Each of the four times I brought home a new baby I found myself wondering: What did I used to do with all my free time!? As I adjusted to the new baseline of sleepless nights and a constant awareness of “who’s watching the baby?” I wondered at how it was always possible to insert a whole new human into our already busy lives. Before the new baby we’d felt that we were maxed out with work, other young children, school, or residency training. Yet we managed to squeeze a newborn in. And then another, and then another, and then another.
When a new baby comes, everything changes. With the new time pressures, you have to hold everything you do up to scrutiny and figure out what can stay in your life and what has to go. With a new baby you also have an incredible opportunity to see the joy and meaning in each moment. Here are three lenses that have helped me think about my time in any phase or stage of life.
This is the key to time management – to see the value of every moment.Menachem Schneerson
Time Management Strategy #1: Have a Strategy!
Having a newborn often means anything that is not absolutely necessary has to be set aside. Imagine you’re a general considering how to deploy your troops. Here, our troops are our time and effort. When the pressure is on and you have limited resources, that’s when you must be the most strategic with your choices. Ask yourself: What are the high-value activities and tasks I must do to take care of my family and myself? Next, think about what things can only be done by you, and what things you can outsource or delegate. If you’re a nursing mom, only you can nurse or pump, but any number of stores can deliver your groceries. So strategically create time to nurse but ditch the trips to the grocery store if you can get delivery.
Being strategic means cutting the slack, the waste, and the inefficient times from your schedule to make time for the new important things. If you used to take leisurely trips to the gym, you may have to replace them with quicker, more efficient workouts. For me, with each kid, I had to take a look at my free time and see where I was wasting it. I had already cut out TV years before, but I realized I was wasting more time than I needed to on social media. So I became more intentional about creating time to be present with my kids and power down the phone.
Think strategically about your own renewal, too. What things do you need in order to keep your sanity? Is it time alone? Time at the gym? Or time with friends? Create that time strategically. This may mean negotiating with your spouse or finding a babysitter. Spending time renewing your own mind is critical. Also, be aware that while binge-watching Netflix, scrolling social media, and vegging out on the couch may be relaxing, they are not always renewing for our minds. Focus on renewal, not just relaxation. For me, renewal meant time for reading. The late-night nursing time was a special time when I would dive into and lose myself in a great book. I was still tired in the morning, but felt more refreshed than if I had just stared at the ceiling wishing I were sleeping.
Time is beyond our control, and the clock keeps ticking regardless of how we lead our lives. Priority management is the answer to maximizing the time we have.John C. Maxwell
Time Management Strategy #2: Prioritize
Once you decide what things you must do, the next step is to prioritize them. Remember Tetris? You had to fit different shapes together to optimally fill space. That’s what your time management is like now. Look at your day. What tasks do you have to get done for yourself, your work, or your family?
What shape are those tasks? By that I mean: how long will they take and what type of focus will they need? Some tasks require only a shallow focus. They can be done while also watching the kids or doing other things. Certain tasks need a deep focus and a quiet space.
Make a list of the things you want to do, then number the top three to five things in order of importance. Next, think about how you can fit them into your day, matching the tasks that need a deep focus with the times when you are able to focus. During nap time, can you do the work that requires a deep focus? Can you swap off baby duties with your partner and close the door for your deep work? Can you get shallow work done quickly by shooting off emails or ordering groceries while nursing, pumping, or rocking the baby?
The new-parent-Tetris game has the added complication that the pieces keep changing shape, moving around, or refusing to stay put. They may have new needs that pop up unexpectedly! So be prepared to be flexible and to change your plans. When plans or needs change, remember: you are the general deploying your troops. Reassess your plan and move the pieces around in real-time by re-applying the concepts of strategy and priority.
For me, when I get to the office or my work space, I make a list of the things I want to get done and then number them in order of importance. I intersperse 1-2 hour blocks of ‘deep work’ with 20-30 minute blocks of ‘shallow work.’ This lets me make sure I get the most important things done. It also ensures don’t fritter all my time away on email or other shallow tasks.
To a child, “love” is spelled, “t-i-m-e.”Zig Ziglar
Time Management Strategy 3: Focus on Efficiency
Efficiency is key when you have a new stressor on your time and more than you can do in a day. However, the question of efficiency always has to come after strategy. First, make sure you’re doing the right things, then work on making sure you’re doing them efficiently. Efficiency will allow you to create the margin you need to be present when you are with your new baby.
To be efficient, you have to plan ahead and be intentional with your time. You also have to be honest with yourself. Look back on the last few days. Where was there time that was wasted? Where could you use your time better? When you were trying to do a task that required a deep focus, were you focusing well, or were you also trying to multi-task or scroll on your phone? By focusing well on tasks that require a deep focus, you can get work done more quickly to create more margin later.
When I work, I monitor how well I’m focusing, and I use specific tactics to help focus deeply. When I’m at the office, focused on an intense task, I turn off all my notifications. I take off my watch, stow my phone, and set an alarm for 5 minutes before the next meeting I have to be at, so that I don’t have to keep track of time. That allows me to work with a deep focus and get things done more quickly and with higher quality.
Ultimately, by managing your time well, you can create more meaning in your life. You can get more done while you’re working and you can create more meaningful time with your family.
Most people feel like their plates are full of things to do. With a new baby, your plate likely just started overflowing, and you now have some difficult choices to make. How can you take certain things off your plate (strategy), move things around on your plate (priority), or grow the size of your plate (efficiency)? You will find that with time, it gets easier, you get better at it, and you learn to fit things in creatively. Using these three concepts will help speed that process along. Eventually, you’ll hit your stride and feel pretty good about your time… just in time for the next baby. Finally, remember: if you aren’t as productive and effective as you were before the baby, that’s ok – time spent with your new baby is worth every second.
There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.Leo Christopher
A version of this post was first published on the Mindful Return blog. Mindful Return is a program run by Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, that helps new parents plan “a peaceful, empowered, and radiant return from parental leave.” Lori and I delivered a free webinar on Taking Control of Your Time as a New Parent. We share big ideas, practical strategies, and what worked for us. You can access the recording by registering through the link.