The perfectly organized day had just begun. The night before, I'd made school lunches, signed urgent notes, and had the kids stack their backpacks by the door. I'd risen early enough to transform myself from bedhead to beauty, greet the sunrise and the Lord, pry sleepyheads from their blanketed cocoons, and keep life moving toward that 7:30 a.m. exodus. I felt as though I'd accomplished it all.
As I stood, coat on, examining the day's "to-do" list, my daughter asked sweetly, "Mom, how come you're wearing two different shoes?"
Peering down, I realized my left shoe had a turquoise whoosh and the right shoe sported a hot-pink lightning symbol.
So much for being the woman in total control! Sometimes I identify with Job, that Old Testament sufferer who moaned, "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle" (Job 7:6). Somehow I have to find the time to take care of my sandwich-generation family (two busy athletic/musical teens, one semi-retired husband, and an 80-year-old mother-in-law living next door), plus work and volunteer in several church ministries.
I don't pretend to be the woman who does it all. But I've learned I can make my limited time count with these six time-stretching principles:
1. List it.
How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life author Alan Lakein suggests dividing our "to-do" lists into three levels. "A" things yield the most value for our time. "B" activities are "maybes." "C" items can wait.
The other day, buying milk was an "A" for me because we were out and my son guzzles nearly a gallon a day. A "B" priority was planning my daughter's month-away 16th birthday (though that's an "A" in her mind!). Steam-cleaning the rug was a "C," but will move up to an "A" when warm weather returns.
2. Anticipate it.
We hung a large calendar near the main house phonethe nerve center of our home. Whenever a family member mentions an upcoming commitment, I make sure the event (and if possible, a related phone number) gets on this calendar. Handouts with detailed information (such as concert schedules, sports trips, and youth-group retreats) go in a clip right next to the calendar. That way, I'm not caught brownieless the morning of a bake sale.
3. Delegate it.
When I can'tor don't want to!do a job, I see if I can get help. Someone else doing the dinner dishes saves me 30 minutes. I also delegate jobs to machines. The crockpot saves time and dirty dishes on hurried nights. The answering machine cuts down on chit-chat, enabling me to respond at my convenience to requests that aren't "A" priorities.
4. Multi-task it.
When we're focused, we women can stack "brainer" and "no-brainer" tasks easily. For example, my cordless phone allows me to bake cookies, file off a ragged nail, or fold laundry while I take care of a caller. I consolidate a dozen errands in one fell swoop through town. Or I put "to-do" items (return library books, recycle cans) in the trunk to catch when I'm in the area.
5. Simplify it.
I've found that something done at 80 percent is better than something waiting to be started. When I write thank-you notes or letters, I don't try to earn a Pulitzer Prize. My handwriting may be scrawly, but at least I show appreciation or keep in touch.
6. Energize it.
It's also helpful to know your "prime time," that time of day when you have the most energy and brainpower, and "grind time," when you can handle busy work but not much mental stress. We also need "unwind time," when we relax to re-energize.
My body chemistry peaks in the morning, so I use that for my most important "think" tasks. I reach my desperate low about 2 p.m. That's the time I take a walk or fold the laundry. Or, if I can, I sneak in a 20-minute "power nap."
The other morning, my teens and I were again in a hurry to get them to school. (This time my shoes matched!) "I need poster board for a class project tomorrow," my daughter remarked from the back seat.
"Write it on my to-do list," I said, handing her the day planner I keep in my purse. An hour later, having picked up her poster board while on another "A" errand, I walked into her room to lay it on her unmade bed.
What was the best use of my time right then? Well, it was a perfect day to spend three minutes helping her out by making her bed. After all, she's the perfect candidate to whom I can delegate my "C" job of dejunking the car!
Jeanne Zornes, a speaker and author of seven books, including Spiritual Spandex for the Outstretched Soul (Shaw/WaterBrook), lives in Washington.
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