Time Management Guidance From One Busy Mom to Another

Woman Holding Alarm Clock Mug

Where did the summer go? It’s a statement you hear every mom making this time of year. In May, you envisioned long days ahead providing plenty of time to fit it all in before the busyness of the school year commences. You looked forward to family fun, knocking out some projects, and relaxing by the pool. And now, it’s August, and you’re panicked! What’s a girl to do?

Well, one universal truth remains: worrying doesn’t get it done, and certainly won’t give you space to enjoy your family the last few weeks of summer. Instead, take a seat, pour yourself a cup of tea (or vino) and devise a plan. If the word “plan” makes you panic even more, keep in mind that a plan is not the same thing as a never-ending To Do List—one that you’ll go to your grave without completing. A plan starts with contemplation and strategy, then a targeted list of actionable items that can be crossed off easily to boost your confidence and get it all done.

Plan for the Practical and Fun

Take time to make your plan now. If you can create a system for handling chaos before school is back in session, you will feel much more in control. And the more in control you feel, the more time you will have (or make) to take care of you. And … the more time you carve out to take care of yourself, the more energy you have to manage the chaos. See how this all works? Let’s get started.

First, take out a sheet of paper and write down every project you feel must be completed before school restarts. Think big picture and don’t leave anything out. Include the musts to prepare for school (i.e. school supplies, buy Grace’s back-to-school clothes), but also the fun you were supposed to have (i.e. go camping, visit grandma). I consider these big ticket projects because there are many smaller items that must be done to cross that one thing off your list. Eventually, you’ll identify the little pieces of each bigger To Do, so you can more easily find time to knock 2-3 small items out daily, rather than having one big item stare you down.

Get Over the Barrier of Now

Once you have all the big projects listed, take another look and identify anything that isn’t crucial or can wait until after school starts. If crossing them off scares you, take out another paper and write Future, then move these projects over. You’ll get to them, but not right now. “Clearing your conscious” by getting this all down, even if they are not crucial, is a great way to free up mental space for everything else you need to do.

Now, decide the absolute last date that each project must be completed and write it down. Then, take a look at your calendar that houses all date-driven appointments and obligations for your family and compare your project dates. Determine if you need to adjust a project earlier or later due to prior commitments. For example, getting Grace’s back-to-school clothes may be due on August 15, but that’s the same day as a wedding your family is traveling to; you’ll need to move the project end date. While you’re adjusting, you may find you’ve given projects the same due date. Spread them out the best you can. This can be arbitrary, but you’ll want to have unique due dates for each project, to plan with ease.

Focus on Smaller Actions and Scheduling

To get down to your actionable steps, you’ll need to reverse engineer the big project into tiny ones. No step is too small! Using a sheet of paper for each project, write the name of the project at the top, with the due date and necessary small steps listed underneath. For example: Buy Grace clothes. Think of all the small pieces to this big task: take an inventory of what fits and doesn’t, identify what she needs, determine where you’ll go, set aside time to go, buy the clothes, etc. Once you’ve got the details determined, estimate how many days it will take you to get the entire project completed if you tackle 2-3 small pieces a day. Write that number at the top of the page. Next, look at the proposed due date and work backwards to determine when you should be getting started. Mark and circle the date at the top of the page. Do not stress if your dates and numbers don’t align perfectly; this will just be a suggestion and should help you get moving.

Now, each day (early morning or at night; you’ll need to decide when you do your best strategizing), grab your calendar of appointments (the rocks in your schedule that can’t move, like taking Grace to ballet, getting the dog to the vet, etc.) along with your list of projects. And see what kind of time you have “left over.”

Don’t Forget About The People

Before you plug in any project work, set aside some time for two really important things: 1. YOU (yes, you) and 2. THEM (your kids, your family, your friends). Your To Do List, regardless of how long, should not roll over the people in your life. I’m a firm believer in making space for this time (visibly, on your calendar) to make sure it happens alongside everything you need to get done. That’s where the balance begins.

Keep in mind, it’s important to put your oxygen mask on first to be sure you have something to give everyone else. So, don’t skimp on the time you allot for you! Now, you and them might not get the same amount of time every day, but over the balance of the week, everything should feel equitable. There’s simply no excuse for not allotting at least 15-20 minutes a day for each—time with zero distractions or excuses. You must commit. Time for exercise, relaxation, reading, moving, aimless wandering, dancing, and lounging fall by the wayside the minute you are pressed for time. Take time to recharge your batteries and take care of your needs, so you don’t end up in a self-defeating trap that prevents you from staying rested and getting things done.

Once your appointments are plugged in alongside the time for your needs and their needs, look and see what you could accomplish with the time in between. Given the dates you have listed for when projects need to be started and completed, and the amount of time each of the small tasks will take, start pulling out the 3-5 things you can accomplish. And, that’s it … just commit to getting those little things done. In no time, you’ll be knocking big projects off your list as they will seem more manageable. More importantly, you will not have sacrificed any fun time along the way.

Have Compassion

One last note: The most important ingredient to finding “balance” is to add a bit of grace and compassion to the mix. Some days will not go as planned. Many projects will barely get done, or not to the standard you wish. But, remember, we’re all doing the best we can. I like to think of myself as a swan—calm and collected on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath to make it all work. A swan works hard, but when someone is watching, they feel calm because of the swan’s demeanor. The work she does underneath propels her forward, sideways, and sometimes around in circles; but, she eventually reaches her destination looking cool, calm, and collected. Swim on my little swan friends!

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Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the VP of Fitness Programming for the FIT4MOM® franchise. For more than two decades, she has helped impressive brands such as Anytime Fitness, Schwinn®, Power Systems, ACE, Silver Sneakers, and BOSU® as a fitness business and programming consultant. An experienced educator, freelance writer, and certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach, she helps fitness entrepreneurs navigate the industry and make more money. Fable serves as Vice Chair of the ACE Board of Directors and is the founder and co-owner of GroupEx PRO®, a cloud-based group fitness management tool.