Time Management Tips for the Work-Outside-The-Home Mom

Guest post by Sarah.

Some days are more hectic than others: baseball practice, the gym that is seriously calling my name, my 5-year-old who wants to build the (what seems like) millionth set of Legos I’ve bought him, dinner has yet to be started and my word, how can there be so much laundry for just three people?

My husband and I both work full-time outside of the home so maintaining a sense of organization can be quite challenging at times. It’s an everyday occurrence, this organization thing, and I’ve learned several tips and tricks along the way to help me stay (somewhat) sane.

I’ve been a full-time working mom since my son was 18 months old and have compiled a list of my favorite ways to make the most of my time as a full-time working mother in the hopes of being the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and employee I can be.

Make the Most of Your Time

We all love our downtime. I know I do! Reading a book, cooking, spending time with my family, those are some things that I find such joy in doing. But I know that if I have three piles of laundry on the couch waiting to be folded and put away, I am not truly enjoying my downtime.

One trick that I’ve learned is to set the timer on my oven for 15 minutes right when I get home from work. I don’t sit down until that 15 minutes is over and I’ve accomplished a task that needed accomplishing! You can easily fold and put away a load of laundry in 15 minutes!

Another thing that I do to get more out of my day is to utilize my lunch hour at work. Instead of going to lunch with co-workers, I use it to run errands, study (I’m in school part-time) or pay bills. It’s a win-win because I save money by not eating out and I get things done.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is crucial. While we all know that life has a way of deterring us from our plans, if we have a plan in place, it makes those times of distress appear much more calm.

Here are some of the things that have really helped me in the whole planning arena:

:: Calendar :: I use my BlackBerry calendar feature for things like doctor appointments, class times and reminders of little things that need to be done throughout the day. For the things that require more space, I use my momAgenda Home Office Edition to stay organized. It is a major lifesaver! I can write down birthdays, jot down to-do lists, keep random things in the front and back pockets (such as our tickets to events) and elaborate on calendar items that need more than just a “doctor appointment at 11 a.m.” notation. Plus, I purchased it in the fun zebra print so it’s functional and stylish.

:: Chores :: I created a color coded chore chart in Microsoft Excel (I heart spreadsheets!) and hung it up on the refrigerator so that we could have a visual of what needed to be done each day. For example, on Monday evenings, I do one load of laundry. On Tuesday evenings, I clean the kitchen and do one load of laundry. Obviously, my load is heavier on the weekends but even just doing something small each night really goes a long way.

:: Clothes :: My 5-year-old is at the age where he likes picking out his clothes for school and getting himself dressed on his own. My mom helped me come up with a system that works for us: each Sunday, we choose five outfits for the week and fold them up (pants, shirt, underwear, socks) in the very bottom drawer of his dresser. This way, he can pull open the drawer himself and easily have access to his clothes. We keep his backpack and jacket in the car so that we don’t have to worry about forgetting it in the morning. As for myself and my husband, well, we (I) could do better in this department. I’m still working on a system for myself… if you’re a work-outside-the-home mom, I’d love to know your secrets.

:: Meals :: I first read about menu planning on Organizing Junkie and thought it was genius! Plan your meals on Sunday, go grocery shopping and you don’t have to worry about the, “What’s for dinner?” conversation that we’ve all had time and time again. You’ll already have a plan in place and if you do deviate from the plan, no big deal.

Sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking and grabbing take-out is more simple and that’s perfectly fine. Freeze the ingredients that need to be saved from the recipe that you were going to make or just make it the next night. I often work in one night of leftovers a week for that very reason.

A word of advice: when I first started menu planning (several years ago) I tended to choose meals that were difficult and time-consuming. I was proud of myself for planning and doing the grocery shopping but when it came time to actually make the recipe (at 6 p.m. after a long day at work), I was exhausted. I quickly learned that crock pot meals and casseroles are fabulous meal options for my family. In no time, you’ll be able to figure out what works and doesn’t work for your family.

It’s Okay to Take Shortcuts

This one might sound a bit odd but here’s an example: I’m all for buying the celery that is not pre-washed and pre-sliced. It’s less expensive because you have to do the work of cleaning it and cutting it up as opposed to buying the one that comes all neat and tidy and ready to be eaten. I have found though, that sometimes it’s better for me to just by the things that are already pre-cut, pre-sliced or pre-cooked.

Why? Well, a few months ago, I bought a block of cheese with the intent of cutting it into cubes for my lunches during the week. Somehow, I totally forgot about doing it and the mundane task of chopping up cheese before work each morning seemed like too much trouble. To make a long story short, the cheese molded and I had to throw it out —  $4 and some change that I may have well just thrown down the garbage disposal.

So I looked for an alternative. Sargento makes cheese bites that you can buy pre-cut in fun little shapes so that all you have to do is toss them in a Rubbermaid container or Ziploc baggie and call it a day. It may not seem like much but I promise, it made my life just a tiny bit easier. While more expensive, yes, you can bet that I didn’t throw the $3 and some change that it cost me for that pack of cheese bites down the drain. I ate them all week long and nothing went to waste.

Other things that I like to buy already prepared for me (from time to time) are: apple slices, grapes that are washed, watermelon cubes, sliced carrots and frozen brown rice. Again, I’m very picky about what I purchase like this because I do know that it’s cheaper to do it yourself. But when you work full-time, go to school part-time and have what seems like a hundred things going on at once, the few extra dollars are totally worth it.

Accept the Fact That You Can’t Do It All

I don’t like the word can’t. In fact, I’ve tried to eliminate it entirely from my vocabulary but in this instance — the notion that you can’t do it all — I’m totally, 100% okay with using it.

It took me several years after my husband and I got married to admit to myself and my family that I can’t be the person who does all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, bath-giving, boo-boo kissing, grocery shopping… the list goes on and on.

As much as I’d like to be the one who does all of these things, I simply can’t. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help; in fact, my 5-year-old loves cleaning with me. I give him a task (i.e, spraying the doors with a vinegar/water mixture and going to town wiping them down) and he loves the challenge that comes with doing something that a grown-up would normally do.

I had to re-program my inner control-freak to not have a meltdown when my husband folded a piece of clothing differently than I did. Once you accept the fact that you can’t do it all, you’ll actually find that you will accomplish so much more.

And while this all looks good on paper there are some nights that I come home, collapse on the couch and watch a movie with my 5-year-old. Dinner doesn’t get made, clothes are left to wrinkle in the dryer and all I care about is curling under a blanket with a good book.

Sarah is a wife and mom who loves to read, write, be outdoors, watch television and most importantly, spend time with her family and friends.

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  1. Kelly Irene says

    Great post! I work outside the home as well, and my number one tip is to plan meals. If that doesn’t happen, everything (not just meals) seems to fall apart so quickly in our home! Meal planning is something I can do during a break at work. I keep my spreadsheet for the weekly meals and grocery list on my computer so I can pull it up, plug everything in, and print it when I get home. Also, giving yourself some slack is important! Thanks again for the insightful post, and best wishes for finishing your degree!

  2. says

    Thank you so much for your ideas – it’s so true that we can’t do it all and I find it TOTALLY worth it to splurge and purchase the pre-cut produce, when I can! It’s wonderful to have to comradarie with other working outside the home mothers!

  3. Tammy says

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post. This has been an encouragement to me, at a time in my life where I find myself extremely discouraged. Although I didn’t want to return to the professional work-force after I had my son, our debt from IVF treatments left me no choice. Years later, my heart longs to be home and we’re currently working on a plan to make that happen.

    I am blessed to be married to a wonderful man who works hard to provide for our family. Due to job changes caused by the recession, he often works 10-12 hour day. He leaves for work at 4:30am. I get up at 5:30a to make lunches and get my son and myself ready for work and school. I have a 50 min commute (one way) and due to this I trade off my lunch hour to allow for taking him to school. Although I am thankful that I have the opportunity to take him to school, it is hard because I have no “down time” during my work day. I am home by 5:15pm (if I don’t have to make any stops along the way) – which doesn’t leave much room for resting in order to cook dinner, do homework, and get my son in bed by 8:30p. After he is in bed, I try to pay bills or do housework, but I’m usually so exhausted that I’m not very productive.

    Because my husband works two jobs, I don’t feel right about asking him to help with housework, cooking, homework, etc. But I am utterly exhausted and overwhelmed. I welcome any advice that others may have. But most of all if you could send up a prayer on my behalf, I’d greatly appreciate it. :)

    • says

      You must be so exhusted! I said a little prayer for you. :)

      Practical advice: I don’t have children, but I DID once have an awful commute and a husband who worked crazy hours. Here’s a few things that worked for me:

      1. Make lunches the night before. Somehow that made it so much easier than getting up early to do it.

      2. Crockpot meals- get them ready to put in the crock the night before. I would get a roast, cut up potatoes an carrots, and pop them in the insert the night before. I’d put the insert in the fridge. Before I left for work, I’d put it in the heating thing and turn it on. Poof! Dinner is ready when I get home. :)

      3. Down time during a commute- do you like to read? I listed to books on tape (which I got for free from the library, but you can also get on places like Paperbackswap.com) when I drove. It made it less of a stressful drive and more of a treat.

      4. Can you delegate anything? Could you have another mom take him to school? Maybe you can take him and another kid to school for week one, then have the other mom pick him up for week two, etc. It would give you a little extra time in the mornings, or a lunch break!

      5. Your husband works hard, but he still could be pitching in a little. Maybe you can trade off homework or bedtime duties? He works hard, but so do you, and you come home to a second shift. It’s okay to ask for help!

    • Emily says

      I’m sort of in a similar situation in that my husband has an extremely demanding job and is in school part-time in addition. We both work full-time outside the home and have 2 kids, ages 5 and 2. When we get home from a long day of working, he often has hours of additional work and school work to complete. Once we’ve eaten dinner as a family, I do the usual clean-up and get ready for the next day (which includes packing 4 lunches), and he often has to get straight back to work. He has gotten better about waiting until the kids go to bed to do his work and just spends that time with them, but that still often leaves me to do all the day to day stuff to keep the house running, so I know sort of what you’re going through. I’ll definitely say a prayer for you. One thing I’ve found that works for me is to try to get smaller chores/tasks done during the week so that I’m not trying to spend my entire weekend playing catch-up. For instance, Monday nights I’ll clean the 1/2 bath and kitchen sink. Tuesdays I’ll do our 2 loads of towels/underwear for the week. Thursdays I plan the next week’s menu and start putting together my grocery list and clip my coupons. Fridays I finish the menu/grocery list while doing the 2 loads of kids laundry. That leaves 2-3 additional loads of laundry, the kitchen floor, and only anything else I feel is necessary to do over the weekend. It seems to work for me, but I have to admit, it is hard to actually stick to doing those things during the week. Some nights it is so much easier to just crash on the couch after a long day and not do a thing.

  4. says

    Thanks for this guest post. I love it. I am a working mom of 2 (5yr boy and 9month girl). I was wondering if there are other working mom’s that blog. It is nice to know that others struggle with my struggles.

    I try to do everything the night before. I lay out my kids clothes, pack bags, and lunches. I get to work at 7 every morning so I try to make things easier on my husband since he drops the kids off.

    The link to Becca’s blog does not work, I am hoping you can fix that, I would like to see how others handle work/family/me time.

  5. ACM says

    LOL…I’m glad someone else has the “I just want to get in the door, put my stuff down, and use the bathroom” problem. After two years of explaining it to him, my DH finally understood that meeting me right inside the door (often with the three kids) is NOT a pleasant way to welcome me home (even if he did hav dinner ready, the kitchen cleaned, an a load of wash running :-)…).

    We use a FAMILY COMMAND CENTRAL (modified from Crystal’s organizing spreadsheets and the ideas from http://www.themorristribe.com) to try to keep things in perspective and stressless. On this one page, kept in a binder in the kitchen (and I have a copy that comes with me to work), are:

    1. our TWO WEEK SCHEDULE – what’s happening every day, menu for each day, my main chore for the day, and any special things that need to be highlighted (i.e., DON’T FORGET Dad works tonight). This way, if DH gets home first or it’s a day he doesn’t have school or work, he can have dinner ready by the time I get home. This way, I have a reminder to do a specific thing each day to try to keep the dust bunnies and mountains of laundry at bay.
    2. My husband’s IMPORTANT TO DO list for the two weeks (I know what’s on his radar)
    3. My IMPORTANT TO DO list of the two weeks (he knows what’s on my radar)
    4. TO DISCUSS items that involve the family (anyone can write anything down)
    5. SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES (chances to minister/care for others)
    6. SHOPPING WISH/NEED list – my stepchildren are teens and should be practicing independence :-). If there are things that they (or husband or I) need or want, it goes on the list so it’s on our radar and we can figure out if it’s a need or a want and if we have the $$ for it.
    7. FAMILY PROJECTS/CONCERNS – my SD’s bedroom light needs to be replaced…now it’s on the list in this category as well as my husband’s master list..hopefully it will get done in the next two weeks :-).
    8. AVAILABLE CHORES with a financial $$ attached. We don’t just “give” an allowance, the kids have to earn it. Child chooses the chore, the parent signs off, the kid gets the money at the end of the month. This way there are no “but I DID earn it!!” or “I didn’t know that was my responsibility” arguments. We also add a little fun (at least my husband and I think it’s fun :-)…) to this: if the kids don’t do it, we may choose to do some and add the cash to our date fund.

    We use the “family command central” (www.themorristribe.com) as the basis for our weekly family meetings where everyone in the house at the time comes together and we go over schedules, needs, projects, etc. for the next two weeks. It takes maybe 15-20 minutes max (usually on Sunday) and it saves SOOOO much time and frustration during the following weeks.

    This system highlights our primary time saving/efficiency tools:
    1. menu planning
    2. communication!!!
    3. daily chore(s) (blinds, laundry, toilets, kitchen, etc.)
    4. service (helping/caring for others helps you find more time for yourself…that’s just the way the Lord works :-)…)
    5. partnership (my hubby and I trade off putting the toddler to bed; the toddler “helps” with putting his toys/books away and unloading the dishwasher; the teens know that if they want the parents to respect their social calendar, they need to respect the parents’ time and help out/communicate, etc.)

    It’s just an excel spreadsheet, but it has helped out soooo much! I’m willing to share if anyone is interested…not sure the best way to do that though since I’m not a blogger :-).

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