Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Time Management for Busy Mums

How do I manage my time as a busy working mum? 

I promised to write about my time management techniques before I finish my "exercise and motherhood" blog. So for all the mums who have asked me "how do you fit it all in?", I shall be very un-British and toss aside modesty. I'm going to describe three things about me that I believe help me get the most out of every day.

  1. I'm the queen of de-prioritisation and I'm dealing with the guilt!
  2. I never procrastinate and my to-do list works for me
  3. I recognise what I'm slow or rubbish at and I take action

Before I carry on, let me declare that I don't have it perfect. I am hoping to get a whole raft of helpful advice in the comments bit after this blog entry :) 

But here goes, this is what I know about managing time well. 

1. I'm the queen of de-prioritisation and I'm dealing with the guilt!

What are your real goals?

Have you ever played that game with kids where you all stack your hands one on top of the other and the person with the hand at the bottom pulls it out and puts it on top, then the new bottom-hand-person does the same, and so on... 

People talk about prioritisation all the time, and sometimes what they mean is adding an urgent label to everything. I sat through a meeting about a year or so ago where someone began by explaining that "everything is a priority". What??! A priority means something that is regarded or treated as more important than something else. So we need the "something else" that gets deprioritised in order to make the priority mean anything.

We have to decide what to stop spending time on. Then we make time for what matters more than that. 

I spend most of my time (1) Earning Money/Developing My Career - I'm an independent management consultant; (2) Being Mummy, Wife and Fun Person; (3) Helping Mums Get Fit, Healthy, Happy with Ready Steady Mums. In a given week it's about a third of each right now.

Since I got pregnant with my eldest son in March 2010 I have tried so many different ways of balancing my time. My biggest lesson? "decide what you want, and bin the guilt".

- I love working because it makes me feel valued and recognised. I have expertise that other people benefit from - in a big way, and I make a difference for them.  

- I also personally believe that my babies will benefit from having a decent amount of time with a parent (as well as weekends with both parents) and my babies are great fun to be with. 

- And the fulfillment I get from supporting mums getting fit, healthy and happy is awesome. I am passionate about Ready Steady Mums. 

I still want a big career and I struggle to "rest on my laurels" while I spend time with my young babies and other new mums, but there are some things I have agonisingly had to give up in order to get the balanced life I want. And I won't be a FTSE 100 Director before I'm 35 neither an MP in the near future. OK.

Before motherhood hit me I think I imagined I'd be a full time mum. (I hadn't really thought this through had I?!). Gosh, it hit me when I suddenly realised you can't have two full-time jobs! Luckily, I feel very confident now that the best thing for my babies isn't always me. Some of the stuff they do at nursery is amazing and so great for them (more on that later).

If you, like me, feel you have too many things on your plate and you're not doing anything properly, try this. 

  • Write down all the things you spend a significant chunk of your week doing now on a big piece of paper (commuting, writing your blog, exercising, cleaning, public-speaking, networking, changing nappies, going out for dinner, etc). 
  • Draw a green circle around what you love and value doing. 
  • Draw a red circle around what you dislike doing. 
  • Sit down (with your partner if you can) and commit to doing more green-circle-things and fewer red-circle-things. 
  • Come up with 3-4 immediate actions to get more green time!

Be creative, and remember, no guilt. 

2. I never procrastinate my to-do list works for me

I'm willing to bet that most procrastination happens when you don't really know what you're meant to be doing. Or at least you're not sure how to start something. Right?

I've combined the best advice from the world of management consulting, with the practical experience from the world of motherhood. The result is a "to-do list" system that works. I don't get stressed trying to remember what needs doing at any given time, and I'm pretty efficient at getting the important things done. 

This is already a really long blog so I won't share all the detail, but here are my best few tips. 

If you have a to-do list right now, have a look at it and circle any tasks that you can't start right now. Why? Do you first need to work something out, make a decision, or get more info?

These things stop you from taking action, and can lead to procrastination. 

My solution? Only put things on your to-do list that are "next actions". 

Let's take an example "to do" 
[] Recruit a new team member to Ready Steady Mums to help support volunteers

If I were to translate this onto a next actions list I might write down
[] Ask 5 Ready Steady Mums volunteers to comment on a draft job description for the new team member
[] Research grants available for supporting volunteer mums 

A perfect to-do list is one comprising "next actions" that you can pick up and start work on without getting stuck. Every action on the list moves you forward, and is the ideal next thing for you to work on. You might decide to keep a project list elsewhere, but don't confuse it with "next actions" on your to-do list.

Here are some other ideas for making your to-do list work well.

Cross things off the list that you will never do. And be ok with that!

I don't put actions on the list that will take less than 2 mins. I do them immediately as they arise. 

Lastly, keep your list somewhere that works for you - on your phone, a piece of paper, lap-top etc. - but only have one, and include everything on it. There is no need to separate work/fun/household chores etc. Keep it simple.  

3. I recognise what I'm slow or rubbish at and I take action

I thought about listing all the things I'm rubbish at on this blog, but then decided if it goes viral then potential future clients might read it so that will never do ;)

Needless to say, I am rubbish at some things and I am reasonably aware of what they are!

When we spend time doing things we're rubbish at bad things can happen. Here are a few possible bad things:

The task takes ages or doesn't get done
We resent the task and don't enjoy ourselves
Our self-esteem is not happy with the experience
Other people who are good at the task might miss out

I've tried denial. "Just try harder Katy, or spend longer, this can be done." 
And I've tried despair. "This whole task is pointless and I should give up completely". 
And I've realised that neither denial nor despair is very helpful. 

In the business world, if you can't do a task, and you need the task doing, the options are to up-skill or outsource. 

I personally love "up-skilling" (= "learning" in the old fashioned lingo). And in only the past year alone I've learnt from experts a range of new skills from writing a social-media agency support brief (thanks Alice from pd3) to sewing wings back onto cuddly toys (thanks Grandma). 

I've also enjoyed some "out-sourcing". Recently I directed the Ready Steady Mums programming team to build the new Local RSM postcode search function using java coding. And I regularly collect my smiling babies from a day of painting, cooking and other educational fun at nursery.

The main point is, if if matters and you can't do it well yourself - find someone who can teach you or do it for you.


So there you go. Please let me know whether this works for you, and if not what does.

Here's to spending every moment doing exactly what we feel we should be spending that moment doing.

Katy x


  1. My diary is my lifeline. It goes everywhere with me. It's a paper one (although my husband is desperately trying to get me to go digital!) but it works for me. It's the manual for my whole life!

    I try to fit chores into as little time as possible so that I can work (albeit part-time) and enjoy my time at home as family time. I plan our food menu up to two weeks ahead and order the groceries online. I get them delivered on a Thursday night, when I'm out at my singing rehearsal, so my husband can put them all away! I have just hired a cleaner to come every other week for 2 hours to do all the rubber-gloves cleaning. I run the dishwasher overnight and unload it in the morning.

    I do often feel like I haven't got enough time, juggling the nursery run (both ways) and fitting in work. I manage to go to Pilates on a Monday evening and singing on a Thursday, though, so I do get some 'me' time.

  2. Thanks woolmeister! Your process management sounds amazing and I love how to have your Pilates and singing scheduled into your week. Interesting how you plan food. Cooking got a "red circle" for me and I'm pretty rubbish at it, but I'm going to try your food menus approach and see how it goes. Thanks! Katy