Becoming a father adds a new role and a new set of responsibilities. Where a guy once just had to manage time between a job and a relationship, they now must also find time to be a present and capable. Fatherhood is the big leagues of being busy.
Dr. Mike Commito knows busy. In addition to being an engaged dad, he is the Director of Applied Research and Innovation at Cambrian College and a published hockey historian. And yet, he utilizes time management skills efficiently enough to get it all done without dropping any balls. Or pucks, as the case may be.
“I would say that as a dad with a full-time job and a side hustle, having an organized mind and excellent time management skills is what always me to get all my work done for my full-time gig, find time for writing, and still be a doting dad,” Commito says.
- Find Shifting Windows of Productivity
A parent’s most productive time of day can shift as the age and number of kids in the home change. “I think it comes down to picking your spots and knowing when you’ll have the opportunity to get stuff done,” Commito says. “For me, that is usually after my girls go to bed, but there were times during the pandemic when everyone was working and learning from home that I got some stuff done in the mornings before work.” Mornings will probably work better for parents of teenagers, while the evening window is typically more open for parents of young kids.
- Eat Fast…But Healthy
Minds and bodies need fuel to function. The drive-through may be fast, but that low octane sludge is going to make for foggy thoughts and a general laggy feeling throughout the day. Find minimally processed foods that are easy to transport. Bonus points if they don’t mess up your vehicle or your outfit when dropped.
- Make Lists
Lists provide a birds-eye view of what needs to be accomplished. And it feels good to cross things off when they’re done. Don’t feel like lists have to be composed or completed in chronological order, however. There can still be room for spontaneity within the safe confines of a task list.
- Streamline The Morning Routine
Every task a parent has to oversee or complete to get a child out of the house is time they don’t have to get themselves ready. Some things may have to give in the season before kids can get themselves out of bed, make their own breakfast, and leave the house appropriately dressed and with matching shoes on the correct feet. Leisurely mornings will return someday, but until they do the morning time budget needs to be kept tight.
- Start Your Morning Routine the Night Before
If the morning is just too squeezed, consider what can be done the night before. Outfit selection, breakfast prep, and getting the kids’ backpacks organized are all great candidates for the evening hours.
- Include the Kids in Activities
Working in the garden, getting exercise while walking or biking, and cooking are all great activities to include the kids in. They don’t all have to be fun, productive and educational. But ticking off at least one or two of those boxes provides an opportunity for quality time.
- Carve Out Personal Downtime
Sleeping isn’t the only opportunity to rest. Even a small window for recreation can focus the mind and provide more emotional capacity to be present with family.
- Don’t Forget Downtime With the Family Too
When kids and partners know there is a specific time where they’ll have undivided attention, it can help them focus on other things while you are trying to be productive. Standing dates like a Friday Fun Night give everyone something to look forward to each week, and a time where the kids will know they’ll have fun with their parents.
- Work Out Faster and Smarter
Bodies love efficiency. Superset workouts get the sweat spilling and the blood flowing. But they do it in a condensed period of time. They’re a butt-kicking that’s totally worth it.
“I know that I’m no good as a husband or father on no sleep,” says Commito. And he’s not alone. At some point, staying up late yields diminishing returns and it’s best to get some rest and attack things at full speed the next day.
- Say ‘No’ to the Right Things
Parents are asked to do a lot of things. Be involved but be picky about which requests get accepted. Parents can outline evaluation criteria so that the conversation boils down to more than “is this a good opportunity?”
- Prevent Digital Creep
With great power comes great responsibility, and that is particularly true when harnessing the power of technology. Those pocket-sized supercomputers that people occasionally make phone calls on can enhance efficiency. But they can also be incredibly distracting, keep parents from paying enough attention to their kids, and encourage people to spend way too much time in the bathroom.
- Start With the Easiest Task
Think of it as the warmup and stretching time at the beginning of a workout. Starting with the easiest task of the day is a confidence boost and a chance to get up to speed without pulling a muscle, so to speak.
- Give Your Most Important Items a Home
Don’t waste time looking for your keys. If they are placed in the same spot every time, they’ll be easy to find. Give any item that likes to hide whenever you try to leave the house a consistent home.
- Set Reminders
Brains have their limits. Especially brains that are trying to work efficiently. Reminders help with staying on task and allow for more focus on the task at hand by cutting out clock watching.
When something isn’t working as intended, know when to bail. In most circumstances, there’s little good that comes from wasting time and energy on strategies or activities that have very little chance of success.
- Ask for Help
Parenting doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. When help is needed, have the courage to ask for it. And look for opportunities to reciprocate or trade opportunities to pitch in for other families.
- Use a Calendar
Think of a calendar as a map. It’s a tool for charting an efficient path through the myriad of appointments, events and occasions that parents are expected to show up at.
While parents can’t be two places at once, they can sometimes DO two things at once. Since mundane tasks take up little mental capacity, they can provide a good time to also brainstorm or plan. “A big part of writing is the stuff that happens when you’re not at the computer,” Commito says. I know that when I’m cooking dinner, doing dishes, or filling bottles, I’m arranging and organizing sentences or ideas in my head so that when it comes time to put pen to paper, it kind of just flows because I’ve been working on it already, just not at the computer.”
- Break Up Tasks
Not every task pairs well. Shaving and driving? Don’t do that. A big struggle with more parents working from home is figuring out how to keep one eye on work and the other eye on the kids. Trying to complete an assignment while the kids finish lunch can lead to inefficiency, mistakes, rowdiness, and a big mess. If possible, it can help to give kids undivided attention for straight 15 minutes instead of trying to juggle them for an hour.
Commito used to approach writing stories as tasks that needed to be done in one sitting but has since learned to block out his writing into smaller chunks of time. ”I think realizing that you can get stuff done in those other moments and still be present in your family’s world is critical and has certainly helped me over the years,” he says.
That goal of efficiency as a tool that parents can use to open up more focused family time certainly makes the idea of honing time management skills appealing. It sure beats waiting around until time-shifting or cloning makes it possible to cram more time into each day.