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Practical hacks for working parents

By Libby Marks

Being a working parent doesn’t just increase the demands on your time, it increases the demands on your brain. You only have a certain amount of mental bandwidth to process everything you have to do. This can cause stress and a sense of overwhelm when life gets too busy.

We’ve got five top tips to help you reduce your mental clutter, freeing up your grey matter for stuff that, well, matters! Plus 15 hacks for making laundry, lunches and the school run easier.

Make planning a habit

Sitting down to plan can seem like something you don’t have time for. But do you have the time and mental energy for the chaos of not having a plan?

Carving out a quiet twenty minutes each week to plan meals and check what’s coming up for the week ahead can easily save you hours of wondering what to cook, last-minute panic buying birthday presents, or discovering you have to craft the solar system out of recycled materials by tomorrow morning.

If you really want to save stress, consider family planning. No, not that sort! Whether it is using a printed family calendar or an online app, sharing everyone’s schedule helps you spot clashes and coordinate things in advance.

Embrace online shopping

If you’re someone who likes to squeeze their avocados to find the perfect ripeness or pick bananas that are just the right side of green, you might not have embraced online grocery shopping yet. But this one change can save you hours each week.

Fifteen minutes to do the shop, fifteen minutes to unpack it. Compared to getting the kids ready, dragged them to the supermarket, coping with the meltdowns, buying £600 of sweets to keep them quiet… Life really is too short.

Do it in one go

Another way to reduce mental strain is to take action straight away on minor admin – those bits of paper that pile up, get lost and cause a lot of stress. Whether it’s a school note about silly sock day, an invoice for after school club or an appointment you need to make, if you can do it in under five minutes, do it there and then.  

Party invite? Text your RSVP then head to Amazon to order a gift. Pick a birthday card out of your collection and set an alarm to remind you the day before the party.

The aim is to get to the point where you can mentally let go, either because the task is complete, or you’ll get a reminder when you need to think about it again. You’ll feel lighter without carrying around all that ‘what did I have to do again?’ worry.

Make a triangle

Home, office, school, nursery, doctors, shops, parents, hairdresser… Our personal geographies can take us all over the place, meaning more time commuting and less time relaxing.

To reduce the time you spend shuttling between places and appointments, work out the three places that you spend the most time moving between. For most working parents that will be home, school and office. This is your triangle.

Then try to move as many of your other places INTO this triangle. By consolidating your life into a smaller area, you’ll save a lot of time on detours and doubling back on yourself. 

Know your best hours

Early bird or night owl, we all have times of the day that we prefer. Try to build your daily routine around your most energetic times.

If you’re up with the dawn chorus and flake out after 5pm, make sure you frontload your chores first thing.

If you’re like a bear with a sore head in the mornings but come alive after five, use the evening to prep for the day ahead.

15 hacks to make family life smoother

Cooking

  • Plan your meals and make too much – put your leftovers in the freezer for an easy dinner later in the week
  • Create cooking kits – Store food together as meal kits, so you can just grab a box and start cooking
  • Frozen veg is your friend – with frozen onions, garlic and peppers in your freezer, your only ever a tin of tomatoes away from a delicious pasta sauce. Bonus: frozen veg holds vitamins just as well – and sometimes better – than fresh!

 Shopping

  • Stop queuing and start clicking – cut out the queues at the supermarket, pharmacy or bank. Groceries, prescriptions and banking can all be ordered and organised online
  • Set up regular orders – use the same stuff every month? From flea treatment for furry friends to period packs for self-care and sanitary products, monthly subscriptions take a weight off your mind
  • Bulk buy birthday gifts – start a stockpile of presents and cards to match your kids’ ages, so you always have a gift when a last-minute party invite is produced from the school bag

Laundry

  • Store clothes as outfits rather than individual items – great for those bleary-eyed, busy mornings when missing or mismatched clothes threaten to make you late
  • Roll up full school uniforms in a bundle and put them in low drawers – great for helping little kids get dressed independently
  • Start a lost sock sanctuary – use a corkboard to pin up any single socks until their partner is found

 School

  • Prepack and peg – prepack different bags with the right clothes/kit/books for that day’s activities. Put up a peg rail and label it Monday through to Friday, so the kids can grab-and-go
  • Join (or set up) a Facebook group for parents in your kid’s class – you’re much more likely to get a nudge about world book day or a school trip here than from busy school secretaries
  • Tag team extracurricular activities – Kids go to karate with a friend from school? Regain some time by arranging for one set of parents to drop off and the other to pick up

 General

  • Start a ‘to do’ jar – whenever you see something that needs doing but you haven’t got time for, write it down and put it in the ‘to do’ jar. When you next have a spare half hour, pull one out and get cracking!
  • Don’t leave it to the weekend – finishing a week at work, only to spend the weekend doing chores, is no way to live a life. Try to stagger your housework during the week so you can have a well-earned break at the weekend
  • Incentivise kids to help with the chores – The Go Henry app is a great way to manage pocket money. Simply set up their chores and tick them off when they’re done. The kids get the money on their card, which they can spend online or in-store

Libby Marks is a freelance content writer, copywriter and marketing consultant based in Newcastle. Libby works with busy marketers and business owners, helping them attract and engage customers with high-quality written content. She specialises in writing search-optimised blog posts, articles, ebooks and guides, helping websites gain visibility and visitors: www.writeontyne.com. 

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