As parents, time is a scarce resource! Frequently we need to make trade offs between work life and family life. This can be extremely challenging and oftentimes both work and family suffer leading to stress. Luckily there are some ways to maximise the utility of the time you have. Let’s explore them…
Focus On One Thing at a Time
Let’s imagine you have two hours time; your kids want to play, but you’ve got to finish some important things for work. What do you do?
If you’re anything like me, you might try to get as much done as possible while your kids entertain themselves (or complain at you). Then you shut down your computer feeling stressed out that you’re not done, then your play with your kids absent minded and checking your phone because you’re worrying. After everything, you feel bad because you didn’t spend quality time with your kids and the works isn’t done either. Basically it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
What might be a better way to handle such a situation? Try to stop multi-tasking!
If you’re working, then work, if you’re with your kids, put away your phone and actually engage with your children.
One hour of focused attention with children is actually a lot. With children high quality time counts for much more than distracted, absent minded time. Give high quality time and you’ll find they’re more quickly satisfied and you’ll find it much easier to carve out time for your other activities.
Make a To Do List
It’s important to make the little time you have count. What’s the best way to get the biggest bang-for-the-buck with your time? Prioritisation!
I personally like to create my To Do Lists early in the morning with a coffee. Actually it’s my favourite part of the day as it gives me a feeling of control over my day (and also to my life to a large extent).
After the day gets going you will be too wrapped up in the craziness of the day itself to prioritise properly, so getting a few important things noted down so you can remember them later will empower you to be effective later on.
Don’t put too much on your To Do List. It shouldn’t be an exhaustive list (as parents the list would be endless anyway). One to Five bullet points is fine. Be accepting that you won’t get everything done either.
At the end of the day, if you checked anything off at all, it’s a victory! If things are left over, no problem. If they’re important enough, they’ll just go on tomorrow’s To Do list.
Put the Phone Away
When you finally have time to be productive, don’t fritter it away with your mobile device!
Let’s face it, most of us are hopelessly dependent on our phones. From a dopamine perspective the mobile phone really is the proverbial slot-machine in you pocket. It gives you instant gratification to read the news, check your social media, and essentially drain away what precious little time you have.
It’s nice to be social, or to catch up on the news, but how much time do you really need to invest in this activity? If we’re honest, we all probably spend far too much time doing this than the things that would give us longer term satisfaction.
Restricting your phone use to certain times of the day, and not getting it out habitually throughout the day with every free minute you find will help you win back some control in your life. Try putting the phone away out of sight (but within hearing range in case it rings) for a few hours and see if you can retrain your brain to not be dependent on it.
Prepare In Advance Your Next Free Time Slot
As parents we don’t often know when free time will actually come. We can be busy for many many hours and then all of a sudden the stars align and the kids are playing peacefully by themselves.
Quickly, now you need to be productive! You need to figure out what you’re going to do for the next 20 or 30 minutes (even this is unknowable). Unfortunately, by the time you’re got your cup of tea and had a chance to think about how best to invest this time, time’s up! You lose!
In addition to creating a simple To Do list (see above), make sure you know which task you mean to handle next and how specifically you will start it in advance. You don’t want to be in a situation where you need to do a lot of thinking or brainstorming before you can get started. Ideally, the first step in the activity should be well defined, simple and trivially easy to start (to break through the inertia associated with starting a new task).
An example, perhaps you want to do some reading. Make sure the book is somewhere you can find it, and you’ve got a bookmark so you can find where you need to start from.
If you need to do some exercise, get your sports gear is readily available, not buried away in a drawer.
Need to do your tax returns? Put the file with your finance documents on the table, ready to go (although make sure your kids don’t use it for arts and crafts!).
Create a Supportive Environment
I’ve often heard that a cluttered desk is a sign of creativity. Perhaps this is true, but it is not a sign of (or conducive toward) productivity. When you get some free time, you want a clear desk, a clear mind and a clear objective if you want to get anything done.
De-clutter your environment and you’ll reduce distractions and achieve a higher level of focus and ultimately get more done.
Engineer you environment to work for you, not against you. That means make small changes to make those things you want to achieve slightly easier and to make those distracting activities slightly harder.
For example, put your TV remote or phone in a drawer to make it slightly harder to be distracted by them. Put your yoga mat or gym kit near to where you would normally exercise (not hidden away, or in the cellar). Need to do some cooking? Make sure the kitchen is clean and tidy and the cupboards well organised.
Studies have also shown that arranging certain areas of your home to be focused around certain activities can be helpful in reducing distractions. If you have space, avoid working in your bedroom, or on your kitchen table. Try to create an area (no matter how small) which your brain can associate with studying or exercise or whatever you’re aiming to achieve.
Value The Time With Your Children
The final advice in this post is to not see spending time with your kids as a distraction from your achievements or productivity. Raising kids is a huge achievement in itself. It is also a dividend paying activity, so it’s important to recognise that investing quality time with them is a really good use of your time too!
The best thing you can do to ensure well rounded, well behaved and well mannered children is to give them your love and attention. Some years from now hopefully you’ll have great kids that help out around the house, don’t argue with you constantly and are on the right footing to do well in school, to make friends and to be on the right path being independent human beings. At that point you’ll really be enjoying the dividends of your prior investments.
Children grow up fast, so take the opportunity to spend time with them while they actually want it. Soon enough they’re be off on their own (for better or worse). Enjoy it while you can!