Thursday, October 17, 2013

Time Management Principles for Mothers

This month, I led a discussion on Time Management Principles for our Mother's Group (I took the year off hosting last year while my health was poor, but we've started it back up again).

I focused on general principles and then we talked about examples and ideas from our own experiences.  Some of these I've covered before, in part two of my Finding Balance series (Part One, Part Two, Part Three).  Others are more specific and in-depth on the topic of time management.  

1.  Recognize the Power of Small Things
Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.  And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.  D & C 64:33

His encouragement to you and to me is this: “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.”  That is as true of a day as it is of a life. A morning prayer and an early search in the scriptures to know what we should do for the Lord can set the course of a day. We can know which task, of all those we might choose, matters most to God and therefore to us. (Henry B. Eyring, This Day)

We need to understand that the power of our work is often found in the small, simple, daily acts.  A lifetime of love given to a child is more powerful than large, amazing presentations of love once in a while.  Quality time happens when there is an abudance of quantity time.  

The daily act of praying to God and studying the scriptures does more to create a foundation for good time management than any other act.  I pray daily and sincerely for God to help me to know where to put my efforts that day.  Because of those prayers and the time I take to ponder God's word, I am qualified to have His Spirit to help me as I go through my day.  I attribute whatever success I have found in organizing my day to this simple act.  God can help us do more with our time and talents than we could do on our own.

2.  Work to Establish Good Habits
“Substitute habits, change environment. Change comes by substituting new habits for old. You mold your character and future by thoughts and actions.  You can change by changing your environment. Let go of lower things, and reach for higher. Surround yourself with the best in books, music, art, and people” (Spencer W. Kimball, as quoted in this address).

The best way to make changes is to work on habits.  The routines you create become habits.  Look at the way you spend your time now and look for ways to improve.  Establishing a goal that involves beginning or changing a habit is much more effective than simply having a general plan to change something.  Instead of setting a goal to "Do better with housework," for example, think about specific habits or schedules you could implement to improve your housework.  Could you begin to start your laundry first thing in the morning before you get on the computer?  Begin a habit of deep-cleaning one day a week?  Tackle your kitchen and clean it every single day before doing any leisure activity?  Or perhaps you feel a need to spend better time with your children.  What habits could you implement to do that?  Could you begin a nightly reading time?  Or set aside one day a week to take them to a park or museum?  Or perhaps changing a poor habit would help you with your goal better -- could you set aside a few hours a day as non-media time so that your time is focused on them instead of social media, television, or other distractions?  Do you need to establish a habit of exercise?

It's been said that it takes three weeks to establish a habit.  By choosing one thing and focusing on making it part of your routine for a month, you can establish it in your life and make it your own.

3.  Find a Balance between Diligence and Respecting your Limits.
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.  Mosiah4:27

As a runner, this scripture means a lot more to me than it used to.  I used to understand in principle the idea of not pushing beyond your limits.  But I neglected to think much about the second part of the scripture, the admonition to "be diligent."  Now that I've become a runner and I've trained for half marathons for three years in a row (plus one full marathon), I understand better what it takes to increase your capacity to run.  I've written about that in the past, but to be brief, let me just say that the way to increase your capacity for running is to run, consistently and regularly.  Building endurance means adding a bit more to your mileage week by week, incrementally.  Big bursts of speed or hard runs sporadically, running too fast for your fitness level, and long breaks between runs are a recipe for injury and failure.  

Dedicated, consistent running, with a willingness to push beyond your comfort zone builds strength, speed, and stamina.  What is true of running and physical fitness is true of life.  We need to work both on understanding and respecting our limits AND on building our capacity through diligent consistent efforts.  

There are many times when moms have to say no to good and important things and sometimes it can be heart-wrenching to realize that something we enjoy or love is simply not a good use of our time right now.  It can also be difficult to say no to service opportunities when necessary.  Other times, we have to evaluate the activities our family is in so that we can preserve time to be together and build relationships.

4.  Don’t Get Caught in the Thick of Thin Things
some addictions or predilections, while not inherently evil, can use up our precious allotment of time which could otherwise be used to accomplish virtuous objectives. These can include excessive use of social media, video and digital games, sports, recreation, and many others.
How we preserve time for family is one of the most significant issues we face in most cultures. (Quentin L. Cook, Lamentations of Jeremiah)

One of the easiest ways to find more time in your life is to cut out some of the time-wasting activities that can easily consume our lives.  There are many things that I call "expansion" activities because doing them can consume whatever time you give to them.  For example, if you have just five minutes to spend on Facebook, five minutes is all it will take.  If you have five hours, it could take that time.  Surfing the internet, playing games, or watching television are other activities that can fill up a half an hour or half a day, if you allow them.  We all need to evaluate and decide how much time we will allow in our lives for these things.  I don't think it's necessary to cut out these things altogether, but it might be appropriate to think about how much time you spend doing them and consider if it's excessive.  

There are many ways to cut back on these things.  You could set a timer near your computer, or install a timing device to your browser, such as these.  I did that a few years ago and I found that just watching the clock tick away the minutes in the bottom corner of Firefox made me feel more accountable for the time and purposes I used the internet.  You might also decide that time for social media or other activities will only happen at certain times of day or after you've completed some of those habits you're trying to establish.  You might say, "I'll only allow myself to check email and Facebook after I've exercised, started the laundry, cleaned my kitchen, and planned my day."

I've also found ways to be careful with what I have on my phone.  Moving my to-do list app, my gospel study app and my calendar to take up prime location on my phone has helped me, as has uninstalling a game or two here and there when I feel like I'm playing them too much (I don't play games that much, but every once in a while, I'll get slightly addicted to one before realizing it's wasting too much of my time).  I recently uninstalled the Facebook app on my phone because it was constantly giving me unimportant reasons to check Facebook -- I don't need the distraction of checking every single time someone comments on a post; I'd rather look at all the responses at once and save time.

Don’t overschedule yourselves or your children. We live in a world that is filled with options. If we are not careful, we will find every minute jammed with social events, classes, exercise time, book clubs, scrapbooking, Church callings, music, sports, the Internet, and our favorite TV shows. (M. Russell Ballard,Daughters of God)

Another way to simplify your life is to cut back on some extra activities.  Sometimes we are run ragged by signing our children up for every enriching activity, letting slide dinner together and time for our kids to just be kids.  I've written before about developing your own family identity and therefore focusing on just a few activities that you enjoy rather than signing kids up for every possible sport, instrument, or club.  It's easy to talk about, but not always easy to do.  But if you think about long-term what you want to influence your children and family, it can help you focus.  Are you an Irish dancing and soccer-playing family?  Horse-lovers, swimmers and road-trippers like ours?  Or is basketball and soccer more your thing?  Of course it's good to allow your children to try something new to see if they love it, but not if you are running ragged because of it. 

5.  Recognize the Difference between Good, Better, and Best (see this talk)
A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do. Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important. A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence. But with personal revelation, she can prioritize correctly and navigate this life confidently. (Julie B. Beck, And Upon the Handmaids)

This goes along with number three and four.  No matter how many children you have, you will find it easy to fill your life full to overflowing, leaving little time for quiet reflection and centering yourself.  We all have to learn to choose better and best things instead of just trying to do every good thing.  And frankly, sometimes it takes sitting down and writing down everything you are committed to or want to be committed to.  Lay out your schedule and really think about whether there are some things that shouldn't be in it.

One thing that has helped me over the years is to find activities that fulfill multiple functions.  My kids take horseback riding lessons once a week, for example, and they go two at a time so they are spending time together as well as learning something.  I like to watch netflix or photography workshops while I fold clothes, thus feeling entertained or educated while also getting needed work done.  I've been lucky to find good running partners this year, so I'm able to exercise and socialize at the same time.  My husband and I are good about bringing some of the kids with us when we run errands, so we spend time with them as well as get shopping done.

6.  Make Room for Things that fill your Soul
Even as you try to cut out the extra commitments, sisters, find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests. Pick one or two things that you would like to learn or do that will enrich your life, and make time for them. Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children . . .  Turn to the Lord in faith, and you will know what to do and how to do it. (Ballard, Daughters of God)

Make sure you do find things that you love.  For me, photography is currently filling my cup.  I love learning to work with light and make people look their best.  It's fun and challenging to learn new techniques and play with light.  I set my own schedule, and don't let it become overwhelming.


7.  Leverage Your Day for Your Important Shifts
In order to prioritize time wisely, I learned something from my father-in-law years ago. He was a steel-worker and spent his life working three different shifts. He either worked the day shift, the afternoon shift, or the night shift. As a young mother I realized one time that I was working all three shifts, and that’s why I was so tired. We can’t do all things all at once, and we have to be careful and safeguard our shifts.

As I have talked to young mothers and mothers with children at home—those with teenagers and young adults especially—they tell me that their most important shift to be at the top of their game, to be the strongest lioness at the gate is the “swing shift.” That’s the afternoon shift. That’s when everyone comes home hungry, tired, needy, and less lovable. It is when you are hungry, tired, needy, and less loveable. It is also the time of day when people are more teachable, when they are most grateful. When we realize and prioritize our time properly, we don’t expect to use all of our strength on the other two shifts so that the afternoon shift can be safeguarded and can be a time of strength and power. We plan for times when the meals are there together, when we can create that home environment and when that family can gather, and you are the strengthening power and force in that family. Remember that influence and power come when we prioritize correctly. If you spend time elsewhere, you don’t have it to give. For other women it might be another time of the day. Some of us have to be on call during the day shift. There are many who need help during the day. Service is needed during the day, but look at and evaluate your life. Ask “Where do I need to prioritize my time?” and “When do I have to be at the top of my game?” I have learned that a good woman with the help of the Lord can usually work two to two and a half shifts. However, no one can work all three shifts. You have to prioritize where you are going to spend your energy. (Julie B. Beck, Choose Ye this Day)

This is another quote I've used frequently.  Make sure you schedule in some down-time and preserve your energy for your most important shifts.  This is why we do "quiet time" in the afternoon at my house -- my youngest ones take naps, my younger ones watch a show, and I take a nap, read, or write in that down time.  That leaves me (hopefully) refreshed for the crazy afternoon hours, where homework collides with lessons, activities and dinner prep time.

8.  Put Relationships First
Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved. Friends move away, children grow up, loved ones pass on. It’s so easy to take others for granted, until that day when they’re gone from our lives and we are left with feelings of “what if” and “if only.” Said author Harriet Beecher Stowe, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” (Thomas S. Monson, Finding Joy in the Journey)  

Remember that your children's childhood is short.  Don't get so focused on being productive that you forget to make time for your children.  At times, your most important place will be rocking a sick child in the middle of a messy house.  If you find yourself constantly saying "In a minute" to your kids, try to change that.  Give them just a minute and then you can return to your tasks.  Make your husband and your children a priority. 

9.  Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
                And this is the category where I placed all the little tips and tricks I've learned over the years about how to better plan/prepare and implement time management principles.  If you're feeling stuck, the following ideas might help:
  • Set a Timer.  Knowing how long that procrastinated much-hated task takes can put it all in perspective.  You may hate filling up a dishwasher, but if you time yourself, you could find it only takes six minutes.  Usually, work we put off takes less time than we think it will.  You can also use a timer to motivate yourself, thinking, "I'll see how much I can get done in 15 minutes per room." 
  • Prepare for things in advance when possible.  I like to take the calendar that gets sent home with my daughter each month and take care of any action items on it all at once -- so if there are three different days where she should bring a "D," "E," and "F" picture, for example, I sit down and help her choose those, print them off, and then put them in her backpack so they are ready to go.  Then I'm not scrambling the day of three different times.  
  • Schedule your Procrastinated Tasks and Stick to Your Schedule.  If you find yourself constantly putting off mopping your floors, decide on one day a week you'll do them and then do it.  After a few weeks, it will become a habit. 
  • Figure out a Routine for your regular chores.  Rather than just trying to fit things in whenever they fit, decide how you will tackle your regular tasks.  Take laundry, for instance.  What works best for you?  One big laundry day once a week?  One room a day?  One or two loads a day?  I wash laundry on Mondays and Thursdays and fold in the afternoon or evening.

Being a mom is a tough job, but using your time wisely can help reduce the stress.  What have you found helps you manage your time better? 


Anaise said...

This was a timely post for me . . . I'm needing to make a very important decision about how I'm going to spend my time in the coming years. I didn't think I'd have to give up a goal that makes me really happy, but I'm realizing that I will, and my heart hurts. I'm still not sure what Heavenly Father would have me do, but I'm starting each day with prayer and scripture study, so I'm sure the answer will come. How I hope joy and peace will attend that answer, too.

3in3mom said...

I love this post! I think I will refer back to it often. It is a beautifully written and I'm so grateful to have you as my friend and great example.

3in3mom said...

*make that 'It is beautifully written'...

Liz Wheeler said...

amazing post


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