Working, taking care of children, cooking, cleaning, the list goes on. There are countless things to do as a mom, perhaps even more for a working mom ESPECIALLY during a pandemic when work tasks and at-home tasks have to take place all at home. Some of us are no longer able to send our children to daycare, some of us are in the thick of busy season at work while having to calm toddler tantrums in the middle of Zoom calls, some of us have to take up extra work on the side. To help out our fellow busy mamas, I put together a few time management tips and techniques that I picked up and have found to be VERY effective as a working (from home) mama! I hope some of these work for you too!
This is a method where you “block” your tasks for the day and assign those tasks to the times you plan to do them. Individual blocks of time are specific to one or a group of tasks. This is a lovely way to focus on one task or a few related tasks in one block of time instead of hopping back and forth between irrelevant tasks. Remember, multitasking isn’t actually a thing. Your brain isn’t wired to work on multiple things simultaneously. When you’re supposedly “multi-tasking” you’re actually forcing your brain to turn on and off in between tasks and that has actually been shown to be a counterproductive way to get tasks done.
Helpful tip: people tend to under or overestimate the time it takes to finish a task. If you’re a mama, you may want to add additional 15-30 minute buffers in between tasks or block out an extra 30 minutes at the end of each task to make up for any unforeseeable events which are bound to come up when working in a house with young children.
Another helpful tip: With block scheduling, it may be tempting to schedule out every minute of the day and have your physical or digital calendar look more like a screenshot of a losing match of Tetris. DO NOT fall into this trap. Instead, block your times out into categories like “Work”, “Personal Time”, “Errands”, “Family Time”, “Dinner”, etc. The nitty-gritty detailed tasks that fall under each block should be kept in a separate running to-do list which I’ll go into more detail next.
Running To-Do List
In tandem with a block scheduled calendar (mine is a physical calendar), I also keep a separate running to-do list for each block on a notebook or a planner that is easy for me to refer back to throughout the day. This is where the detailed tasks go and this is where I enjoy the therapeutic act of crossing out each task I complete. Keeping a running to-do list allows me to see my tasks in a more tangible way. Writing them down instead of making the constant effort to remember them gives me more brain space to accomplish other tasks while lessening the anxiety of possibly forgetting something important.
Helpful tip: If you don’t have a calendar or planner already, find a one that allows you to block schedule as well as keep a running to-do list. The one I have is Blue Sky Buzz Planner which I love because it has exactly what I need and nothing extra. I use the “schedule” section to block out the day and the “Get Stuff Done” section as my running to-do list for the day. Occasionally my list spills over into the “Notes” section but usually, the “Notes” section is dedicated to anything that requires detailed notes such as an address, contacts, instructions, directions, etc.
I also appreciate that this planner is undated because there are days/weeks in the year when I don’t need my planner. For example, I don’t take my planner with me to vacations and I don’t plan to use it for at least a few weeks after I give birth. The undated feature allows me to tailor my planner according to my needs without having to waste any pages!
The Pomodoro Technique is a time blocking method that uses a timer to break down work into 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks in between intervals. This technique retrains your brain to work on one dedicated task per interval (or a cluster of intervals) while taking short and effective breaks to reset. This is especially helpful during the workday when you are working on one project at a time. I also found this technique helpful for when I have to do chores around the house like cleaning, cooking, decluttering, and even online shopping (haha).
Helpful tip: An app I find helpful to use is the Focus Keeper app which is a simple and user-friendly timer app specifically made for getting tasks done the Pomodoro way. You can even toggle the time intervals to your liking (sometimes I do 45-minute intervals with 10-minute breaks).
This is how the interface of the app looks like. It’s straightforward and very easy to keep yourself in check!
Another helpful tip: Don’t just sit at your desk during your 5-minute breaks, getting creative for break time helps to reset your brain so that you can get a fresh start to your next stretch. Here are some ideas:
- Make a quick snack/drink
- Move your body (walk, jumping jacks, stretch, yoga sequence, etc)
- Get some vitamin D by going outside
- Check on your kids
- Do a quick clean up around your desk
- Declutter a junk drawer
- Check the mail
- Take out the trash
- Clean out handbag/diaper bag
I use an alarm for everything. Once my daughter was born, losing track of time became my forte. Appointment times and project deadlines seemed to always get neglected even if I wrote them down in my planner and highlighted them in bright neon yellow. I quickly found that the only way I would remember to get to my appointment was to set a very loud alarm on my phone at least an hour or two before the actual appointment so that I would be notified, have time to get ready, and head out the door in time. For project deadlines, I set a weekly alarm reminding me of the project deadline. For instance, if I had a project due 6 weeks from today, I would set an alarm to go off every Monday at 9am with the title “Project ABC due on XYZ” for the next 6 weeks. Hearing my weekly alarm go off and regularly seeing visual reminders to work on my project helped tremendously with mom brain.
Try one or all of these productivity tips for yourself and let me know what worked for you!