Ten life hacks for busy women

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Most people I know are busy. Actually, let me start again. Everyone I know is busy in some way or another! You will be too I bet. I have friends who are mothers and doing an amazing job of raising their children and working at home. I have friends who work full time outside the home who are giving all that they can to their jobs (within reason – no job is worth 100% of your time in my opinion). I also have friends who are home some of the time with their children and then out at work on other days, like me. Regardless of what you do, or how you are doing it, I bet you sometimes feel as if the responsibilities of life are outrunning you right? I know I do.

My current situation is that I am at home three days a week with my little boy (a gorgeous and incredibly lively toddler) and then out at work for the other two days in my job as a University lecturer. I also try to work several hours a week on my interior design business, which includes posting on this blog. In short, I juggle a few different responsibilities throughout the week.

The other day a friend asked me how I find time to ‘do it all’. My first answer is I don’t ‘do it all’ – no one can and I think it’s important to be honest about that. However, before teaching within the higher education sector, I was a full time primary school teacher and if there’s one thing that teachers can do it’s plan. I have some kick ass planning skills if I do say so myself.

So today I thought I’d share my top 10 organisation tips with you. These are my strategies for getting as much done within a week as I can. Some weeks are more successful than others, but that’s life. In the main though, I find that the week runs most smoothly if I stick to these tips…

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  1. Plan meals on Sunday

Each week I sit down on a Sunday and plan the meals that we are going to eat in the coming week. Then I write a shopping list to make sure that I will pick up the ingredients we need for everything. I don’t have time to go food shopping several times in the week and so the food shopping we do has to be well planned. I go shopping on Monday mornings as it’s one of my days at home with Bugsy (this is the nickname I have for my son). Now strangely enough I used to avoid this kind of planning as I thought it was incredibly boring scheduling out everything that you might eat in a week and sticking to it. However, when I say I plan the meals for the week I should highlight that I do, but I don’t stipulate exactly which days they are to be eaten on (unless there are use by dates to consider). Instead I just make sure we have what we need for a certain number of evening meals and then I cook whatever one I feel like that day. The main point is, we always have what we need in the fridge or cupboard and I don’t have to stress each day about what we will have for dinner that night.

2. Use a slow cooker

You might laugh at me for this one but bear with me. I love my slow cooker. My two days in the office are Thursday and Friday. Most Fridays we can get a takeaway as we live in a really large suburb of London, which means we have the lovely Deliveroo guys ready to deliver food from restaurants if we want it. That means that we can get ‘healthy’ takeaways like Wagamamas, which means that there’s at least one night of the week that I don’t need to cook. Great for me as I’m always bushed by Friday night. I’m also pretty tired by Thursday night too though, so I make sure in my weekly food planning that I include a meal that I can throw in the slow cooker on Thursday mornings before I leave for work. I’m really lazy with my slow cooker too. No browning meat for me or partly cooking vegetables before it goes in for example. Instead I just pop it all in raw as I know that after 8-9 hours on a low heat it’ll all be cooked perfectly. My Thursday morning meal prep might look like this for example:

Open fridge. Take out chicken thighs and pre-prepared casserole vegetables. Open packets and tip the contents in the slow cooker. Turn cooker on low. Mix water with a packet chicken casserole mix. Tip that over the top of the chicken and veg. Lid on. Job done.

I can’t tell you how great it is to walk into a house smelling of cooked chicken casserole when you are tired and carrying your work bag, a toddler’s Thomas the Tank Engine bag and a very tired, cranky toddler all at once as you step through the front door. Magic. Also no waiting to cook your child’s dinner. It’s all done. If he eats it that is…

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3. Utilise one hour of quiet time a day

I try and have one hour of quiet every single day. Some days I don’t manage it, but most days I do. I am very fortunate that my husband gets up with my son at 6am and has time with him in the morning whilst he is getting ready for work. This gives me half an hour in bed on my own in the morning to read and wake up slowly. I tend to use this first 30 minutes to read my Bible and think about the day ahead before the crazy begins. I also get another 30 minutes in over lunch whilst Bugsy is napping if I’m at home. If I’m at work then I often go off for a coffee on my own and have a bit of quiet then. Taking an hour out of a busy day may sound counter intuitive if you are trying to be productive but trust me, you will feel much more able to work, or attend to whatever it is you are doing if you have some time out to think. Rushing from one job to the other never does anyone any good. I learnt this lesson when I was teaching in primary school. The workload of teachers in the UK is beyond ridiculous. For this reason I used to go from one task to the next without much time to reflect or think when in school. However I often found that during my commute home I would be able to think of smarter ways to get things done and would even be able to mentally tick off things on my ‘to-do’ list by planning other times that I could get them done the next day. The only reason I could do this was because the commute actually gave me time to think. Now I use that hour a day to think, plan and just generally reflect. It does me the world of good.

4. Schedule in exercise

You’ve heard this one a million times before but it really is important. However I’m not advocating that you get up at 5am and work out (unless you really want to!) or that you go to the gym 3x a week even. Instead start from where you are currently at and add just one exercise session to your week. If you are working out lots already, then of course skip this one. You probably don’t need to work out any more. For me though, I know that I need to move more. I tend to walk quite a lot on the 3 days I’m at home with Bugsy, but I don’t do anything cardiovascular. So last week I started going to a spin class during my lunch break on a Thursday. It’s not 3 classes a week, it’s just one, but it’s an increase for me and means that it’s something else I can consider as an achievement that week alongside the mothering and part-time lecturing that I’m doing.

5. Outsource work where you can – Hire a cleaner

As I said at the start of this post – no one can do it all. If you can afford it, hire a cleaner to clean your home. I have always felt massively guilty for doing this. Or at least I used to, until I saw just how much having a cleaner has helped me! I think I felt guilty as my mum always did the housework when I was growing up and so I assumed that I should be able to clean on the days that I’m at home with my son. It just doesn’t work though. Not for me anyway. Therefore if you can outsource some of your weekly tasks to someone else, why not? Everyone needs help in one form or another.

6. Get food shopping delivered

This is very similar to tip number 5. If you can hire someone else to do the grocery shopping for you and deliver it, do it. I must admit that I don’t do this one often as the supermarket we use doesn’t deliver food. If they did though I’d be first in the queue to use their service! Instead I have food delivered if it’s been a tough week and my son is poorly or I know that for whatever reason I can’t get to the supermarket.

7. Do things in batch 

Remember what I said about teachers having amazing planning skills? Well those skills come in handy when you need to plan ahead. For example, if you have a blog like I do, then batch plan your posts and spend some time writing several at once. Same with social media. I use twitter a lot but spend just 15 minutes on a Sunday scheduling the tweets that I will send to promote my business that week. Those precious 15 minutes once a week means that I don’t need to spend time every day checking in with twitter in order to post tweets. I also only need to really think about the content once a week, instead of several times each day. This frees up my brain for thinking of other things. Important when you are juggling different roles within the week.

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8. Evaluate how you are resting – is watching an additional hour of TV really serving you?

This point is one that became most relevant to me a year ago when we adopted Bugsy. I found the transition to being a new mum a really challenging one. In particular, I didn’t like the fact that I was now so tired! Prior to adopting I used to go to bed around 10.30/11pm but with an anxious toddler who woke at least 3-4 times a night, I was soon going to bed much earlier. Some nights I even went to sleep at 8pm I was that exhausted. I found this hard mentally as I felt that my freedom was being taken from me, in that I couldn’t go to bed when I wanted. I soon realised though that I could still go to bed when I wanted, but I was choosing to go to bed earlier as I needed the sleep! A year in and my wake up time is now 6am instead of 7.30am pre adoption. However, I really like it that way. I achieve so much more now that I have that extra hour and I’m not talking anything high powered like running an online business from 6-8am or anything. I just mean I have additional time to read or do something else that I enjoy.

Part of this change required me to evaluate how I was using my evening hours though. Getting up earlier means I need to go to sleep a bit earlier too. At first I didn’t relish the thought of that but then I compared the extra hour in the morning to my last hour awake in the day. The first hour I have time to wake up slowly before the day starts and read or do whatever else I need/want to. The last hour of the day I was watching rubbish TV that I didn’t even enjoy but I was too tired to do something else. When I started to compare them like that it was a no brainer. I chose to go to bed earlier in order to wake earlier the next day.

9. Don’t overwhelm yourself with goals

This one’s pretty simple. It’s easy to have huge lists of goals that you want to achieve in a day/month/year but when you are busy and pushed for time, these goals can often be a hinderance rather than a blessing. Instead I focus on one or two main goals that I want to achieve and give myself plenty of time to achieve them! For example, one of my goals this year is to increase my income from my interior design business. A big goal yes but I’ve given myself the whole year to achieve it and work on it bit by bit each month.

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10. Keep a record of your achievements – e.g. a book list

In the midst of a busy season – or just a busy life – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and that you aren’t ticking off any boxes. That’s why it’s important to keep a record of your achievements each day. It can be as simple as keeping a gratitude journal and noting 3 things that you are grateful for achieving that day, such as completing the weekly food shop with a toddler in tow, or hoovering your living room. Some days they may be bigger achievements, such as the completion of a work assignment or meeting some other deadline. Either way, if life is hard and all you managed to do that day was get dressed and go for a short walk then I think that you need to celebrate that. Life goes through seasons. Some seasons are harder on us than others. The main thing is to celebrate and be grateful for every little, or big, thing along the way.

What are your tips for balancing a busy life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Claire.x

Images via Unsplash