Most moms have no difficulty finding things to do with their time.
The problem is the opposite. There are too many things to do. The list of possibilities for children's care, amusement and education, plus family and home management, seems to ever lengthen, although the day doesn't go beyond 24 hours.
Someone once said that women's work is never done. Then someone else repeated it and somehow it became a regular cliché in our lexicon. Child care, family management and property management (i.e., housework) combine to make time management a challenge. It's not only hard to get everything done, it's equally tough to find time for leisure, self care and personal development.
In a typical workplace, a job description will define a position's responsibilities. Workers, ideally, assume work within that periphery, unless somehow, magically, extra time appears. An employee who manages time well sets realistic expectations as well as factoring in unexpected events like sick days and fire drills, so that a crisis can be handled with more ease.
Job descriptions for moms, however, tend to vary person to person. With endless media images of perfect moms floating through our psyches, it's easy to overachieve, and underestimate time requirements. Hence, a critical examination of how we manage mom time can be highly beneficial.
Moms working at home face similar time management issues to most self-employed workers. Here are three suggestions for ways to handle the dilemma: our work is never done.
1. Decide what kind of mom you are and be that. Are you the clean-house mom? Are you the cookie-baking mom? Are you the finger-paint-with-kids mom? Recognize that you cannot do it all, all the time. You need to set goals and priorities. Every business needs to find a niche. Find your mom niche and let the rest slide.
If anyone has experienced the combined power of theory and practice in time management, it's Denise Wallace. A training specialist and mom, Wallace teaches self-management skills, such as time management, to workers in industry. This energetic, optimistic professional is clear about avoiding the trap of trying to be everything to everyone. "The first thing you have to have in mind is some kind of goal. What do you want to get out of life? What are you here for?"
Wallace became a solo parent after her kids' dad died several years ago. "I just couldn't keep it all together," she said in an interview.
She set goals, prioritized them and gave up the items she didn't value highly. "Once you start setting priorities, then if your kids mean more to you, it's more important to take them to the park for an hour than it is to spend six hours cleaning your house because it drives you crazy that there are crumbs on the floor. You need to learn to let some things go."
A former HR manager before assuming full-time mom work, Maryanne Niyogi agrees. This mom set clear goals for her hiatus at home. They include developing a strong support structure and establishing a sense of community for her two pre-school children. She strives to "do crafts, walks. That's the kind of vantage point we'll never forget as moms." But with the daily grind of life, Niyogi agrees "it's easy to lose that."
Wallace applauds goal setting and strongly urges writing down and regularly reviewing goals.
"Your brain's a funny thing," she says, "Once you get an idea in there, as soon as you write it down, you've got a greater chance of accomplishing it. The more you review it, the more your brain works on that idea to get you there, unbeknownst to yourself. It's the law of manifestation."
Here's where the tricky part of goal setting comes in. It's easy to set too many goals for yourself.
If you are having trouble accomplishing all the things you want to do, you'll need to either delete a few, or get some help, which leads us to the second tip:
2. Get help. Delegate. Find support.
If a clean and orderly home is what you absolutely require, but can't get it done with your other goals, you may need to outsource this or get help from other family members. Teaching children to do some chores may be inefficient at first, but will probably pay off in future assistance. Of course, this is all dependent on the age of children and what is realistically possible for them at each age. In the book Pick up your socks, Parent Educator Elizabeth Crary includes an excellent chart detailing household jobs in which children can participate, at what ages, and until what age they require assistance or supervision (Parenting Press, 1990). Most moms readily acknowledge they can't and shouldn't do it all on their own and ask for family members to help. At the same time, study after study recognizes that a larger share of parenting and home management work continues to fall on the shoulders of moms. Part of any management strategy is delegation. Moms need to gain firm skills in this area as well.
Outsourcing is great, but not financially feasible for all moms. Family support also varies from family to family. Wallace also suggests another tip for time management: get a buddy mom.
"When I was a single working mom, I had no time for fun until I got another buddy mom at work," Wallace explains, "that's what I would do the first two weeks of school time is start making friends with the moms. I'd say, if you pick up the kids on Tuesday afternoon, I'll pick them up on Thursday and they can come to my house or my kids can go to your house. That's how I would schedule my fun time, is make buddies with other moms so that they can relieve that part of the duty for me on a certain day."
"I'm all for that [the buddy-mom system,]" agrees Niyogi. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge to organize. For one thing, it's easier with fewer kids. For mom and education consultant Laurie Anderson, the buddy-mom system has been challenging because she has three children. Many moms are willing to exchange child care for one or two children, but they find adding three kids more difficult. For Anderson, the solution has been to take the kids to a family daycare one or two days per week, allowing her to complete her part-time consulting work.
Niyogi says she has been surprised that more women aren't able to take advantage of the buddy-mom system. She's surprised that play groups don't normally evolve into more of a shared child-care system. She chalks it up to a culture that stresses individuality over community, along with demanding workloads that result in a kind of crisis management style of planning that leaves limited time for long-term relationship building. However, she continues to work to develop buddy moms because she believes in the system for strengthening bonds both among women and among families to forge a stronger sense of community affiliation.
Regardless of the way you do it, delegation emerges as an essential component of the mom job and critical to time management. Once goals are set, and delegating is sorted out, there remains one additional factor for effective mom-time management.
3. Use time management tools.
Mom and home-business proprietor Colleen Gibson describes herself as a "lister." Writing down what she needs to do to manage her home, care of her two children and her full-time esthetics business helps her stay organized. It also helps her manage stress. "I can't sleep if I have a few things on my mind, so I worry." Putting them onto a list allows her to release the stress. "At least it's on paper," she says.
Wallace says stress management is a common benefit of list making. "People keep it all trapped inside and it starts building up anxieties. So the first thing they need to do is do the dump."
Wallace describes how one of her former students was able to handle his worries by making lists. This engineer had moved west without the support of his family, who'd stayed behind to sell the family home and arrange a later move. As he struggled with a new job in a new city, he worried about his partner and children back east. He decided he would schedule time for worrying at the end of his work day. When an anxiety would overtake him during work, he would simply write it down, place it in his daytimer and accept that he would allow himself time to worry about it later, between 4:30 and 5:00. By "dumping" his fears, he was able to manage his more immediate responsibilities and succeed in learning his new job.
Schedules and calendars are also helpful for moms, Wallace says. She has varied in the type of tools she's used over the years, from paper-based to electronic, but she has now settled on a paper daytimer and a series of highlighters. "When I look at my monthly calendar, I can quickly see how busy I am, what clients I have, I can tell instantly how much money I made this month just by the colours. I colour-code everything."
Wallace stresses that each mom needs to find the system that works best for her. Anderson relies on her paper calendar as well to make note of her son's upcoming speed skating lessons and other commitments and appointments for her family. For Niyogi, a weekly review on email is the key. Every Sunday night, she writes an email to herself to move forward items she didn't complete in the past week to the week ahead. She also reviews and reminds herself of upcoming appointments in the next week.
"Now when I get frenzied, I go back and look at that list again," she says. For Niyogi, the email solution eliminates the risk of paper getting lost. Her email remains securely in her in folder.
Wallace's daytimer includes notations highlighted in green, times she has scheduled in for leisure. In her life, the main leisure priority is boating with her family.
The ultimate goal of all of our work, paid or unpaid, recognized or unrecognized, is to have fun and enjoy life. The ultimate goal of time management for moms, as well, is to organize our time so that we get a slice of that 'fun' pie, too.