Time Management Tips for Parents

time managment tips for parentsOftentimes, a frenzied pace takes over our days as we frantically attempt to squeeze chauffeuring two children to three different after-school-activities, grocery shopping, a stop at the ATM machine, picking up the shirts at the cleaners, returning library books, and a mad rush to ship a package before the Post Office closes. Simultaneously, we are fielding phone calls from seven or eight important people and an additional dozen callers of lesser degrees of prestige. Text messages and emails cause our Blackberries to beep nonstop as we juggle the lifestyle of a busy 21st-century parent.

Does it have to be this way? Does everything have to be rushed? When do we get a chance to slow down?

Despite the vast array of time-saving devices throughout our modern homes (I can count four on the kitchen counter alone), we find our time scarcer than ever before.

Curiously enough, the very wealthy among us- even the housewives who do not work- find themselves even more pressed for time than average people.

It seems that the more choices we encounter and the more options we view as available, the less free time we have available.

The very wealthy, who have housekeepers and gardeners at their beck and call, have far more choices than average people: Shall we travel to Paris on Monday or Tuesday? Should we schedule a stopover in New York on the way to California?time managment tips for parents

We in the 21st-century have options that our great-grandparents could not have fathomed in their wildest dreams: We can travel around the world, learn a new language or study for a new career in the comfort of our homes, and update all 532 Facebook friends of our status as each new item is accomplished.

Paradoxically, the more options we have in our lives, the more frantic the pace of life becomes, because we feel a virtually addictive need to do more, to see more, to learn more.

None of us can see all the sites in a metropolitan city in the US if we lived to be 200 years old, yet all of us feel the desire to see many of those sites, and experience an array of new adventures.

The fact remains that we are surrounded by a myriad of choices that beckon towards us intellectually, physically, and emotionally.

How can we slow down the frenzied pace of our lives within the society in which we live? Is it possible to stop and smell the roses every single day- not just during vacations?

time management for parentsI can recall my childhood friend’s mother, Michelle, who used to sit on the couch and read or chat with us while an apple or blueberry pie invariably baked in the spotless kitchen nearby. Michelle’s house was spotless, yet I never saw her clean. Her aura personified harmony, as she seemed to spend most of her time relaxing. I was always in awe of Michelle and her home, so vastly different from my own, where everyone was constantly in a massive rush! I wondered why Michelle was always so serene, why she had so much leisure time on her hands while everybody else complained about not having enough time.

Now, as an adult, I can look back and decipher the secret of Michelle’s tranquil existence. After years of trying my hardest to be efficient, I finally figured out what she knew, and learned how to apply that knowledge to my own life.

The secret lies in the ability to make choices.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, states this concept as follows:

“The key to being proactive is remembering that between stimulus and response there is a space. That space represents our choice— how we will choose to respond to any given situation, person, thought or event. Imagine a pause button between stimulus and response—a button you can engage to pause and think about what is the principle-based response to your given situation.”

Every single one of the hundreds of choices that present themselves to us on a daily basis includes that special “pause” button where we can choose our responses.

Michelle’s special secret was to choose the things she wanted to do (like whip up delicious, quick, pies every afternoon) and to avoid all those other options that did not interest her.

In the past, if a friend were to call me and ask me to accompany her to an entertaining charity event on Sunday evening, I would have looked at my calendar. Upon finding that Sunday evening was blank, I would have acquiesced, and attended the event together with her.time management

Since discovering this secret to slowing down and enjoying a relaxed pace of life, I have a radically different mode of responding to my friend’s invitation. My first step is not to check my calendar, but rather to check my goals. What are the primary pursuits that I am attempting to accomplish at this phase of my life? Perhaps I have a self-determined deadline to finish writing my book, and I have decided that social encounters this month will be minimized to phone conversations, rather than lengthy in-person rendezvous. That being the case, I will turn down the invitation because it is not in line with my current goals.

Recently I had the opportunity to have a phone conversation with an incredibly accomplished, young entrepreneur we’ll call Laura. At one point, I thought of a fabulous idea that would mesh well with Laura’s business model, and shared my brainstorm with her. “It’s a good idea,” Laura responded, “But I can’t do it now, as it doesn’t fit into my 2010 goals.”

Laura’s response threw me for a loop for a quick moment. The idea was more than just fabulous; it was absolutely phenomenal! Yet Laura chose to run the idea through her mental checklist, and not jump upon the opportunity just because it was a great concept.

What separates Michelle and Laura from most of the harried, frenzied people in the world is their ability to recognize that we can’t have it all.

Of the thousands of choices we encounter each year, it is impossible to choose all of them. Saying yes to one activity automatically means saying no to another activity that is taking place simultaneously.

An ancient proverb that states, “You can’t dance at all the weddings.”

Having a multitude of choices is a blessing of our times, yet the blessing can turn into a curse for those that attempt to choose every option on the table.

Eating every delicacy at the buffet is a sure recipe for a stomach ache.

Equally important as choosing what we want to do, the goals we yearn to accomplish, is to choose which ones we are willing to leave by the wayside.

Michelle knew that she did not want to keep up to date viewing multiple TV shows, travel extensively, work herself to the bone in order to advance her career, nor enroll her children in multiple enrichment programs. She chose the activities that were important to her; creating a serene home, having homemade comforting food available for the family, and staying on top of the housework on a regular basis so that it never became actual work. Because she was able to forgo some subjects, she serenely controlled the affairs in which she chose to immerse herself.

The lesson is: If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

Money, cars, jewels and clothing can always be acquired. On the other hand, once time has passed, it can never be recouped.

We all have limited time, energy, and ability to focus.

Time is a blessing; it’s the stuff that makes up life.

It was a sad day when I told my 10-year-old son that he could not join a 5-week soccer league. Yet, it was an essential step in maintaining my family’s sense of balance and purpose. (He was already enrolled in hockey lessons, a baseball league, and enrichment studies at the time!)

Sometimes we put tremendous pressure upon ourselves only because the choice is available.

How many times did I used to chop up a huge salad because the vegetables would go bad soon? How often did I rush to the library and miss tucking my children into bed because I wanted to avoid a $1.25 fee?

question markNow, I wonder: Why?

Why did I feel so pressed to make a massive salad on a day that I already had a headache, two imminent carpools, and a PTA meeting? Why didn’t I choose to freeze the almost-rotting vegetables for a soup on another day? Was saving one dollar and twenty-five cents at the library really worth the hassle of bundling up all my children and driving across town to the library, on four empty stomachs?

I’ve learned to ask myself an all-important question as I’ve slowed the pace of my life and learned to relax despite my busy schedule.

I call this question The Cockroach Factor:

The question is: What would happen if I did not do this?

In the evenings, as I stare at parts of my home which are in disarray, I ask myself, “What would happen if I did not clean up the living room?” And the answer, obviously, is that the books and toys will wait for me until tomorrow.

On the other hand, as I stare at the grimy kitchen and ask myself the very same question, the answer jumps out at me: Cockroaches and ants will invade my territory if I do not clean up the kitchen quickly!

Therefore, most evenings, I clean only the kitchen. The children can help me clean the rest of the house tomorrow- nothing else is nearly as important as keeping roaches out of my home!

I use the cockroach factor when I am invited to events or notice a sale on items I intend to purchase. Asking myself, “What would happen if I did not do this?” has diametrically improved the level of harmony in my home and tranquility in my mind. No longer do I fall asleep under the weight of yet another unfinished To-Do list.

Not only have I chosen the goals I’d like to achieve, I have made peace with the idea of choosing not to accomplish certain things. Time is an irreplaceable resource; I cannot squander it because elephants are on sale at the local fair for a quarter.

When I ask myself the question, “What would happen if I did not do this?” most of the answers look similar to this list below:

“I won’t save seventy-five cents on orange juice.”

“I won’t know what Joe Klein thinks about the war in Afghanistan.”

Just because the sale on juice is taking place around the corner, or Time Magazine arrived in my mailbox, does not make it mandatory for me to utilize my time in these areas!

It comes as liberation to many busy parents, to know that time belongs to us alone, and we are the sole determiners of its use.

P.S.  My new book, Creating Hours:  Time Management for Parents, is now ready! Click here to discover more time saving tips!


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  1. I can totally relate to this article. My family has been over scheduled- all in the name of having lots of FUN, but we’re so busy that there’s not much fun left anymore.

    I will stop and breathe and choose what I want to continue, and what I want to let go of.


    Adriane, MS

    • Adriane,
      You are so on the mark about doing things to have fun but it gets so crazy you can’t enjoy it! I realized that this past summer when I had the kids scheduled for everything but it just made the summer go by all that more quickly…do we even remember what we did?

      Definitely stop & breathe at every moment possible!

      Here’s to living life in the present! Thanks Ellen for this reminder!

      Heather, MD

  2. This is a real eye-opener. I go to bed EVERY night with my to-do list weighing on my like a block of lead!

    I am going to make some serious choices now; thanks for this:)

  3. Wonderful! Exactly what I needed to hear today…actually everyday!

  4. Catherine says:

    I love this article. I need to reread it once a week to avoid all the extra running around that I do!!!


  5. Time is my enemy and I hate it. I understand that I don’t have to do everything, but I have four kids aged 2-9. I work full time in a school. My oldest son has language and mild cognitive disabilities. I feel guilty anytime I don’t try to offer my kids all the quality experiences that we can afford. I need your book. The custodian at my school stuck a post-it note on my desk that said “Remember to take a deep breath!” If these are not signs that I need your book, I don’t know what is!

    Thank you!

    Mandy, NE

    • Oh, Mandy!

      Time is your FRIEND!

      Certain time-consuming responsibilities which have become burdens are being perceived as the enemy- not time itself!

      I remember when my husband and 2-week old infant had meningitis. My parents took care of my 19-month-old son; my in-laws took care of my husband (in a different hospital than the baby for insurance reasons) and nobody took care of ME! The hospital would not give me meals or a bed, as I was not the patient, my baby was. I was scared to go downstairs to the cafeteria as the baby’s IV kept dislodging and he kept bleeding. My point is that stress will skew our perspective of life, and I can totally relate. Stress-relief is a huge part of this journey, and I am compiling the tips that worked for me, as well as the latest research in my book.

      Keep breathing, ok? 🙂

  6. Dominique says:

    I love your article, we need to choose our activities and always find time for the ones that bring us inner pleasure: take a good cup of tea, enjoy the summer breeze, smell the perfume of a flower, enjoy the company of your loved ones….Learn to live the present to the fullest! Thank you for remind us to opush our stop buttons before we run our lives!

  7. Thank you for this article. It is so true that we can pick what we choose to do. I am a small business owner that needs to be at my business 40+ hours a week but I have “chosen” to be at the business much less and with my growing children much more. Even though I do not make the money I used to it has been a wonderful blessing to sit with my kids, do homework, exercise and play with them until dinner time instead of having a stranger in my home with them during this time. Thank you for reminding me why I made this choice!

    • Amen Keri! I am right there with you on this one! Many have questioned my not doing more for my business, but the children will only be small once. My priority now is my family, and I’ve learned to look for ways to leverage my time and create products that can take “me” out of the picture, such as substituting a video training series (which I recorded) for a live tele-class (which required that I be present every week).

      Ellen, this was a great article! Thank you so much for the insight, it was a refreshing read today!

      To your success,
      Dr. Laura

      • P.S. I am reading the Little House books to my two sons before bed, and it’s just a stark contrast on the simplicity of their lives versus our modern but chaotic lives. Really good books too!

      • Thanks, Laura, I remember the beautiful cover of my 4th grade book report on one of those Little House books!

        There are many lessons to be learned from the past.

  8. What a perfect day to read this article! I have known that I need to make some changes for a while, but seeing it in writing really emphasizes the importance of doing so. Thanks so much for a wonderful, eye opening, important and helpful article! Good luck with your new book!

  9. Boy, I have been trying to simplify my life…stay at home mom, but work part time from home and also clean other homes. I do have a to do list, but I know I can’t do it all in one day….it is hard to stay focused!
    I keep donated things to my church and giving things away, but there are still things everywhere…I need help!
    Would love to read the book!

    • 1. Go through your house, room by room, and get rid of anything that is not useful, beautiful, or joyful. Set the timer for 10 minutes per room. (Allow extra time only if a very heavy item must be moved.) Do this quickly and put everything into boxes in the garage. Give yourself a few months to decide if you want to trash, save, donate, or sell these items.

      I just pasted that from this article about time management for parents.

      Good luck, Mindi, and keep on being your own best cheerleader- what a great message:)

  10. Thank you. Parenting is the biggest reason for these choices… our little ones will always remember the special moments and memories we create. This is great advice for my job, for my whole life. Excellent.

  11. I have been saying that I refuse to believe that life is meant to be like this- just rushing around -every day, all day- in a whirl- without a second to enjoy anything- I am not even sure what has happened most days- it is all a blur-

    • Hi Therese,

      In my upcoming book, I’m going to advise you to start a “Time Journal”- a small notebook or paper where you write down the time you start an activity and describe the activity.

      Much the way Weight Watchers has people write a “food journal” and find “just a bit of potato chips” and “licked the icing off a dozen donuts” this Time Journal will help us find numerous leaks and pinpoint areas that can be shortened, accomplished simultaneously, or dropped without adverse effects!

      I hope the book will be ready in early February, but it doesn’t hurt to start the Time Journal now- keep at it for 7 days or more, no judgments, just document facts.

  12. Deb Thomas says:

    What a timely article because I am putting myself under pressure and setting a poor example for the children who will focus less well because of it. What I find SO hard is saying “no”, and this article gave me fresh inspiration to go with my own perspective on what is best for our family. For example I am under pressure to attend an engagement with a neighbour when what I really want to do on that day is spend time with the children and do something nice together – I am going to decline now and stay home.

    • Excellent, Deb, I’m so impressed! We are in control of our own time, not our neighbors or any other people- it’s our choice. (not that it’s always easy- but the rewards are well worth learning to live life in accordance with your own values, not other peoples’!)

  13. This time journal thing sounds interesting, although I am pretty good at micromanaging myself to the point of exhaustion and being overwhelmed. A piece of paper would be important (not a spreadsheet) so that it follows me around as I multitask on unpacking moving boxes, talking to my father-in-law on the phone for his anti-lonliness talk, rebooting and folding laundry because the dryer just rang, stirring the sauce simmering on the stove for later, …how can I possibly notate these kinds of days which are common? The afternoons are pretty sequential, but some mornings? My Mom calls them ‘but first’ days.

  14. LOVE, LOVE the Covey quote. I think he calls this, “practicing integrity in the moment of choice.” I try to use the same principle to keep myself from mindless eating, which is a real issue for me. Regarding children and lots of activities, we hardly do anything because my kids don’t deal with stress well. I finally realized that MY parents didn’t have the time or money to enroll six children in enrichment classes, and we all turned out great (relatively speaking). We played outside everyday and used our imaginations much more than kids today do. When I saw how stressed my kids were with the daily grind of school, activities, and homework, we backed out of just about everything in lieu of more time at home together. They are less stressed, and so am I! The only thing we insist on is Religious Education classes, which as your article suggests, is a choice based on our values that communicates to our children that their Catholic education is just as or more important to us as their Girl Scout education or soccer education or “fill in the blank” education.

  15. Thank you for this article. Feeling depressed at the moment as there was a minor accident with my 1 yr old in our home due to my multi-tasking and taking care of 3 kids in the house. Most of the time I feel like I need to be productive and pack as many chores and activities and prepare gourmet dinners everyday. Realised it is undue pressure that I put on myself and your article is a timely reminder that I don’t need to be a supermom everyday and that the safety, well-being and being present with my children is my priority right now. I can clean the kitchen when the kids are asleep – before the cockroaches arrive.

  16. Thanks….I am still trying to find a balance and between work, running the girls to tennis, dance and tumbling and maintaining friendships that are so very valuable to me, I find myself in the middle of a health crisis and major changes at work and possibly in my career. You have given me a lot to think about and thanks for reminding me that I really am the one who can control it. Looking forward to your book!

  17. Thanks Ellen for such a nice article but it I feel more depressed after reading this. I am full time working Mom work from 9 am to 6 am and reaches at 7 pm. I have 3 kidz of ages 8, 4 and 13 months. I always try to spend some time with them, which I really do with my 13 month old, but haven’t got enough time for them even on weekends. On weekends i feel more depressed to finish all house chores including laundry of the whole week and preparing dinner for weekend guests (in laws) but it makes me too tired and cannot share sweet, loving and soft moments with my kidz. My kidz have become stubborn and and do not respect me and my hubby most of the times. Some times I wish I could be out of this home forever.

    • Saima, I’m so sorry about your stress. I do hope that working from 9am-6am was a typo, though!

      Have you worked with a therapist recently? I’m wondering, just based on a quick read of your comment, if a few sessions of professional evaluations and therapy could transform your frame of mind.

      In the meantime, breathe. And let go. As long as the laundry is clean, it need not be folded during busy times. Prepare simple and quick dinners in a crock-pot. Use disposable plates. I have more shortcuts in my upcoming book- however it’s important not to pressure yourself to be Martha Stewart during a busy phase of life!!

  18. The only time we have is to be exhausted. Three of our children are challenged. 1 with ADD, 2 are ADHD, one is also OD. We also have a healthy and active 5 year old. Finding windows of opportunity are nonexistant. We have to plan for behavoir issues with the kids anywhere we go. We still find postive moments, but they are few and far between. Appreciate your article, and we look forward to more from your book.

    • With so much to manage on your plate, it can be hard to feel like you have control, and perhaps even harder to believe that you really have a choice. Making the mental shift to seeing what you’re doing as your choice which you have chosen because it is important and valuable to you, can be empowering. It can lead you to make choices and changes that you may not have otherwise made (like doing something for yourself!).

  19. I was forwarded this link by my good friend. I could relate to the article – I have a live-in helper and yet most days I feel stressed and harried. Too much choices and being fearful of missing out and trying to be the best mom and spouse is the problem with me. This article reminds me to re think my life and family goals and re align the activities we do with the goals. Thank you and looking forward to the new book.

    • Welcome to RSS, Abms:) I agree with you- it’s the fear of missing out that keeps so many of us stressed and harried. Until we choose to let go of some of the myriad of options that constantly confront us, it’s challenging to change our patterns of time.

  20. brilliant article!! very timely for me. a lightbulb moment! thank you thank you thank you!

  21. When we bought the house we live in with the giant front porch, I imagined myself and
    my four boys sitting on the porch in the summer drinking lemonade & playing games. In five years I’ve
    done this once. There ALWAYS seems to be something else that should be done first.
    Tomorrow we are going to bundle up and drink hot chocolate on my porch. Thank you
    so much for this reminder. It’s more important than any cleaning…

    • Laura, I seriously got chocked up reading your words.

      I’ve made serious changes in my life recently, yet I can clearly recall being in the same boat- please post back here and let us know how the hot cocoa on the porch goes for y’all!

  22. Great article! You always have such good advice.

  23. I am looking forward to your book. It is just my junior high daughter and I but we both suffer from depression and anxiety. I work 2 jobs and she is in 3 after school activities. Time management is probably the most pressing thing for us right now aside from money managment. My parents help with picking up and dropping off during the week so I can work but once we are home, we always feel the to-do-list never gets done as we, more often than not, DO take time to relax and decompress from our days. Then we are back at square one with things not getting done which for me brings more feelings of depression. If there is a way to accomplish taking care of home and family and work and self with limited time in the evenings and weekends, I am SO ready to try it!

  24. Thank you for this great article. I work full-time and have two children in middle school and realized at some point that I need to say no to many of the commitments I once considered “musts,” and life is so much better. In addition to following the suggestion about asking yourself, “What will happen if I don’t do this?” I suggest also asking yourself, “What will I have to sacrifice if I DO?” In other words, if your days are already full, realize that saying yes and adding something new means carving that time out of something else. Will you have to spend less time with your children, clean less, sleep less, give up another activity, etc. to fit this in? If so, is this new thing worth it?

    • Thanks for sharing, Nancy. All commitments and relationships require some level of risk and sacrifice. The trick is to figure out in advance if it’s something in line with your game plan and to choose consciously rather than automatically.

  25. Thank you for this wonderful article. We all need this reminder.