I am a working mum and here are my best tricks for navigating stressful mornings
Schools are back – and with that, life has suddenly returned to more normal patterns again.
Suddenly, we are back to packing lunchboxes again. And fighting over homework. And washing uniforms around the clock. And ferrying kids to and from football and ballet and taekwondo. And figuring out dinners and clamping down on screen time and trying to find time for our own work in between in all.
I think, for most of us, if we could all wish for one thing that would make the work-life-family juggle easier, it would be more hours in the day, no?
But since this isn't entirely doable, I like to believe that the second-best thing is to just keep myself relatively organised. It helps to make me feel that, for the most part, I have things somewhat together.
And look, this isn't some sort of magical system, much as I wish one existed. These are more like certain tricks and habits I have cultivated and learned over the years, adapting what worked for me and my family along the way.
So if you feel like you sometimes struggle with staying organised and keeping your family-work-life situation flowing smoothly, hopefully, these can help you too. And if you have any great trick for staying organised and keeping all these balls we are all juggling in the air – do share. After all; us mums, we are all about empowering each other, no?
1. Spend your morning wisely
I swear this is my number one tip for feeling you have got it all together – after all, "start as you mean to go on..." and so forth. I set my alarm for 45 minutes before I HAVE to get up every morning – and use this time to just get all set, and feel like I am in control of my day. I love that saying: "Either you run your day or your day runs you", because I don't know about you, but to me, that is so true.
By getting up ahead of everyone else, I have time to get myself showered, dressed and made-up without being disturbed and pulled in other directions. I also take this time to make the bed, make breakfast and do lunches – and give the kitchen a quick once-over so that I don't have to deal with the breakfast mess when we come home in the afternoon and have to start dinner.
After I wake the kids up and while they have their breakfast, I look at my calendar and to-do list, and make a mental note of what lies ahead that day – including anything that needs to be stocked up on, say, if I am missing something we need for dinner. I never run the washing machine or dishwasher while we are out of the house, but I do always stack them in the morning, ready to be put on when we get in later. That means I also have time to put away the dishes and hang up laundry in the evening, before it's time for bed.
These might just seem like small things, but they mean that by the time we all leave the house in the morning, I do feel like I am in control that day – and I know that I don't have to come home to a messy house later.
2. Get smart with your calendar
OK, this is such a life-saver, I find, especially as the kids are getting older and now have about a million different activities and parties and playdates to attend.
First of all; I use a mix of online calendars and a physical family one located on the side of the fridge in our kitchen, where we can all easily see it and know what has to be done and where we all have to be. In one glance, we can see the whole month, and it will have all the standing appointments in it (ballet, soccer, taekwondo, my yoga classes, which days there has to be swimming gear going into school etc.). Also, on a Sunday, I take five minutes and fill out the week ahead with more detailed stuff, such as playdates, dentist's appointments, work events I might have to attend, money that has to go in for parties or some school function – whatever it is, it is up there in the calendar, and we can't miss it.
I use Google calendars, one private and one for work, and view on both my desktop and iPhone. In these, I keep notes of all the things to do with home and family (kids' stuff, birthdays, holidays, playdates etc – basically all that is already up in the calendar on the wall). And then in my work one, I keep notes of deadlines, meetings, training courses, events, and plans that I have to keep on top of.
I always set up reminders for myself on my calendars. So, for example, on a Monday, I will have a note reminding me to do a stocktake of the fridge/kitchen press, so that once I hit the shops for our weekly grocery haul, I know exactly what I have to buy. On a Friday, I remind myself to check my online banking and pay any bills that have come in during the week.
In writing things down I feel more in control, and am less likely to drop the ball or forget about something important I have to do. And just knowing it is all in the calendar leaves me feeling more in control.
I also plot in yoga classes I want to attend, or meet-ups with friends, whether for a coffee or for a run in the park. I have learned by now that by writing it down, I am far more likely to stick to something.
3. Keep a running to-do list
Again, on the writing things down thing – to me; if it isn't written down, it probably won't be done. And at least, by writing my to-do list down, I feel in control and I love that feeling of satisfaction when I get things done and can cross them off.
I have a diary that I carry with me in my work bag and, in it, I write down everything as it pops into my head. At the start of each month in this calendar, there is a blank page, so I start my list here, writing down a monthly to-do list, putting the most important things up the top. For instance, for January, I had things like "book car in for NCT" on the list, as well as "book days off work for mid-term" and "book tickets for our trip in February". These were at the top of the list, as they were big ones, and then as I remembered other things or they cropped up, I would add to the list, crossing things off as I get them done.
From this master monthly to-do list, I write a weekly list on a Sunday, and keep this digitally, so that I can access it on my phone and laptop. This means that I can tweak it as I go, and add new things for the week, or delete things as they get done. I can also then move whatever didn't get done onto next week's to-do list (which, trust me, happens a lot).
4. Do an evening clean-up
Just like my little morning routine, I have established a little evening one as well. It might just be 10 minutes, but I swear it helps keep our lives flowing easier. I am sure you already do a similar re-set before your head hits the pillow at night, but here is mine: I empty the dishwasher (if it needs emptying) and put away any laundry, meaning I won't have to worry about this in the morning, and there will always be clean clothes and fresh lunch boxes ready to go when we get up.
As well as this, I put the kids' backpacks out in the hallway (or, more often, get them to do this themselves now that they are able to), all ready for being grabbed in the morning as we head out the door. I also double-check that whatever we need for that specific day is ready (swimming gear, shin-guards, hockey stick etc). This saves us time the next morning, when we don't have to frantically search for these missing items during the morning rush.
I don't pack lunches the night before, but I do take their lunchboxes and water bottles out and leave them on the counter, ready to be done first thing in the morning. And then I just do a quick glance over the house, put away stuff that needs to be put away, wipe the table and counters, and just make sure that getting up tomorrow morning, the house will feel fresh and ready for the day, as I hate the feeling of getting up to a messy house.
That's it! Those are my tried-and-tested hacks for days that run a little smoother. And if you got something to add, some hacks or tricks or routines that work for your family, I would love to hear them!