How to be disorganized & unproductive, #4: don’t plan your time

This is the third part to a six part series here on Simple Mom.

mom time

Image courtesy of Ohdeedoh

We’re all given 24 hours in a day, so why does it seem like some people can accomplish so much? There are seasons in everyone’s life, to be sure, and a mom with children at home are in the busiest one of their lives. But even when we whittle down our obligations to do what is necessary, and even when we practice the fine art of delegation, we still have a lot on our plate.

That is why the fourth key to an unproductive and disorganized day at home is poor time management. We choose to spend time on what is important to us.

Assuming that getting a good night’s sleep is a priority for you, that leaves about 16 to 18 hours in a day for you to effectively manage. When you look at your to-do list, you’ll need to somehow assign those obligations with hours in your day.

How do you do it?

Because a home manager’s job is full and significant, with plenty to do, it only makes sense that a logical routine to the day would help. Students have a schedule at school, businesses have routines of meetings and tasks at certain times of the day – why not at home as well?

Planning Your Routine

Please notice that I say routine, not schedule. Perhaps some of you work well under a specific schedule, but my day with small children is usually so unpredictable that having a rigid schedule would only counteract the good it intends. But a routine makes room for a flow, a rhythm, and it keeps me disciplined while providing the freedom I need to do things as they happen.

google_calendars.jpgOnce again, in Google Calendar, I have an individual calendar for my routine (separate from my events & appointments). This is where I decide my week’s agenda, everything from when I balance the accounts, to writing this blog, to giving my daughter one-on-one attention for her “school time.”

I used to make a rigid, hard-and-fast routine that I’d force to work for an entire season, or even just for a month, but that didn’t work. Too much would change. Now, I just glance at my “events and appointments” calendar on the weekend, and create a general routine for the upcoming week around those obligations.

Know Yourself

It’s extremely helpful to know how your body’s rhythms work, when your energy levels are at your highest and lowest. I’m consistently at my best and most energetic right after breakfast, from about 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. I really slump in mid-afternoon, and I perk up again a bit around 6 p.m.

Photo by Puja Parakh

Because of this, I plan my most physical tasks in the morning. This is when I work on house cleaning, playing with my kids, and running errands. In the afternoon, when my kiddos (sometimes) nap, I focus on more sit-down tasks like writing e-mails, handling our money, folding laundry, blogging, and language study. From about 5 to 9 p.m., it’s pretty chaotic, with dinner, baths, bedtimes, and entertaining excuses as to why a certain little girl is not sleepy. Once the three-foot-and-under crowd are at least in their beds, I try to get more concentrated writing done. Of course, I struggle with then turning in and going to bed on time. It is a habit I want to remedy.

But my point is this – I’m not fighting my body. I use my energy surges to my advantage, and do those things that require the most exertion then.

Beat the Clock

While having a routine to your day, you should also use basic tricks and hacks to get things done in less time. Most of the time, we need to spend minutes to save hours.

• Track your time online. Tools like Toggl and Rescue Time help track where you’re spending your time on different projects and on different websites (it’s rather painful, too!).

• Send yourself reminders. If the reason you’re never getting things done is because you forget what you’re supposed to do, then send yourself a random email reminder with Hassle Me. Set up a Reminder Feed so that your RSS reader reminds you of your projects.

Photo by Paul Whittington

• Set a timer. Do household chores, especially the painful ones, with a timer set for 15 minutes. Do them as quickly as you can, and see if you can finish in time. It’s surprising how fast chores can be if we focus.

• Menu plan. You all know how I feel about this one – menu planning saves hours, stress, and money, and you’ll cook your meals in less time.

• Write out your tasks. If you prefer paper, I know of a certain free Daily Docket download. If you can manage your lists online without getting distracted, some of the easiest tools are Sandy, Now Do This, and Remember the Milk. Now Do This is excellent for single-tasking, and it can’t possibly distract you with links and superfluous downloads. Amy at Mom Advice recently wrote a good review of different online time management tools.

• Don’t procrastinate. Easier said than done, I know. But we all know how much easier it is to fold a freshly-dried load of laundry than a wrinkled load that’s been sitting in the dryer for days. If you’ve set up a routine and are following it, then you’ll have less motivation to procrastinate – if you purposely schedule in down time, then you won’t be as tempted to slack off when it’s your chore time. The down time will taste more glorious as well – the chores are done, and you’ve rightfully earned the privilege of putting up your feet.

In short, if you’re aimlessly spending your time at home without goals, a routine, or a plan, then you might suffer from poor time management. When it comes down to it, we can’t really manage time, because we’re all given 24 hours. We manage ourselves, and how we choose to spend time. Remember – completely finished projects never come back to haunt you. If you choose to spend time on things that don’t benefit your home, your family, and yourself, then your day at home will probably be disorganized and unproductive.

What’s your biggest time management vice? Why do you think that is? Do you have a plan to “combat” it? Do you have any tricks, tools, or ideas for being a better steward of the time you’ve been given? Please share with all of us.

Start the series How to be Disorganized & Unproductive at Home from the beginning:
Introduction | Key #6 | Key #5 | Key #4 | Key #3 | Key #2 | Key #1

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Cornélie says:

    Let me get a piece of chocolate and think about it… 🙂

  2. Those are great tips. The Google calendar is really helping me. I put my menu in there, and when life happens – hubby went fishing instead of being home for the big Sunday dinner I’d planned – I just move the meal to another time instead of just dropping it and having to remember that I have the ingredients for it.

    My daily schedule is also very fluid, but I think maping out zones based on my schedule at the beginning of the week in a separate Google calendar would also really help.

    Thanks so much for the tips! I am just loving this series!

    Tana’s last blog post…Imagination

  3. Another great, resource-rich post! Thank you!

    I use a Planner Pad for my time management after years and years of Franklin Covey planners. With my career change to full-time mother, I didn’t need the level of detail FC provided, but I needed plenty of space with not-too-much flexibility, if that makes sense….I didn’t have time to figure out where to put things on a page! Planner Pad does a good job of setting out the week’s goals and tasks, then filtering them down to days or even hours/appointments where they get done.

    Biggest time management vice? That’s easy–the computer! That’s also why I really need to stick with a paper planner, so I don’t have to check the computer more often than I already do.

    Amy G.’s last blog post…Sunny Day

  4. GREAT post!

    My biggest problem with time management is not getting my day started off right with the things I needed to do. That throws my whole day our of whack and I have to try to squeeze them in later (for example, when I get up on time I post my blog and read my regular blogs from 8 – 8:30 so I can tidy up after that. Well, it’s 9:46 and the house is still messy. Which means I will still be picking up when the boys get back from the Y . . . and so on an so on.)

    Very helpful! I use your daily docket (swoon) and I think I am going to have to try google calendar instead of the calendar I use on my mac.

    Lucie’s last blog post…Save Money and Sanity – Forget the Martha Stewart Birthday Party

  5. What excellent advice. I found your blog a few weeks ago and I am loving it.

    One thing that helps me is to start my day off with a simple routine – it gets the rhythm of my day going. For me, I exercise and read my Bible, first thing. Sometimes it’s just a few push ups and 1 chapter, but it gets me going and starts me off on a productive note.

    Thanks for creating such an excellent blog.

  6. Great tips!! I’m going to have to re-read this one, and catch up on the previous posts in this series (since I’ve been out of town and am behind).

    Lora’s last blog post…Memorable Vacation Moments, The Good & The Bad

  7. It’s all about the GTD… 😉 Thanks for the link.


  8. I love the separate routine calendar idea for google calendar. I use google cal extensively – but that idea is fabulous!

    Avlor’s last blog post…Uhm, yeah…hamsters and goggles don’t mix

  9. @Cornélie – Grab me a piece, while you’re at it… dark, please. 😉

    @Amy G – I’ve never heard of Planner Pad. I’ll have to look into it.

    @Kat – Thanks for the kind words!

  10. This is wise advice. I find that every time my life changes, I need to reevaluate how to best manage my time. What worked before might need to be different now. And whenever I start to get discouraged, I remember that everyone else gets the same 24 hours too.

    Rachel’s last blog post…10 Strategies for a Big Life Change

  11. Great tips and tools, thanks for this! Time management is definitely one of my struggles while running a business and raising kids.

    Tagged this so I can come back and check out the tools.

  12. Thanks for this series. Would you mind posting a bit more in detail how you do the routine part of the calender. I think I get the menu and events, but I am not sure how you do the routine. Do you put everything you plan to do each day or just a few things? Also do you print it out or do you just keep your calendar open on the computer?

    I am by nature a very organized person and have managed my time and household very well till now. But somehow since we had our 6th child and move into an unfinished house on the same day =) I can not get myself back to being organized. I mean I still manage to get all the neccessities, but I am hurried, chaotic and always stressed. I want my routines back and somehow my old tools are not enough this time =). So I would appreciate learning more about some new tools.

    Thank you from Serbia

  13. I am really trying to figure out some sort of new routine for myself. Maybe I shouldn’t say “new.” I didn’t really have a routine before, but now that I have a newborn, I feel I desperately need one. It’s difficult though, because I’m still figuring him and his routine out. The plan is to map out a routine and adjust as I go.

    The thing that’s most difficult for me is cleaning. I love having a clean house, but it’s SO hard to find the time to do it with a newborn. My wood floors need mopping desperately!!!

    Amy’s last blog post…Time To Work?

  14. I gotta tell you, I read your blog all the time, and this would be the thing I struggle the most with. Well, that, and I get an average of 4-5 hours of sleep a night, which I know isn’t enough.

    Thanks for reminding me, and maybe I can start to manage my time just a little bit better!

    Rachel’s last blog post…Mumma! Mumma! Mumma!

  15. I too really need to be much more organised. Am checking out the various type of calandars and note lists that you have made a reference to.

  16. great input!
    my greatest stumble.
    we are hitting all cylinders, schedules are going great, kids have theirs, hubby his, and mine is full and doing great. Then POW! Kids are out of school, hubby is going to be “working from home for 4-6 months” I love my schedule, adjusting to something more comfortable for others…I become very selfish and angry (eek, soul baring here).

  17. Great post! In the mornings I like to write down the top 3 priorities of the day, once I get those done everything else is bonus.

    Org Junkie’s last blog post…Menu Plan Monday ~ August 11th

  18. @Natalija – Sure, I can, but I also plan on expanding on this in a separate post the near future.

    It’s not a hard-and-fast routine I follow. Usually on Sunday evenings, I take a look at the upcoming week’s events and appointments. Then I take my general weekly to-do list, and fill in generally when I think I might do them. I’ll put “grocery store” on Tuesday morning, for instance, or “balance accounts” on Wednesdays during nap time. Many, many times I’m rearranging all week long, but having a flexible plan insures that I’m at least aware of all I have to do, and that it takes time to do it.

    Does that help? Let me know.

    @Amy – Having a newborn is the most unpredictable time of life! Give yourself a huge dose of grace – it really will fly by, even though it doesn’t feel like it. The time to plan a routine will come before you know it. Right now, enjoy snuggling with your little one. 🙂

    Overall, I hope you ladies are feeling encouraged and not defeated by this post. You all sound a bit overwhelmed! {Hugs} to all work-from-home moms – you’ve got a huge job!

  19. Well that hit home again today. The days that I write out 2 or 3 goals to accomplish I actually feel productive. If I don’t write those simple things, I get very distracted and I end up wasting my time and my efforts ending the day feeling defeated.
    Ok, I’m going to clean the bathrooms now…..and make my list.

  20. Hi Simple Mom,
    Do you have a previous blog entry that breaks down how you use Google Calendar? I’m curious about your strategies for creating ‘calendars’. For example, in your screenshot you have “my blog”….what do you schedule there? I’d like to become more efficient with posting to my blog and using Google Calendar.

    beckie’s last blog post…Stuff I Want to Enhance My Life

  21. Excellent advice as always. My energy has improved greatly since I decided to start prepping dinner in the morning so it’s easier to throw it together at the Five o’clock Meltdown. And, of course, I don’t have to ask myself “What’s for dinner?” every night of the week since I have successfully incorporated monthly meal planning. Yay me!

  22. Thanks, that helps a little. I will look forward to your future post. My problem is that I start to plan in too many places. In the computer I tried in just simple Word, then I though Excel would be better, then I have a spiral notebook for jotting down things, then a household notebook, arghhh. I just can’t figure out how to keep it in one place and spend less writing and planning and more doing!

    Yes, your posts are encouraging. I know everything you are saying already, I just need to hear it again.

  23. I’ve found that not having a ton of commitments really helps. I have a basic weekly schedule (mornings I go do an activity with the kids, afternoons we play outside, I cook dinner while my kids nap…) but it’s flexible enough that I can work with my two little kids.

    On Sunday nights, I sit down at my little dry erase board on the fridge and write out our plan and that helps a lot.

    Kristen’s last blog post…Mommy Takes a Sick Day

  24. Thanks for this series. It’s really useful. Off to explore Google calendar now… and looking forward to the next set of tips.

  25. This post sure hit home for me. Time management, or I should say, mis-management is a big issue for me. I’m a chronic time-waster (enter the internet), but one thing that has really helped me lately is the MITs. Sometimes a couple of hours I after I write them, I think, I don’t really want to do that right now, but I try to stick to it, and at the end of the day I feel really good about having accomplished those 3 things!

  26. I’ve really enjoyed the ideas you’ve presented in this series. It’s been so well thought out, and while some of it I’ve considered in the past it can be so difficult to really think about things and put ideas into action with three noisy, needy little kids loving me all day long! Planning has been such a key for me, I’ll have to check out Google calendar; maybe it’ll be the solution to all those dayplanners I’ve bought but never used 🙂

  27. I’ve really enjoyed this series! Some great tips here. Thanks!

    hair4myprincess’s last blog post…French Braid Using Braids

  28. Thank you for this series! There are some great ideas here. I learned while working full-time, caring for a baby and being in school full-time (I know, crazy) that I really had to be extremely organized, and also learned that I have a lot more free time than I thought. Being out of school now, I am re-learning how to organize my time. Also, I could not live without my Google Calendar; my bills are never late now. 🙂

  29. I have young twins and this is my last week as a SAHM. I’ve always looked at my days in four chunks. The morning, naptime, the afternoon and after the kids are in bed. Each time frame has ideally should have scheduled things, but with two toddlers, it’s very difficult to. get. anything. done. Argh. But, I manage even without time management. I will need a really awesome morning routine starting next week when I take the On Ramp.

    Shawn’s last blog post…The Daring Group Writing Challenge

  30. A “timely” post. = ) I sat down today and worked out a routine on paper. My 4th child is due in October which I know is going to throw us off kilter again. I’m hoping if the other 3 and I have a routine in place things won’t get quite as chaotic around here. I included the kids routines on my paper and will post it for all of us to see.

    stephaniesmommybrain’s last blog post…Summer Fun photo contest/carnival

  31. Ahhh, that would me shutting my laptop!!!!
    Right now…
    Oh OK, after this one last comment, and then I’ll go and do something semi-productive, I promise!

    My laptop’s home is very accessible at all times (the ‘study’ is supposed to be a formal dining room – complete with carpet – not too practical when you’ve got a three year old!), and I find it very easy to ‘net away an hour (or two!) of my day… And this can be more than once a day if I’m truly honest!

    I too use my trusty Google calendar for almost everything (I love the colour coded calendars all displayed on the one), but for me, I have to go paper for the house ‘stuff’ I need to get done throughout the day…

    Referring back to my online calendar just gives me yet another opportunity to get lost for a while in the www!

  32. Just found your blog! Everything is so interesting and I especially like the google calendar. Got to try that right away!

  33. Well, I think the net is definitely a time sucker. Even when I use the excuse that I’m surfing for stuff that’s helpful – it may be true, but I still spend way more time than I need to!

    I just tried the 15 minute timer trick to do the dishes, clean out the fridge, sweep the floors, and fold and put away the clothes. And they’re all done! More often than not, before the timer ran out, which was surprising. Now, all I need to do is set myself a timer next to this computer, for 15-30 minutes, and restrict myself to once or twice a day. That’s only how long it takes to check all my favourite sites anyway.
    Thank you so much for sharing everything you do on this site – it’s such a blessing!!!!

    Helly’s last blog post…finally

  34. I struggle with procrastination doing chores that I hate, namely cleaning the bathtub and toilet. My solution? I rearranged my chore schedule and do toilet and bathtub first thing on Monday morning. I’ve already had a chance to relax and enjoy the weekend, so on the first day of the week when I’m fresh seems the best to do the chores I like the least and the rest of the week I can enjoy a clean bathroom knowing that I don’t have to clean it until the following week.

    Monica’s last blog post…Should I or Shouldn’t I

  35. I tried out the Google calendar and then I tried the Remember the Milk lists and found out that you can use them together! It even works with gmail! Much easier than two different sites! I wrote about it on my blog:

  36. Holy moly I needed to read this.

    My biggest time management problem is the continual changing of my schedule. I’m a single mom and full time student; which means we have one schedule for 15 weeks, another for 7, no commitments for another 7, and then a new term for another 15. Since it takes me a good month to adapt and another month to establish good routines, and then they have to change again at most two months later, I tend to give up quickly on the idea of organization. Which is a shame, as life works much better when I’m diligent.

    Thank you for your suggestions. I see many areas I can improve and make the chaos of our current situation more manageable.

    Michelle’s last blog post…Style Finder

  37. Another time management tip a very wise woman once told me speaks to the larger picture of managing our time. She said, “know your cycle and plan for it.” She went on to explain that whenever it was in her control she tried to avoid planning big events, major projects etc. during her cycle when she knew she would be more tired and more easily overwhelmed. It is not always up to us when certain things happen or must be scheduled, but if we know that we are in for a hormonal week we might consider another time for the mass overhaul of the kitchen or 20 people for dinner. is a great online tool for tracking that. It can even send you a reminder a week or so ahead of time (you set the reminder time) and after tracking onsite for a few months will project when you will have your cycle for the next six months.

  38. The time tracking software I use is OroTimesheet. I helped me a lot and I can say for sure that I am most aware now of where my time goes. I would recommend trying it for free… just visit

  39. Vincent Churchil says:

    Simple. When you dont manage time, you become unproductive. Rather, if you start tracking your time and day to day activities you get the most out of what you do. Hence we use Replicon time clock software for time tracking.

  40. I´ve used primaERP / TIME TRACKING and I thing it´s the best choice. For personal use it´s free with all features.
    It´s located at

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