By Ian Child, author of Your Own Personal Time Machine
For busy parents, freeing up the diary to make the most of precious family time can be a challenge. All too often, the priorities of our hectic schedules take precedence, and, before we know it, the clock has run down on yet another day where, despite our best intentions, time with our loved ones was forced into second place. So, how can we make sure that we not only make family time a priority but that we also free up more time in our lives to take advantage of it? Here are a few ideas that might help:
- Keep a time journal
Until you know how much time you’re spending on what, you won’t be able to spot the obvious places for clawing back some time. A time journal allows you to see precisely how you’re spending your time, and (just like keeping a food diary), it nearly always throws up some surprises. You don’t need to do it for long – just keep an hourly, high-level journal for a fortnight, and you’ll quickly get a handle on where the lion’s share of your time is going, as well as seeing exactly how much family time you’re actually spending. The results may shock you.
- Prioritise your family time
Have you noticed how you somehow manage to get everything done the day before you go on holiday? You’ll beaver away, you’ll delegate, and you’ll defer. But you never don’t go on holiday. Better still, there was no disaster because things weren’t done perfectly or were delivered late. Welcome to the magic of your diary’s immovable object, the event that will always happen no matter what. So, to make family time an event that is always guaranteed to happen, make it an immovable object in your diary. Something non-negotiable that occurs regardless of any other events around it, rather than one that takes place only if you’ve any time left. You’ll be amazed at how you’ll automatically do everything else that truly needs to get done if you take a non-negotiable stance on prioritising your family time.
- Make chores a family event
We both know that, bless their little cottons, the family can be more of a hindrance than a help with getting stuff done around the house. After all, it’s far more effective for you to whiz around and do everything yourself. But by making chores an event that involves the entire family, you’ll be killing two birds with one stone. Be sure to make it fun, though. The goal is not cheap labour but rather something the family can enjoy doing together.
The list of chores is almost endless, from cooking and cleaning to helping out in the garden, washing the car, or tackling DIY projects (kids love to fix stuff). And rather than secretly begrudge less than perfect results, make a point of being grateful for their help. There should be warm glows all round and a shared feeling of a job (just about) well done.
- Helping your kids with their schoolwork
All too often, homework time comes at the expense of time with the family, and it’s usually a solo activity. While you shouldn’t do your kid’s homework for them, you can certainly take the time to help them. Find out which subjects they could use more help on and practice these together, or help older children with a discussion or some research on their projects. Homework is a great opportunity for you to get involved in stuff that’s important to them and build a stronger bond.
- Let your kids choose a family activity
As parents, we think we know best, but this can lead to us making assumptions about what our kids would like to do rather than simply asking them. By allowing them to choose an activity in which the family gets to participate, you can make it a regular feature of the diary. You might need to inject a dose of pragmatism occasionally, but by respecting what interests them and participating as a family unit, you create another win-win.
- Discover the joys of batch cooking
Ok, joy might be overstating it, but it’s amazing how much time you can save by doubling or tripling up on quantities when cooking meals. We may like to think we ring the culinary changes, but we tend to stick to cooking the same few meals, week in, week out. Cooking twice as much doesn’t take twice as long, plus a defrosted meal takes a fraction of the time to prepare and saves you time during part of the day that can be ideal for family time. As ever, when it comes to saving time, a little planning can go a long way. Plus, you can also batch cook with your kids for a double slam-dunk.
- Outsource your life
Outsourcing work is an excellent way of freeing up your time, but why stop at work tasks? Outsourcing your daily routine can free up far more time, but for some reason, we tend to think that WE have to do everything. You can easily save a couple of hours by grocery shopping online rather than dragging yourself around the supermarket, yet it costs less than a fiver. Hiring a gardener would be a little pricier, as would getting a part-time cleaner. But if it gets you back some all-too-precious family time, who’s to say it’s not a good investment? The trick is not to think you’re saving money by doing these things yourself but that instead, you’re buying back some family time. And what price would you put on that?
Ian Child is the author of ‘Your Own Personal Time Machine, a guide to getting your life back’, available exclusively from amazon.co.uk. in paperback and e-book.