Parents, you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

Or just as likely, we’ve got questions and you’ve got answers.

Challenge: Open Discussion

Picking Days - How to Organize Your Focus

Vote up!
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Email this article

This article is written by Karissa Tunis For more on this topic, check out the full Get Organized collection

Being a Mom is very rewarding, and yet it is also the hardest job in life! Weather you are a stay at home mom, a work from home mom, a work out of the house mom, a single mom, a married mom, a caregiver, or any other combo; trying to juggle life and raise a little one has its challenges! But don't get me wrong, I would not change it for the world!

However, a few years ago, I tried to come up with a system that would allow it all to feel a bit more manageable. Through lots of trial and error, we have found a system that works for us in this current phase of life. We still don't get it right 100% of the time, but I can honestly say that I feel better in control of my time now than I did a few years ago.

I am lucky and blessed to be a Stay At Home + Work From Home Mama. It gives me a lot of flexibility, it allows me to be a part of everything happening at home, and it saves us a lot of money on daycare and babysitters.

However, it also has its own unique set of challenges - just as working outside the home, or many other work/lifestyles do as well. No matter how you live and/or work, there is always a juggling challenge.

If you leave the house to go to work, then you know that your primary focus in your office is your work. That can be very hard when you feel needed at home (trust me, I used to work outside of the house so I can relate). And when you do finally finish your work day, there is so much waiting for you at home that needs to be done - and yet all you want it that quality time with your children.

When you work from home, the unique challenge becomes trying to stay focused. Like today, my kids had a school delay because of bad weather. I am lucky enough that I could accommodate this easily. But I am now working much later in the day than I had anticipated. There are dirty dishes in the kitchen, laundry baskets waiting for service, Lego pieces scattered - my kids loved that extra two hours at home this morning, a dirty floor that needs vacuumed, and the list goes on and on.

Free Printable: Weekly Time Blocking

Even if I managed to keep a spotless house at all times, with 3 young kids and several pets there is ALWAYS something that I could be doing!

A few years ago I realized I was trying to juggle a lot. I was a stay at home mom, work from home mom, wife, friend, school volunteer, sister, aunt, etc. I was trying to start a new business and say yes to everyone around me. Eventually, I realized that my focus was in too many places. Each day I felt like I was trying to do and be so many different things, and yet I couldn't do any one of them to the best of my abilities. And then when I thought about all the areas that I was not performing as well as I had hoped, I got even more mad and discouraged with myself.

I was on a vicious hamster wheel of over-committing and under-performing. I was home all day so you might wonder, or even have the guts to ask "what DO you actually do all day?" The answer was simple and yet complicated: "I spent all day doing something, and yet I felt like I got nothing done."

Some days I wished that there would be no dirty bottles to wash, countertops to wipe, dishwashers to unload, breakfasts to be made, laundry to be sorted washed and folded, bathrooms to clean, floors to vacuum, toys to pick up, kids to dress, hair to brush, fights to break up, dirty bottoms to wipe, pets to feed, and the list goes on and on. Most of these tasks sound simple, but reality was that usually every single one takes about double or triple the time because there was always a distraction or interruption.

Some days it took an hour to just unload the dishwasher because I had to stop to get one of the kids a snack, the other a drink, let the dog scratching at the door outside to poop - but only after I picked up the toys by the door so that I could actually open it, and so on and so on.

But I realized that there are only three ways around this -

  1. Hit the lottery and hire a staff of professionals
  2. Give up the kids, pets, husband, and house
  3. Or, Learn to better plan my time

Well, I'm not lucky enough for #1, #2 would be really awful and boring, so I decided on #3. This mamma was going to try to survive and juggle it all!

What I learned are several things. First, it does get easier - I PROMISE!! The older your children get, the more independent they become. Now it doesn't take me an hour to unload the dishwasher - in fact, my kids are old enough now to help! So to all the moms with young children - hang in there! It won't be like this forever!

Also, I realized that I need to set priorities each day. Some days my focus needs to be on my house, especially when there is a blanket of dog hair across my wood floors. Other days I need to focus on my business, and most importantly I need days to focus on my kids.

Because I stay at home, every day is filled with my children's needs, but the way I structure my focus throughout the day is very different. And just like you plan doctor appointments or work meetings, I now plan my focus for each day.

So here is what I have found works best for me, my littles, our lifestyles and our personalities.

House Days:

Almost every week I plan a day where I (and the kids if they are out of school) can stay home all morning and afternoon to get things done.

I give them 1 room assignment at a time to pick up. I usually have them start in their playroom. This way when they are finished with all their other jobs, they can go back to their playroom while I complete my work. Their job is to pick up everything and put it in its proper place so that I can come through behind them to vacuum and dust. Then together we go back through and windex. They love that I let them help with this!

My tips: I let them take a small break after each room or two. We get a snack, run outside for 15 min, grab lunch, etc. To them it would be overwhelming if I said to pick up the whole house at once. So when we focus on one room at a time it seems much more doable. I also try to reward them in some way. Sometimes they get candy, but most of the time I try to do something special once the whole house is complete. If we have a cleaning day because company is coming that afternoon/evening I usually go the candy route. But if we were cleaning because the house just needed it, then I really try to do something for them like going to the park for an hour or uninterrupted time in the backyard playing their favorite games.

I do believe in teaching them responsibility, so I don't reward each time they pick up their things. I only do this when we clean the whole house. Especially if they can do it with a good attitude, then I really praise them for helping me out!

If the kids are all in school, then I ask them to help me pick up everything the night before and make their beds in the morning. Again, not their favorite things to do, but they appreciate that the next day I will be doing the cleaning all on my own. They love coming home to a clean, fresh smelling space, so they willingly do their part to help make it happen.

Free Printable: Project Planner

Work Days:

Other days my focus needs to be on my business. If I have a lot of emails to deal with and the kids are home, I have found that it really helps to "set up" the kids before I attempt to dive into my work.

It is so frustrating to sit down to work on the computer only to have the kids constantly interrupting for things. I quickly find myself saying "just give me 5 more minutes!" Eventually I found that when I try to meet their needs first, and spent a few minutes playing with them, they are more willing to give me some space and time to work.

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved to set up the play for my sisters and I. So for my kids, I will try to set up something they haven't done in a while. An example - my boys love to play with trucks and my daughter loves animals. So maybe I get out all the Lincoln Logs, the construction trucks, and the bin of plastic animals. We figure out where the lumber yard is on one side of the room and where our new zoo building site is on the other end. Then I let the 3 of them move logs in their trucks across the room and build a zoo for the animals. Add a few sippy cups and a bowl of animal crackers on the coffee table and now hopefully they are set for at least a little while.

If your kids are older you could maybe try setting up an easy craft, or get out a bunch of coloring books and art supplies.

Obviously there will still be interruptions. But by trying to meet their needs first (trust me, it does take some thought and extra time/effort) it often does allow more time to focus on my task.

Family Days:

My favorite days are the fun family days! Because they don't happen as much as I wish, I find I tend to pack them full or put extra thought into something special, especially if we can't be away all day.

After breakfast we often pack up and leave with all the dirty dishes still sitting out. For me it's a mental thing. I do like a clean sink, but if I take the time to start cleaning I can so easily get caught up trying to do just one more thing. So for me, and for my kids, I put the food away but leave the dishes for later.

Whether we plan to go to the playground or off to the zoo, I try to make it fun. On one of these days over the summer, we had breakfast and headed to a fun amusement park my kids love. However, once we pulled in and saw how unusually busy it was, we decided to do something else. It was a Family Day, so I was not heading home to do the dishes. Instead, we switched directions, picked up my grandmother, tried out a new restaurant for lunch and visited the petting zoo. We ended up having a really great day! Even though the day didn't go exactly as we had originally planned, we kept the focus right where it needed to be.

And after a fun-filled day you can bet the kids were very happy to let me clean the dishes, fold a load of laundry and check my emails later that evening.

I once had a doctor tell me that it's not about the quantity of time you spend with your kids, but it's the quality of time you give them. I feel I am the perfect example of this because I'm home all the time with my children. But if I don't organize and prioritize my day (cleaning, work or family day) then I feel like I'm trying to do it all but not really focusing on them when needed.

Free Printable: Daily Planner for Parents

Say No:

It's amazing that once I started living like this, how much I actually realized I honestly did not have the time for. Instead of trying to squeeze those extras in, I left the opportunities to someone better suited. It's not fair to take on a task and not be able to fully execute. So unfortunately, I had to step down from a few committees. I now find that volunteering in the kids schools is something I can still do here and there, but I'm no longer running their biggest fundraiser of the year.

I can help with my little nephews now and then, but I'm not watching them every week. I can take my daughter to soccer practice and be at every game, but I do not need to be the assistant coach.

Sometimes we need to say no and be a little selfish for the sake of our family. But as they grow and their needs change, my time will change. I'll be able to get more done at different times of the day, and maybe I can sign up for that committee again. Who Knows? But right now, I focus on what is needed in front of me in our house before saying yes to anything or anyone else outside.

Lessons Learned:

Whether you are always at home, or work outside of the house, you need to prioritize your time spent at home. There will always be things to do. You can't possibly ignore your children's needs, the housework, or your business work. But what you can do is allow yourself the time needed to focus on achieving whatever is needed most. Is it a work project? Then your kids may need to play a little more independently than usual, and they might get to watch an extra movie here and there. But once that project is finished, make sure you allow yourself the time needed to focus on your housework - a true home feel is so important to every child! And then most importantly, make sure you schedule that special time with your kids - they deserve it and so do you! Give yourself a break from everything else and focus on them, because they won't stay this little forever!

I know eventually there will come a day where my house will always be clean, the laundry will always be done and I can work without a single interruption. But that will mean my kids will not be home, and even just the thought brings tears to my eyes! So as stressful as it does get sometimes, I really do want to find a balance. I don't want to just survive, but I want to truly embrace and enjoy this time that I have with my little blessings!

For more on this topic, check out the full Get Organized collection

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.