Thursday, 20 December 2012

Adjusting your organisational style to full-time parenting

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have figured out ways of getting things done. I have always been a devotee of paper-based planning, Filofax in particular, and I always felt pretty organised.

The problem is, when my life changed, the way I planned my life needed to change too. A to-do list takes on a new meaning when you have a baby who doesn't keep to a schedule, or a toddler who chooses to throw a tantrum in the middle of an important phone call. And so much time management advice is geared towards people working in office roles, if you don't fit that box there is not much help out there.

I learnt the hard way that managing time means something different at different stages of life. The top five ways I have changed are:

  1. I've learnt to put first things first. Clean clothes to wear and good food to eat for the family have to be absolutely top of my list of priorities. Without caring responsibilities, if you decide to skip lunch or eat cake for dinner, it's up to you. But with little ones in tow, it's not an option.
  2. I've learnt to be flexible. I have a few fixed points in my day (the school run, doctors appointments) but apart from that I split my day into morning / afternoon / evening rather than planning specific times. It saves a lot of stress.
  3. I've learnt to use the TV judiciously. Our kids don't watch much TV. That means that when it does go on, they see it as a treat and really like to watch - allowing me complete an urgent task. And I don't watch much TV - I schedule the few programmes I like to watch in my planner, leaving my evenings free to get on with stuff I need to do. 
  4. I've learnt to accept the natural rhythms of my day. The hour before dinner is not a good time to make a long and complex phone call.
  5. I've learnt I still need to use my Filofax religiously, make to-do lists, and schedule my time. The whole family is happier when there is a plan - the children love knowing what is going to happen next, and it gives me a sense of structure.

Using Daytimer Hotlist sheets in a Filofax

Most Filofax lovers at some point find that the limited range of inserts get a bit dull. That's when a glance at the main brands making Filofax-compatible systems can pay off.

Daytimer is an American company well known in the US but pretty much invisible here in the UK. Their Portable size binders and inserts are exactly the same size as Filofax personal size, and one of their products I have seen mentioned are their Hotlist sheets:

I ordered these from the Daytimer UK website. Shipping was expensive and slow, and the prices displayed do not include VAT which adds another whack on at checkout. However, I wanted to give these a try to see if they help in prioritising my to-do list.

The sheets are double sided, and each pack comes with 2 pads of 24 sheets. As you can see, they have 2 sets of holes, so you can keep them facing the right way round in your binder whether 'Today' is on the left or the right hand page. There was not a colour choice on the website (although I believe they do come in yellow as well) but luckily the blue they sent goes really well with my blue personal Domino.

I've been trying these out this week, keeping one in my current diary page:

As you can see, I highlight things I've done (rather than cross them out) and as I mark off each one, I am trying to add just one or two more - so I never have more than 4 tasks in front of me at one time.

Being at home with small children means a traditional to do list just does not work - a carefully structured schedule with prioritised tasks goes out of the window when someone is mashing banana into the sofa. I found that the things on my regular to do list were getting lost in amongst the laundry and chaos of caring for babies. Keeping a few key tasks in front of me, in my Filofax open on the kitchen counter, means I am able to aim to get at least 3 of my to dos DONE - every day.

The hotlist sheets are a great idea. Unfortunately my highlighter bleeds through to the back really badly, and I think they were overpriced for what they are (at least from Daytimer UK - they may be more reasonably priced in the USA). I'll enjoy using up the rest of the pads I have, but then? I'll use a sheet of regular cheap personal sized notepaper sliced in half lengthwise with an extra set of holes punched in it. There's nothing so satisfying as Filofax thriftiness.