way to make sure your kids help keep your house clean too.
If everything has a logical home, it means two things for every object in your house:
- There is only one place in your house that this object lives.
- This home makes sense.
Where's my jacket, Mom? It's in the "jackets" bin by the door.
Where are my soccer cleats, Mom? They're inside your soccer bag.
Where can I find a snack, Mom? In the "snacks" bin, you needy thing.
Hey Mom, I'm out of shampoo! Check the "extra bathroom stuff" shelf in the hall closet.
If everything has one (and only one) home and that home makes sense (to everyone), it will save you countless hours of nagging, searching, reminding, tidying, and harassing people (read: your kids...and sometimes spouse) into following a system that is either confusing or idiosyncratic.
Make everything simple and you can eliminate all the extra work.
Why Is This Important?
Mental energy (much like money, time, and patience) is a limited resource.
If you spend all your mental energy on things like finding your keys, reminding your kids where to put stuff, harassing your kids to put their stuff away properly, sorting through a messy house, remembering to buy eggs, making an extra run to the store for that last-minute poster board, and all that other stuff....you won't have as much (or any) mental energy left for things like actually having fun with your kids, being patient when they're little stinkers, or even (God forbid) doing your own adult human work.
The more mental energy you can save, the fewer choices you are forced to make, the more resources you have left to be a sane human being.
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About the Author
Founder | Contributor
Liz (or Dr. Mommy, as her toddler started calling her after learning what a PhD was) is the happily sleep-deprived mom of a baby boy (and professional raccoon noise impersonator), a sparkle-clad toddlernado, a teenage stepdaughter, the canine embodiments of Pinky and The Brain, and a rabbit of unusual size. During nights and naptimes, she uses her PhD in business psychology as an author, speaker, and consultant. She also serves as an executive and principal for three companies, two of which she co-founded with her very patient (and equally exhausted) husband.
My Motto: All I can control is how hard I work.
Motto: All I can control is how hard I work.
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