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I don’t know about you, but I feel constantly on the verge of drowning in my obligations. Between my full time job, a husband who works 60+ hours a week, and four kids (with zero driver’s licenses) who have their own social and extracurricular schedules — not to mention running a household and carrying the mental load that moms are expected to handle — my poor brain is perpetually scrambled trying to keep up with all the things. If I’m being honest, though, it would be this way whether I had four kids or one; some people just aren’t great at being organized, and I’m one of them.
Winter break is a brief reprieve from at least some of the hustle and bustle, but now that school is starting again, I’m stressed out just anticipating the return to the mental juggling act. Lucky for people like me, we live in an age where sanity-saving inventions and innovations abound.
Write it Down
Call me old-school, but sometimes the easiest way for me to keep track of things is by using the old-fashioned method of literally writing it down (I know … how archaic!). Rather than littering up my space with Post-It notes, I love my reusable wall calendar; mine is from Artifact Uprising and is personalized, which is a nice touch. The entire family can write things down, and everyone can see the entire month at a glance, so we know not only what’s happening on that day but in the days to come. You can even use different-colored markers for each person, so everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.
Keep it Digitized
If you’re more tech-savvy and put all your important events into your calendar via your phone or computer, a digital calendar like the Skylight can be a huge help — it automatically syncs with calendars from Google, Outlook, Apple, and more, so that whatever you put into your personal calendar will show up on the Skylight with no extra steps. You can color-code different schedules and events, too, but my personal favorite feature is the grocery list. Via the Skylight app, my whole family can add things to the list, even while I’m at the store. Of course, this means I get a lot of requests for things like ramen noodles and Mountain Dew (and random wish-list items like “Ferrari”), but the best part is that if I don’t get something, the responsibility is on them. “You should’ve put it on the Skylight!” is my mantra.
One of the things that I find most helpful is to devote 10 minutes a day (or 15, if you’re feeling ambitious) to figuring out what tomorrow’s schedule is going to bring. It may sound overly simple, but you’d be surprised. When you dedicate a little block of time exclusively to planning ahead, you feel much more prepared — and it saves you from having to take care of things on the fly. If you find focusing on one task for 10 minutes to be difficult (raises hand), set a timer, or use an app like Forest … where you plant a virtual seed that turns into a tree after your allotted focus time is up. If you leave the app to scroll through your phone, though, your little tree is doomed.
Another great use for 10 minutes is to chip away at any project that stresses you out. Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by the magnitude of a task — rearranging the kids’ play area, sorting through old papers, cleaning out that closet that’s full of old crap — that we just put it off and then it becomes worse. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and even if you can’t complete the entire thing, you’ll feel much better just by making even the smallest dent in it. Promise.
Also helpful during those few minutes? This next little tidbit …
I know. It sounds like one of those things that’s great in theory but not easy to execute in real life. However, feeding a family takes up a substantial amount of time; throw in working around everyone’s various sports and extracurricular schedules, and mealtime becomes a real pain, even if you normally enjoy cooking. We all know the horrible feeling of staring blankly into the fridge, realizing there’s nothing thawed, and resorting to fast food (again) because it’s easy and cheap and we’re tired. Then we get to grapple with mom guilt over making nutritionally unbalanced choices for our families. Yay!
So yeah, preparing what you can for the week’s dinners ahead of time might take a little more effort up front, but it pays dividends when you’re pressed for time and already have something you can throw together quickly. Get yourself an arsenal of go-to recipes (like the ones you can find here and here — but a quick Google or Pinterest search can unearth a treasure trove of ideas). If you’re really feeling extra, you can use an app like Recipe Keeper to not only help you organize those recipes, but plan ahead. You don’t even have to do things like pre-dicing onions or freezing browned hamburger or anything; just the simple act of planning out your meals, and making sure you have everything you need, can make a huge difference. Oh, and get yourself a slow cooker if you don’t have one. You will most definitely need a slow cooker. Don’t want to spend the money for a new one? They’re practically a dime a dozen at thrift stores!
There are people out there who are far more pulled-together than I’ll ever be, but I like to take manageable tidbits from their social media accounts, which are like master classes of organization and productivity! Sure, it sounds counterintuitive to scour social media for tips on maximizing your time, but seeing and hearing about it from someone else can be inspiring in a way that simply thinking about getting organized is not. The “How to GYST” (I’m sure you can figure out what those letters stand for!) channel on YouTube is an amazing resource. Or you can just search TikTok for categories like “life hack” or “productivity” or “organization” and find inspiring content like this from Tiffany Moon, MD!
Carpool? There’s an App for That
When you have a kid or multiple kids in sports or extracurriculars, schlepping them from Point A to Point B can feel like you’ve taken on some sort of thankless unpaid Uber gig. (Adding to the long list of thankless unpaid labor parents do … but I digress.) Carpooling with other parents can be a lifesaver — and it helps them out, too, so everybody wins! There are several helpful carpooling apps out there, like Carpool-Kids; you create a carpool, invite other parents to join, and then have a schedule at your fingertips for who’s driving who where, and when. You can even get push notifications in case you flake out and forget.
Organize Outfits for the Week
My friend uses a simple-but-brilliant system to keep her son school-ready with less hassle in the mornings, and I’m totally adopting the habit with my own kids this year. On Sunday evenings they pick out what he’s going to wear each school day during the upcoming week, complete with socks and underwear, and put each outfit in one of five storage bins labeled “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday” and so on. That way there’s no scrambling for clean clothes or matching socks in the morning rush … and you can guarantee that your kid isn’t going to emerge from their room in something hideously mismatched.
Keep Those Papers in Check
Every parent is familiar with the overwhelming feeling of so. Many. Papers. Kids bring home entire forests worth of permission slips, worksheets, fundraisers, and random crap over the course of a week. Before you know it, there’s a stack of clutter on your kitchen table or whatever catchall spot your house has … because let’s face it, every house has that one spot where all the crap lands. Use some sort of organizer — I like thi one! — to separate the papers into categories: things to tend to immediately (like permission slips that need to be returned to school right away), things to tend to within the next week, and important longer-term things like class schedules or informational sheets that you might need to keep within reach for easy reference throughout the year.
Important note: this only works if you go through it regularly! Otherwise it’s just another catchall. Maybe sort through the papers once a week during one of those 10-minute focus sessions?
And finally, this may be the most crucial tip of all for feeling like you have your stuff together (at least somewhat) …
Let Others Take Responsibility
Moms, let me issue an important reminder: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO ALL THE THINGS! Think of yourself in a “team captain” capacity — you may well be the chief coordinator and the one your teammates come to for problem-solving help, but you aren’t responsible for singlehandedly carrying the entire team. Sometimes it deceptively feels quicker and easier to take care of everything yourself, but in the long run, delegating tasks and responsibilities helps out everyone involved. You, because it’s taking something off of your overly-full plate, and your kids, because they are learning the importance of pitching in — and, more importantly, that they are capable. Give them a chore list. Divide household tasks with your partner. Take your parents or friends up on their offer to drop your kids off at soccer practice once in a while.
There is no magic method of miraculously making you feel like you have it all together. Chances are, we’re all still going to feel stretched thin and pulled in 20 different directions — because, well, parenthood. But if you can tweak your lifestyle in one or two ways, and gain enough time to cross something off your to-do list, it just might bring you a feeling of peace. And that’s a commodity, especially in motherhood, that’s worth its weight in gold.