I’ve been a full-time, office-working mom for over four years now. Over this time, I’ve discovered some great tips and tricks—from both trial and error and from other generous-with-advice working moms—that keep the chaos of each day as minimal as can be.
Four years ago, I came back to the office with a newborn in daycare and felt like I could only tackle one day at a time. I felt like I could never stay ahead of everything that needed to be done, and I hated that feeling. Now, I feel like I am in a much better routine. Of course, my child being a bit older and more self-sufficient definitely helps (and I am not yet a parent of multiple kids), but a lot of the success comes from learning how to manage all the daily tasks through little hacks. If I have a second child, I know I’ll come back to the office feeling way more prepared than I did the first time.
If you feel like you need help managing work and home life efficiently, these tips aren’t a replacement for having an honest conversation with your partner about splitting the burden or for working at a company that values balance and flexibility. The tips below, discovered through my own experiences and inspired by others, can help other working moms manage daily life (hopefully even with some time left left at the end of the day just for you).
1. Work on time-consuming tasks in small doses
Time-batching is hands-down the best concept I learned in 2018. I first came across the concept when I finally read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss last year.
I now use time-batching for a lot of my tasks, like processing email. It takes way less time to reply to 10 emails in a block of time, rather than responding to them here and there when they individually hit my inbox. It also takes much less time to go through everything in my physical mailbox at home once every few days instead of every single evening.
I discovered that time-batching works for a lot of to-dos, but some items still function better as lone tasks. For example, I run a load of laundry usually just once a day. However, I time-batch folding a few loads of laundry at once. Essentially, I’ve discovered that time-consuming and draining tasks work better spread out, and and menial and mundane tasks work well for time-batching.
Take a look at what you have to accomplish each day and see if the spread-out or time-batch method will work for any of them.
2. Schedule your day based on your peak times of productivity
Of course, advice for how to most efficiently arrange your day isn’t one-size-fits-all, and it takes a lot of reflection and tweaking to get your day optimally scheduled. For example, while most people advise working out in the morning, I found that when I tried, I despised it, and it threw the rest of my day out of whack. Upon discovering this, I switched to afternoon workouts because they work best for me.
I took a look at other parts of my day to see how I could optimize my schedule for when I am most productive. I now tackle my most consuming and difficult tasks first thing in the morning, and schedule meetings or other group activities for the afternoon. I also take a middle-of-the-day break for an errand so I can come back to my desk feeling refreshed for the rest of the day.
Take a look at your day and see how you can tweak your schedule to best fit you, regardless of what the prevailing advice is for how to be most efficient. Is there a task that drains you that you might be more energized for at a different time of the day? It might be worth re-arranging.
3. Order groceries and prep meals
I order my groceries on Thursday evening and swing by to pick them up on Friday on my way home from work. I have all my groceries for the family for the whole week and spend only about 20 minutes of time on the actual task.
I also now carve out a little time on the weekend to go through the tasks of chopping veggies, mixing sauces, grating cheese, etc. for the recipes I have picked out for dinner that week. Then, when it comes time to cook each night, it’s pretty easy for my husband or me to throw recipes together because a lot of the work is already done.
There’s a lot of different ways to meal prep, from my more loose method of prep to actually cooking and packaging meals ahead of time. Take a look at different methods and see what would work best for your family.
4. Use pockets of time throughout the work day to your advantage
It’s impossible to sit focused on the computer 100 percent of the time, all day long at work. Everyone needs a brain break every once in a while in order to not burn out. Using some of these pockets of break time to your advantage can be a good way to get small tasks done quickly. Try to use a break for things like scheduling appointments, paying bills online, or making a grocery list.
A lot of these tasks are also way easier to complete without the distraction of children. Keep a running list of to-dos, then when you have a bit of time, you know exactly which tasks you can check off quickly.
5. Take locations into account
When choosing a daycare facility, obviously quality of care and methodology are the first criteria to look for, and cost is second. If those criteria are covered and you have a few options you are weighing out, take ease of location into account. I chose a daycare center that I really enjoy, but it also happens to be along my path to and from work. Over the last four years, I’ve been so glad that during the evening rush, I don’t have to go back and forth across town when it’s time to pick up my daughter.
Take a look at other places you go frequently and see if there is a more convenient alternative–check for a more convenient dry cleaner, pharmacy, salon, doctor, market, etc.
We only have so many hours in the day and we should waste as few as possible driving around for errands—all of this lost time could be used to unwind with a book or spend the evening with our family!
6. Perfect your morning routine and see what steps you can cut out
After resisting it for a while, I stopped washing my hair every day based on advice from countless other moms. I have so much extra time in the morning now that I only wash my hair twice a week. I’m also trying to perfect an easy makeup routine so I can get out the door quickly in the morning.
Many of our morning routines are things we’ve been doing the same way for a very long time. Looking into these and seeing where we can shift or cut can buy us precious morning minutes—we all know that with little kids, there can never be enough.
7. Perfect your go-tos for every category
Decide on an easy-to-grab, go-to housewarming gift. Choose a universal child’s birthday party gift that you can order online or pick up at a store nearby (or even stock up on!). Find an easy-to-make (but still delicious) potluck dish for school events and family gatherings. Pare down your baking repertoire and decide on one thing you’ll make for every bake sale. Have a go-to outfit for important meetings.
When you are faced with having to bring a gift or a dish or a bottle of wine, you won’t have to spend any extra time shopping around, thinking, or researching what you’ll buy.
8. Make a cleaning schedule and get everyone involved
Instead of dedicating a huge chunk of your weekend to cleaning the house for the upcoming week, divide all the tasks that need to be done and schedule one per day. Do the vacuuming on Sunday, dust surfaces on Monday, collect garbage and recycling on Tuesday, clean the kitchen Wednesday, and clean the bathroom Thursday.
This way, the house is always moderately clean. If your children are old enough, get them involved in simple chores, like putting their laundry in the basket, wiping their table area after meals, and putting away toys at the end of the day. After all, it’s the whole family’s house, not just yours!
9. Schedule a mid-week tradition you can look forward to
Between working and kid activities, there’s probably not a whole lot of time for you, Monday through Friday. Schedule a mid-week tradition that you can look forward to, like a getting a manicure on Tuesdays, getting your morning coffee from a coffee shop on Wednesdays. Having things to look forward to throughout the week can help it feel better as a whole.
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated for timeliness.