Motherhood's a never-ending juggle, but with these smart tips you can reclaim your time.
Savour your sleep
Don't fall into the trap of skipping sleep to get more done. We need seven to eight hours for optimum mental and physical function. Skimp on the Zs, and you'll be less effective. "Sleep is as crucial to your health as nutrition and exercise," says specialist sleep physician Dr David Cunnington. Create an inviting sleep sanctuary free from distractions – especially electronic devices, as short-wavelength, or 'blue' light from smart screens suppresses sleep-promoting melatonin. Ensure your sleep space has a comfy temperature with good ventilation, and make it beautiful with gentle lighting and soothing cushions and bed linen.
Work that whiteboard
There are a zillion time management apps, but nothing's as visible and easy as a big whiteboard in your home's high-traffic area. Use it as a weekly calendar showing each family member's appointments, and add a chore list for everyone to tick off. A magnetic whiteboard lets you attach all-important notes, tickets and receipts.
Double up on necessities
It's easy to lose time scrabbling for essentials such as reading glasses, scissors, sticky tape and a notepad, so buy duplicates and keep them in various rooms. "One of the best tips when my son was born was to have a box in each room with nappies, wipes, cloths, and for me a water bottle (essential when feeding), glasses, pen, notepad and something to read," says Melbourne full-time working mum Sarah Hodgson.
Schedule like a CEO
Be your own PA and block out chunks of time for household errands. Assigning a single day for shopping, bill paying, laundry and cleaning allows you to focus on everything else for the rest of the week.
Emails, Internet browsing and social media can devour your hard-earned free time. Set aside specific windows for the screen, and spend more time interacting with your kids. Numerous studies have shown links between quality parent time - reading, shared meals, conversations and play - and positive emotional and cognitive development outcomes for kids. But the good news for juggling mums is that quality, not quantity, is important. A 2015 Journal of Marriage and Family study found that shorter, good quality periods of face-to-face time were more beneficial than longer spells when parents were present, but not fully engaged (Ie watching TV, screen browsing or working in the same room).
Cook with the kids
Kids in the kitchen is a win for everyone. Beyond a certain age, they can genuinely help with prepping, cooking and cleaning. And collaborating on baking, washing up or cleaning vegies is exactly the sort of quality together-time the experts recommend. Cooking with your kids is an easy way to start conversations about healthy eating, too.
Grab a games night
If it's hard to carve out quality family time, schedule a games night (using that whiteboard!). Even half an hour of Snakes and Ladders or Uno gives everyone the chance to catch up, share news and laugh. When everyone's crazy schedules make nightly family dinners at the table impossible, this is an easier alternative.
"Whenever I see a gift I know someone would love, I buy it," says Sarah Hodgson. "Last Christmas I had just about everyone's gifts, and they were good choices because they were bought when I was in the mood, rather than in a last-minute panic. I do the same with cards and have a box I can reach into for those inevitable forgotten birthdays!"
If you haven't discovered Quiet Time Boxes or Busy Boxes, meet your newest friend. Fill a plastic bin with age-appropriate craft, puzzle, toy or sensory activity (think one with Lego, one with coloured card and glue, one with a jigsaw puzzle) ready to be deployed or taken on a trip at a moment's notice. They can be tailored to your kids' tastes and suit the surroundings they're in.
Keep in your car a bag of kids' overnight things and bathers, ready for spontaneous sleepovers and beach trips. Add towels and wet wipes and you're never caught out.
You're often rushing when reaching for Panadol, cough mix or Vicks. Sort the family medicine into an easy-to-access plastic bin, with everything clearly labelled - and on a high shelf, of course.
This article has been produced in association with BIG W.
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