What’s a busy girl to do?

I have to start off my post this morning by making one thing clear: I am no expert. In, well, anything really. Ever heard the expression: jack of all trades, master of none? You’re looking at her. Or, rather, reading her words.

But one of the questions that I get asked time and time again, is: How do you do it? All that stuff that you do, how do you find time to do it and keep your house clean and your hair done and your teeth brushed? Let me tell you a little secret. It’s a challenge. One that I regularly fail. And I am by no means the only person facing these sorts of extraordinary balancing acts. We’re busy people with complicated lives and it’s really hard making everything work sometimes.

So. What’s a busy girl to do?

I know some people who adhere to the idea that: “something’s gotta give.” Maybe it’s personal time or exercise or emptying the dishwasher. I get that. More power to them. But I’m a particular girl and I like things the way that I like them. It’s hard for me to let something, anything slide. Personal time? Nope. I need it. Exercise? Okay, I let that one slide more than I should. Emptying the dishwasher? You’re kidding. Have you met my husband? A recent text exchange:

Him: What are you doing?

Me: 

Him: I told you not to sext me at work!

Me:

Him: Stop. Seriously. This is getting out of hand.

I know. Sad, huh? This is what old married people find both hilarious and oddly thrilling.

Anyway, I digress. Busy people. Busy lives. How do we find a way to balance it all? And how do we achieve more and more of those rare days when everything does seem to work well? I’m going to take a few minutes this morning to tell you about seven things that keep me sane, and ask you to share your own tricks of the trade.

  1. Lists. My dad is a wise man. For as long as I’ve known him, he has kept a running to-do list in his wallet. This list is written on the back of one of his business cards, and as he completes tasks he crosses them off with a thick, satisfying line. He taught me the joy of making (and crossing off!) lists and I can’t survive without them. Not only is it a huge rush to throw a completed list away, it keeps me on-track and stops me from forgetting important things.
  2. Baby Steps. I sound like a bad therapist, but let me explain by giving an example. When my husband and two oldest boys hurry out the door at 8:00 in the morning, they often leave me in the wake of what looks like a natural disaster. The kitchen is cluttered with breakfast dishes and mugs of half full of coffee, the mud room boasts mismatched shoes and forgotten mittens, my bed is unmade and the bathroom is a mess. It used to really overwhelm me… Until my husband (also a wise man) suggested I start with (and stay in) one area until it’s done — little bits at a time. You see, I used to go in the bathroom and find a lone sock that belonged in my sons’ bedroom downstairs. So I’d head down in search of the missing mate and discover that they had forgotten to make their beds. Which would really tick me off prod me to (grudgingly) do it for them. While I was making their beds I’d realize that it had been a while since I washed the sheets, so I’d strip the beds and head back upstairs to start a load of laundry. The phone would ring. I’d abandon the load and chat with a credit card salesman because I was desperate for adult conversation. Ten minutes later I’d remember that I have an appointment at nine and I’d better do something to my face before I run out the door, so I’d race back to the bathroom only to find it in shambles… You get the idea. I like to call that broken task management strategy: If You Give a Mom a Chore. You know the book — it’s a train of consciousness approach to life and it just doesn’t work. Now, instead of chasing myself in circles, I start in the bathroom and stay there until it’s spotless. If I find something that belongs outside of the bathroom, I set it just over the threshold of the door to be picked up and dealt with when I leave the room. It sounds like such a stupid thing, but it has made all the difference in the time management of my day. It takes me about five minutes to fly through a room and straighten everything up. It’s why my house is always usually neat.
  3. Everything in Moderation. More of my dad’s wisdom. When I was a kid he always said two things: Trials build character; and, Do everything in moderation. Hardly rocket science, I know, but something I tend to forget more often than I should. That’s why I intentionally schedule time for a little of everything in my day. Every day I read a bit, even though it feels wickedly indulgent when I should be setting the table for supper. Every day I set time aside to just hang out with my kids. My to-do list can cool it — we’re talking about who’s got a crush on whom. Every day I do something writing related, even if it’s only for a couple of brief minutes. Every day I try to reach out to a friend, via email, text, phone call, or, best of all, a face-to-face meeting. Variety in my day keeps things fresh and stops me from resenting my obligations.
  4. Sleep. Sorry for all of you parents of infants. I remember those days… But now, whenever I can, I’m in bed by 10:30. And since I can fall asleep in thirty-seconds flat, I’m usually out by 10:31. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I’m miserable and cranky and drink way too much caffeine. It’s not pretty.
  5. Breakfast. I’m sure some nutritionist could wax poetic on how great breakfast is for you. I don’t have any evidence to back up my claims, but I can tell you from experience that if I get a decent breakfast in me, you can paint me stupendous and call me Superwoman.
  6. Television. This is a touchy subject in many homes, and I don’t want to stir up controversy. But we have one television in our house and it’s in the basement. We never hardly ever watch it. The boys are allowed 1/2 an hour of media time a day (Wii, TV, movies, games on our iPhones, etc.) and they rarely use up their time. As for Aaron and me, we watch probably 2 hours of TV a week (Castle and Parenthood — we DVR them both). Don’t get me wrong, we’re not anti-TV or anything, but we know firsthand how addictive it can be. Ever get caught flipping channels and “wake up” around 2 a.m. wondering why on earth you just spent the last several hours watching Real Housewives of Detroit? You don’t even like Detroit! It’s a yucky feeling. Been there, done that. Don’t care to do it again. And I don’t need a TV on in my house during the day (that’s why it’s tucked far away in the basement) because it’s a constant distraction. I prefer music, or better yet, nothing at all…
  7. Schedule. Tuesday is laundry day. Thursday is housecleaning day. On Wednesdays and Fridays I write. Monday is Kindermusik and meal planning and groceries. Don’t mess with the schedule. Ever.

Well, there you have it. A few of the things that help me manage my busy days. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it is far from perfect. Just like me. Don’t let these cheerful task management strategies fool you — I have my fair share of sweatpants and snotty-sleeved days. And sometimes I go all hermit crab and focus on my children, my writing, and my house (not necessarily in that order) and completely forget that there is a world outside of my own little universe. I guess that’s okay, too.

Your turn! What great little technique or family secret keeps your home and life running smoothly?

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