By far, the hardest thing I do as a husband and a father is balancing my time between every demand placed on it. We’re all familiar with that look you get from your wife when you arrive home later than expected. Or the, “You’re a loser” vibe your 2 year old conveys when he tells you, “Dad can’t do. Gotta go to work.” Time management always seems to be my lost cause.
And the work/home balancing act every parent performs is only intensified when you’re an active member of your church, a participant in the PTA, or an athlete for your community sports league. I know I’m doing a great job as a human being when my wife, kids, boss, and church group are all annoyed at me for not being around enough.
Most days, it seems easier to tread water while keeping 6 ping pong balls submerged than to be everywhere I’m supposed to be and please everyone I’m supposed to please. When I look around, though, some parents seem to be gracefully getting it all done, and making it look easy!
Since I’m not that parent, I make it my hobby (yes, it often feels like the only hobby I have time for) to watch and learn. What patterns do those parents follow when it comes to scheduling their time that helps them appear graceful and energized?
Here are a few pointers from expert parents on how to do what you need to without stressing, and to even keep a few moments for yourself each day. Give a few of these a try for more relaxing, more rewarding days, and get ready to possibly even find a hobby.
1. Find Your Focus.
What is the one thing you do everything else for? The one thing that motivates you each morning when you clamber out of bed?
Too often, life’s peripheries—the things that seem important in the moment but that can also cause us to take our eye off the ball—distract us. By identifying your focus, your ability to minimize distractions and increase productivity surges.
Most people talk about “focus” as an action or a behavior. (“I need to focus more at work.”) I’m talking about focus as a thing or an idea. (“I’m focused on retiring.”)
Your focus might change over time, especially as you work on identifying what it is, which can be difficult. For example, is it really your paycheck that motivates you to clock in every day? Or is what you can do with your paycheck? If it’s the latter, what is it that you make money to do? Travel? Eat out? Spend time with family?
Even these things, though, might not be your focus. Why do you like to do these things? Do you travel to participate in humanitarian projects? Do you eat out to spend time with your spouse? Are you with your kids because they mean the world to you? Maybe that’s your focus then—service, a spouse, your kids.
But you can refine your focus even further. Why is service or family most important to you? What makes these ideals so central to your life? Whatever that answer is might be your focus.
Identifying your focus will change your perspective on life and how you spend your time. We all have more opportunities than we have time for. The way we spend our time reveals what matters most to us and our time management helps us allocate our time on only what is truly valuable.
2. Consider Opportunity Costs.
An opportunity cost is traditionally used in business or economics and is the benefit missed or the potential achieved because an individual chooses to do one thing over another. With limited amounts of time, however, considering opportunity costs can help a parent or a spouse in managing his schedule.
When you choose to do one thing, you’re giving up an opportunity to choose another. As I like to tell my kids, and my wife, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Giving something up to do something else teaches you about who you are and what you value.
As in economics and business, opportunity costs in family life are unseen and can be easy to overlook if you aren’t paying attention. The next time you choose to do one thing in place of another, pay attention to why. This will help show you what you value most, encourage you to make changes in the way you spend your time, and set you well on your way to a more manageable schedule.
3. Make a List.
Managing a to-do list can help you identify your focus or analyze opportunity costs. It’s a struggle to take the time to make and manage a list, though, and I hate it. A list can really help with time management, though, and I do take a few minutes each morning, in spite of myself, to list each task I need to complete. I then prioritize those tasks by numbering them. During the day, I work on finishing the lowest numbers first. I never accomplish everything on my list, so the tasks carry over into the following day. Sometimes the tasks stay on the list for days, or even weeks, and other times they disappear from the list before I ever complete them. Over time, it becomes obvious what I’ve chosen to focus on, or to leave behind.
I generally try to limit the length of my list by including only what I think are the most important things to accomplish each day at work, at home, and at church. By keeping it plain and simple, my list guides my day and helps me plan out the next.
4. Save Time: Do it Now!
That being said, lists can get in your way. Creating complicated, long, decorative lists can be as time consuming as just doing what’s on the list. Rather than helping you find your focus, a list can create habits of procrastination if used in the wrong way.
An important key to time management is not to get lost thinking about lists or creating a planner. Sometimes, the best way to get something done is to just do it immediately. Don’t add it to a list. Don’t wait to act. Just finish the task and move on. This works especially well for honey-do tasks. If the dishwasher needs emptying, empty it. If the car oil needs changing, change it. This also works especially well for responding to email (more on that later).
Knowing you’ve completed one thing frees you to move on and do something else. And usually, a task left later is harder to do, either because you have less desire to actually do it, or because whatever problem you’re fixing has progressed in level of difficulty or intensity.
Putting something off until later to buy time now is almost never effective, but doing something immediately will free up your time at the end of the day, the week, or the month.
5. Infuse Your Time With Meaning.
So much of what we do each day is mundane or ordinary. Did you know that over the course of your life you will spend a total of about 4 months waiting at traffic lights? Some seemingly useless things that have to be done can take up most of our time. Eating, getting ready in the morning, commuting to work. . . . We spend a lot of time engaged in activities that don’t seem full of potential or entertainment.
All of the time spent doing these activities, though, is something you can make use of. In our house, we refer to this as “the anyway principle.” You’re doing something anyway, so you might as well make the most of it. You might also call it “killing two birds with one stone.”
I’ve tried explaining traffic patterns to my 2-year old at stop lights, memorizing the Declaration of Independence while I jog each morning, and calling extended family while I travel to and from work. Some activities work out better than others. (Declaration of Independence? Done! A 2-year old who knows that green means go and red means stop? Still working on that one). Still, it’s time well spent, and it sometimes can reduce your to-do list items (calls to siblings, for example).
6. Put Your Phone Down.
Limiting phone calls and texts and eliminating phone scrolling will instantly grant you extra time and allow you to focus on more important things as well. This can be difficult. Telling your boss at work that you aren’t willing to download the company email to your phone can seem a death wish to your employment. Most bosses won’t push it, though, and if they do, the worst that can happen is that you end up doing what you’re asked to. And if you’re able to swing it, not being on the phone while you’re at home will positively impact your relationship with your spouse, instantly improve your kids’ behavior, and decrease your stress in the long run.
Again, this can be a difficult time management skill. It requires managing expectations, and training family, friends, and employers that you only respond to or engage with them during certain times of the day. Training people, though, will make you and them happier. For example, my clients know that I answer emails between 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning and between 5:30 and 6:00 at night. I can organize the rest of my work day how I want to without getting emails or phone calls wondering if I’m still alive or demanding a response.
As for social media, it’s not worth it! If you can, eliminate it completely rather than simply diminishing the time that you spend there. Consider the opportunity cost of scrolling through your phone rather than spending time on some other activity or with the people you love the most. I promise that scrolling never pays off. There is always something better to do.
7. Work As a Team.
Two people can get a lot more done together than an individual can get done alone. For better time management, make sure you and your family are a team. Involve the kids in chores around the house. Work on developing some of the same interests as your spouse. Harness the power of spending time together to free up some extra time during the day. When you’re all working towards the same goals, accomplishing everything that needs to be done becomes easy.
Remember, balancing time and managing a busy schedule is always a work in progress. Even if you don’t immediately find the time for that new show or to fix up the old car in your garage, you’re well on your way there. Or, you’re on your way to discovering that maybe you’d really rather spend your time doing something else. But however you choose to spend your time, you’ll ultimately find more of it to spend by consistently implementing these time-management strategies each day.
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