Time Management for Parents: 23 Ways to Be More Efficient at Everything You Do

Okay, maybe not "everything." But these 23 tips, offered by parenting and efficiency experts as well as regular moms and dads, can help you carve out more time to be with your family.

by Graham Techler
A dad in the kitchen preparing a meal while holding his toddler in his arms

A recent report found that parents get only 30 combined minutes to themselves every day. Is this figure accurate across the board? Of course not. But it illustrates a very obvious reality: Being a parent is a busy job, one that rarely, if ever, gives you time to breathe. You know this. Everyone knows this. So what can be done to give you some more fun time to spend with your family or time to take a minute for yourself? The key lies in finding ways to carve out a little bit of time here and there by becoming a bit more efficient at work, and a little bit more efficient at home. Eventually, the additional minutes saved can be used for more connection, self-care, or fun. That’s why we gathered these time-management tips from a variety of parents and professionals that help do just that. No — you watch your mouth — these aren’t life hacks. They’re merely small ways to help yourself — and your family as a whole — become a bit more efficient so you’ll have more time to spend together without anything else hanging over your head.

1. Draw Maps of Daily Routines

Setting concrete routines for you and your family is going to be the first big step to make sure there are no wasted moments when you’re at your busiest. The most important time to take advantage of these routines is during daily transitions: getting out of bed, getting out the door, coming back from school, etc. “Take or draw pictures of each step as a visual reminder of the next step in the process,” says Ann DeWitt, marriage therapist and co-host of the Passport to Parenting podcast. “Kids should be involved in making and adapting the routine so they have buy-in and ownership of it. This isn’t something we impose on our kids, it is helping them to learn a great habit that will benefit them for a lifetime.”

2. Try a “Soundtrack”

Another way to make daily transitions efficient and fun is to add a musical element that gets everyone on the same page. “We would have ‘family dance parties’ which could even be one song long,” says DeWitt. “We played it when we all came together at the end of the work/school day as a way to intentionally reconnect and put ourselves into a silly ‘let’s have fun’ mood. You might choose a song to play when it’s time to come downstairs for breakfast, or when it’s time to get into the car.” Making these moments concrete leads to fewer wasted moments.

3. Utilize Environmental Cues

DeWitt’s final thought on easing transitions notes that our frantic daily schedules make it extra hard for our brains to wind down, and you can lose a lot of time you should be spending relaxing. This can be particularly difficult when it comes to getting kids to go to bed. “Dim the lights, change to soft music and soft tones of voice,” says DeWitt. “Move away from silly, rambunctious play in favor of calm, soothing connection. Move your own body more slowly, disconnect from tech, speak slowly and quietly in a soothing tone of voice.” Your children won’t be the only ones to benefit from this; you’ll get a little brain reset too.

4. Make the Most of Your Commute

Some studies estimate that we spend up to 200 hours a year commuting. That time is frequently stressful and counter-productive. “When it comes to commutes, if you use public transport you should use this time effectively,” says Lucy Harris of Hello Baby Bump. “You can do this by replying to emails, setting things in motion for your day ahead, and even sorting things out for when you get home. This time can be wasted by many but using it effectively can save you a few minutes. This is also a great time for a little self-care such as reading a book, listening to music, light meditation.” This is automatic time to yourself you can build into your day.

5. Prep for Tomorrow, Today

This principle applies to more than just lunch, but you’ll save yourself time and stress by prepping yourself at night while you’re already more relaxed. “Lay out school clothes, socks, shoes, etc., for your child in the morning,” says Harris. “You could also make lunches the night before or even breakfast. Taking the time to sort things out the night before will give you a few extra minutes in the morning and prevent you from running around like a headless chicken looking for that sock, or that book.”

6. Start the Day a Bit Earlier

Rolling out of bed earlier than the rest of your clan might be difficult — but it offers you uninterrupted time to get shit done. “Waking up even 30 minutes to an hour earlier can save you a lot of time and allow you to be more productive, as long as you spend that time wisely,” says Harris. “You could spend the time doing a little work from home, doing some self-care, getting in a little exercise, preparing for the day, or preparing dinner in a slow cooker.”

7. Get the Kids to Help Out

As the saying goes, many hands make light work, and the time you spend during the day is compounded where you’re juggling all the tasks yourself. “Children are often more capable than you think,” notes Harris. “Assign chores and tasks that are age-appropriate to get them to help out around the house. Even if it is organizing their stuff for school the next morning, this will help you out a lot and your children will see it. As you become less stressed and happier, your children will notice too.”

8. Create Zones in Your House

One way to maximize the effectiveness of your organizing and get your kids to help out is to set up your home the way a kindergarten classroom is organized. “The space is divided into activity zones that reflect what takes place in each area,” says Julie Morgenstern, author of Time to Parent. “Once you’ve established your zones, group similar items together, find fun containers, label them, and teach kids to use them. This system works for any space (closets, kitchen, fridge, garage) and should enable you and your kids to do a quick, 10 to 15 minute tidying at the end of every day.”

9. Use This Housework Hack

If you take your moments of free time to tackle some housework, you’re ultimately going to be overwhelmed and lose what free time you have left. Housework is like weeding: There’s always going to be more to do. “Instead,” offers Morgenstern, “set aside specific hours for specific chores: fold kid’s laundry Monday nights, grocery shop on Saturday afternoons, and so on. Setting aside specific hours will force you to prioritize and let some things go.”

10. Make Like a Early-Aughts Businessman

Yes, it sounds anachronistic and will make you look a bit like a parody of a businessman from the early 2000s. But using a Bluetooth headset (or some subtle variation), is incredibly helpful. “When you have little ones at home, you’ll never have a free hand, so having one of these can dramatically increase efficiency with both work and family communication,” says insurance consultant Zack Taylor.

11. Use Naptime to Your Advantage

We know that the moment your child finally decides to take a breather is a necessary reprieve for everyone, but if you’re up to it, it can also be a time to catch up on some simple tasks without even moving. “Naps, the kind where a child is sleeping on you, are a great time to clear your inbox via your phone,” says Taylor. “Maybe you have one free hand, and that’s all you need to go through a few quietly.”

12. Multi-Task in the Shower

And we don’t mean just for singing. “I do as much as I can in the shower,” says Dr. Aarti Mehta, psychiatrist and founder of aLoo, a company that focuses on relieving the stresses of early parenthood. “While wetting my hair, I put a face mask on. While waiting for conditioner to soak in, I shave. I will even read a magazine while rinsing out my hair. You would be surprised at how much the New Yorker holds up to water!”

13. Embrace the Wet Wipe

The all-purpose wipes that already likely a boon to your life as a parent can be even more useful if you carry them around with you. “I wipe down my dashboard and cupholders in my car when at a stop light,” says Dr. Mehta. “I wipe down the diaper changing area while letting my son kick his legs around after a change. I wipe down the contents of the diaper bag (hand sanitizer bottle, wipes package, zippers) when I get a chance, too.”

14. Silence. Your. Notifications.

While at some point during the day you’ll need to tackle what’s been happening on your phone, doing it every time one comes up is a major distraction that doesn’t help your day flow any better. “I have disabled most notifications on my phone,” says Dr. Mehta. “They are way too distracting and they break my rhythm of focus. It takes much more energy to re-focus and it’s usually just not worth the distraction.” It’s a tough habit to break, but ultimately, it will be worth it.

15. Make Email Your Default

This is obviously not a preference that aligns with everyone’s job or schedule, but it’s one that can save a ton of valuable organization time and help you retain your focus. “I try to communicate as much as possible via email, and not by phone or in person, if possible,” says Mehta. “The time it takes to coordinate a time to speak or meet seems like such a waste to me.” If you have that “phone call anxiety” that’s seeming to strike more and more these days, this might help you in more ways than one.

16. Optimize Online Shopping

“I try to limit online shopping as much as I can for myself,” says Mehta, “but I buy as much as you can online for the household.” You can check out services such as Instacart to take the burden of constant grocery shopping off your shoulders (not to mention the hassle of parking). “I also have set up alerts for sales/things I need so that I get a message in my inbox,” adds Mehta. “We use a lot of mental energy trying to remember things we need, and this alleviates that wasted energy.”

17. Always Have a Backup (Work Outfit)

We’ve all been there. You’ve gotten everything ready to go for the day before realizing you’ve forgotten one pretty critical thing: getting fully dressed. Don’t worry, Dr. Mehta has been there too. “I have a backup work ‘uniform’ that I can always fall back on if I run out of time to choose my clothes for the day,” she says. “A basic collared shirt and skirt are easy and pretty much work in every season. I have two sets that I depend on when I don’t have the time or energy to make a decision.”

18. Walk to School — If You Can

This one might seem counterintuitive for a list of ways to save time throughout the day, but it comes with a host of benefits for you and your family. “If you live nearby, walk your child to school,” says parenting coach Lindsay Ford. “This may add time to your morning (or evening) but it’s a great way to integrate a bit of exercise into your day while spending quality time with your child. A short 10-minute walk in the morning will make you more alert and ready to work, and it’s a great way to de-stress at the end of the day before the evening chaos.”

19. Using Dictation on Your Phone

One function of our phones that we rarely take advantage of is also the one that can save you the most time. “Your phone’s dictation software is of high-enough quality that you can dictate then edit what you dictated faster by phone than if you typed it out from scratch,” says Julia Egan, co-founder of Balancing Bravely. Inevitably, you will want to edit what you write, but that takes way less time than you’d spend writing it all out in the first place. “It takes a little getting used to how you need to speak,” says Egan, “but it means I can be standing on the edge of my son’s soccer field dictating with all the important information, while I watch his every move.

21. Follow the Dish Hierarchy

Another activity that can burn through your free time is doing the dishes. While this is actually a pretty serene household chore that a lot of people really enjoy doing, that doesn’t mean it can’t be streamlined. British resource Tombola recommends you work from the cleanest dishes to the dirtiest according to the following hierarchy: first glasses, then cutlery, followed by plates, and finally pots and pans. This order, they say, maximizes your time so you can clear the sink quicker.

22. Create Two Irons at Once

Ironing: It can’t be avoided. A handy tip, again from Tombola, for saving time while ironing clothes, which requires a little handiwork but is well worth the effort. Remove the cover of your ironing board and plaster it with tin foil (making sure to tuck the foil underneath the board to stay in place). Once you replace the cover, that board will now be heated both by the iron and the reflected heat from the foil, meaning both sides of your clothes get pressed quicker. Boom: one iron just became two.

23. Choose What Works for You

The final piece of advice we’ll offer here is this reminder: Just because these tips save you time, doesn’t mean you have to use all of them at once. And they definitely shouldn’t be a reason to pack as much as you can into the day while sacrificing You Time or Family Time. If these tips can take the load off for just one part of the day that allows you a moment to yourself, that’s good enough. You deserve it.