08/02/2011 08:02 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2011

Time Management for Moms: Practical Shortcuts That Work

I've done all the acronyms: I've stayed at home (SAH), worked out of the home (WOH), and now work full-time from home (WAH) while raising small children (I've got three, ages nine and under).

There is no perfect one-size-fits-all way to manage the work-life-family balance, and anyone who tries to tell you different is either lying or trying to sell you something. And probably has really bad karma.

That said, I do have a few shortcuts I've learned that help our family run a bit more smoothly than it might otherwise.

Meal Plan

I resisted making a family meal plan for years, because I was certain it would turn me into an obsessive-compulsive Stepford wife.


Having a meal plan saves our family both time and money, and the 15 minutes I spend once a week plotting out our meals means I'm not thinking about feeding people 5 to 6 times a day, every day. I'm obviously a big fan of the slow cooker -- I love knowing that dinner is ready by 8am -- but I'm also cool with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or mac and cheese.

Clean Less, Play More

I like things clean because I notice our family runs more smoothly when there is order and stability in our home. The kids are better behaved when their living space is organized and they know where their things belong.

But I don't like cleaning.

Instead, I try my hardest to quickly whip through (or delegate) a small list of chores each day. We call them the Daily 7: make beds, complete a load of laundry, quick bathroom wipe-down, keep the kitchen sink empty, empty all garbage cans, clean up after yourself and help children do the same, before bed 10-minute pick-up. If every day seems overwhelming, shoot for four days out of the week -- it's your house!

Just Say No

Don't agree to anything that doesn't directly benefit your family. I know. It sounds callous, but if you don't want to go to the class bowling party, don't. RSVP no. Don't lie -- just say it's not going to work out for you and leave it at that. If you don't want to help organize the Church rummage sale, or arrive early to set up folding chairs for the PTA meeting, don't do it. It's not healthy to say yes then run yourself ragged living up to a commitment you didn't want to make in the first place.

Take back your time. Once you feel as if you're in control of your time instead of outside influences being in charge, you can begin volunteering again.

Be Honest (with yourself) About Your Time

You know what your personal time wasters are. Mine is the Internet. I've found that if I'm not careful I can whittle away hours of precious time following link after link or by playing with the Instant Messenger feature. Since I do the bulk of my professional work on the computer, it's very easy to succumb to "playing" while I work, and before I know it hours have passed and I really haven't accomplished anything.

I hate to admit how often this happens.

It's kind of a lot.

Since I know this about myself, I try to limit distractions. I won't open my (multiple) email accounts when I'm supposed to be writing, and I won't log in to twitter. I'm also one of the few Facebook holdouts -- I'm not interested in checking "just one more thing" throughout my day.

I've chosen to not purchase a smart phone because when I'm away from the house, I want to be fully present.

These are the things I do to keep myself accountable to myself and my priorities -- they're different for every person, and for every family. Do what works for you. If your daily routine isn't working, change it.

Cut Yourself Some (lots of) Slack

There are times in your life that will always be crazier than others. When you're pregnant, nursing, not sleeping, sick, the kids are sick, or on a huge work deadline, stuff just isn't going to run as smoothly as it does when everyone is on their A-Game. Know this and accept it. Life is not a contest, nor is it a picture-perfect spread in a design magazine.

You're already doing an awesome job. You really are.

Stephanie O'Dea is the New York Times best-selling author of "Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life" and the "Make it Fast, Cook it Slow Cookbooks." She spends (almost too much) time online at