When we first become parents we are told again and again to embrace the moment, live in the now, the dishes can wait… and so can the washing and the dirty floors.
Five years on and I think I have to say that I could never really embrace this notion. Yes the dishes can wait… but then the food becomes crusted on. And yes the washing can wait but then you soon run out of clean clothes. Then when you finally do the washing you have a pile of folding the size of Everest that even contemplating tackling it is too daunting and so it sits there, unfolded, staring at you everyday making you feel guilty for not getting it done sooner.
Because the reality is that these jobs need to be done. There’s no point avoiding it. There’s no such thing as a cleaning fairy. And if you are like us, there’s no money in the budget for a cleaner.
And so I have been working towards being my most productive self; being present with my children and getting the housework done. Now friends of mine can attest that I am far from a Fly Lady (having laughed at the size of my folding pile and the state of my laundry after I hid all signs of mess when an unexpected visitor arrived on my doorstep) but I have also come to realise that if I want to have a peaceful home; one where I don’t constantly feel scrambled for time, drowning under a mountain of chores whilst still trying to be present with Jack and Sarah, then I need to become my most productive self.
And so I have made myself accountable. Accountable for my time and for my responsibilities. My responsibilities as a mama, a homeschool mentor, a wife, and primary keeper of our home. I decided that I will spend this time consciously; eliminating all the distracting noise which sucks time from my days.
Just like when we do our budget to see where our money goes, so too did I do a budget of my time. A realistic one. In the past I have been known to optimistically plan my days only to slap on a giant dose of mama guilt at the end of the day for not getting it all done.
I realised that I had so many unrealistic expectations which were causing me to feel tired, burdened and perpetually late. Now with a few simple changes, which include breaking some very bad habits, I am starting to feel on track, productive, more present and less stressed.
Becoming my most productive self:
- Resetting to Zero: The first week was the hardest. Getting all the washing done, all the folding, cleaning the bathroom and the kitchen, clearing away all the clutter and putting everything away. There were some late nights. I needed this though. I couldn’t move forward if I was still playing catch-up on unfinished business.
- Breaking Bad Habits: The hard part was recognising them. I realised that I always felt stressed in the mornings and it was because I would wake to a messy house. I wasn’t starting the day fresh. I couldn’t when the remnants of yesterday (and the day before) were still all around me. I needed to clean away each day, that day.
- Small Manageable Tasks: When you do the washing every day, you only have one day’s washing and one day’s folding to do. It’s manageable. If you leave it for a few days it takes longer and I found I was less likely to want to do it. Now I put the clothes in the machine at the end of each night ready to wash in the morning. A little everyday I can do. I have a list of small manageable chores to do everyday. It takes me about an hour each day.
- Realistic Time Frames: We seemed to always be late. We never seemed to leave the house calmly, it was always rushed. I know now that it takes at least 20 minutes to get myself and the kids out of the house. And so I have started the + 10 minutes routine. If we need to be out of the house by 9am, I start getting everyone ready at 8:30, giving myself an extra 10 minutes and eliminating an incredible amount of stress.
- Dedicated Cleaning Times: My awakening came when I overheard Sarah (3 years) singing to her dolls, “Mummy will you come play with us? No, I’m cleaning the kitchen…”. And she was right. I could spend the whole day cleaning. Now I have one hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon. If I keep on top of my daily tasks this amount of time is enough.
- Taking Care of Me: Tiredness is one of my triggers. If I’m tired I have a clouded view of reality. I see tiny squabbles between Jack and Sarah as much more than they are. My patience is much shorter and my ability to stay on top of things calmly is almost non-existent. I need sleep. 10pm is now my bedtime.
- Plan a Day Ahead: Deciding what’s for dinner half and hour before dinner is not a productive use of time. Similarly, spending an hour planning a week’s worth of homeschool activities (particularly when we are child-led) is also not time well spent. I realised that I was wasting time planning things that didn’t happen (because the kids would take a different approach to their learning) and not spending time planning things that should happen; like meals. Now I plan a day ahead. One day is enough.
- Cutting out Distractions: I don’t need to check my email every hour, or Facebook. I am not missing out on anything life-changing. I realised that every time I stopped what I was doing to check my email or scan Instagram, it took me that much longer to refocus my mind back to reality. All those little interruptions to my thoughts were messing with my sense of presence. It felt like I was never really anywhere. So I am cutting out the distractions (and it is proving a hard habit to break). I am focussing on completing one task completely; without interruption from that pesky iPhone.
- Identifying Must-dos: Everyone’s must-dos are going to be different. We all have the same amount of time in each day but have different demands on our lives and so will spend that time differently. For me I needed to make a very specific list of things that must be done each day and each week. These things are important to our family and the running of our home. I have scheduled them into our days and until they have become a habit I have the list on the fridge to remind me.
- Recognising that I am an Introvert: I never thought of myself as an introvert. I thought I was quite outgoing. It wasn’t until I had children, until I was surrounded constantly by noise, that I realised that I need quiet and I need time to be with my thoughts. Noise is another trigger for me. I feel overwhelmed, I feel trapped at times; like I need to escape somehow. I can not focus with constant noise. So I have found some peace. I spend an hour a day by myself. Usually in the morning at the gym, just for my own mental health. I know now that I need this to feel centred and ready to start the day.
For the first time in a long time I am starting to feel on top of things. I am starting to feel like I can take a breath again. I feel like I know where I am; that my head isn’t in a constant flurry, that I am not completely overwhelmed by a seemingly endless to-do list. I feel like I have time; like I am becoming my most productive self. And for the first time in a long time, it feels really good.