This morning I sent my baby off to kindergarten. He is officially growing up and we are moving into the next stage of life with all school-aged kids. Having older kids means that in some ways things have gotten easier, we no longer deal with diapers, interrupted sleep, or the need to bring the entire house with us when we drive across town. However, we are now faced with new challenges.
Having older kids means that they are starting to become involved in more activities. We aren’t just worried about our schedules as parents, we’re also navigating soccer practice, piano lessons, birthday parties for friends, church events, and all sorts of other kid activities. And as our children grow, they will just be adding more of these items to our family schedule.
The purpose of having a family is not to run all over the countryside, all doing different activities and busying ourselves with our individual lives. We desired to create a family because we want to be with each other. We want to enjoy the community and relational aspect of a family. And the only way to do this is to actually spend a good amount of intentional time together.
If you are struggling with trying to find time for your family to actually spend together as your children grow, here are some tips and strategies to improve your schedules and create more family time.
1. Keep a time log.
If you want to better utilize your time, you have to know where your time is currently going. Take a few days to a week to keep a record of what you spend time doing throughout your day. If you need a resource to help you with this, you can check out the logs and ebook available by Laura Vanderkam, she is an expert at time management. This exercise will help you to clearly identify your wasted time, misused time, and any free time that can be better allocated to important tasks.
2. Know your priorities and use them to make decisions.
Make a list of the most important things in your life right now. For me, this is things like my relationship with God, my marriage, my children, my self-care, and the work I do to fulfill my life purpose. Compare your priorities list with your time log to see if things are measuring up.
Now, this does not mean that the items highest on your priority list need to have the most time allocated to them or that everything on your priority list needs equal time. That is not what a “balanced life” looks like. But if your relationship with God is one of your priorities in life and the only “spiritual” thing you did all week was show up to church on Sunday morning, then you might need to reexamine things. Likewise, if your marriage is a priority but you don’t have any (or many) spaces on your time log that involved quality time with your spouse, that might be something to consider.
Once you’ve examined your time log and your priorities list, don’t just throw your list of priorities away. Keep your list on an index card or in your daily planner so that you can refer to it regularly. As you are making decisions for what to do or how to schedule your day, refer to your priorities list to help you make the best decisions.
3. Delete and delegate.
Once you know where you are spending your time and what things are most important to you, it’s time to make some hard decisions and let some things go. You can’t and shouldn’t do everything. If you try to do everything you will just end up miserable and disappointed.
Some things can be removed from your life altogether (I rarely watch TV and I’m not at all bothered by this). However, other things might still need to be done, but they can be handed off to someone else (I have a house cleaner that comes twice a month so I never have to worry about vacuuming and dusting).
The things you delete and delegate will be unique for you and your current family situation. These things also change based on the seasons of our lives. Be sure to reexamine this often to find new things to drop or reassign.
4. Make sure everyone contributes.
Just because you are the mom does not mean you need to do all of the things to keep your household and family running. Consider that your family is like a business or a sports team. You may be the manager or the head coach, but you are not the only person on the team, so quit acting like it. A good leader knows how to develop and involve every member of the team. Help your family understand the team concept of the family and begin to train and develop your team members to get things off of your plate and give you extra time for the fun parts of being a family.
5. Get things on auto-pilot.
Running repetitive errands, paying the same bill month after month, and always adding the same items to your grocery cart is redundant and a waste of time in our modern world. Set all, or as many bills as possible, to be automatically paid. Most banks and credit unions (and many companies) have had this option for years. If you don’t have it set up yet, quit throwing your time away and set up auto bill pay today.
Also, for things you know you buy all the time, set them up on a subscription plan. We get our razors delivered bi-monthly from All Girl Shave Club and Dollar Shave Club. I have essential oils that are delivered every couple of months through Plant Therapy. And nearly all of your regular home and personal care products can be set up for Amazon’s Subscribe and Save option so you aren’t constantly running to the store for soap and toilet paper in the middle of the night.
Additionally, most areas now have multiple options for grocery pickup and/or delivery. I do nearly all of my grocery shopping through Shipt now and it saves me so much time (and bonus, I never have to deal with taking my kids to the store!).
6. Schedule your family time first.
If you don’t already have a calendar or planner or bullet journal to manage your life, please, for the love, get one and use it. If you don’t plan ahead your life will constantly be lived in a state of chaos and mismanagement.
As you are creating your daily/weekly/monthly schedule find the time that you will intentionally spend together as a family and put those items on the calendar first. This could be dinners (or another meal) each evening or a family fun night each week or maybe once a month you plan a special family day excursion. This will vary based on your unique family, but figure out what is important and works best for your family and get it on your calendar before it is filled up with sports practices, church events, work engagements, and other appointments.
7. Do the hardest thing first.
Let’s face it, we all struggle with procrastination at some point or another. Some of us struggle more than others. I am definitely at the front of the procrastination struggle bus. One of the biggest ways to overcome procrastination is to make yourself do the hardest/worst/most important/least enjoyable items first. Generally, once you get that thing done you will realize it wasn’t as bad as you expected and everything else will be downhill the rest of the day. Follow the advice of Mark Twain (and later Brian Tracy) and eat your frog early.
8. Utilize the small pockets of time.
There will always be times when you are sitting in a waiting room, waiting in a school pickup line, or just staring at your dinner pot waiting for the water to boil. Don’t waste these times mindlessly scrolling on social media. Instead, always keep a list of small to do list items handy. This list should include items that can be done in 15 minutes or less (respond to an email or two, fold a basket of laundry, make a quick phone call, empty the dishwasher, order something online, write a note to a friend, etc). Train yourself to notice these small pockets of time and begin to use them wisely.
If you would like an extra resource to help you identify and widely use these pockets of time, check out this book.
9. Learn how to single-task.
We used to be encouraged to multi-task, but those days are long over. New research shows that in nearly every situation multi-tasking just slows you down tremendously. It is best to focus intently on one thing at a time and then move on to another task.
Turn off all notifications on your devices. Close your office door if you can. Set a timer for a specific period of time and focus completely on one thing until the timer goes off. Eliminate all other distractions besides the one thing you are doing at that moment.
This also goes for your time with your family. If it’s family time, put your phone away, stop scrubbing dishes, and focus solely on the people right in front of you.
10. Plan and prepare for your meals ahead of time.
Every single person in your family needs to eat multiple times a day every single day. It is monotonous and never-ending. I enjoy cooking and baking, so I’m not complaining about that. However, meal preparation can take a huge amount of time, especially if your family is trying to eat real and healthy foods that can’t just be picked up in a drive-thru.
It is so important to plan ahead and often prepare ahead for your family’s meals. Create a meal plan (as a family is best), make sure you have all the groceries you need on hand (remember, use Shipt or Instacart or similar), and try to set aside some time to do advance prep work when possible to save you extra time on those busy weeknights when everyone is starving and the clock is ticking.
I’ve long been a fan of services that involve other people plan our meals to save me even more time. I’ve used eMeals, Once a Month Meals, and my current favorite is Prep Dish. I highly recommend you check out one of these types of services for your family, especially if you try to eat homecooked healthy meals on a regular basis that take longer to prepare.
If you desire to spend more time with your family it is an indicator that you are a great mom. Don’t let the mom guilt get you down by telling you that you don’t have enough time to do everything you think you should. Be intentional, decide what is most important and works best for your unique family. Then, let the guilt go. You are doing a great job. Work together as a family team. Take small steps and make little changes to get your family where you want to be. It will take work and effort, there will be hard decisions, and sometimes disappointments along the way to reaching your goal, but if more family time is important to you, keep moving forward. You can get there.