Do you feel like you are always on the back foot, trying to catch up with life? Are you letting things slip, like forgetting to pay a bill, buy a key ingredient for dinner or give your son the materials he needs for his school project? Do you feel like your family is never eating the food you envisioned them eating? Do you feel like you never have time to yourself and are unhappy with how life is progressing but don’t have the ability or time to control it?
Not sure why this is? Watch this video below.
This post is particularly focused on mothers but anyone can apply this to their lives. Take a strategic look at your life and give yourself a break. We mothers achieve the impossible every day.
The 3-part solution to domestic bliss
How does anyone cope with a job like parenthood? I have been on a quest to take control of my time so have read many books focused precisely on this subject and here is what I have learned and applied to my life.
The first step was to take a step back, look at the chaos and try to make sense of it. I needed to re-frame my family life and run it like I would a company as my education prepared me more for the latter than the former.
Step 1: Create a vision.
Step 2: Strategise how to enact the vision.
Step 3: Design a system to implement the strategy. The system will create an orderly way to arrange daily life.
I envisioned my life as a calm one where everything was planned out, family life was centred around food and everyone tried to get as much enjoyment out of life as possible (instead of my normal harassed, irritable and over-tired self).
The key to creating this calm was to spend 10 minutes a week creating a strategy of how I wanted the week to play out rather than operating in emergency mode as the predictably unexpected unfolded. When things did pop up then I could calmly decide how they fit into my vision of how I wanted to spend my time.
How to create a vision
I attended a lecture given by Mrs. Moneypenny, a columnist in the Financial Times that many of us FT readers have looked to for her unique perspective on life, career and family. She said, and I have also heard said by Ariana Huffington, is that we all have 168 hours in our week. If you are Obama, Bill Gates or yourself we all have the same 24 hours in the day. What we do with our time is what is different.
Mrs. Moneypenny suggests we look at our top 10 objectives for the short and long term and list our top 10 priorities in life. She says, “If your top objective is to be the CEO of a company and your top priority is your children, then you are unlikely to achieve that objective, so be realistic.” I used my list of objectives and priorities to determine the vision of my life and household.
The strategy: Implementing the vision
The strategy needs to be broken down into parts. I wrote down everything that I do in a week and everything I want to do in a week (and came up with 300 hours worth of activities!) This exercise was important as it taught me that time is finite and if I can only afford 2 hours a week to go to the gym then feeling guilty about not going more often is a waste of my time.
I did an audit on how I spend my days, hour by hour during the week. I then listed what my ideal “portfolio” of time would look like – 33% of the time sleeping (tip: don’t try to cheat and steal hours from resting, it is unsustainable and makes you less productive), 24% working, 17% caring for children, 9% eating and grooming, 9% studying, 6% on time with my husband, 5% cooking, 2% on administrative tasks and 2% with friends. (You need to come up with your own depending on your priorities, obligations and objectives.)
The system: an elaborate net
Next I came up with a system to make this happen. This mainly consists of bartering, passing the buck, economizing, being creative, learning how to say no and delegating. Depending on how much help you can afford will determine how creative you will need to be in creating a system.
For example, I actually spend 36% of my time with the kids and no time studying, little quality time with my husband and less time working than I would ideally like. Despite spending more than half of my waking hours with the kids, I always felt guilty when doing anything else because I could be spending time with them. I realized that much of the time I spent with them was taking them to and from school and getting them ready for bed.
What I really wanted was quality time where we connected, so I had to think how to achieve this. My husband and I agreed on weekends he would take them for half a day and I would take them for half a day so that we each had half a day to do what we wanted and half a day of quality time with the kids.
I also arranged for someone else to pick the kids up from school, freeing up a significant amount of time. If you don’t have help, you could try to find another parent and take turns.
Passing the buck
Next I made a list of all the important one-offs that were required – obligations with family, the children’s activities, etc. and we sat down to discuss who would take what and how we would fit them in. This is a lot more productive than doing everything yourself and being resentful of your husband when he doesn’t pull his weight. It also has the surprising bonus of making him appreciate you more when you do take on something.
I also found I spent 10% of my time on admin, particularly grocery shopping. In Hong Kong, it is difficult to find everything one needs in one place, so I spent a lot of time running around accumulating ingredients. Frustratingly, I seemed to never have what I needed to make a dish so I would keep emergency ingredients on hand to make up a dish if needed.
So I took a step back and set up a bi-weekly seasonal menu with a bonus day that could be anything, depending on what exciting ingredient I found. I put a daily menu into a table which changed every two weeks and the whole menu changed quarterly with the season.
Next I created the shopping list from this table and found which online stores had the ingredients I needed. I checked which day I needed to order by in order to have the ingredients delivered when I needed them. For me this meant ordering happens on Wednesdays for deliveries on Fridays and Tuesdays.
Every week I look at the schedule and cross off the meals for the days where we have plans to eat out and then order. It has literally been a massive relief and freed up lots of time and energy.
Learning to say no…or yes, as the case may be
By profiling my week in percentages I suddenly became smarter in how I spent my time. For example, if a friend rings to see if I can meet, if I haven’t allocated my 2% friend time yet, I make the time. If I have already allocated the 2% friend time and don’t have another “investment” I can take the time from, I reschedule it to the following week as part of my 2% for that week.
Delegating: Infinitely more complicated than it appears
I include this section on delegating simply because most of us had mothers and grandmothers who did not work. Nowadays, many women do work and have fewer family members available to help, necessitating a support system to help them manage their household duties, work and raising children.
After creating a vision, a strategy and started working on my system, this required a survey of the household. While I understand this may be a controversial statement to some ladies, we are lucky enough to afford people to help out at home. I know today’s super-mother is not meant to have any help, successfully hold down a high profile job, do everything for her children all the time, be a compassionate and supportive wife, be fit and stylish, and have an amazingly designed home with homemade, healthy dinners every night served with a smile on her face.
I promise you that if you ever find this mythological superhero figure, she has help (and quite possibly hides it). What I can’t figure out is why we need to disguise the fact that it is not possible for one person to achieve all this without help (remember we all have the same 168 hours per week). Even when we come clean, we have to then apologise.
Women are still performing the vast majority of the household duties and many also have jobs. It is unreasonable to expect that if a mother can afford help that she should feel bad about it.
After much trial and error, I have many more thoughts on delegating but as it is a rather delicate topic, I prefer to share if contacted directly.
The investment of a few hours to create a domestic vision, a strategy on how to achieve this vision and a system to maintain the consistency of the strategy have already paid dividends in terms of free time, less guilt, less stress and a sense of feeling in control. It allowed me the time to share what I learned with you here. If you know someone else struggling, please share what I learned with them.