Time-management strategies for working parents

I am sure you've heard the saying, “A mother's work is never done.” This is especially true for parents who continue working after they've had kids. Even after putting in a full day on the job, working parents still have a variety of things that have to be done. In fact, finishing up your day job usually means beginning work on a second wave of responsibilities.

If you're like me, your second job might include things like making dinner, cleaning up, bath time and helping with homework. Of course, the laundry that's been in the dryer for three days desperately needs to be put away. And the fact that you're out of bread and milk means that a trip to the store is in order. Despite the best effort of any working parent, it can be a daunting task to get everything done.

Giving Myself a Break

Although I can sometimes be a perfectionist, I try not to be too hard on myself. After all, my house is pretty clean, and the toys are & usually put away. I make dinner most nights and I love on my kids every chance I get. But, even though I seem to manage things quite well from an outsider's perspective, my internal judge feels otherwise. I've certainly experienced my share of “inadequate” feelings.

In fact, my mother called just the other day to see if I forgot to invite her to my daughter's birthday party. I panicked. I had completely forgotten the fact that my daughter's second birthday was only a few weeks away. I quickly scrambled to invite family and friends and hoped that the short notice wouldn't be too much of a problem. Even though I'm sure it will turn out fine, I decided then and there that I needed to become more organized when it comes to how I divvy up my time.

Asking an Expert for Help

To gain some perspective on how working parents can make the most of their situation, I reached out to author Laura Vanderkam for help. Laura is the author of “What the Most Successful People Do at Work,” “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” “All The Money In The World,” and “168 Hours.” Her work has also appeared in USA Today, CBS MoneyWatch, The Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, Prevention, Fortune.com, and many other publications. In addition to being the mother of three small children, Laura writes about many topics including time management, financial planning, and a variety of workplace and career issues.

Here is some of Laura's advice for fostering a healthy work-life balance, properly managing your time, and the coping with the benefits and drawbacks of being a working parent:

1. Keep a time log. Laura says that whenever people ask her for advice, she always suggests that they keep a time log in the same way that someone watching their diet might keep a food journal. “Write down how you're spending your time, as often as you remember, ideally for a week. You'll start to see patterns in how you use your time, and you may see that you're devoting lots of time to things that aren't important to you.” She also suggests questioning anything and everything that you've gotten in the habit of doing. “Does the house really need to be picked up each night? It will just get dirty again in the morning, and you'll never get that hour back.” In addition, Vanderkam also advocates taking a close look at your driving habits. “Maybe your kids can do fewer activities or you can organize more carpools. If you hate commuting, maybe you can negotiate to work from home on Wednesdays, so you never have to commute more than two days in a row,” says Vanderkam.

2. Don't multitask
. When asked about how to create a healthy work-life balance, Laura's advice made me completely rethink my current time-management strategy. “Don't multitask,” says Vanderkam. “When you're with your kids, enjoy your kids, rather than trying to sneak in an email here or there. Likewise, when you're focused on work, there's no point stewing over whether you should be doing something else. Once you've chosen to do something, do it the best you can.”

3. Choose a career that is flexible. Laura also recommends choosing flexible work hours when possible. In addition, she spelled out the virtues of working at home as a way to extract more value out of your working hours. “One study found that the ability to choose your hours (and work at home) makes it possible to work a lot more hours — like 50 percent more hours than you could working in an office at set times — without feeling work-life stress. I've found that's true for me. I generally work 45-50 hours a week, but I eat lunch with my kids almost every day, and can pop out of my office to celebrate milestones or just enjoy a snuggle,” says Vanderkam.

4. Working parents can “have it all.” It's just a matter of making the most of the time we have available, says Vanderkam. “If you define having it all as being able to build a rewarding career and a happy family, sure, you can have it all. Many people do. I think you can even have time for hobbies, exercise, and sleep in there as well.” She also stressed the importance of being confident in your decision to be a working parent. “Don't over-think it. Kids need time and money, and as a working parent, you're providing both,” says Vanderkam.

5. Think long and hard before cutting back at work.
Cutting back at work isn't necessarily the answer, says Vanderkam. “One big problem is when women (and sometimes, men) listen to the cultural narrative that easing up on work is the best way to combine work and family.” Instead of cutting back, she suggests accelerating your career to create new opportunities. The additional money that is brought in by working full-time can be used to free up more time to spend with your family. “Cutting back exacts quite a financial penalty — often a disproportionate one — and time diary studies show that parents who work part-time don't spend much more time interacting with their kids than parents who work full-time,” says Vanderkam.

6. Take the long view. Vanderkam also believes that staying in the workforce can be beneficial for parents when you consider the big financial picture. “If you keep building your career, most likely your income will rise, and over time, your childcare costs will fall,” says Vanderkam. She says that parents should view the costs of child care as an investment in their career.

What are your biggest struggles as a working parent? What are your strategies for overcoming them?

More about...Career

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
46 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Carole
Carole
7 years ago

I have always wondered why women’s liberation was considered so freeing. Now it is expected that women have two jobs: the one at home that still needs to be done and the paid job at work outside the home. All that needs to be crammed into the same 24 hours.

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago
Reply to  Carole

?? It sounds like you’re saying a woman’s place should be at home, surrounded by babies, and she shouldn’t have a choice. My husband and I both work and we BOTH come home and take care of the children after work. While I love the fact that my daughters can choose how to structure their lives as adults and whether they will seek careers and families, will dedicate themselves solely to families, or will pursue their careers, I’m baffled on why more choices are supposedly less freeing.

Lindsay
Lindsay
7 years ago
Reply to  Carole

I find it very freeing, to come home after a long day of work and my husband has watched the toddler and cleaned the house all day and he’s cooking a healthy dinner for us.

April
April
5 years ago
Reply to  Carole

I have come to the same conclusion too. Working only mens I have two jobs.

Kay
Kay
7 years ago

As a young, unmarried career woman… there is a ton of conflicting advice out there. So many times I hear, “When you have kids, perfect is the enemy of good enough. Settle for good enough” which I tend to agree with, and I think this article reinforces. But there is also the “Women juggle way too much, work isn’t everything, enjoy your life and your kids” camp too. It’s really confusing. Growing up, my mother worked part time – but she worked nights (as a nurse). So she was sleeping a lot during the day. Although she still says she’s… Read more »

Tonya
Tonya
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

You’re pretty wise for a non-parent 🙂 My theory of motherhood has always been to do what works best for you but recognize that you’ll have to deal with the consequences. I do think your perspective will change a little when kids DO come into your life…you will be more willing to sacrifice your career for these children who mean more to you than anything in the world…but I agree that you will probably have the career both before and after so you need to hold on to those skills.

Amanda
Amanda
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

I will let you in on a secret. Kids do really well in daycare/preschool fulltime. My kids are so engaged and social. They learn quicker and are more comfortable in a schoolike setting. I think the real question is do you make enough to justify the cost?

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

I don’t really think that’s a secret. Any reasonable individual should recognize that most children thrive in good quality, full-time institutional environments. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for every family. Irrespective of the stay at home parent’s potential income, there are a myriad of reasons why people decide to be stay at home parents.

Kay
Kay
7 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

That’s really good to hear, Amanda! I was raised in a household where my parents frequently took pity on kids who had to be in daycare. I’d argue that my parents were running their own form of only barely supervised daycare by having me sit at home entertaining myself all day while my mom slept in preparation for her night shift 3 times a week. I feel like I usually only hear that daycare causes behavioral problems, not helps them! I do think that year-round school would be really good for my kids if I ever have them… and though… Read more »

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

Kay, that’s an interesting point! I did not attend a full-day daycare, but my parents were not opposed to daycare. I’ve often wondered why some parents seem to pity children who attend daycare. When my children attended daycare, about once a year, I would take off a day and stay with my children at their daycare/school, taking pictures and being an additional helper. As toddlers, they did a lot of interesting games that (shh) actually worked on hand manipulatives. I still recall the first day I was there taking pictures, where the girls were playing with shaving cream as a… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

I work at home now and my kids STILL go to daycare. I simply couldn’t get any real work done if they were here.

Regardless, they love it there. They have several cute little friends that they play with and learn from. We have had nothing but positive experiences and it works much better this way.

Lindsay
Lindsay
7 years ago
Reply to  Kay

My husband and I don’t need daycare because he is a stay at home dad, but we plan to start sending our kids to at least part time daycare when they’re about 2.5 yrs old, so they can socialize and have structured, institutional learning experience that will hopefully prepare them for school and make them more independent.

Derek Chamberlain
Derek Chamberlain
7 years ago

One other idea is to get the kids more involved in day-to-day activities.

Have them cleanup a room as their chore. Have family exercise time before they go to bed. Cook dinner together as a family. Just yesterday, our 4-year old daughter was so prod that she helped mommy put the chopped up carrots in the salad.

By involving the kids in the daily chore, this enables you to get your work at home done while also spending time with the family. Make the kids turn off the TV!!!

Hoping to Adopt
Hoping to Adopt
7 years ago

This works once the kids are old enough to really help. In the long run, teaching children how to be productive members of the household can pay of. However, at the early ages it takes an investment of more parental guidance to get them involved in the household chores.

Carol
Carol
7 years ago

Yes, it definitely takes longer when the kids “help.”

Matt Becker
Matt Becker
7 years ago

Wow, I really couldn’t agree more with most of these tips. A few months ago I started keeping a time log and the information was kind of staggering. I was spending so much time switching between tasks that my focus on any one task was really pretty awful. Since then I’ve been working really hard to “single task”, giving all of my energy to whatever I’m doing in the moment, whether it’s working on a specific project or playing with my son. I’m far from achieving the proficiency I want in this area, but I’ve definitely noticed improvements and it’s… Read more »

Derek Chamberlain
Derek Chamberlain
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt Becker

Wow, that sounds like your wife has a good thing going with the part time job as well as taking care of the kids. That’s awesome that she has this flexibility!

Brad Moore
Brad Moore
7 years ago

Holly…..great stuff! I recently decided to only check my e-mail twice a day and it has made a huge difference! Otherwise, I respond to one e-mail after another and never get anything done. I think that goes along with what you wrote about multitasking. Again..great article.

Brian Porter
Brian Porter
7 years ago

As you know, Holly, we have 6 kids… We both work full-time… we have 5 of the kids in extra-curricular activities… We just treat each day as 1 day, each week as 1 week, etc. We do have quasi-flexible careers that allow us to make it work – and that’s really the game changer. Without that, you can’t even try to make it work in our family… Keep up the great work!

BPP

krantcents
krantcents
7 years ago

Our solution was that everyone pitched in. We hired out the house cleaning and our children when they were old enough helped prepare dinner. I helped my wife by clearing the table or helped elsewhere.

Alex
Alex
7 years ago

For my wife and I, our biggest struggle is taking care of the day-to-day stuff while also saving some time for our kids and to enjoy each other’s company (after the kids’ bedtime, of course). After some convincing, I finally bought in to the idea that we’d be much better off paying folks to cut the grass and clean the house — we used to do it ourselves. That alone has freed up so much time that I don’t think we’ll ever look back! I’m hopeful that one day long from now, our two kids (soon to be three) will… Read more »

Jake @ Common Cents Wealth
Jake @ Common Cents Wealth
7 years ago

I’m not a parent yet, but I’m already pretty busy so I can imagine how difficult it is when you are a parent. I think these tips are great. I agree that many parents think cutting back at work will solve their time management problems, but most of the time something else just takes that time and then you’re back in the same spot you started (except with less money).

Waverly
Waverly
7 years ago

Ah, the old “second shift.” One of the reasons I chose to not have kids. Particularly because the great majority of housework and childcare still falls to the women in our society and I am a woman. Noticeably absent from Laura’s list: a partner (male or female) who is willing to share all the second shift chores equally. Holly, how come it’s just a mother’s work that’s never done? How come it’s not also a father’s work that’s never done? Why do these articles always talk about how women are fretting about the kids and the house and career? The… Read more »

Waverly
Waverly
7 years ago
Reply to  Holly Johnson

Yes, your article is aimed towards working parents, but go back and check out your personal pronouns. “I” and “me” figure heavily, not “we” and “us.” For example, it’s on you to remember to send out your daughter’s birthday party invitations. Why? Your daughter has two parents, but it sounds like only you were panicking. The laundry’s been in the dryer for three days, but only you’re panicking. Why? I’m not trying to be mean. I just find that in general, these types of articles very much leave the men off the hook, and almost expect that the women are… Read more »

Windy
Windy
7 years ago

A wise person once said, “No one ever looks back from their deathbed and whispers, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office….'” Which is to say, it’s only important to “have a career” if it’s truly something you love and enjoy devoting time to. Having a career just to fit in with a “have it all” ideal, or just for the money, is frustrating. This seems to be an elite, corporate-level argument. Most middle-class women (and men, for that matter) who work as state employees or clerical staff don’t really have the option of “accelerating your career to… Read more »

Kay
Kay
7 years ago
Reply to  Windy

Accelerating your career doesn’t always mean you’re going to move up the ladder in the exact career track you’re currently in. As a paralegal, you have a really great network of people who are well-connected (the lawyers!). You could, in theory, use one of them to indirectly launch your career, and corresponding earning potential, in a new but still related direction.

People rarely go straight up the ladder when you really examine their career trajectory… it tends to be a lot of diagonal moves.

Kel
Kel
7 years ago

I’m working on establishing a home business now, on top of working full time and raising children. It is extremely difficult to balance all 3 endeavours. My biggest challenge is trying to get some work done after the kids are in bed, as I’m exhausted from the day and want nothing more than to sit and watch TV with a beer in hand. Overcoming this obstacle has been daunting, but th rewards are great, so I’ll persevere! I don’t succeed every night, but I don’t expect myself to either.

Evangeline
Evangeline
7 years ago

I think people need to stop kidding themselves. You cannot have it all no matter how much you rearrage those precious 24 hours.Something or someone always gets shortchanged. You can have some now and some later but never at the same time. I would be interested in reading the counterbalance to this article. There are people who, with ordinary incomes, chose to stress less, work less, laugh more and manage to have a healthy financial stronghold on their future. Those are the people that I want to learn from.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago
Reply to  Evangeline

Wow, what a false dichotomy! There are also people who make 6 figures, love spending time with their kids, don’t particularly have a ton of stress, laugh a lot, and have healthy financials. http://lauravanderkam.com/2013/05/woman-enjoys-paychecks-dandelions-hugs/ The big LV thing that Holly didn’t talk about here is that she’s always stressing that in time-use studies, people don’t actually work as much as they say they work. So accelerating in your career still allows you to have the metaphorical hugs and dandelions. Organization, productivity, and recognizing work limits are important inputs to that balance. Signed, A woman who has it all even if… Read more »

Carla
Carla
7 years ago

They do exist but its pretty rare. Top 5-10% perhaps?

AMW
AMW
7 years ago

That is not true for MOST people…statistics abound…you are in a very priviledged and blessed position….good for you! Most people can not have it all, at least not at the same time. Most people sacrifice things temporarily for a time to have something they want more because they can’t have it all right now.

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago

I do think something has to give for most people. Maybe not when the kids are little if you’ve got good daycare/babysitting options. But by the time the kids are in middle school and they’ve got activities and orthodontist appointments, someone’s career – either mom’s or dad’s – will have to be scaled back unless they’re in the very fortunate position of having a driver or escort to take their kid to all his different things. Or else the child will have his parents’ career choices thrust upon him – can’t do the play or join the track team because… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Laura Vanderkam has been looking at the time-use studies. By far the majority of people do not really work more than 50 hours/week. There’s plenty of time for grocery shopping. Like she says, there’s 168 hours in a week. This hbr article also talks about how it’s really only 9% of working moms who work more than 50 hrs/week: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/05/why_men_work_so_many_hours.html , and those are self-reported hours (and not as accurate as the time-use survey data). In terms of my husband quitting his 9-5 job, that just means he’s self-employed now (which has been for about half a week at this… Read more »

Laura Vanderkam
Laura Vanderkam
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

It would seem that hiring someone to drive kids to or home from after school activities would be cheaper than paying for full time babysitter or daycare coverage when they’re younger.

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Now who’s creating the false dichotomy? Just because people are giving something up doesn’t mean they’re miserable. We very gladly pay people to clean our home and mow our lawn. I also very gladly have pulled back on my career to focus on our family. Meanwhile my husband also has very gladly focused on his career over more time with the kids. Although both of us probably wish there were a little more balance (i.e. I’d rather work a little more and he’d rather spend a little more time with the kids), on the whole our arrangement works quite well… Read more »

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Mom of five, I think we’re not disagreeing here. In fact, I think you’re disagreeing with the person I was disagreeing with– and saying she was making a false dichotomy. My exact point was that you don’t have to choose between dandelions and work (to use LV’s phrasing). You can both have a great job (that you’ve “leaned into”, even as you work less than 50hrs/week) and do a great job raising your kids. And you can be happy doing that! The idea that only 5-10% of women can have both is either ridiculous or, if true, means we need… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago

I’m not asking to be snarky, but didn’t you mention that your husband was quitting his job? If so, and maybe I’m way off base here, doesn’t that mean he can manage more of the home stuff?

Maybe I have you confused with another regular poster?

Evangeline
Evangeline
7 years ago

Nope. No false dichotomy. If you get a call to go pick up your sick child but you’re at work, you have two options. First, you can just get up and go get your child, in which case you could potentially cause a problem at work. That means the job takes a hit. Second, you could make phone calls to get someone else to go get and take care of your child, potentially causing the child to have to wait until you solve the dilemma. That means the child suffers. There is no right or wrong answer. BUT either way,… Read more »

Thomas | Your Daily Finance
Thomas | Your Daily Finance
7 years ago

People need to find what works for them and not worry about others. I guess its easier said then done. But if you want to stay home and spend more time with the children don’t complain about someone at work making xx amounts of money. If you choose the high paying career thats the choice you make if you feel you are missing out on seeing your child at school and school events. Maybe you can have it all it takes time patience and planning.

Marcy
Marcy
7 years ago

http://www.flylady.net helps me with time and home management. Some folks might find it helpful.

Kristen
Kristen
7 years ago
Reply to  Marcy

Wish they had a flylady for men. It seems so geared to stay-at-home oms and really turns me off. I’m the major breadwinner in our family, work long hours and some weekends/holidays, and my husband has cut back to part time to stay home with our daughter a few days per week. He rarely gets housework done, and I’m always the one that stresses about it and eventually gets it done.

BH
BH
7 years ago

We make it work with morning pre-school, then our son is picked up by our full-time nanny whose responsibilities include laundry, dishes and grocery shopping for our family. This allows us to work long days (60-70 hour weeks). When we are with our son, we’re reading to him or swimming with him or just totally focused on him. I know most people including my parents say we work too much, but I don’t know. I justify it in my mind by the fact that the time we spend together is quality time. And paying for a nanny who picks up… Read more »

Jacq
Jacq
7 years ago

I’ve been a working single parent for 25 years, some of those years working *real* 70-80 hour weeks (time logs come with the job when you’re billing hours out). Not including commute time. One of the things I would recommend that I don’t see mentioned is to minimize the needs or requirements of anything outside of work, family and yourself. The easiest time I had in the past was when I rented an apartment vs. owning a house – no yard to keep up, small space, easier to clean. I feel quite badly for young parents nowadays since the expectations… Read more »

self employed
self employed
6 years ago

My partner and I are both self employed and argue bitterly about who gets to work when. I feel like I constantly give ground to him, and I don’t prioritise my own work. When he gets a work day he goes out, I work from home, though, so when I have a work day more often than not he falls asleep on the couch and the baby is crying and pulling at me and I have to sort her out. I wish I knew what to do, I feel like we are losing it

shares