I recently ranted about the distinct lack of useful productivity hacks in an article that teased that offering in the title, and I didn’t want to leave y’all hanging like I had been–so I thought I would offer some of my own strategies for keeping the domestic life on track.
Here are our qualifications as a BUSY FAMILY:
- Michael works full-time
- I am in school full-time
- we both have passion projects (him, charting and trading on the stock market and me, blogging and writing freelance pieces)
- we are still getting settled in our new home (subtext: we have a TON of small-to-medium sized projects yet to do)
- we parent three boys ages 7 1/2, 6, and 2
- I think a dog still lives here?
- extracurricular activities: soccer, church, friends, big family dynamic, travel, etc.
We’re in a “busy season of life,” as they say, but we still want to be semi-sane parents and people. Surely there are tips, tricks, and hacks that we can learn from one another to automate as much as possible in order to free up our mental and emotional energy for the good stuff (like real conversations, family dinners, and date nights!) It’s like wanting the Steve Jobs Uniform but for our life, right? I’ll go first.
Here are 12 productivity hacks for busy families below (and please add yours in the comments!):
- Digitize that to do list! Download the Todoist app (and the desktop version.) This app is part of the productivity trifecta: Todoist, Google calendar, and Gmail. Between these three (free!) apps, you can communicate, coordinate, and prioritize your life. I use Todoist all day, err’day. Have an idea for something to get your kid for his birthday? Type in a quick reminder in Todoist to look it up. Need to research soccer cleats after the kids are in bed? Set a quick reminder in Todoist via voice text (you can even set a time frame for the task.) It’s seriously how I organize my various areas of responsibility and I love it. Bonus tip: if you need a quick tutorial on how to organize your life, check out Tim’s book, Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity. It’s a short read, packed with practical and gospel-centered advice, and less than $10.
- Communication Command Central: otherwise known as an old-fashioned whiteboard displayed in our pantry (but any central or high-traffic area of your home will work.) The point of this hack is to have a central place for everyone to contribute and reference for the week’s agenda. We include the week’s main events, an on-going grocery list, things to price compare online (dog medicine, cousin’s birthday present, etc.) and whatever else we need to remember and/or communicate to the whole family.
- Meal plan (get ninja on your dinner!) I know everyone says this, but it’s a big one. Michael and I both cook, but neither of us can (or want to) take it on entirely, so we share the responsibility. We literally write out our meal menu for the week and keep it on the fridge, which helps with grocery shopping and when someone small whines, whats for dinnerrrr?? Bonus tip: Food prep is key for cooking at home during the week. Here are some things we prep ahead of time–
- We make salad for the whole week! (Divided up in lunch sized tupperware.)
- I also make banana bread muffins for breakfast/snacks fairly often.
- Michael makes Italian meatballs for an easy and delicious dinner.
- Always think ahead/think multiple purpose on meal ideas. ie; if I roast a chicken tonight, I can use the leftover meat for chicken noodle soup tomorrow night, etc.
- Order groceries. This was the only valuable hack that the aforementioned article offered and I agree with it. If you are in a delivery area, and don’t mind paying the small delivery fee, then go ahead and use an app like Instacart to have your groceries delivered. Here’s the important part of the hack: set a reoccurring reminder via Todoist to order your groceries at the same time and on the same day every week. I’ve had them delivered to my office, to my Mom’s house (when we lived outside the area), and directly to my home. Whatever works best for your schedule! But once that reminder lights up your phone, go ahead and do it. It feels so great to have that huge job taken care of for the week.
- School uniforms. I realize that not every kid goes to a school that requires uniforms, but hear me out on this one. Especially while your kids are young (I have no idea about parenting teenagers), having a set of clothing dedicated for school days only has been amazing. It’s freeing for two reasons: less laundry to do and ZERO early-morning-hassle about what they are going to wear for the day…that’s a major win for any parent! Even if your kid is allowed to wear whatever they want, you might consider setting aside a special drawer or basket of “school clothes” to limit what they can choose from. Fewer choices makes for an easier (and quicker) decision in those early morning hours.
- Delegate chores, like daily tasks and weekly areas. Daily tasks might be taking out the trash, unloading the dishwasher, taking the dog on a walk, etc. Weekly areas of responsibility might be the playroom (picking it up, organizing toys), the mudroom (refilling the dog food, sweeping the floor) and so on. Delegate tasks and areas according to the family members age and availability. Everyone can pitch in! No one lives here for free! 😎
- Simplify the Daily Schedule. Kids like to know what to expect (and grown-ups too!) Consider analyzing your daily schedule and breaking it up into time blocks, or chunks of time, dedicated to specific responsibilities. Depending on your work/vocation type, try to simplify the “extra” stuff (see below under Group Tasks) to make the most of your time together. Most weekdays look like this for me:
- 6am – 7am: Wake up, quiet time, get ready.
- 7am – 8am: Breakfast with family, get kids ready and off to school.
- 8am – 9am: Domestic chores (throw in a load of laundry, make bed, tidy up, load dishwasher, start crock-pot meal, etc.)
- 9am -12pm: Work! (from home most days)
- 12pm – 2pm: Lunch, walk dog, afternoon chores or errands.
- 2pm – 4pm: Work (finish morning projects, etc.)
- 4pm – 5:30pm: Pick up boys from school and start dinner.
- 5:30pm – 6:30pm: Dinner and clean up
- 6:30pm – 8pm: Kids bathtime, family time (playing music, reading, talking, etc.), and bedtime.
- 8pm – 10pm: Parent time! Netflix, reading, whatever (another Frazier episode, tbh.)
- Subscribe to Amazon Prime for diapers, wipes, vitamins, toothpaste and anything else you find yourself having to order every month or two. (P.S. Try to maximize any service you are already paying for…do your research and use it to it’s fullest potential!)
- Find your laundry style and stick to it. Some people have one single day that they dedicate as the “laundry day” while others might have more of a rhythm (load goes in at bedtime to wash and goes in to dry at breakfast.) Try a few different ways and then commit to something: I promise, it gets better over time! Half of the battle is acclimating your family to whatever laundry regimen you choose. Go forth and launder!
- Group tasks together: none of this “running errands” every single weekday. It’s a waste of time. Instead, do all shopping on one weekday, all bill paying the same day every month, all holiday shopping in one weekend. Batch your life, sister! It’s a good method for two reasons–first, you knock out similar tasks together, so it keeps you focused on what is actually getting accomplished. Second, it protects your other time (you know, like time for work, for visiting with friends, for family memory-making *tears up slightly*) so you can enjoy it and not be distracted by random practical tasks.
- Accept help! Running a household is hard work and we all need help from time to time. Ideas for asking for and accepting help: Ride shares for practice/church, regular time for children to spend w/ family member (dinner with Grandparents, afternoon park date with Aunties and Uncles, etc.), the glory that is Mothers Day Out programs (check your local Methodist church), use the two-hour Y childcare, swap babysitting time with friends with littles, etc. Everyone needs a break–it doesn’t make you a bad mom, just a normal human being.
- Regular un-plug/bed time. Sleep is key to productivity! Set a reminder if needed. Get off the screen an hour beforehand. Drink something warm and comforting. Whatever works for you! Just get your sleep…the next day’s productivity depends on it.
Okay, if you made it to the bottom of this list YOU ARE A CHAMPION. I know life is crazy and we all have (probably) too much on our plates, but danggit, I think we’re doing an alright job. You’ve got this, mamas! And let me know what works for your family in the comments below 👇