Monday, 16 April 2012

Time saving tips from a busy expat mum

Over the Christmas period I found myself asking, for the 100th time, why are there never enough hours in every week?  Everyone I speak to seems to have the same issue - there are just too many things to squeeze into every waking hour and they all need to be done yesterday!  Obviously, I could take a more relaxed approach to getting everything done but I do not think the relaxed approach is going to work for me. There is simply too much to be done! So, in a spirit of sharing I decided to send out a request to my busy mum, stay at home dads, career folk and expat networker friends asking for their top time saving tips. Here are the results for you all to enjoy.

1: Prepare the night before.  Just about everyone I know has a ritual of things they get ready for the following morning to make it just a little easier to get out of the house. Making packed lunches, setting out clothes, making sure the dishwasher is empty and ready to be reloaded through the day. All these little time saving acts can help you manage the morning rush to get out on time and keep on top of the tasks for the rest of the day.

2: Make lists. Personally, I am a compulsive list-maker and it seems many of my friends are too. I have actually moved up from lists on scrap pieces of paper to using Excel spreadsheets for "regular" lists such as packing lists and Christmas card lists. For lists “on the move” I use the notepad function on my Blackberry. I keep my standard weekly shopping list on my phone and I can then just add extra items as needed.  At one stage in my life, when I was permanently attached to a computer rather than a 2 year old, I used Microsoft Tasks for everything.  Professional and personal tasks would be logged and ticked off and I could print a list of all the things I had achieved and feel a great sense of satisfaction. Then print the list of outstanding tasks and come back down to earth with a bang!

3: Freezer storage. It seems we all have freezers full of pre-cooked meals that we produce in volumes sufficient to feed a small army, no matter how many people actually reside in the house!  So many products are now only available in bulk quantities, thanks to the supermarket’s approach to packaging, so it seems sensible to use all the ingredients up and store the excess for those days when there are just not enough hours for cooking too.  Likewise, bread and rolls can be frozen rather than being left to go mouldy in the bread bin. Plus, for those of you with teenagers in the house, there is the need to keep a freezer full of bread to cope with the sudden demolition of an entire loaf following the onset of a chocolade pasta boterham eating frenzy. (I have been warned that no matter where you hide food a rampaging herd of teenagers will find it!)

4: Gadgets and time saving devices.  I would not be without my Blackberry and I know most of my friends are completely reliant on their i-phone or Smartphone.  We use our mobile devices to help keep in touch, make lists, plan ahead, respond to emails, listen to music/audio books and remind ourselves of upcoming birthdays and anniversaries as we work or travel.  This can be taken to various levels.  I know someone who uses her phone’s alarm to time exactly 5 minutes for each of the morning rituals - shower, dressing, breakfast etc. to ensure she gets to work on time.  I also know many people who use their phones to deal with work queries at any time of day or night.  The Smartphone is the ultimate multi-tasking device, perfect for busy lives.  Nevertheless, we have to be a little careful not to become a slave to the Smartphone. It is just a tool after all, it is not our boss!

Many of my friends have a cook pot or slow cooker into which they throw a set of ingredients in the morning and leave it cooking through the day so that at dinner time a fresh stew or casserole can be served quickly.  My personal favourite time saving device is the timer on my washing machine. Since my machine is in the attic, like so many in the Netherlands, it tends to make the whole house vibrate when it is on the spin cycle. Instead of having it running overnight, at the risk of waking the entire neighbourhood, I put the washing in when the kids go to bed and put it onto the 12 hour timer.  Then, hey presto! The washing is going in the morning as we get up and has finished by the time I am back from the school run so I can get it hung up immediately, thus saving on ironing!

5: A good start to the day. The very energetic of my friends start their day at the gym or with a run. This, apparently, releases endorphins which set them up for the day.  Others get up before their families and partners and steal a march on the day getting housework or work tasks completed before the rest of the household disturbs them.  For mere mortals like me just finding time to have breakfast is an achievement!  But this is one of the best ways for me to get the good start I need. Before I have my bowl of cornflakes I am unable to construct whole sentences, it is the essential ingredient to ensure I can function for the rest of the day!

The one thing that amazed me, after I was inundated with responses to my requests for timesaving tips, was how in all the craziness and chaos of our hectic lives we can still make time to help each other out.  The busiest people are often great collaborators, they will make time to write an email with useful tips for everyone to share.  They are also very disciplined and organized, no matter how chaotic our lives may seem.  Just getting out of the house each morning for school, work or to do the shopping requires a phenomenal amount of planning and preparation and we often overlook this effort.  It is too easy to spend time berating ourselves for being disorganized, forgetting birthdays, and taking three attempts to get out of the front door with all coats, hats and gloves on the kids.  Instead of focusing on what we get wrong, or how much there is to do, maybe we should remember just how much we have already achieved and be prepared to take some credit for it.

So I am now off to ignore the ironing pile, turn my back on the Hoover and poke my tongue out at the leaning tower of paperwork on the kitchen table.  Instead I will celebrate another article written, another morning of successfully delivering the kids to school on time and the satisfaction of having put all my clothes on the right way round and without any smeary handprints visible on them!

It is the small victories.