A Back-to-School Edge for Busy Moms: Time to Think

I found that what gives busy women an advantage is time to think and plan. The key hurdle, however, is that mothers are often bombarded with too many demands; they often don't know where to start.
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By: Stacy Kim

(Image Source: Thinkstock)

Back-to-school season is a busy time for mothers. While family schedules become more "regular" than those of summer, the transition to a new class, grade and/or school can be emotionally challenging for children of any age. On top of kids having jitters, there are forms to fill out and supplies and clothes to buy. It can be surprisingly overwhelming.

Having helped many clients successfully move from feeling frazzled and tired to becoming more calm and effective, I found that what gives busy women an advantage is time to think and plan. The key hurdle, however, is that mothers are often bombarded with too many demands; they often don't know where to start.

To make life more manageable, it always helps to break things down into smaller steps. This requires understanding the difference among priorities, projects, and tasks. Productivity expert David Allen describes an elegant process in his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I offer a "quick and dirty" version here.

First, identify your priorities. These are broad areas of your life that are important to you. Everyone's list will vary, but below is a generic list to help you get started:

- Family and intimate relationships
- Career and personal growth
- Health and well-being
- Possessions and home
- Leisure and spiritual life

For example, I have the following eight priorities: spouse, older child, younger child, Life Junctions (my work), writing (personal growth), well-being (physical, mental, and spiritual), home, and others (other important people in my life and volunteer work).

Second, for each priority, identify your current projects. If you aren't already doing this, you'll need extra time to get started. I don't recommend doing this part all at once, because that can feel too daunting. Rather, do the following for 10 to 20 minutes whenever you have a chance: for each of your priorities, make a list of all related projects. Projects that don't need your attention right away should be listed separately on a "someday/maybe" list of projects.

Continuing with the example, under my "writing" priority, I've listed the following current projects: monthly newsletter, monthly book note, and writing-class homework. And, on my "someday" project list for this priority, I have writing my second book.

Third, identify tasks for your focal projects and for the upcoming week. Each week, simply skim your priority and current project lists, make any adjustments necessary, then select one but no more than two focal projects for that week. For each of the focal projects, list the observable next action you'll need to take that week to move the project forward. Then, scan your project list for other tasks associated with other projects that you must do in the coming week. Add each of those next actions and tasks either to your calendar (to do at a specific time) or to your to-do list (to do as soon as possible).

You'll want to review your to-do list and calendar at least every other day, if not daily, keeping the focal projects in mind. Keep them handy wherever you go. As you complete tasks, check them off. If you think of new ones add them as soon as possible.

Planning out our time and energy forces us to focus on what is important and/or urgent. Doing so helps us make better choices.

[A longer version of this article that included additional tips can be found at http://www.lifejunctions.com/time-to-think/.]

Stacy S. Kim, Ph.D. is the author of The Lighthouse Method: How Busy, Overloaded Moms Can get Unstuck and Figure Out What To Do With Their Lives. She is a certified life and career coach helping high-achieving, deeply caring women and parents balance their ambitions, passions, and energy for the people they love. You can find her at LifeJunctions.com and follow her on twitter: @stacyskim

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