Though mornings with kids can be hectic and unpredictable, you can always count on one thing to be the same: being greeted (as you come down the stairs for your first cup of java) by a trail of misplaced homework, followed by a sea of mismatched shoes that leads to one panic-stricken child who can't find what he needs to start his day.
If the midweek scavenger hunts have left you searching for a more manageable morning system, take a deep breath, find a cozy seat and get ready to receive a plan of action that will leave you searching for only one thing: a second cup of coffee to enjoy as your household is transformed from chaos to calm in three easy (okay, fairly easy) steps: 1) Prioritize. 2) Organize. 3) Activate. These three words are the lyrics to your new mental theme song. Repeat them often, as they are the steps to success when it comes to organizing your home (and your life!) in a way that eliminates the frustrating last-minute searches for the must-haves, enabling everyone to get out the door on time.
For mothers who work outside the home, learning to prioritize is critical. In case you have any doubts about that, let's do some basic math. There are 168 hours in a seven-day week. Let's say you clock an average of 50 hours of work per week. You're down to 118 hours. Subtract 8 hours of sleep a night, and you're down to 62. Take away another, say, seven hours of time spent in the car commuting to work and childcare, and 15 hours a week of meal preparation and eating. Now you're down to a mere 40 hours. Forty hours a week to manage a house (clean, do laundry, grocery shop), run errands, supervise homework, attend kids' activities, spend time with your spouse, go to church, make calls to or visit with friends and family, and maybe — just maybe — sneak in an hour to go to the gym or to soak in a bubble bath.
Doing the math may make you long for a midday nap, but when you recalculate the numbers, you can clearly see that there is no time for snoozing (at least not until you've got your plan of action in place). You need to prioritize today.
When working with families, I have found that part of the reason they run into so much trouble completing and maintaining household organization is that they fall to prioritize the projects that they take on. Take back-to-school season, for example. You go out and shop 'til you drop, buying all your kid's new school clothes in record time and on a record budget. You get home, satisfied with your excursion, and begin to put away the new fall wardrobe. Uh-oh, you think to yourself as you realize that there is no place to actually store, hang or put the new fall wardrobe. The closets and drawers are bursting with clothes that don't fit, clothes your child won't wear and even some clothes with their tags still attached.
As usual, hindsight is 20/20. You realize that organizing the current wardrobe (and taking an inventory of it before the big shopping trip) should have taken priority over purchasing new clothes.
For prioritization to have any real meaning, you need to have a clear objective. If your objective is to have a functional, usable closet, it needs to be organized. If your objective is to save money, you need to know what you already have so that you buy only what you need. If your objective is to bring home a new back-to-school wardrobe, you still need to have somewhere to put it.
Your objective could be a set of personal goals (to keep an orderly house) or a state of being (stress-free living) or even your family's personal mission statement — whether it is formal ("We put our faith and family first") or funny ("We don't believe in miracles — we rely on them"). The goal of prioritizing, then, becomes the means whereby you can achieve your objective with the least amount of effort, in the least amount of time. And as we've already seen, a mom's time is limited — her hours are precious.
How exactly will you get all that needs to be done accomplished in a single day? You'll begin by setting some personal priorities that will put time on your side.
The cliche "There's so much to do and so little time" was surely coined by a mother who works outside the home. One way to help prioritize household and home-management tasks is to make a daily to-do list (a simple yellow legal pad is my favorite to-do list tool). Spending five minutes a day making this list will help you save time over the long haul.
Your daily to-do list should have three columns: the "Must Do" column, the "Should Do" column and the "Would be Nice to Do" column. The "Must Do" column consists of items that need to be completed today; the "Should Do" column consists of items that need to be completed before the end of the week; and the "Would Be Nice to Do" column outlines the items that can wait until you have more free (ahem, unscheduled) time.
Once you've completed the list, keep it posted in plain view (the fridge or a kitchen corkboard work well). Delegate any items that you can delegate — maybe your spouse can stop at the pharmacy on his way home, or your daughter can walk the dog. Then check off the items as they are completed. Honestly, does anything on earth feel quite as good as checking off an item on a to-do list? (Okay, there are a few things — but not many … at least not for a task-oriented person like me!)
Now is also the time to consult your budget to see if you can afford to hire out any of the tasks on your to-do list. In the professional world, they call this "outsourcing." Sometimes the cost of paying for personal shopping and errand running, housekeeping and dog walking are outweighed by the time you'll have to do other, more important, things. You may be able to hire a family employee (a retiree, a college student or a single mom) who is willing to do a wide range of tasks for a set hourly rate.
You can also begin to develop some long-range planning systems. For example, you can designate every Saturday as your official laundry day. Friday evenings are pizza out and grocery buying night. Saturday evenings are date nights. Sunday nights are family nights. Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings could be "Mom time." Having designated days for designated tasks relieves a lot of stress. Case in point: When you pass the almost-full laundry basket, you can say to yourself, It will get done on Saturday. I'm now going to read a book and take a bath, guilt-free.
I hope you're realizing that you can use your many talents to make your household run as efficiently as your workplace. It's amazing how many professional skills can be adapted for home use. This is certainly one concept that working moms need to bring home, along with their paycheck.