Time management tips for busy working parents : Life Kit Calling all working parents and caregivers! We see you, and we know you don't have much time. Career coach Daisy Dowling shares time management tips to help working parents find sanity and joy.

These strategies can help working parents build support and reclaim some time

These strategies can help working parents build support and reclaim some time

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Tilda Rose for NPR
Illustration of a busy mom lying on a yoga mat with rubber gloves on, she&#039;s surrounded by a swirling mess representing responsibilities — to do lists, a laptop, a vacuum, laundry, toys, pots and pans and paperwork, but she has created a moment of calm amidst the chaos.
Tilda Rose for NPR

Let's be real: being a working parent can be really hard! Whether you have one kid or seven, caring for a human while trying to maintain relationships at work and at home is a lot to juggle. For so many parents and caregivers, it just feels like there isn't enough time in the day to get it all done — or done well.

Daisy Dowling is a career coach and author of Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids. She says parents can rewrite the story of being a working parent by taking charge of the mental picture they have of what it means to work and parent and what it requires.

That picture could include how our own parents operated as working parents, what we see on social media or the way our colleagues talk about parenting. Then, we can take a step back and set our own parameters based on our reality instead of responding to outside pressures and comparing ourselves to others.

Dowling shares actionable tips to help you reset your mindset and reclaim your time:

Take control of your time with these 4 tips

1. Do a calendar audit

This is a way to win yourself back some time by looking at how you're already using your time.

Grab your calendar and a red pen (real or virtual) and look at all the obligations you had scheduled last week.

Start circling entries you could have stepped away from or even said no to. You're not going to suddenly free up 25 percent of your calendar, but you'll find some themes and throughlines.

For example, maybe your kids are old enough to throw the laundry in the wash. Or maybe you could spend less time perfecting your emails.

Once the audit is done, take those insights and apply them to next week's calendar. Winning back even a little time can add up.

2. Try timeboxing

Also known as "containment," timeboxing is a way to break up daily tasks into smaller pieces so you're not spending all day on them. For example, set a timer for 25 minutes to do housework. When the buzzer rings, stop. Maybe you only made a dent in the laundry pile. But in the working parent world, a dent is plenty.

3. Set rules for yourself that you don't have to think about

Make room in your week to tap into things that fill your tank instead of draining it. One example Dowling uses is taking a break from work on Saturdays. It's the time she uses to go do things that bring her joy and give her a chance to relax.

Dowling says once she made the decision to try and protect her Saturdays, she was no longer bargaining and negotiating with herself on what she needed to get done and when.

4. Try taking a "Microbreak"

A microbreak is 10 to 15 minutes where you say to yourself, "I'm not going to do anything that's 'productive' right now." So no washing dishes or reading work messages or whatever it is. Instead, choose something you find enjoyable and restorative, like taking a walk, sitting with your thoughts or calling a friend.

Build your village: the 8-C tool

Another way you can win back time is by seeking external support. We all have different levels of resources, and different types of help we can access. But by remembering these eight Cs from Dowling's book, we can find a few people in our lives we can ask for help.

Career: Is there a manager who can extend a bit of informal flexibility, or a mentor who can share their experience and provide you some feedback?

Colleagues: You interact with them day in and day out. Do you know someone who can give you a pep talk when you're dragging through the day or feeling overwhelmed?

Corporate: Does your employer provide an employee assistance program (EAP)? An EAP is usually designed to help employees who may need extra support in dealing with personal matters.

Care: Can you think of additional people who can help share the load of daily or weekly tasks? Maybe you can ask for help from a friend or family member to watch your kids while you go to therapy, or take them to the park once a week so you can have some quiet time at home.

Computer: Technology can be a great resource for coordinating childcare! Can you put all of the carpool logistics in an app to streamline who is picking up your kids from school or helping them get to and from an activity?

Clinical support: Could a pediatrician or other medical professional share some advice on how to improve bedtime routines or reduce tantrums?

Couple or co-parent: This can include a grandparent, spouse or partner (current or former). Are there different ways to rebalance the load to take some items off your plate in order to help you not be so depleted at the end of the day?

Community: Are you a member of a faith community that can help bolster you? Maybe you have a neighbor who can help make sure the kids get home safe from the bus after school.

If you're resisting the idea of recruiting help, ask yourself, "Why?" Break through that resistance and think about one person you could reach out to over the next week – and then do it. Dowling wants us to remember that we are the architects of our support network and we can strive to make it "as large and robust and well-functioning as possible."

Of course, winning back time and building a support network is a process. "The reality is that this is an ongoing system that you're going to have to keep working. You want to set some good baseline routines in place," says Dowling, "but then you constantly want to be going back and reevaluating."


The podcast portion of this story was produced by Janet W. Lee.

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