Before I became a mother, I felt like I had all the time in the world. When someone told me they didn’t have time to do x or y, I would secretly think they were making an excuse; they were either not interested or it wasn’t a priority for them.
Oh, how things have changed since. After my daughter was born, one of the things I struggled with the most was not having the time to do everything I wanted to do. Before she was born, I had a full-time job, managed a startup that I co-founded, did consulting on the side and maintained a personal blog. And I still had time to have long afternoon naps on weekends, go shopping, eat out and do all that leisurely activities.
I am no longer doing all those; my consulting days were long gone, the only thing that remained from my startup was the domain name and those long afternoon naps are now a distant memory. The good thing though is that I have learnt enough in the past few years to manage my time well so I don’t feel like I am playing catch up all the times.
I originally named this article, Helpful Hacks to Find More Time in Your Day, but I thought it may be a bit misleading because we all have 24 hours in the day and nobody gets more than that. I am also more interested in learning to be efficient, productive and having a work-life balance instead of working hard and working non-stop every waking hour of my day.
So let me share with you five helpful hacks that will help you get more done and make you feel like you suddenly have more time in the day.
Introduce a structure
Having a structure allows us to be more productive because we are not aimlessly thinking about or looking for things to do. When putting together a structure, I try to be as specific as possible and even estimate how long I think I would need for each task. The above screenshot is my weekly structure for my outside-work activities, ie: activities that are not part of my full-time job. This way, each day I know exactly what I need to do and how long I need to spend. I also have a similar weekly structure for chores around the house like ironing, cleaning, cooking, etc.
Take advantage of apps/tools
You might have noticed that I have also put timestamps next to some the tasks in my weekly structure. I work as an Engineering Manager at a technology company in Sydney and there is no way I am going to step out of my day job to perform social media activities, send a newsletter, or work on my article during work hours.
So what is my secret, I hear you ask? I use apps and tools to help me. I usually do all the outside-work activities while I am on a commute, which takes close to 2.5 hours each day and after my daughter sleeps at night. I have about 2–3 hours between her bedtime and mine. Then, I schedule the heck out of them.
My tools of the trade are Google Docs for lists, Buffer and Hootsuite for social media management and MailChimp and MailerLite for email marketing. I am also more of a night owl than a morning person so I really cannot be bothered tweeting or posting a status update at 7 am in the mornings.
Writing everything down
So far, I have talked about having a structure and a system, but that is not enough. Those days when I woke up fully energised or came home after a day of work but still felt like I could keep working for another 8 hours are now far and few. I have learnt that if I wait for motivation or inspiration to strike me, it is not going to be very productive.
Remember, unlike my old life, I am now a working mum and there are a million plus one things in my mind; things that I never used to think about such as what to put in my daughter’s lunchbox, when to organise a playdate, what to get for her friend’s birthday, how to be more patient when I help her with homework, how to encourage her to do certain things were not part of my life back then, but are now very much a part of me and what I think about.
But that doesn’t mean I have lost my ability to come up with ideas or be inspired anymore. They just happen fewer. So when I have an idea, I quickly write it down, on my phone, on my notebook or any surface. And then, I put them all together in one place, Google Docs, so I can refer back to it whenever I need. I call it my ideas backlog and in my 30 Days Thought Leadership Challenge, I teach about using it and using it often.
Get rid of time wasters
Average daily TV viewing time per person in selected countries worldwide in 2016 (in minutes)
According to statistics, in 2016, Americans watched 270 minutes of TV per day. Australians were also in the top 20, with 188 minutes of TV per day. That means 3–5 hours spent in front of TV each day. I rarely watch TV. I don’t want to say stop watching TV to anyone but think about time wasters activities that you are filling your day with and get rid of them if you can. Fill your day with activities that are more meaningful.
I am no nutritionist and I grew up in South East Asia eating rice for 3 meals a day. But not too long ago, I have realised the truth of “you are what you eat”. When I eat and put crappy food into my body, I feel crappy and tired. When I eat and put fresh and nutritious food into my body, I feel refreshed and energetic. I am still not 100% good with what I eat, but my journey to eating healthy has given me a lot of benefits, the top two being having more energy and enabling me to think better, which definitely help with getting more done every day as a working mother.