Family Life


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The myths and realities of parents saving time

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Who wouldn’t want an extra eight hours in the week?

It’s possible. You know it’s possible because you’re a parent – and being a parent means cramming every self-help article into your brain between work and laundry and stuff like that.

Like people who watch top flight cooking demos, then order take out, parents may not be putting what they know into practice. It takes planning and effort to do all the little things that are going to save you time. We’d all love to make lunches the night before, get the kids to help out with cleaning the kitchen and arrange car pools for extracurriculars.

But we’re tired. We’re overwhelmed. We don’t have the time to make time.

I hear ya. With up to five of our six kids at home on the average night, my best intentions are easily trumped by what’s happening right now. Gotta pick up some Bristol board? The dishes will wait until later. Violin recital? We’ll meal plan next week. Flu tearing through the house? We’ll clean the bathrooms…eventually.

All that said, we have to find efficiencies. There simply aren’t enough hours in a day. While better self-discipline might clear up some of the challenges of time, I recognize I’m a deeply flawed human being (just like everyone else). Instead of beating myself up over it, I just try and focus on one new part of the process once in awhile. Here’s how…

Design the dream

I’m a process guy and that helps a lot. I start by imagining what I could do in a perfect world to save/get time. I write it down. I visualize the steps it takes to get there. Then, when I’m feeling like I need more time, I look at that list and pick one thing from it. The key is to take a few weeks and take it from idea and turn it into a habit – like giving the kids showers more often than I give them baths (Time saved: 60 minutes a week).

Fill the mortar

You already have a lot of extra time, the problem is that it’s in 5-7 minute chunks. Kids finished dinner and run off for you’re still sitting at the table? Time to make the grocery list (or better yet, time to make the grocery list on your smartphone’s grocery delivery application. Time saved: 3 hours a week). Fill those little bits of time with any little thing like stacking the dishwasher, or researching summer camps on a tablet.

Get mega organized

We spend a lot of time “getting things” around here. Making lunches, for example, used to mean grabbing stuff from three cupboards and the fridge. Not anymore. Now we fill a “dry” basket for stuff from cupboards and a “cold” basket for the fridge. I yank the two baskets and can make four healthy lunches in less than five minutes.

This works for our closet too. The kids each have a locker (thanks IKEA), complete with basket. Everything goes in the locker and nothing should get lost (it does, which is why I have dollar store clothing backups in my trunk).

One more – I put my car in the garage during the winter. Yes, that means I had to clean out the garage first, but the minutes it saves me not scraping are invaluable.  

Double up

We fold laundry while we watch TV. We make lunches at the same time we’re making dinner. We save the dishes until meal prep time. We manage emails while we’re waiting outside basketball practice. All these little things give us an extra hour of deserved downtime a day.

Give yourself a break

You’d like to do more. I’d like to do more. You just have to remember that you’re a person, not a machine. Forget to pack lunches one night a week? It’s fine. The world will not end. You kept the little ones alive another day and are as efficient as you can be.

For that you deserve a gold star.

a man carrying two children

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