As much as I would love to be that super organized, color-coded lunch bags and containers, Google calendar beeping, high-healed stomping around kind of working mom, that’s not real. It’s something on TV or that the supposed super mom claims from the emergency room bed after she’s been told she stroked out or had a heart attack, right? Yes, agree with me—there’s power in numbers, busy moms!
So, what do real moms do to help manage the barrage of day to day responsibilities, appointments, to-do papers and projects, and maintain her sanity? She finds an organization system or method of organizing her thoughts that translates into real life success. All the APPS, calendars, and online programs that claim to get busy moms organized will be massive failures if we don’t use them. Why don’t we use them? Because many of them are too much—too complicated, and they don’t suit our way of thinking. They end up being another task to keep up with instead of a tool for keeping us on track. When they don’t work for us, we get that feeling of dropping the ball and staying behind or missing things.
There is something that can work for all of us, regardless of the tool(s) we use to maintain them. Lists can keep any mom on track and feeling accomplished, and keep you from ever having to face-palm because you left something important behind or failed to meet a deadline. I’ve streamlined the plan into a four step organization system for busy moms. The human brain loves lists and kicks into a subconscious organization/sorting mode when dealing with one.
Step one-make your list in or on whatever you will carry, use, and be able to keep up with. As much as I rely on my phone, I love a paper planner. It’s filled with my lists, stickers, colored pen notes and reference pages that I use every, single day. The act of writing things down and putting thoughts to words really helps me prepare, track, and prioritize my days. I feel confident that I have what I need; it’s like a security blanket and organization tool in one, happy package. Discover your tool. Don’t be afraid to try something new—experiment. Don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t work; scrap it and move on until you find your magic!
Step two- prioritize and make your list. Forming a huge, overwhelming running tally of all the things you will never have time to do is self-sabotage. Place the things you must do at the top and leave the least pressing to the end. You may need to break-down larger tasks into steps. Really complex projects could take days, weeks, or months. Separating them into reasonable-sized pieces will help you tackle them with more confidence and less stress and anxiety.
Step three – in addition to your prioritized task list, sub lists will keep you from having to remember little details or waste energy looking things up or doing duplicate sorting. Here’s an example: one of your tasks is to stop at the grocery store. You should have a secondary list of the items you need and have any coupons or discount codes in your planner or on your phone or tablet. Fumbling through a purse full of stuff and running up and down the aisles trying to remember what you need just wastes time and sabotages your energy and mood—especially if you are dragging your poor kids along. Even though it seems small, a series of these little stressors can really add up in a day.
Step four – don’t force yourself into a mold that does not suit you. Knowing yourself as only you do, consider what will potentially be a successful routine and what will most likely crash and burn before you even start. Have you ever read an article or blog that promises your whole life will change if you do this series of tasks every morning (or night); yet when you try it, you hate it and call the writer a list of ugly names in your head as you toss the whole plan? I surely have. And I certainly don’t want this four step organization system for busy moms to cause rather than diminish stress. If you are not a morning person, your body and brain are not at their peak in the wee hours. Don’t drag yourself out of bed and suffer through a routine that is already sapping your day’s power. Do your planning, list making, and prioritizing in the evening or at night, when you can think clearly and logically. Your next morning will be so much easier.
Have you guessed that I am not a morning person? Yet, I have tried these “get up early and do fill-in-the-blank to get your day off to a miraculous start” methods. Guess what? I struggled through for a short period of time, yet scrapped them all. My internal clock gets angry when I shake it up and torture it first thing in the morning. What works for me is getting out my fun planner in the afternoon (or at night sometimes) and making my lists for the following day. I also gather my papers, set up my breakfast and lunch prep stations, and pack bags and backpacks the night before, so those not-a-morning-mom school and work days don’t add more stress to my family’s morning. And I don’t forget school forms, gym shoes, homework, library books, or anyone’s lunch!
Another helpful hint—don’t procrastinate with the big, heavy tasks. They will loom over your day and haunt your thoughts enough to affect your ability to be in the moment all day long. Get them over with and move on. That doesn’t necessarily mean do them early in the morning. Writing down when you will deal with the task and diving into it during your peak time of day is as good as removing it from your worry zone. Train your brain to deal with it at the appropriate time and not poke at you until it’s done.
Similarly, don’t let the unimportant (bottom of the list) tasks get in the way of your focus for the top priorities. And give it some real thought as you make the list; what will really happen if you don’t get it all done? Most of us have tasks that are self-inflicted busy work or things we should not have taken-on in the first place. Learning to say “I’m sorry, I cannot fit that into my schedule/prioritize that right now” is better than, “No” and can eliminate a load of stress that was never meant for us in the first place.