Finding the perfect work/life balance seems like an ever-elusive fantasy to working parents. How many times have you wished for a few more hours in your day or a few more hands to help with the to-do list? We can’t make your day any longer, but we can offer up some effective hacks for being more efficient with the time you do have. That increased efficiency gives you more time to enjoy your kids.
1. Have a Schedule for Your Kids
We’re not suggesting you have a stopwatch to time every last thing or turn into a drill sergeant to keep everyone on schedule, but it does help to get into a solid routine with your kids. Morning and bedtime are the two key times when it’s important to stay on schedule. Delays in the morning throw off your whole day, make you late for work, and cause everyone to feel cranky. Putting off bedtime means the kids don’t get the sleep they need, and you don’t get the downtime you need before your bedtime.
Start by looking at your day. What time do you need to leave the house in the morning? What after school activities do the kids have? What time do they need to get to bed to get a full night of sleep? What time do you need to go to bed to be well-rested? Now, add a buffer of at least 15 minutes to those activities. If you need to leave the house by 7 a.m. to get the kids to school and yourself to work, leave no later than 6:45. If you want your kids in bed by 8:30 p.m., plan for them to go to bed by 8:15. This gives you some padding in case something throws you off track, and it prevents the rush that happens when you’re running late.
Use this information to create a daily schedule. Determine what time everyone needs to go to bed and wake up. Build in homework time for school-age kids. Establish routines leading up to bedtime to ensure your kids are in their beds on time. Avoid the temptation to hit snooze in the morning. It’s better to jump up and face your day, so you stay on schedule. It may take some time to get in the groove of your routine, but it becomes easier over time and helps you go through your day more efficiently.
2. Create a Family Command Center
Who has swim practice tonight? When is the ballet recital? Did we miss the school bake sale? Kids come with many activities and responsibilities. As your kids get older, their schedules tend to fill up quickly with practices, school projects, and activities. Then you have bills to track, family time to plan, and cleaning to do. And that doesn’t even take into account extra work activities that cut into your schedule.
If you don’t have a family command center, now is the time to create one. Use this space to post the family schedule for the week and keep track of important paperwork. Set up an inbox for things such as permission slips or information on upcoming school events, so you don’t miss important deadlines. Get in the habit of updating and checking the family schedule frequently to avoid any scheduling issues.
A shared calendar app is also an option as your kids get older. You can sync your calendars and send important events to their phones, so they always know what’s going on.
3. Share Responsibilities
Parents tend to take on a lot of the work themselves. When your kids are young, they can’t do too many of the chores, but as they get older, it’s important to share the workload. Not only does it save you time, but it also teaches your kids responsibility and basic life skills. Assign your kids age-appropriate tasks to take some of the chores off your plate.
School-age kids can handle many of the household tasks. You might be surprised how much it helps you. Consider assigning your kids these tasks:
- Doing their laundry (or at least putting dirty clothes in the hamper and putting clean clothes away)
- Cleaning the bathroom
- Taking out the trash
- Washing the dishes
- Setting the dinner table
- Putting away groceries
- Cleaning their rooms
- Picking up shared areas
- Taking care of pets
- Packing lunches for school
One easy way to keep the house clean is to set aside 15 minutes each night for cleaning. Set a timer, turn on music, and have everyone help pick up the shared areas until the timer rings. Your house stays clean, everyone pitches in, and the job doesn’t take long.
4. Plan Your Meals
It seems like a lot of work, but meal planning saves you a lot of time going forward. Once you start meal planning, subsequent weeks are much easier.
Start by writing a list of all the meals your family enjoys. Create a list of main dishes and side dishes. You can also create a list of new recipes to try if your family is adventurous. You can go a step further and write out the main ingredients for each meal to help with your grocery list creation.
Print out a weekly calendar, and plug in the meals on the calendar. Balance out the types of meals to include plenty of variety in your weekly schedule. Plan several weeks of meals. Once you have multiple weeks created, you can go through them and then loop back to the beginning.
Once you have your meal plans figured out, create a grocery shopping list. You can shop a week at a time or shop for several weeks or even the full month ahead of time. You’ll still need to stop for produce and other perishables throughout the month, but shopping for the main ingredients once a month significantly cuts down on your trips to the grocery store.
Another part of meal planning is prepping as much food as possible ahead of time. Spend an hour or two on Sunday prepping meats, veggies, and other meal components. That little time you spend on prep saves you time throughout the week.
Here are some other ways to make dinner easier:
- Use an Instant Pot or Crock Pot for easier cooking
- Cook double batches and use leftovers for lunches or dinners later in the week
- Use freezer cooking methods to stock your freezer with meals
- Order take out without feeling guilty if you don’t have time to cook occasionally
- Keep ingredients for quick meals, such as pasta, on hand for last-minute meals
5. Learn to Say No
People ask for things all the time: at work, at home, at your child’s school. Sometimes it feels like everyone is asking for your time when you already feel like you have none to spare. You don’t have to say no to everything, but prioritizing can help you from overloading your schedule. If you don’t have time for a new commitment, it’s okay to say no. You don’t have to explain your reason. Many people have difficulty saying no, but it can be a liberating feeling.
One way to help decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t is to think long term. Identify goals for yourself and your family. Maybe you want to build your savings, spend more time as a family, and help your children develop certain skills. When you’re presented with a new task, responsibility, or opportunity, think about how that opportunity aligns with your goals. Will the responsibility help you reach a certain goal? Will it make your life better? Will it help your children in some way? If it doesn’t help and causes you stress, it’s a good candidate for getting the ax.
6. Use Small Pockets of Time
Even the busiest of people usually have small pockets of time during the day: waiting to take your child to practice, taking the train during your commute, while dinner is cooking. Sometimes those pockets feel too short to get anything done, but you can be quite productive even in 15 minutes. If you have a to-do list for the day, keep it close, so you can check things off when you find a few free minutes.
Lunch time is another great time to cross off a few must-dos. You don’t need a full hour to eat, so use that extra time to run errands, pay your bills, balance your checkbook, exercise or other tasks. If your schedule allows, drop off your kids at school or daycare a little early, so you have some extra time to handle tasks before your work day officially starts.
7. Simplify Errands
Running errands can take a lot of your time. Plan your errands to increase efficiency. If you drive yourself to work, look for errands that you can run along the way. Stop at the pharmacy to pick up subscriptions if you drive past it on your way to work, for example.
Another useful strategy is to plan your errands at once. Group the errands together geographically, so you can knock out several stops in one trip without zigzagging across town and wasting time. If your child has a sports practice, run errands in that area during practice.
8. Order Online
Save yourself a huge amount of time by shopping online. Amazon offers most household items, which you can have delivered to your doorstep. Order extras of those essentials, so you don’t have to reorder frequently. You can even schedule automatic shipments of items you regularly use to save time.
Walmart offers grocery pickup, as do many local grocery stores. You choose your items online, so you don’t have to waste time wandering through the aisles. When you arrive, a staff member brings out your groceries, loads them up, and you’re on your way. Some stores even offer delivery to your home. It’s a huge time saver.
If you prefer to grocery shop yourself, find off times to go. If you go later in the evening or early in the morning, you won’t have to deal with large crowds of other shoppers. You can breeze through the aisles and check out quickly without waiting in long lines. You’ll save even more time if you can shop without your kids.
9. Outsource Tasks
Being more efficient often means getting help from others. Sometimes paying for that help is worth the investment. Splurge on a house cleaning service once or twice a week. Use a meal prep service, so all you have to do is pop the meal in the oven at dinnertime. Hire a responsible high school or college student to chauffeur your kids to their various practices and activities. Find a lawn service company to mow and tend to your garden. You’ll have more time to complete other tasks, which makes you more efficient and lets you hang out with your kids more.
10. Schedule Time for You
It seems counterintuitive to schedule in time to yourself, but that self-care can make a huge difference in how you feel. Pushing yourself too much leads to burnout, which decreases your productivity significantly. Make time to exercise several times a week. You improve your health, feel better physically and mentally, and get some time to clear your mind without kids climbing on you. Listen to a podcast for enjoyment during your commute. Wake up 30 minutes early, so you can take your time and enjoy quiet before the kids get out of bed. Let yourself do things you enjoy. Even short moments to yourself can give you a mental boost and improve your productivity when you get back to it.
11. Think Ahead
Planning and preparation is a huge part of working efficiently. Instead of dealing with things as they arise, look forward to the upcoming days, so you know what to expect. Do as much prep as possible before events arise.
One simple way to do this is to organize everything each night for the next day. Review planners and homework with your kids. Have them pack their school bags, including any extras for the next day’s schedule, such as PE shoes or band instruments. Pack lunches the night before. Do the same for yourself. Lay out outfits and any items you need to take the next day.
Prepping for breakfast at night also saves time. Set out anything you’ll need in the morning, such as the toaster, coffee mugs, and dishes. Instead of wasting time at the coffee shop, buy a coffee maker with a timer, and brew your coffee at home. Prep the coffee maker at night, setting the timer, so it starts making your coffee automatically in the morning. You still get your morning caffeine, but you save a lot of time.
Look at other activities coming up during the week. If your child has an upcoming dance recital, make sure all costumes and supplies are packed and ready to go. If your child has a soccer game, wash and prepare uniforms ahead of time.
12. Learn Online
Are you looking for new opportunities? Online learning is an easy way to gain new skills or complete education to change careers without working around inflexible class schedules. Taking classes online lets you work around your schedule so that you can be more efficient with all of your tasks.
Vista College’s online campus offers program options for earning your Associate of Applied Science or Bachelor of Science degree. Program options include business, medical insurance billing and coding, information technology, criminal justice, information systems security and assurance, project management, healthcare administration, and supply chain management. Our degree programs are short, so you can start your new career or make an advancement in your current career efficiently.