Tame your time-wasters

There's always more to do than enough hours to do it. But the good news is there are ways to save five minutes here, 10 minutes there — and that can add up to more time for fun with your family. So take a few minutes now and read on for our 30 practical tips on tweaking your time

Morning mania

1 Streamline breakfast prep. Calgary registered dietitian Dayna Zarn suggests getting the kids to set the table the night before. Keep the food fast and simple: Serve toast and peanut butter with an orange, or layer yogurt, cereal and fruit in a glass for a parfait.

2 Instead of fitting preparations for the whole day into those sleepy early-morning minutes, do it the evening before. Some manageable do-aheads, according to professional organizer Valerie Hanson-Large, owner of Tips Tools & Techniques in Halifax:

• Get the kids to pick out their clothes. Take them through the steps: What pants do they want? Which top? Add to the pile until they have it all out — right down to hair clips.
• Make lunches at night (everything except putting sandwiches together). Assemble snacks and drinks.
• Before the kids go to bed, ask if they have everything they need for the next day in their backpacks. Then go and check. Eventually you’ll be able to trust them to remember, but it’s worth the minute it takes to confirm it’s all at the door, ready to go.

The runaround

3 Booked the doctor, dentist and vet all the same morning? Keep track of everything on a family calendar. Some of Edmonton life-balance expert Lynn Fraser’s clients like the Microsoft Outlook calendar; they print and post it on the wall. Others use a whiteboard. “Schedule it all in — car maintenance, cleaning the guinea pig’s cage, changing the sheets, even the date with your husband.” Now you’ll know what’s going on and you won’t have time-sapping last-minute scrambles as you race to the dentist or chase the guinea pig.

4 While folding the laundry, sort clothes by the person they belong to and separate bottoms, tops and underwear (or however the clothes are stored in the drawers). A laundry basket labelled for each child will streamline the process.

5 Hunting frantically for permission slips, book order forms and other parent-phernalia? Nah! Instead, says Fraser, take half an hour (probably not this morning!) to organize a family binder. Here’s how:

• Find a binder. (You may want one for each child.)
• Insert a stack of clear-plastic page protectors from an office supply store.
• Grab that pile of random papers on the kitchen counter and slot them into the page protectors — movie coupons, school forms, hockey tickets, swimming pool hours, info about extracurriculars and neighbourhood events. If you like, use dividers with labels: school, community, church, activities, pets, coupons, etc.
• Practise this: When your child asks, “What do I need for Winter Fun Day?” or “When does the rink open?” you say, “It’s in the binder!”

6 April Almeida of Hamilton, mom of Julianna, nine, and Angelina, four, groups errands together so she’s not dashing from one end of town to the other.

7 Don’t spend a big chunk of your day on chores; get them done bit by bit (you’ll hardly notice the time!). Almeida suggests cleaning in small amounts through the week — one day for floors, one for laundry, one for dusting or windows. (See our cleaning guide for a seven-day approach to tidying up.)

Endless laundry

8 Rhonda Erb, co-owner of Heart of the Matter Professional Organizing in Kitchener, Ont., recommends picking two days for laundry. If you do it every day, you never get a break.

9 To do multiple loads in one day, make sure you can hear the buzzer that tells you each is finished. Or set your oven timer or get a timer you can carry with you.

10 Include any kids old enough to help — whoever is home can throw in a load, move the clothes from washer to dryer, or fold. 

11 Set up a temporary folding station — for example, sit on the couch and use the coffee table.

12 Fold and sort the clothes as each load comes out. After the last load, put everything away — the clothes are all ready to go into drawers.

Arsenic hour(s)

13 Say no to multi-tasking. Ottawa life coach Joan Jesion has a rule in her home: As the kids walk in, she turns the phone off. “If you’re doing family time (and it doesn’t have to be a big fancy activity, maybe it’s just talking to the kids while they set the table for dinner), don’t answer the phone, don’t check your email.”

14 Hamilton mom April Almeida keeps little baskets around the house. “It’s quick to toss in things like outgrown clothing or lost or mismatched items, and then regroup at the end of the week. This also keeps the house neater.”

Homework hell

15 Because it’s difficult to predict how long homework will take, Erb (a former teacher) encourages her kids to get at it as soon as they’ve had a snack and a little downtime. If kids start later, thinking it will take 10 minutes, and it turns out to take an hour (or more), everyone is stressed and dinner — even bedtime — is derailed.

16 Chasing kids around the house to get them settled into homework is a big time-waster. Breaking the homework into manageable chunks may help a kid buckle down. Erb explains, “We can all push ourselves through something we don’t want to do for a few minutes. Depending on your child’s personality, you might say, ‘Just do your hardest for 15 minutes and see how far you get. You might be amazed.’”

17 Consider how your child works most efficiently. Maybe he’s had enough of sitting at a desk all day and wants to be near the rest of the family in the kitchen. Or maybe he’s easily distracted and needs to be set up with a desk in a quiet spot.

18 Hanson-Large suggests creating a portable office for your child — a box or container with enough compartments to hold necessities so your child doesn’t waste time hunting for supplies. Now your child can work anywhere.

19 Professional organizer Rhonda Erb recommends an after-school routine. This saves time because the kids can start their homework or chores as soon as they get home, whether you’re there or not. No more scrambling at bedtime to get everything done. Kick off the routine with a checklist on your fridge: Empty lunch. Have snack. Feed cat. Use a dry-erase marker so the kids can check items off the list for a few days until they get the routine down.

20 Mom of two April Almeida speeds up dinner prep — as she unpacks her groceries. “Before I put the items away, I chop up the produce and put it in zip-top bags or containers. Same for frozen foods like meat — I freeze smaller portions. This speeds things up when I’m making meals and packing the kids’ lunches.”

The dinner dash

21 When Gillian Perry of Midland, Ont., cooks, she really cooks! “I make food in huge batches. When I make spaghetti or chili, I divide it into meal-sized portions and freeze in zip-top bags. All I have to do is thaw and heat and cook the pasta.”

22 Try to plan dinners. Sure, you’ve heard that a million times; if you actually try it, you could save two extra grocery stops a week plus the 10 minutes a day you spend opening cupboards and staring at the fridge, wondering what to cook. Take a few minutes on the weekend (before you do your grocery shopping) and decide what to eat for the week.

23 Jesion advises, “Buy items that are time savers and make sense. In the winter, I buy ready-made salads — the kind the store prepares. They seem expensive, but they’re not because I’m only buying what I need.”

24 Double up. Combine meal making and girlfriend time at a home-meal prep kitchen. In a couple of hours at one of these operations, you can whip up several meals to take home and freeze. At some, you can have a glass of wine and snack and listen to music — it makes dinner prep (almost) fun. Certain franchises come to your home if you organize a get-together with a minimum number of guests. To find a meal prep kitchen in most provinces, go to easymealprep.com, choose Directory, then click on By Location.

Fun time

25 Fit in things that matter to you — this is when multi-tasking works. Fraser says, “It’s important to me to get 30 minutes of activity each day. So when I drop my daughter at her dance classes, I go to the off-leash park that’s nearby. The dog gets exercise, I have a walk and I get to talk to other dog owners. In the same area, I can sit in a coffee shop and read a magazine.”

26 If it’s possible, let older kids get themselves to their activities, says Vancouver parenting expert Kathy Lynn. Consider simplifying your kids’ lives — they may need some downtime more than another set of lessons (which you have to get them to).

Internet interrupted

27 We love it, but the Internet can burn up a lot of minutes. Fraser suggests allotting a certain amount of time — even set a timer to remind you.

Be present

28 The distraction and frantic activity that goes with multi-tasking often makes things take longer (plus it turns your hair grey). Instead, says life coach Jesion, be present and focus on one thing at a time. Why? Because if you’re making dinner but thinking about how you should be sorting laundry or finishing a report, you feel guilty about everything that isn’t getting done — and you knock yourself out of balance. As much as you can, go through the day one task at a time and pat yourself on the back for all that you do!

29 Kid crew

If we teach kids to do for themselves, we save time — eventually. Vancouver parenting expert Kathy Lynn tells us how:

• Avoid doing things for kids that they can do for themselves. Yes, it takes a kid longer to dress herself and pour her own cereal, but in the big picture, she’s learning how to do it for herself — meaning, eventually, you can relax and sip a latte in the morning (sure you can).
• Share the load. Get the family to pitch in (shovelling the driveway, putting away laundry, etc.). Start when kids are young and eager to help. They may not do a perfect job, but you’re accomplishing many things at once: getting a job done, teaching your kid life skills and spending time together. Bonus: Conversations you have while you fix a fence or dry dishes together are often more meaningful because there’s less pressure than when you’re sitting eyeball-to-eyeball across a table from one other.

30 Simple savers

• Coffee maker with timer. It won’t save much time, but it’s easier to face the morning rush when there’s a pot of fresh coffee waiting for you.

• Labels. If your kid’s runners (or jacket or binder or lunch box) has his actual name on it, there’s a good chance it might get returned to him without you spending time up to your elbows in the school’s lost and found (ew). Look at mabel.ca or stuckonyou.biz for instant labels for every possible item that your child can leave behind.

• Internet. Yes, it can gobble up time if you aren’t careful, but online banking and (sometimes) shopping sure beats standing in line with little ones.

• Hired help. An extra pair of hands can save you tons of time. Consider asking a teen to watch the kids while you do a whack of errands, unaccompanied. Or look into a personal concierge service. Believe it or not, almost any job you do (shopping, errands, finding a contractor, etc.) can actually be done for you. Check out canadianconciergedirectory.com for household help.

• Shopping list. It wastes time to go to the store and come home without the items you went for. Check out todaysparent.com/grocerylist for a printable shopping list.

• Carpools. They won’t organize themselves, but sometimes all you have to do is ask. Next time you’re waiting around at Brownies or basketball, ask other parents if they’re interested in driving less.

• Don’t-call list. Cut down on those nuisance calls. Get yourself on the National Do Not Call List at lnnte-dncl.gc.ca.

• Call display. Let voice mail pick up your less important calls.

• Virtual meetings. If you’ve got volunteer commitments, push for conference-call meetings and save travel time.

• Standing dates. Make it routine to get together with friends or family and write dates on the calendar. Then it’s just one email to confirm your monthly pizza supper, rather than five to negotiate a date and activity that works for everyone. (And kids love a good routine.)

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