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This week’s guest post is written by fellow mom and writer, Lisa Tanner. Lisa and I have similar ways of managing the (also similar) tasks we have to do each day. I love her advice on freeing up time to write, and am planning to follow her lead and do a chore training and menu planning month this May to smooth out a few more of the wrinkles in our schedule.
Sometimes life as a busy mom feels a bit like The Work Song from Disney’s Cinderella. Between fixing meals, cleaning up, playing with your kids, and dealing with squabbles, there’s always something to do. Or someone calling for your attention. Your responsibilities definitely keep you hopping all day long.
With everything on your plate, trying to carve out time to write can seem futile. You just sit down to get an idea transferred from your brain to the computer, and something comes up. So you tend to the crisis and get distracted with everyday life. By the time you finally return to the computer, your idea has vanished into thin air.
While it may be tempting to throw up your arms in despair and declare you just can’t find time to write until the kids are older, I’m going to ask you to rethink that decision. If you’re meant to be a writer, can you really hold off that long?
A writing career and a busy family are not mutually exclusive. You can have them both, at the same time. It just takes some work. Here are four of the key strategies I use to make writing time a priority as a homeschooling mom of eight. Without these, I would have given up long ago.
1. Don’t Overwhelm Your Brain
As amazing as the human brain is, it does have its limits.
Think about your computer. What happens when you have fifteen internet tabs open, are trying to edit a photo, and keep jumping to your word processor to jot down ideas you think of?
It slows way down. You’re asking the processor to do too much. And it can’t keep up.
Your brain is similar. You can’t keep asking it to work at maximum capacity all the time.
You’ve got to give it a break. Otherwise you risk mental overload and burnout. But how can you give your brain a rest as a busy mom?
By premaking decisions.
Think for a minute about all the decisions you make in a day. Everything from answering the endless questions from the kids to picking what you’re going to cook for meals to figuring out what you need to write about.
No wonder your brain is overwhelmed. You haven’t even done anything yet and it’s already worn out. That’s why premaking your decisions is so beneficial.
An easy way place to start is with a meal plan. Make a meal plan and then stick with it. No more rummaging through cupboards and Googling ideas for meals you can make with three random ingredients.
You can also premake decisions by creating a chore chart for your kids, a morning and evening routine for yourself, and a cleaning schedule. Write your decisions down. Then when it’s time to make a decision, just look at your list. You don’t have to actually stop to think.
Each decision that you no longer have to make during the day frees up that much more brain power. You won’t feel quite so bogged down in the little things, and will have more energy for things like writing. You’ll also be more productive.
2. Have a System of Flexible Routines
In order to find time to write, you must streamline your life as much as possible. Premaking decisions helps. So does creating a flexible system of routines.
Teach your kids what each routine looks like. If you’re teaching them how to do morning chores, walk them through the process and do it with them until they can do it successfully on their own. Then whenever you say, “Do your morning chores” they will know what to do.
I’ve created these routines for many parts of our day. My kids know what needs done after each meal. They have ideas written down to keep them busy during quiet time. Everyone knows what happens in our 15-minute cleanup.
And once everyone knows what to do, you can combine the power of flexibility with your routines.
Move your quick cleaning time to earlier in the day. Shift morning chores behind a couple of hours to accommodate a doctor appointment. Or move quiet time up an hour or so to make sure you get your client work completed on time. If you need to sleep in a bit after a rough night with a teething baby, you just push your morning routine back and cross out some non-essentials from your day.
By creating a flexible system of routines, you free up your days tremendously. You’re no longer dependent on the clock, but instead on the system you’ve created. No matter when you insert these routines into your day, they’re always the same.
Just make sure to talk to your kids about your plans for the day. I gather mine each morning at breakfast and we create our Plan of the Day together. We talk about what we need to do, and also what we want to do. Then we create a quick outline of the day. It only takes a couple of minutes, but this practice has been powerful. It makes sense, because research shows that routines and predictability are good for children.
3. Divide and Conquer
You cannot do everything. To make time to write, you’ve got to divvy up some of the other tasks on your plate.
Kids can do a lot, even when they’re young. By teaching them to help now, they’ll grow up thinking it’s just part of life. So have your kids help you cook and clean. My four-year-old loves making peanut butter and jelly roll-ups for the family’s lunch one day a week. He beams as he passes them out. And though it’s simple, it’s a meal I don’t have to cook.
The other kids help too. I try to pick snacks and lunches they can make independently. They all have morning chores, table chores, and afternoon chores. We all pitch in and work together to fold and put away laundry before dinner each night.
Think about what your kids can do, and then teach them. They might not do it quite as well as you at first, but they will get better as they keep practicing. That’s why I have my kids keep the same chores for a year. It takes about a month for everyone to learn the new tasks. That month is a challenge, but after that, they’re proficient and everything runs smoothly.
Working together relieves the pressure from you, and helps the chores go more quickly. You can then take time you were spending doing cleaning and kitchen tasks, and use it to write instead.
4. Family Writing Time
Each day, we gather in the living room for thirty minutes of Family Writing Time. During this time, everyone works quietly on a project of choice. This is the time I use to create my own content. My kids pick tasks like:
- Building with alphabet blocks
- Putting together the foam letter mat
- Turning a box into a UPS truck and writing a bunch of letters to deliver to siblings
- Writing a novel
- Drawing a scene from a favorite show or book
- Looking for errors in a coding project
- Drawing a comic strip
No matter what they pick, they must sit quietly and work until the timer beeps. Then everyone cleans up and we take turns sharing what we did. The sharing is the best part of this daily routine, as the kids are so proud of what they worked on.
It took a while to build this habit and train the kids to work quietly. You may not get up to thirty minutes right away. I started with five and then slowly increased the time each week. Keep working on it though, because thirty minutes a day, each weekday, is two and a half hours a week.
What could you do in your business with an extra two and a half hours?
Make Time to Write a Priority
As you minimize your decisions and free up time, you need to ensure you use some of it to write. Otherwise you’ll look back and see that you found other ways to fill that time and still don’t have any time to get your ideas out of your head and written out. You must make it a priority, or you’ll always be too busy to write. Keep deciding to write, even if you aren’t motivated to write, and soon it will be a habit.
Lisa Tanner loves helping other moms find order in chaos. As a homeschooling mom of eight, she grew a successful freelance writing and virtual assistant business. Now she loves sharing her time management tips with other busy moms on her blog to help them balance diapers and deadlines. You can also find her on Twitter @lisatannerwrite