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If you’ve come here looking for time management strategies for the overwhelmed mom – know that you’re not alone. In fact, I’m pretty sure that as mothers we live our lives chronically overwhelmed – it’s sort of a marker of motherhood.
At least we get to mix it up.
The overwhelm transforms into something new with each life phase that our kids go through.
Before motherhood, I always prided myself on being an organized person. I like lists, schedules, and order.
I probably don’t have to tell you, but having kids upended that part of my identity. So, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get that piece of me back.
At this point, I’ve learned that while I may never be the same list-keeping, appointment-scheduling rockstar I once was, there are ways to be more productive as a mom. If this is something you feel you can resonate with, please keep reading these time management strategies for the overwhelmed mom.
TIME MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES FOR THE OVERWHELMED MOM
Keep a diary for one week
I think one of the biggest keys to better time management as a mom is understanding how long things actually take so that you can be realistic with yourself and your time.
Let’s face it: things take LONGER than we think they do.
Take a week and write out your activities for the day, and approximately how long they took you.
The point of this is not to take up all of your time writing instead of doing, so try and just jot down a word or two – something like “10 min breakfast”, “1 hour kitchen”, or “drive school 1h” (for driving the kids to school).
You may not need to do this for a full week if your days stay pretty consistent, but the hope is that you’ll easily self-identify some productivity tips for moms and have a more accurate picture of the amount of time you’re spending on certain activities.
Identify and strategize to defeat transition times
One of the best time management tips for moms that I’ve found is to be wary of transitional times, and to prepare for them. This is the time we spend getting ready for school and getting in the car to go somewhere, moving from doing school work to cooking dinner, or brushing teeth and using the bathroom before bed.
This is where a LOT of our time goes, and it turns into a HUGE time-waster if you aren’t paying attention.
Not only do we waste time during transitional periods of our day, but this is also where you’re most likely to become disorganized if you’re in a hurry.
Here are some things you can try to help make transitional periods easier in your home.
- Set clothing and other supplies out the night before so that you aren’t rushing around in the morning.
- Deciate a specific place for things like finished and unfinished school work, so if your kiddo needs a break they don’t leave their homework at the kitchen table or have to scramble to find it in the morning.
- Build time into your schedule for specific little things like brushing teeth. If you tell your kids that it’s time to “get ready for bed”, they may not choose to prioritize brushing teeth as part of that process unless you make that clear.
- Create a task board. Add things like “brush teeth”, “put clothing in the hamper”, “straighten room”, and “brush hair” to it. The specific tasks will vary depending on your child’s age, but this can help hold everyone accountable to the little things that help promote organization.
- Have extra jackets/gloves/shoes kept somewhere near the door. That way if you have trouble finding any of these items in the morning, you have other options to reach for.
Plan your day and stop “reacting” all day long
I think planning your day is one of the hardest time management strategies for overwhelmed moms because the task in itself doesn’t seem to be very valuable. It won’t produce direct and immediate results, and when we’re in reaction mode we’re driven by the results that are produced.
Spending your day putting out constant fires is definitely the road to constant overwhelm, but YOU have the power to change that.
Just like many of you, I work full time out of the home AND in the home. I know myself well enough to know that, despite my love for planning, I cannot prioritize it over the other things in my life.
I desperately wanted to feel more in control of my life, but I really struggled staying consistent with things like daily planners.
Because of that, I created something that was going to work for me in my life. It’s a simple one page planner (I’ve put a picture of it below) that I use most days. It has reduced that daily overwhelm so much for me because I feel like it gives me a clear picture of what my real priorities are so that I’m not reacting to my daily life.
Here is how I use it in my personal life.
I fill it out each night as a way to take a few seconds to reflect and plan for the day. Maybe a sentence or two per box.
- There are two priority boxes. One for my day job and one for my business. I don’t put more than 3-6 things in each box. It’s really important to be realistic about what you can accomplish each day so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Fill these boxes with what you MUST get done that day. You can allocate each of these for what works best for you! Could be one for your business and one for homeschooling. Or maybe use one for volunteer work. Whatever works for you.
- There’s a “Meals” box. It helps me think through what the meals for the next day which is great when you end up needing to run to the store for something extra. That’s NEVER something any of us like to do last minute. I find that thinking through the next days meals also helps me avoid getting stuck having to deforst something at the last second. I can defrost the day before or hydrate dry beans more easily if I think ahead. Even if you use Instant Post meals like my Sweet and Sour Meatball recipe, planning ahead is amazing!
- I fill out the “Tomorrow” box throughout the day as I think of things that HAVE to happen tomorrow. At night when you fill out the planner for the next day, those automatically go into the related priority boxes.
- The “Big Picture” box is for the big things coming up. Think of this as buckets. This helps you keep track of what’s coming up without having a list of 100 tasks that are too overwhelming. This forces you to bucket those things and just focus on the big picture. That makes it less paralyzing (and thus lessens the overwhelm we moms experience). This could be something like a big upcoming project, When you fill out the priority boxes each day, glance at the big picture box and see what subtasks within those big picture items you can fit into your day. Think of this as chipping away at those big picture items each dya.
- “Waiting On” is for things you need from others. For example, if you requested health records from the pediatrician for school but haven’t gotten them yet, you add that there. So you remember you’ve asked for them and still need them.
By simplifying our crazy lives into these categories and keeping it to just one page and a few bullets, you’ll be able to see what you REALLY need to get done vs. what you might want to get done. It’s a big step towards being kinder to yourself and being realistic about what you can get done in a day!
Don’t get me wrong. I still get disorganized and I don’t always finish everything – but it’s a huge improvement.
Please feel free to download it below!
Use task batching where possible
I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely been guilty of running the kids to school, running back home to take stock of the fridge, and then going to the grocery store.
Because I have to drive around the same areas and approximately the same distance to get to the kids school as I do to get to the grocery store, I waste a lot of time having to drive all the way back home before doing my shopping.
I think this happens in large part because of poor planning – and it’s something we all end up doing at times.
Instead, consider time batching. While this does require a little more up front planning, it won’t take much of your time and you’ll SAVE a lot of time overall.
Take some time to sit down and think about your week (or day – whatever works for you!) Where do you need to go? What do you need to get done today?
See which tasks can be done at the same time, and plan your day accordingly.
Need to go to the post office and grocery store tomorrow? Pencil it in to do that after running the kids to school.
This means you’ll need to make sure you have your grocery list ahead of time, but it’ll also ensure that you won’t be rushing back and forth and can instead do what needs doing in one trip.
Task batching can work as a time management strategy for the overwhelmed mom within the home, too.
Have laundry, dishes, and mopping to do? Plan to start the washer first, then do the dishes, then mop the floor. When you take a break from one task, you can quickly switch the laundry over to keep it going.
Remember that organization is two-fold (and necessary)
To practice better time management skills, we must also be more organized. Organization for moms (or really, for almost anyone) is two-fold. Not only must we be more organized with our time, we must also organize our things as well.
This means making sure that everything has a place, getting rid of excess clutter, and making room in our day to prevent the things that cause us to react.
An example of this would be making sure the dishes are always cleared at the end of the night, so that you don’t have to spend the next morning hunting for a clean cereal spoon or making space on the stove to cook breakfast.
Try and squeeze in an additional 15 minutes a day for these “preventative” tasks. Within a few days you’ll know full well whether you need more time than that.
Slow and steady wins the race
I used to get discouraged after reading articles with a focus on time management for moms.
The author always made it sound incredibly easy, but it never was. I would always start out excited and energized, but feel down on myself when I lacked follow-through the next week.
I think we all do that – get excited about a positive change in our lives and try to change too many things too quickly.
Understand that the key to success in time management is to make SMALL and gradual changes.
Maybe you start by documenting your week so that you have better awareness of where your time is going. Maybe in another week you try and begin using my free daily planner (which I linked again down below).
The other perk to this small and slow method is you’re going to be able to understand what does and doesn’t work for you when you’re only dealing with one or two variables. Most people will fail at becoming better at time management because they overwhelm themselves with trying to change too much too quickly.
Take the time to make a meal plan
Planning meals can seem like a pretty obvious time management tip – but it’s something most of us still struggle with doing.
Fortunately, there are plenty of apps out there (and plenty of recipes) that are built exactly for people like you and me – busy moms who just want something fast, easy, and healthy.
Most of these meal planning apps also have an option to add items to a grocery list as well as sync meal plans over multiple accounts/devices. This way you can keep your significant other in the loop too.
Analyze and plan your day strategically
This is sort of an advanced time management strategy for the overwhelmed mom – so I encourage you to spend some time thinking about this before implementing.
We all have periods in our day where we’re more productive and less productive. This varies from person to person. The first step is recognizing when your high and low energy times are.
For me, the easiest way to figure this out was by setting a two hour alarm on my phone during the day. Every two hours I would note down whether I felt high, medium, or low energy. After two weeks of doing this, I had a pretty good idea about when I was high energy versus low energy.
With this, I was able to start planning my day accordingly. I would spend my high-energy times doing the activities that needed the most amount of concentration from me, and my low-energy times for low-attention, highly mundane tasks like folding laundry. You will be more efficient divvying out your time like this, which will save you time (and effort) in the long run.
We talked earlier about how as moms we tend to think we have more time in a day than we actually do. This means that, when it comes to doing something like creating a to-do list, we often overestimate the amount of time we have to get something done.
Instead, consider creating a few different to-do lists. Pick 1-3 things that MUST be done at the start of your day (or whenever you make plans for the following day), and add the rest of your to-do list to a “if there’s time” list. This should be a completely separate list that you only pull out when you have some extra time.
Once you have a better idea of how long the different tasks in your life take, you’ll have a better idea of whether you can put more than 3 priorities on the first list depending on the tasks. For now though, stick to the 1-3.
Say no to things that aren’t your responsibility
I think most of us have struggled with using this word at some point in our lives. Our society appreciates women out there who are kind and giving, so many of us try to model that behavior.
The trouble is, if you say yes to make someone happy and then build a sense of resentment toward them, you certainly aren’t doing them any favors in the long run.
The same is true if you’re subjective yourself to additional overwhelm because of saying yes–the reality is that a stressed and burned out mom is a ticking bomb for the whole family. You are the only one who knows how much you can take before overwhelm turns to depression or desperation.
If you’re struggling with feeling guilty for saying no – try this. Make a rule for yourself. If someone asks for your help with something, force yourself to wait at least 10 minutes before responding. In that time, think about the following things.
- How much notice have they given you? (my general rule is that I need at least 24 hour notice to consider it unless it’s an emergency)
- Can you realistically fit that task in and still finish your priority to-do list?
- Willing doing this leave you feeling resentful toward that person?
- If you say yes to this, what do you have to say no to?
That last one is powerful – because saying yes to something ALWAYS means you have to say no to something else. If you think of it in that context, that can often help soften any guilt you feel for saying no.
Ask for (and accept) help
According to research, working mothers are among the highest time-pressured groups in society (source). This came to no surprise to me, and I’m sure the same is true for you. This study went on to discover that one of the things we mother’s need most is to have our partner (who is usually male) step up and take over some of the responsibilities that have been left to the wife in the past.
We live in a different world now. As mothers, we don’t HAVE to do all of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare. In many homes, the mother is the breadwinner while the father stays at home. The interesting thing is, while women are taking on most tasks in today’s society, it doesn’t always seem like men are too.This is where it is our job (as mothers) to break the social stigma and ask our partner for help.
Now, I encourage you to be cautious with this. The reality is, we all have our strengths and weaknesses and NOT proceeding with caution could be inviting conflict into your relationship.
For example, I have a friend who was the primary breadwinner in her home for a few years. When she was finally able to bring her husband home from working a job he hated, the dynamics between them were a little estranged for a while. They no longer fit into the “mold” that most of us expect of the modern family. She grew frustrated when involving him in the meal planning, because he never had an opinion on what to have for dinner, and when he finally had input to give, my friend disagreed with it.
What they ended up discovering was a few things.
First, you can never have tasks evenly split between two people because there are too many variables that go into each daily task. So don’t even try. Funnily enough, research has shown that the two parties in a relationship both tend to think that they work harder than the other person in the relationship. That’s because there is so much happening that we can’t really see all that the other person is doing. So don’t assume.
Second, each partner is good at different things. In my friend’s case, they learned they were much better off playing off the strengths of each other. That meant my friend did the meal planning, while her partner did the grocery shopping.
I’d encourage you to do something similar with your partner. Sit down, talk about the weekly responsibilities for your home each week, and figure out how you can best divvy up tasks so that you’re carrying the load together. Understand that with any change there WILL be growing pains, but the long term benefit of less on your shoulder will be worth it.
LIVING INTENTIONALLY – THE KEY TO TIME MANAGEMENT FOR THE OVERWHELMED MOM
I’ve found that the idea of living intentionally is synonymous with effective time management and increased productivity. Interestingly, striving for one is striving for both. We want to manage our time better so that we can spend it doing more of the things that we care about, rather than living in constant overwhelm of the things we can’t get to.
Awareness is the first step. Figuring out where our time is going, because I guanretee there will be some surprises for all of us along the way. Often this awareness can shock us into better behavioral patterns, because it can be pretty disappointing to find that you spend hours a day looking for things that shouldn’t be going missing (like those dang car keys) in the first place.
Taking small steps to make changes to your schedule is the next step. Whether that’s creating preventative measures so that you aren’t wasting valuable time during transitional periods throughout the day, or you start task batching – ANYTHING will make a difference.
After that small step becomes a habit, it’s time for another small step. While “overwhelmed” will always be a part of motherhood at times, it doesn’t have to be a constant part.
Interestingly enough, one research study found that while better time management skills definitely improved life satisfaction, it only improved performance by a little. (source)
For me, that speaks volumes. Maybe we really can’t fit that much more into our day – so we can’t really base our daily “success” on whether or not we finish every little thing on that to-do list.
Instead, I think we need to think about whether we can feel good about what we did get done. Did we do our best? Did we minimize distractions? Did we live intentionally?