Take care of the minutes; for hours will take care of themselves.
Many people lose two or three hours every day, by not taking care of the minutes.
Never think any portion of time is too short to be employed; something or other may always be done in it.”Philip Dormer Stanhope – 4th Earl of Chesterfield in the 18th Century
(Evidently a universal truth – even before social media was invented!)
I’ve been busy….
It has now been two months or more since I returned to work and wrote my last post: The Top 5 Truths about Returning to Work after Maternity Leave. Rereading it now, it all still feels relevant but point three – You need to prioritise and pause (and not feel guilty about what doesn’t get done!) – rings most true for me.
The return to work is a huge change for you and your family. There is a new pace, rhythm and balance which you all need to find and adjust to. As the mom, you are doubly impacted – needing to develop the stamina to juggle work, children, lack of sleep, relationships… You may feel you have virtually no spare time, and any you do have slips through your fingers…
Living life according to Mom-time
Indeed, as a Mom I have noticed that I have started to feel like my time is no longer my own. Everyone else has first dibs on my time – and I have got into some very unproductive time management habits. I have developed a survival mom mindset. It is preventing me from prioritising my own goals and hobbies as I feel I should constantly be doing something for the house or the children!
I have assessed where my time goes and am staging an intervention to reclaim my spare minutes. It is time to refocus on what I want to achieve for me…
So here I am, on a Saturday evening with a glass of wine and 40 minutes on the clock. The latter because I am about to share what I have learned about Mom productivity – and I need to practice what I am about to preach!
Here are my top three recent observations about my own time management – and how to improve things! I hope you find them useful for ticking a few more priorities off your list each day…
Observation 1: I constantly waste time whilst waiting for something to happen
As a Mom and Career Woman, much of my life involves waiting around for other people. Whether it is anticipating that my children will undoubtedly need me soon, waiting for something (anything!) interesting to happen on my social media or killing time until a meeting…
This is most evident outside of work. Particularly since becoming a mom, I do not live in the moment, rather I live waiting to react to whatever might happen next.
It often looks like this… Intentionally waking early to start the day, only to hear a noise coming from one of the kids’ bedrooms. Rather than leaping into action as planned, I freeze. I stand there wide eyed, listening intently.
“Are they awake? Am I needed?”
I can stand immobile, straining to hear the slightest indication that a child is waking for minutes at a time. Waiting for something to happen that will mean I need to abandon my plans and spring into Mom-action.
Or (worse) I’ll wake, look at the clock and make the assumption that my kids will probably also wake up too soon for me to bother with my own agenda. This leads to a self defeating thought like “well, there’s no point going back to sleep now…”
Somehow this drives a holding pattern where you do nothing, whilst poised – ready to leap into action for the children – but incapable of doing so for yourself.
Use it or lose it
Sometimes I can wait in this limbo for as much as an hour – even if nothing happens!! The kids don’t wake up, no one needs me. But with every passing minute I become increasingly convinced that I will be needed imminently… Therefore the default becomes that it is best not to start doing anything remotely useful!
Now, to clarify, for me “wasted time” is where you aren’t doing anything intentional or productive or even relaxing.
Usually, wasted time begins with me scrolling through my phone. (Which for some reason I am always holding… why is that?! It is as if I am always anticipating and waiting for something to happen there – even if it doesn’t in real life!)
Before I know it – five, ten, thirty minutes have passed me by… if not more.
And by then it really is too late to start to do something productive!
When it comes to time, you use it or lose it. The day has moved on. The kids now really are waking up or there’s a train to catch or a meeting to get ready for…
So much wasted time; so much missed opportunity!
To stop being on high alert and expecting that my attention will be needed at any moment – particularly when it comes to the children. Even if they do call me, it is rarely such an emergency that they need my full and immediate attention anyway!
So – if I wake just five minutes before I expect the children to – I will be intentional about what I do with that five minutes (whilst hoping it will actually be ten minutes, obviously!)
Even if that just means making a cup of tea and having a quiet few minutes to myself – or reading one of the books by my bed that I never have time to finish.
To stop carrying my phone everywhere and severely restrict my aimless scrolling screen time. Sure – there are useful things that I want/need to do with my phone each day.
However, I need to be more intentional about not only picking my phone up without reason. And, critically, also putting my phone down after I have finished whatever I needed it for.
Spend that time doing something you really want to. Carry a book or notepad at all times. Use that time to be productive – or relax. Do whatever you want – but be intentional.
Observation 2: Multitasking can feed distraction
Even when being productive – with so much to do, I often get distracted. This could be procrastination – but goes further as it is also a habit because I am a committed multitasker. With so many jobs to do, I often start one thing but then quickly get distracted by another (easier/more interesting – but less important) job on my list.
I need to get better at single-tasking. Prioritising my time by picking one thing to do and focusing on that alone for a period of time.
As a mom I have just so many things to do – the choice of what needs to be done first can be overwhelming! picking a priority and focusing on that is tricky but this is another new habit that needs to be formed.
Notice and monitor the effectiveness of multitasking behaviours. Become aware of how easily are you distracted from the task in hand.
Get into the habit of setting a ten minute timer alarm and focus on just one job (and start with the task you’ve been putting off!). Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by anything until the alarm goes off. If you feel engaged at the end of the ten minutes, repeat the alarm and keep going.
Observation 3: Things don’t take as long as you think: you can do a helluva lot done in a few minutes – if you’d just get on with it!
In my head, the shortest increment of time in which it is possible to get something done has always been 20 minutes.
It took a minimum of twenty minutes to take a shower; to make a cup of tea or even to make it worthwhile picking up a book. The only thing really achievable in less that 20 minutes involved staring at my phone.
Fortunately, as a busy mom I have now realised that this is a self limiting belief and complete bunkum. I was on maternity leave when I first challenged this belief – and it has been life changing.
Now, I believe I need just three minutes to make progress in any activity.
Total game changer!
For example, like many new Moms on mat leave, taking a shower often felt like a gargantuan task. Previously I believed it took a minimum of 20 minutes to take a shower. With a baby to take care of, this seemed an impossible feat on a daily basis! When I changed my mindset and showered to a three minute countdown timer, suddenly showering each day didn’t feel such an impossible task.
Previously I would have spent three-ten minutes (ahem, maybe two hours) debating with myself about whether I had time to shower. This debate took all of my energy and hours later I wouldn’t have achieved anything – even if my baby had a nap in the middle!
But now as I think of it as a three minute task, I leap into action and do it pronto.
(Confession: I have never actually managed to get in and out of the shower within three minutes. I love hot water and as a legacy slow showerer, three and a half minutes is my BP record. But the reality is – the amount of time I no longer waste wondering if I have time to go for a shower is the game changer in itself.)
Much like writing this post – in my mind, it was likely to be too time consuming to be achievable. I have debunked this limiting belief tonight, as I have sat down – put on an alarm for the 40 minutes (8 minutes to go..!) and just got on with it.
You need to understand that perfection isn’t the goal; progress is! As such, reassess how much you can achieve in a very short space of time. How long do you think everyday tasks like showering or a meeting should take? Challenge your assumptions and try to do things more quickly. Set alarms for yourself and work against the clock to get more done in less time.
Sub resolution on giving children your undivided attention:
If your child asks you to play or cuddle or read to them and you are in the middle of doing something else – how often do you try to brush them off as you don’t have the time to give them your undivided attention at that moment?
But – think of giving them undivided attention in terms of (a minimum of) three minute increments – and see if that increases your connection…
As an example, I was busy the other day when my two year old appeared. “Cuddles mommy!” I was busy and said “not just now, sweetheart.” Quite by chance, I happened to notice her face drop as she turned away. I hadn’t quite appreciated the gravity of this rejection from her perspective. So I stopped immediately and cuddled her for a minute or two. She soon hopped from my lap and toddled off, satisfied that she had sufficiently reconnected with her Mom and ready to go do something else. I got on with my work – resolving to be more mindful of future requests for connection from my girls – and to act on them as a priority.
I find that children often have a different perspective of time. So if you give them a few minutes of high quality attention when they ask for it, they feel happier faster. And can move on independently quicker than if you give them half an hour of distracted attention (especially if that you are distracted by your phone!)
My time is up…
But in conclusion – what I am really trying to say that as a career mom your time is very limited.
It is time to notice your thinking about the time you have available and identify any self limiting beliefs or behaviours. Focus on what you really want to achieve and take action – straight away!
So – much as this post may have been several months in the making – it has been an important time of reflection and rest. But now I have realised how I can find more time in my day – the next post will not be far behind this one!
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