Every mom knows there’s a baseline level of chaos at all times. When they’re little, it’s sleep schedules and diaper blowouts and teething. Whew, I don’t miss teething. When they’re older, it’s last-minute science projects and orthodontist appointments and so. many. sports. practices. Is there ever a convenient time to get a call that your kid is running a fever?

When I was pregnant, I begged God to give me happy, healthy, active boys. And now that He gave me exactly that, I refuse to complain about the chaos that is my life. It’s beautiful chaos. I already get weepy thinking about how much I will miss it when they’re grown. But embracing a baseline level of chaos doesn’t mean I want to feel frazzled and overwhelmed in this – or any – season of life. 

Being able to maximize my time and control what I can reduces my overwhelm and improves my focus. Here are my 7 best time management tips that every mom can use.

1. Start Smart

Having a routine for the first 1.5-2 hours of my day has been so important. It starts with a consistent wake-up time and a consistent routine. What are the most important things for you in the morning? For me, I’ve prioritized starting my kids’ day strong so my focus is on them until I drop them off at school. Then I do what I call a “Smart Start” blitz. I set a 30-minute timer and use that time to get as many nagging, quick to-do’s marked off my list as possible. Some examples:

      • Fold a load of laundry
      • Unload/reload the dishwasher
      • Quick pickup of the horizontal surfaces (kitchen table/counters, floors, office desk)
      • Flag emails that need a response
      • Add paper towels to the Wal-Mart cart
      • Schedule appointments
      • Order that yearbook or class picture or whatever it is this week

When the timer dings, I finish the task I’m doing and start my workday. Doing this blitz first thing in the morning has been a game changer – it declutters my physical space and my brain so I’m less distracted and can more easily focus on the day’s priorities.

2. Shift Work

Mel Robbins – my goodness, how I love her – introduced me to the concept of splitting the day into 5 shifts. I’ve adapted it a bit and mentally separate my day into 3 sections:

      • Opening Shift: this is what we talked about in Tip #1: Starting your day with a routine that is functional and consistent. It starts the minute you wake up and ends when you start your workday.
      • Day Shift: this is the middle portion of your day. Whether you’re physically at work, working from home, or taking care of kiddos until your significant other’s workday ends, that middle of the day looks different for most of us.
      • Closing Shift: this is after school/work until you go to sleep (including that late-night Netflix binge or scroll time).

Thinking of the day in three distinct shifts helps me focus because I know exactly what my priority should be during that time. Opening Shift focus is the kids, getting properly caffeinated, and setting my space up for a productive workday. Day Shift is getting my client to-do’s done so I can disconnect from work and be fully present & engaged with the kids after work. Night Shift is taxiing kids to/from practices, dinner, homework, forcing that second kid to bathe (boy moms, you know!). The subtle visualization of the day in shifts helps set boundaries, too. It’s easier to ignore those 8pm work emails when instead of being “off work” I am “on shift” … even if it is Closing Shift.

The other thing I love about splitting my day into shifts is that if when one shift doesn’t go well, there’s a built-in restart when the next shift starts. When it’s one of those mornings where nothing goes right and the boys press every nerve I have, I get a restart when Day Shift begins. When the workday is brutal, switching to Closing Shift feels like hitting the refresh button in my brain.

2. Prioritize

Prioritizing the mental load of work, home, and mom tasks can feel like a job all by itself if you don’t have a system. There are several great ones out there, but my favorite is this version of the Eisenhower Matrix. (see below!)

Categorizing tasks based on Importance (how much the activity moves me closer to goals) and Urgency (how soon the deadline is) makes it easier to see what should be prioritized. I can see what I need to make absolutely certain I prioritize to get done, what can be scheduled for later, delegated (my favorite!), or eliminated (second favorite!)

Once I can see my priorities, I time block the 2-3 most important things – yep, that’s right. Everything cannot be at the top of your list. The idea is to spend more time on important things when they are not urgent.

I want to encourage you here, Mama. Stick with me. I hated this the first time I tried it. Everything felt like it needed to go in the top left corner (Urgent & Important) but what I really wanted to do was put it all in the bottom right, crawl in my bed, and hide from the overwhelming chaos. It took time, some slow quitting, a few hard decisions, several uncomfortable realizations, and a lot of positive self-talk to get to where this was manageable and helpful. Working with a coach helped a lot. If your matrix looks crazy the first time you do it, you’re in good company. Give yourself some grace and stick with it.

4. Plan to Plan

This one is probably my very favorite of the 7, so if you only try one tip in this blog post, make it this one: Plan your week before it happens. Plan to take an hour to plan your week. I sit down on Sunday afternoons and get my game plan for the next 7 days. I calendar appointments, client meetings, workouts, and kid events and plan meals (see Tip #5). From there, I look at those 2-3 top priorities from Tip #3 and time block them onto my calendar where they best fit. Then I start filling in the other to-do’s, seeing where I can batch errands and tasks for efficiency. For example, if I need to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy, I plan to do it right before football pickup because it’s on the way. If I need to create a reel for my social media, I plan to film 2-3 at once and schedule it before my workout on hair wash day so I look and feel my best.

Put “brain breaks” in the workday so that you don’t wind up in meetings for 6 hours straight with no chance to eat or run to the bathroom. Decide ahead of time what your priorities are for the week and then put those on your schedule first. Another tip, if the task is hard or you’re dreading it: make it the first thing you do in that shift.

5. Meal Plan

I have teenage boys, so food is a very hot topic around our house. These boys like to EAT. And because I desperately want to raise good humans, I’m trying to teach them to see the work that goes into meal planning so I involve them in the planning, cooking, and cleanup (which has been a time-saver, but that’s another post). I ask the kids what they want to eat the upcoming week while I am putting in the grocery order. Using that menu, I look at the calendar and see what meals fit best on what nights. Chicken pot pie doesn’t get put on a night I will be taxiing kids to sports until 7:30pm, because it takes me an hour or more in front of the stove to get that one made. Going to be cool & rainy on Thursday? Perfect, that’s when we’ll have chili. *Sets a “start chili crockpot” reminder in phone for Thursday morning.*

If you’re thinking, “this woman plans her menu by the weather; she is so extra” … I won’t argue that. You do you. The planning piece is what’s important, because it’s one less decision to make in the moment. If the boys know we are having sliders for dinner, they (probably) won’t snack too much and irritate me by not eating the dinner I made. I’m not frazzled when its 6pm and I have no idea what to cook or don’t have the ingredients I need. Deciding ahead of time saves sanity. And maybe marriages.

Plan when you are going to have leftovers and when you might need to just order takeout, because those days are real. If you can, plan your lunches, too – both what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat it. When I started working from home, I realized if I didn’t schedule a break to eat I would lose track of time and then be starving – and when I’m famished, I make horrible food choices. Planning is everything.

6. The 2-Minute Rule

Tip #6 is short & simple: if it can be done correctly in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Don’t postpone it for later and clutter the counter, your brain, or your to-do list if you can just get it done. Examples:

      • Pay a bill
      • Text a friend Happy Birthday
      • Put up your shoes / backpack / dishes
      • Throw away junkmail

This is one of the easiest habits to teach my kids, but I did have to add “correctly” to the rule after one to-remain-unnamed Mitchell boy “did” his homework in 90 seconds. Have kids, they said. It’ll be fun.

7. Get Real

Last but definitely not least, is to get real with yourself about your priorities, goals, and expectations. Moms wear a lot of hats, and we often have unrealistic expectations of what we “should” be able to accomplish in a day. You might need to lower those expectations, or at least the standards to which you do all the things. Done is better than perfect in most scenarios. 

Accept help, if you have it. There are no bonus points in life for going it alone. We were made for community. So many of us are more than happy to jump in and help a friend when we see a need, but reluctant or embarrassed to accept the same for ourselves. 

Part of getting real also means having a Plan B, because the best laid and most organized plans will always have snags. Kids will get sick. Traffic will be a nightmare. Sometimes you will have to take a work call on Closing Shift. When you have a backup plan already thought out, the tools to prioritize your tasks, and a system to organize your schedule, you can get back on track quickly when the inevitable happens. One of my fellow work-from-home mom friends has a standing rule with her husband that she goes to a coffee shop for a few hours on Thursday night if she has to miss work for anything kid-related during the week. He knows that he is the Lead Chaos Manager for Closing Shift that Thursday night, and that works for them. 

Perfect is not the goal, Mama. We have to control what we can so we are best equipped to handle the chaos we can’t. You have too many people who depend on you to love and serve them to not place a high value on your time. I hope these tips help give you back a little extra time (and maybe sanity) in your day, so you can love your life and leave an impact.

Love you mean it, 

Coach Becca