It always happens: I write a to-do list, someone gets sick.
Or, I set a goal and something else goes wonky.
One of the most frustrating aspects of parenthood for me isn’t actually in the parenting: it’s how my goals and control over my own day have diminished.
This year, I’m bringing back some of my best strategies for success pre-kid, with a few post-kid adaptions.
1. Make Three Lists
1. One list is an “evergreen” to-do list of things that need to eventually happen, or you would like to see happen;
2. The second list is a monthly or seasonal list of things that need to happen within that time frame but are not urgent. Monthly or seasonal items might include getting ready for a special birthday coming up, buying supplies for the next season’s house or garden care, or your seasonal car clean/oil change;
3. And then a list of urgent to-do list items or goals.
Also, keep in mind if you need to buy or gather specific materials to complete tasks, and make getting those items their own to-do list note.
2. Prioritize the Urgent
But only at a very basic level, especially if your list of urgent tasks is long. We need to get the urgent tasks done before we incorporate our goals into the mix.
Maybe you need to clean the kitchen – it’s a disaster and you can’t even cook in there as the counters are all cluttered. Figure out what needs to get done ASAP, and what can be put on the monthly or evergreen list. Do just the counters need to be cleared today, or do you need to do that empty-every-cabinet-and-drawer-purge today?
I know sometimes we want to do a job once, so if we’re going to clean the kitchen now, we want to do everything that needs to get done NOW, but when we prioritize the non-urgent tasks, the urgent tasks get neglected and can have some major ramifications.
3. Figure out an Estimated Time for Each Task, and then Double It
On each list, go through and estimate how long each task will take, and then double it.
Why double the time you plan to spend on a task? Because it happens more often than not that a task has parts to it that aren’t realized or considered when we plan or start the task. OR you will get interrupted.
The point with this system is to avoid frustration – if you end up taking less than the doubled amount of time, great! Spend that extra bit of found time on another task or on rewarding yourself for a job well done. (But it’s going to happen less often than you think!)
4. Figure out How Much Time You Really Have
Things are going to come up each and every day. There is going to be something that you didn’t account for in your planning that will hijack some of your time. Expect that, and plan for it.
Also, plan for down-time and quality time with the family every day. I know it can be tempting to want to get all of the work and urgent tasks done first, and then have time afterward to spend with the kids, but a lot of kids will not be okay with that and will instead make it harder for you to get your to-do list done. Fill their emotional cup first, and you’ll be surprised at how much freedom that will give you.
You may find that you only have an hour in every day, between meals, errands, time with the family, and those unplanned distractions — but that’s okay! You’re going to be intentional and plan out how you will use that time.
6. Break Down Your Goals
Look at your goals and figure out what needs to get done to achieve them.
If you want to save money, you need to be budgeting and checking in on that budget regularly, as well as potentially spending time on money-saving tasks.
If you want to learn a language, you will need to dedicate regular periods of time to studying that language. You may want to look into a class, or into researching apps, CDs, or books to assist you.
If any of your goals require research, put a time frame on your allowed research. Don’t let it be a rabbit hole that prevents you from getting to work on your goals earlier.
If your goals have a specific end date, figure out how much time will need to be spent achieving those goals, divide it by the number of weeks you have between now and that end date, and then – you guessed it – double the amount of time that you plan to spend on those goals every week.
7. Balance of Goals and Tasks
Once the truly urgent tasks are handled, start planning to spend a bit of time every day on one of your goals. Even 10 minutes a day will add up to over an hour by the end of the week!
Aim for an increasing balance as you cross more things off of your to-do lists. Keeping on top of your to-do lists will give you more time for goals, and spending time on your goals will give you more appreciation and determination in your tasks.
8. Set the Timer
Be intentional about your time – whether with a to-do list or goal. I like to set my timer to five minutes less than the time that I have allotted for the task, so that I have a five-minute warning before I need to be finished. That five minute window is good for realizing that you might be focusing on unimportant details, and will switch your focus to just getting the task completed.
9. Just Do It.
Stop waiting for the perfect circumstances to start or complete some tasks. Only reschedule tasks if they absolutely need to occur at a different time: no one expects you to clean out the car in the rain, but if it’s just cold out, put some mittens and a jacket on and get out there!
Same with phone calls – there will always be noise in your house, so yes, put the call off while you try to deal with the latest screaming outbreak, but don’t worry about the rest of it.
If you start a task and realize that you need something to complete it properly that you don’t already have on hand, be really honest if something you already have could make do. If you find yourself doing this often, slow down while making your to-do lists, and walk yourself through what will need to get done.
10. Reward Yourself and Recognize What Is and Isn’t Working
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That is completely true with goal setting and managing time.
If one week a new schedule hasn’t worked, reflect on why and make adjustments. It may be something that was a genuine one-off, like a sick child or technology problems, but if there is a systematic issue that keeps reoccurring, you need to add fixing the issue to the urgent list.
For example, if the kitchen clutter keeps reappearing, find out why and figure out that issue: is there a lack of an organizational system that is resulting in the clutter? Is there a habit that is missing that would eventually save time (and sanity)?
What tips or strategies have been helpful for you in goal setting (and achieving)?