CREATE PEACE OF MIND, REDUCE STRESS, AHHHH…
Effective time management skills are essential to all adults and children. From scheduling and managing after-school activities to homework to chores… oh, and your life, too. Day-to-day demands can become overwhelming and create an atmosphere of constant stress. Who doesn’t want a calmer, more efficient morning, a less hectic afternoon, and a more peaceful bedtime?
By managing your time wisely and modeling that for your children, you and your family can experience a more orderly, less stressful day. By becoming proactive in how you approach time, you can make a noticeable and systemic difference in your life and the lives of your family members.
Many of you already know the “How To’s” of Time Management, yet you still struggle today. The heart of the issue for many goes beyond practical advice.
Once we run through some valuable systems for keeping track of our lives, we can focus on how we spend our time.
PART 1 – VALUABLE SYSTEMS ARE THE KEYS TO GOOD TIME MANAGEMENT
In each aspect of Time Management discussed here, I encourage you to have a dual focus. One is on the content – the brass tacks of what needs to be done. The second is in the process. This has to do with HOW you implement what needs to be done—the small vs. the big picture. Remember that your goal in parenting is to develop independent, confident, and resilient children. I encourage you to involve your child in what you are doing as much as possible so they may also begin to emulate the process you go through to decide how to manage time.
- Your Calendar
- Experiment! There are new types of digital calendars created all the time.
- Use different colors for different people.
- Be sure there is ample room to write sufficient information about appointments.
- Block out realistic time frames directly on your calendar. Consider how long it takes to get the children ready, drive, wait, etc.
- Perhaps circle the total time needed for the event itself.
- Consider writing a note on a date sometime before any event you need prep time for. This will give you a heads-up that the date is approaching. If you use a computer calendar or app, you might set an alarm for some time in advance.
- Your child’s Calendar: Here is where we begin modeling for our children.
For Young Children
The purpose is to help children understand the structure of a week and a month. Let them see how time flows and certain events repeat. Empower them to look forward to plans independently. You can have one calendar for each child or one for the family to share.
- You can make a calendar together with stickers, colors, etc. Dry-erase boards with permanent markers for the days of the week work great.
- Use different color markers for each child.
- Stickers and/or different color markers visually view their activities and family events.
For Older Children and Teens
Once a child actively uses an agenda book in school, it’s a great tool to help them see school as part of their lives. Help them develop the skill of having a central area for their planning. This will give them a greater sense of control and independence as they grow.
- In their agenda book, help them incorporate their weekly activities, doctors’ appointments, social plans, etc.
- Remind them that they must consult with you before putting any plans in their agenda book to ensure no conflicts so you can set the programs in your calendar.
- Teens might enjoy using their computers or phone for their calendars. Encourage them to use this technology effectively as they experiment with developing their style of organizing and managing their time.
- Get organized the night before
- Review the calendar for the next day to anticipate needs, activities
- Look at the weather report and pick out clothes
- Pack up a backpack
- Have cell phone by the charger
- Write any notes of last-minute things for the morning (lunch from the fridge, etc.)
- Straighten up room
We can all get lost in our work or play. Having an external reminder that it is time to transition can make it easier to relax and fully engage in the current task. Timers are also a great device to help children concretize the passage of time.
- Set the alarm on your computer to remind you of appointments.
- TimeTimer: For many people, it’s a challenge to notice the passage of time. The TimeTimer can be a great tool to help others be aware and release you from being the constant reminder!
- Kitchen timers are great for helping children transition. Set the timer for the time remaining before dinner or homework time. Let the timer be the reminder – not you. Let them learn to set it as their reminder when they take breaks for homework.
- Use your cell phone alarm. It can be set to any ringtone.
- Use Alexa/Google Home/Siri
- Staging Area
Here is a helpful tip I learned long ago. Never leave a room to put something elsewhere until you are sure that’s the only thing that needs to leave the room.
Have a spot in each bedroom and one or more in your kitchen for transitions. This is where you will place anything that needs to leave the room next time you exit.
Have your children pick a spot in their room to place their backpacks, school projects, items they need for afterschool activities, etc. Help them develop the habit of putting these items here at night before bed. Having everything in one spot when it’s time to leave will make the morning less hectic for all.
- To-Do lists and reminder notes
For some, the To Do list can be an out-of-control random scattering of papers. For others, it takes on a life of its own as reorganizing and rewriting it becomes a To-Do item. Still, others avoid To Do lists altogether. Here are some ideas to help you better manage to keep things in order.
- If you use a computer regularly, consider using it to manage your To Do list. iCal on the Mac has a spot for To Do’s with the ability to set alarms or emails as reminders for specific times. It also allows you to sort based on date or priority.
- If not… Try to keep one central pad where you are the most – for many, that is the kitchen. Have that pad look different than other pads in the house and save it only for YOUR To Do list.
- Consider having a date or date range attached to any item that is not immediate. This will prevent it from blending into an endless list of things to do.
- If your list becomes overwhelming, consider a breakaway list of things to focus on JUST THIS WEEK. Then each week, you can pull from your master list and not have all those other items staring you in the face.
- Choose a regular time to review your list if it becomes lengthy. For many, the activity has settled at night, and the mind is clear. This is often the perfect time to evaluate and rewrite your To Do list.
- Keep a notepad by your bed to jot down things you need or hope to get done. This is NOT the To Do list – transfer these to your main list the next day. Give your children a special pad for their nightstand and teach them to jot down plans they hope to make or things they need to remember for school.
- Place reminder notes in the SAME spot designated as your transition area for when you leave a room.
Remember, if you can develop the habit of having a few consistent spots you always look at, you are less likely to forget important things. A little later in this article, I will focus more on the deeper meaning of To Do lists…
- Pattern Planning
The more predictable activities you do, the easier it is to remember and ensure they are done. Like traditions and rituals, routines have a way of calming and comforting, as they are a regular part of our lives.
- Choose the same day each week for errands: groceries on Monday, dry cleaners on Wednesday, etc.
- Request the same appointment day and time when setting up routine visits such as dental, medication check-ins, counseling, and coaching.
- For annual and bi-annual events such as physicals, changing Air Conditioner filters, and changing smoke detector batteries, choose a month that generally works for you and write a To Do a few weeks prior in your Calendar for scheduling.
- Set up a pattern for household chores for everyone. Alternate children’s chores based on the month they are born or something similar. Ex. The child born on the odd number month takes out the trash and gets the front seat on odd months; the other child sets the table and feeds the dog.
- Keep your grocery-shopping list in the same place all the time and encourage family members to write their requests on the list themselves.
For some people, especially those who spend much time on the computer, tending to emails can be time-consuming and distracting.
- Turn off that “bing.” I learned this one from the late Randy Pausch. That “Ding” every time you receive a new email has the power to pull you away from other work you might be engaged in. By turning off the sound, you regain control over when you check your emails.
- Remove yourself from emails as often as possible. At the bottom of marketing emails, there is usually an “unsubscribe” link. The moments it will take you to do this are nothing compared to the time you will spend deleting their emails every time – not to mention the ones for the companies they sell your email address to.
New ideas are great, but too many of them at once can create chaos and take up much of your time. Try to implement new concepts one at a time. Ensure the change is a good choice for you and your family. Just because a time management idea works for a friend or neighbor does not mean it will work for you. You may be wasting more time trying to fit yourself into a system that is wrong for you!
Remember that each family member has a different learning style and a different level of comprehension. What is right for you may only suit some in your family. I love iCal and use it with my daughter. I “invite” her to her doctor appointments, etc., and she “invites” me to let me know about her work schedule. My son, however, hates to have to look at the calendar on the computer. He recognizes that being connected to it too often distracts him.
Learning to manage your time is a process. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. When starting a new plan, praise and encourage your children on all levels of success as they get used to the process. Try to involve your children in the decision-making as much as possible. Solicit their assistance and input as you plan your new strategies.
PART 2 – TIME… WHERE DID IT GO??
Sense of Time is a developmental skill. Children, especially those with ADHD, do not have the same mastery of time as adults. They may have difficulty judging and anticipating the true amount of time it takes to accomplish tasks – big or small. Also, many children, especially those with ADHD, have difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next. They may become so attached to their current activity that they cannot pull themselves away.
Here are some essential tips:
- Do some Time estimation exercises.
- For one week, see how accurate you and your children are at predicting how long a given activity actually takes. Use a clock or timer to see time move as you complete a task. Try playing Beat the Clock to raise their interest in looking at time as a factor in what they do. You can use the Task Time Estimation – Estimated Vs. Actual handout. Estimate the time REALLY needed for getting ready in the morning, eating a meal, doing laundry, reading 15 pages, completing a math sheet, etc. Ask younger children to predict how long getting dressed or cleaning their room might take and then see how long it actually takes.
- Another way to look at Time is to see how much of it is already committed vs. having time for unplanned or unscheduled events. Write down how much time is needed for everything you MUST do each day (eat, sleep, get dressed, do homework, etc.) and add it. Then subtract that time from 24 hours, and you will see what time is available for everything else.
- Plan to allow for extra time so there is no need to rush. It is less stressful, especially for some children, to arrive a few minutes early and allow time for adjustment to the new setting (even if a familiar one) than to arrive just on time or a few minutes late.
- Give advance notice about what you will be doing next and when it will happen.
- “We’ll be eating dinner in 15 minutes, so begin cleaning up.”
- “We’ll leave for school in 5 minutes; check to ensure you have done your morning tasks.”
- Remember to use a timer so You are not the nag.
- Especially for younger children or those who have a tough time with transitions, try this: Join in their activity for the final few minutes so you can help them transition. Rather than insisting on an abrupt departure, spend even one or two minutes at your child’s level and help them transition.
- “Dani, I see you really like playing with Paige; how about we make plans for next week to do this again.”
- “Jordan, I see you are getting even higher on that game. Tomorrow will you show me how you got to that part?”
Transitioning won’t always be smooth, but you are teaching a skill and helping stay calm.
- Take an extra moment and breathe. Sometimes, when children have trouble disengaging from an activity, we tend to get frustrated and perhaps panic about the pending struggle and to be late for the next appointment. Panic and Pressure won’t budge your child. It might even prolong the process.
PART 3 – TIME FOR REFLECTION ON TIME
Now we have arrived at a place where we can look deeper into our choices regarding how we spend our time. Has this ever happened to you? It’s the end of the day, and your spouse comes home and says, “How was your day?” After exchanging pleasantries, your spouse says, “So, what did you do today?” It is then you realize that yet another day had gone by you when you didn’t get to do “x, y, and z” that you had promised yourself you would. You vow to do better next time.
Steven Covey, the author of several influential books on practical living, shows how we devote much of our time to ways that do not serve us best. In a simple yet clear graph, he enables us to see how we devote much of our time visually. Please take a little time out of your day to self-reflect and explore the conundrum we call Time Management.
Take a look at the Chart. If you are like most people, you usually spend time doing the things in Quadrant I (stuff that’s both Important and Urgent, like tending to deadlines and crises) and rarely get to Quadrant IV (like reading junk mail).
Covey suggests that where we should spend our time is indeed in Quadrant II, where things may not be Urgent, but they are Important. These are the things that help us both move forward in our lives and enjoy and enrich our lives (things like planning for future events and enjoying the zoo with your family). Most often, however, people tend to focus on Quadrant III, where items are Urgent but Not Important (perhaps the newest emails to your inbox or the upcoming meeting).
Here is an exercise he recommends to help you understand and manage your choices in how you spend your time.
- Get 20 or 30 note cards. On each card, write down one thing on your mind that you should do, want to do, have to do, wish you did, or hope you get to do… you get the idea. Include everything, no matter how large or small. Keep writing cards until you can no longer think of anything. (Don’t worry; you can add more cards later).
- Once you have written out as many cards as you can, separate the cards into two piles: Urgent – things that have to be done now, and Not Urgent – things that can wait (even if you don’t want them to). You can refer to the chart to help you with this process.
- Now go through each of these piles a second time, separating the cards into piles of Important and Not Important. Sometimes, this can take some thought, and your decision is purely subjective. Is the trip to the zoo important? The four resulting stacks correlate with the Covey Quadrants: Important/Urgent, Important/Not Urgent, Unimportant/Urgent, and Unimportant/Not Urgent.
- For now, put a rubber band around the Unimportant/Urgent and Unimportant/Not Urgent stacks and set them aside for review later. (Side note: It will be interesting to take these out in a month or two and review which ones you want to rip up and which you will want to incorporate into your present life.)
- Now, the fun begins. Commit yourself to examine the cards in Quadrant II – the Important and Not Urgent items. My experience shows that these items contain the gems of your life. The things that, when done, help you to live a calmer, more fulfilling life.
Many people find that once they have completed this exercise, they have a clearer vision of their priorities in life. However, that is often not the end of the process. It is truly just the beginning. The true magic is in making the things happen that we find important but are not pressed or required to do. Examples might be developing new hobbies, enhancing your professional education, building friendships, spending time with loved ones, writing a book, and organizing your retirement finances.
Now that you have taken the time to reflect on how to spend your time, you have some choices. You have opened the door to your true desires; now it’s up to you to decide to make these things happen. Sometimes, and for some goals (perhaps spending more time with family or reorganizing your closets), knowing what you want to accomplish is enough to get you started. Other goals, like creating a calmer home or expanding your business, might need more thought, planning, or support to get you to the finish line. Enlist a friend, a family member, or perhaps the services of a professional Coach to keep you moving forward. Then you can know that wonderful, calm, satisfied feeling at the end of each day that you spent your time well.
- Schedule a meeting with yourself once a month to look at the bigger picture of your to-do lists. Choose a long-range item that always stays on the list, and plan to do it. Feels great to get it done!
- Find a coaching partner. Saying your goals out loud and being accountable to someone else dramatically increases your chances of success.