There’s no way to perfectly organize your life so that everything goes off without a hitch. But there are some time-tested tricks you can use to set yourself up for success and increase the odds of things running smoothly.
Is there anything like the start of the school year for a sense of overall renewal? When the kids choose their outfits for the first day of class and you sit down to plan their activities for the fall, the months of a new school year stretch ahead with such promise. It’s why September first is often referred to as “the real New Year.”
But if we’re not mindful about the way we design our school-year routines, our hopes for an organized family life can unravel like a fast-fashion sweater. With too much on the calendar, our weeknights become characterized by white-knuckle drives to get the kids to swimming or hockey on time, and family dinners of snack crackers and chicken nuggets in the van on the way.
Time management resolutions
There’s no way to perfectly organize your life so that everything goes off without a hitch. Life with kids includes a lot of unpredictable X-factors—pink eye, tantrums, and that professional development day you forgot about.
But there are some basic principles and time-tested tricks you can use to set yourself up for success and increase the odds of things running smoothly.
Take it easy on activities
Set aside some time to really think about how much you commit to in terms of sports, lessons, and other activities for the kids. This is the single most important aspect of creating a family life that feels manageable. No system, app, or family calendar is going to make life work if it’s over capacity.
Clare Kumar, a productivity coach and mom of two, says we’re trying to cram too much into our schedules. “We keep adding things without examining what we need to let go of,” she says. That’s easy enough to do, especially as your child progresses through a sport they really like—for example—and the commitment increases. The problem comes when we don’t take a sober second look at whether there’s still time for piano. “It’s easy to neglect the overall experience.”
Keep yourself in the mix
While you’re busy filling in your family calendar, put your own indoor soccer, yoga, running clinic, or watercolour painting class on there. “One of the things we talk about in work-life integration is adult play—people have forgotten how to play because there hasn’t been time for it,” says Kumar.
Chances are, we can remember our parents and grandparents playing cards, tennis, or golf with friends, or pursuing hobbies such as knitting or carpentry. Follow their lead and get back in touch with things you were passionate about in your youth. We need it to stay healthy and happy.
It can be helpful for children to see us modelling a lifestyle that isn’t all about catering to them. So register for that spin class, establish a monthly night out with friends, and get date night on the calendar. It’s not selfish to do so. In fact, if we show our kids that we make time for ourselves despite being busy, they may be more likely to practise good self-care and make time for relationships when they’re all grown up.
Make a meal plan
Yes, you’ve heard it before, but there’s no surer way to reduce weekday stress than to know ahead of time what’s for dinner. None of us wants to wait in line at the express checkout in the company of a couple of cranky kids with nothing to do but stare longingly at the chocolate bars. And there’s nothing that makes life feel more out of control than a nightly scramble to feed a family.
Spend a little time mapping out Monday-through-Friday dinners before you get groceries on the weekend. You’ll be glad you did—not just for the checkout lines and drive-through lines that you’ll avoid, but for the opportunity that family dinners give us to be together.
“My kids are 13 and 15 now, and most of the time we’ve had dinner together as a family. It’s a point of conversation and interaction,” says Kumar. “But I have one friend who decided that breakfast was going to be the foundation family meal. So they would do a cooked breakfast every morning and have that connection then because the evenings with three children were too hectic.”
Expect more from your kids
We’ve gotten so busy ferrying our kids everywhere that many of us are forgetting to teach our kids to do basic household tasks that they need to know to function in the world—and that, in the meantime, could lighten your load at home. Take school lunches, for example. Even kindergarteners can select snacks from a low, accessible cupboard or bin, while preteens should be able to make a complete lunch.
In her book Family Whispering (Atria Books, 2014), author Melinda Blau points out that kids under three can throw dirty clothes into a hamper and clean small spills, preschoolers can sort whites from colours and set the table, five- to seven-year-old children can make sandwiches and fold clothes, and tweens can chop ingredients for dinner and do their own laundry.
“We need to build a team feeling to put dinner on the table, to get lunch bags and backpacks [put] away, and to get lunch prepped for the next day. Get as much involvement from a young age as possible,” says Kumar.
How to tell if you’re overbooked
- Your kids rejoice when practice is cancelled for an activity they normally enjoy.
- You can’t remember the last time you had a weeknight family dinner at home.
- You try to make plans with a friend, but you don’t have any openings in your calendar.
Tech for busy families
No app can make life sane if there’s just too much on your calendar, but technology can make things easier and keep you from losing track of important details.
While there are number of calendar apps out there, Google calendar is still the web-based calendar service of choice for parents. Create shared calendars for extracurricular schedules, school events (including those pesky professional development days), appointments, and more.
This app gamifies the business of getting kids to do things around the house and replaces difficult-to-maintain chore charts with an electronic points system that kids can access (and parents can monitor) through personal computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Short on dinner inspiration? The Dietitians of Canada have created an app that will put healthy meal ideas quite literally at your fingertips when you’re hurrying through the grocery store.