How to Simplify Your Schedule (and still Conquer your Goals at Work and Home)

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If you’re anything like me, your original time management and goal-tracking method was to put your appointments on a calendar, write a to-do list on a piece of paper, check things off as you did them until the end of the day, and move what was left to tomorrow’s list.

But add husband, kids, job and home to the mix, and that to-do list was never, ever going to be completely checked off! The thought of a forever to-do list is just sad, don’t you think?

So let’s talk about some ways to get the right things done (in other words, conquer your goals) while still simplifying your schedule.

Prune your commitments.

Be extremely picky about your committee involvements, PTA volunteering, and work deliverable promises. We’re not in high school anymore, so don’t be pressured by those moms to help with every event happening at school this year! That way, when you do volunteer, you’ll do so when you have the time and energy to give 100%.

In fact, it’s become a habit of mine to say “Let me think about it to make sure I can commit” before I say yes or no to requests for help, even if it’s something I really want to do. This way, I take a little time to consider how my family and my work would be impacted if I were to take on this commitment.

Prune your kids’ commitments.

This, of course, is especially true when you have multiple kids, and you need to drive each of them to every class and playdate.

When our kids were in elementary school, we enrolled them in piano (our choice) and one activity of their choice each semester or year. We also kept things local: no farther than 20 minutes away. They then had “free afternoons” when they could have play dates or just free play time at home. We still relied heavily on friends and carpooling, but it was manageable.

Plan the meals.

Whether you cook or not, just knowing what each meal will be during the week will save you the mental hassle before and after school, work, or practice.

The way I do meal planning is utterly simple: I decide what, in general, I want to make (eggs with mushrooms, salad with tuna, salmon with roasted veg) and I add this general title (or a recipe)to the calendar on my phone at the appropriate meal time.

When I make my grocery list for the week, I decide which specific ingredients I need to buy (salmon, broccoli and cauliflower, dill, baguette, eggs). You can do the same with takeout by pre-deciding what takeout to get at the beginning of the week based on what you know about prep and delivery times (especially on busy weeknights when parents and/or kids may have evening activities).

Use time blocking.

Once you’ve identified your Big 3 – three accomplishments for the day and three goals for the week (for more guidance on this, read Accomplish More by Focusing on Less), block the time on your schedule.

Before I started time blocking, I was incredibly detailed with my daily schedule.

Monday
6:15am Wake up
7am Drive kids to school
8am Work out
8:45am Drive to client
9-2 Client work for Mr. and Mrs. X
2-2:30 Drive time and lunch
2:30-3:30 Deep clean fridge & freezer
3:30-4:15 Pick up kids from school
4:15-5:30 Laundry and tea/reading
5:30-7pm Prep and eat dinner
7-7:30 Tidy up
7:30-9:30 Family time
9:30-10 Catch up with mom and siblings
10pm Bedtime
10:30pm Lights out

written-to-do-schedule

Uh…crazy, right? In fact, I found that if I missed my timing by just 15 minutes, I could never catch up for the rest of the day! And I would become completely dejected by having missed my target timing.

I was also resisting my own schedule when it came to self-care. I’d say to myself, “I’ll work out at some point today. It doesn’t have to be at 8am.” This led to a slippery slope, of course, because taking time somewhere else during the day meant that something had to give. I would then either not work out, or not have as much family time as I wanted, either case causing me to feel guilty.

So I recognized a few things:

  1. I needed an external driver for working out. For me, this was joining a gym at first, then having an online accountability group so I could return to working out at home, which I prefer.
  2. Scheduling my entire day to the n-th degree in 15-minute increments would never work for me.

Time blocking was the answer. Again, this falls so well within my mantra of “Simplify my life.”

Why didn’t I see it before? I was creating more complexity by trying to squeeze everything I could into one day, and then I would feel totally discouraged when I couldn’t complete all of it within the time I’d allotted for each task.

Now, I block time for the major areas I need to work on each day. For example:

Monday

6-8am Family time, self-care
8-2 Client work and admin
2-4 Reading time & school pick-ups
4-6 Flex time: Work and household chores
6-8 Dinner with the family
8-10:30 Family, reading, other chores, bed

Somewhere within those blocks of time on Mondays, I accomplish my Big daily 3. And over the course of the entire week, I accomplish my Big weekly 3. If I didn’t work out before 8am on Monday, I could work in some exercise later in the day without feeling as if I would need to choose between working out and something equally as important. 

(A big factor in accomplishing my Big 3 goals is to limit my distractions. Read How to Stop Being Distracted by Your Phone (7 Helpful Tips) to see how I prevent my devices from distracting me.)

Schedule your to-dos.

I didn’t use a traditional to-do list for a long time, and instead added tasks in blocks on my calendar to make sure that it got done. But now that my work demands have gotten more complex, it’s important for me to make sure I get every single item out of my head. I use my to-do list as a way to make sure I don’t lose track of any task or idea, and these get added to my calendar as needed. That way, I’m sure that all tasks that have to get done each day are actually completed.

For example, I used to write things like, “Make dermatologist appointment” on my to-do list. But now, I add “Call dermatologist-make appointment” to my calendar at 8:30am. A reminder pops up when it’s time to make the call.

Don’t over schedule!

The whole idea here is to simplify your life! So beware of over-scheduling.

That’s why the Big 3 daily accomplishments and Big 3 weekly goals are critical for me. Once I’ve achieved those, I know I can stop working if I want to, guilt-free, and spend time with my family, or walk the dog, or watch an episode of The Great British Baking Show!

Bottom Line:

Simplifying my schedule in this way made it easier for me to conquer my daily and weekly goals, both at work and at home. I no longer freak out when it’s 5:40pm and the laundry hasn’t been folded yet. I know I’ll get it done without sacrificing anything else!

Remember, to simplify your schedule (and still conquer your goals at work and home), try the following:

  • Prune your commitments
  • Prune your kids’ commitments
  • Plan the meals
  • Use time-blocking
  • Schedule your to-do’s
  • Don’t over-schedule!
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Zeenat Siman

Zee Siman is a Professional Organizer and Productivity Consultant eager to help working moms and dads take transform their homes and schedules from chaotic to calm.

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