Can you get things done with a new baby? Some days, sure. Some days not so much. (And that’s OK too, check out this reminder.) One thing I learned very early was that if I ever wanted to get anything done, things had to change. I didn’t have total control of my schedule. If I was going to get things done, I needed to adapt. I read a lot of blogs about how to streamline my system—professionally I do a lot of process improvement and I am generally obsessed with how I can get a little more out of every day (and that includes sleep, even just a little more sleep!). Here are my top 13 favorite tips for getting more done after baby.
1. If you read no further, this is the one to remember: NO LONGER can you wait for large blocks of time. Remember pre-baby when you used to take 2 hours and just iron, or clean out a closet? That’s probably not going to happen again for awhile. You have to learn how to break every day into 15 minute blocks. Baby is fed and happy and in a bouncy seat? Throw together a sandwich, make a quick grocery list for the week, put three things away where they go, throw in a load of laundry (bonus if you also put one away!!).
2. Multi-task. I know, this sounds trite. And also not very of-the-moment. I mean, aren’t we all trying to just be in the present moment?? With our babies?? Just relishing it? Not you, mama. Sorry, but the best way to get some things off your to-do list is to have more than one thing going at once. And the sooner you learn to do some of these things one-handed, the better chance you have of getting them done. Do take moments when you do nothing but focus on the baby or nursing. But do learn to multi-task. This doesn’t have to be crazy juggling. But, if you want to catch up on a TV show you haven’t watched, fold laundry while you do it! (I mounted my IPAD in the kitchen and watch some Netflix while cooking meals.) Read that parenting or baby sleep technique book on your Kindle while you nurse. Walk around with a Swiffer duster while you are on the phone. One of my favorites? Once you are cleared for exercise, our Mama Seeds mama and baby yoga counts as a triple: exercise, mental rest and focus, and quality time with baby!
3. Be a list maker. Mommy brain is not a myth. Between sleep deprivation and all of the brain cells being used for other tasks, this will be a forgetful time. Keep notepads everywhere. When you think of something, write it down. Every now and then, consolidate the lists (or just stack them together). When you have a few free moments, consult the lists and cross off just one thing. I am a big fan of the MIT method of list-making. I put three Most Important Things at the top. The rest of it is stuff I’ll get to, just maybe not today. My MIT’s for a day might be: call my brother for his birthday, buy coffee, and take in the dry cleaning. If I get those three things done, total success!! The rest of it can wait. Some things from the rest of the list may move up to MIT tomorrow.
4. Never walk around empty-handed. I don’t have time to “clean house.” I do, however, walk from one room to the next about 1,000 times per day. Every time I do this, I carry at least one thing with me. A baby toy that is in the kitchen that goes to the living room. A bill that has been paid and goes to the desk. A pacifier from behind the couch to the kitchen. A magazine in the living room that I’ve read and need to recycle. I am ALWAYS carrying something with me. I’ve started to train the rest of the house to do the same. It makes a difference, one thing at a time!
5. Be a baby-wearer. Your baby wants to be held. Get a good baby carrier like this or this and learn how to use it. Baby-wearing allows you to get so many things done while still talking to, bonding with, and even nursing your baby. It took me a while before I realized I could wear my baby in my own house—I had been saving my carrier for shopping or outings. Once you start wearing the baby at home, you will be amazed at how much more you can do.
6. Eat the frog. This is a commonly used anti-procrastination technique. Do the thing you dread the most first. If you hate laundry (as I do), just get it done in the morning. The baby will typically be happier in the morning, and you will too. Four o’clock after a long day of mothering is NOT the time to start the task that you dread. And it will make you feel a HUGE sense of accomplishment the entire day if you get only that one thing done.
7. Automate your life. Anything you can take off of your to-do list, do it now. Do you know about Amazon subscribe and save? This allows you to have items you need regularly delivered to your door every month or week and at a discount. Get your dishwasher detergent monthly, get your diapers delivered weekly, get your shampoo delivered every two months. One-time set-up and you are done! Similarly grocery deliveries, diaper services, cleaning services, online banking, and laundry service are all great options. Sometimes these things don’t seem affordable, but then you realize the value of your sanity and your marriage, and suddenly they look like bargains. These are also wonderful baby gifts, birthday, and holiday gifts—so ask your helpful family and friends for what you really need. I know my first Christmas as a mother I asked my husband for our washing machine to be on the same floor as our bedrooms. It actually didn’t cost as much as we thought it would. Best gift ever!!
8. Lower your standards. I found out quickly after having my daughter that I needed a new definition for “clean” in the house. I invested more heavily in Swiffer-type products that made things appear pretty clean. Meanwhile the guest bathroom toilet only got a cleaning when an actual guest was coming. I pared down my cleaning supplies (which is actually great, I found out). I no longer have tub cleaner, shower cleaner, kitchen cleaner, etc. I have cleaner. One kind. I keep one upstairs and downstairs. And in the spirit of #1 on this list, I will often just clean a sink. Not the whole bathroom, just the sink. It makes a huge difference. Clothes do not need to be ironed as much as you think. And I am so guilty of just putting an inexpensive sleeper that was impossibly stained into the trash instead of spending 5 or 500 wash cycles trying to get a stain out.
9. The up/down basket. This is truly the secret to my house maintaining any kind of order. If you have a house or apartment with a single floor, this may not apply (or it may, just differently). But in my older home, the bedrooms are upstairs, everything else is down. It seems like half the stuff that belongs upstairs ends up down and vice versa. Especially baby stuff. I keep one attractive basket at the bottom of the stairs and one at the top. As I find things that need to go up, I put them in the one at the bottom. Same with the one on the upper floor. Whenever the basket looks pretty full, take it up (or down) and clean it out.
10. Make your bed. I know, this sounds crazy when I just said to lower your standards. But seriously, you will feel better about your whole house with your bed made. It’s a proven fact, kind of. And you will come in at night (or for your morning or afternoon nap) to a respite. You will also want to seriously streamline your bed as well. I got rid of our top sheet completely for a duvet cover. This saves me 80% of the bed-making effort. Ditched all the decorative pillows for a couple of good sleep pillows and some larger ones for reading and propping up for nursing. I bought a pretty quilt that sits at the bottom of the bed, which I can use for naps and not have to remake the bed after I lie in it. Having your bedroom feel like a place of calm is a big source of peace right now when the rest of the house may feel like chaos.
11. Have a system for baby clothes. This could be bags marked by age, a closet hanger label system, it’s totally dependent on the space you have and the way it’s easiest for you to store things. But every mama I know has managed to pull out a few brand new outfits for the baby that are almost already outgrown when they take the tags off. First, don’t assume sizes are the same. Sizes run differently from one brand to the next just like adult clothes. But also, have the next size up washed and ready to go. Have them accessible and check them periodically. Also have a system for how to get rid of items your baby has outgrown. Storing for another baby? Buy some bins in advance, label them by size (or the age of your baby when he or she wore them, even better) and have a place ready to store them. If you are giving to a friend who has a baby, have her come pick them up regularly or have a system for getting them to her—meeting for coffee is even better (and counts as double). This same principal applies to maternity clothes if you are reading this in time to tackle those!
12. Accept help. This one is hard, I know. But I swear to you, if I call a friend after she has a baby and say “What can I do for you”, I mean it. If she says “Walk my dog” or “Do my grocery shopping” or even “Mop my floor,” I would say “OK!” You probably have someone in your life like this. They want to know how they can help, let them. And then let go of the control, because if you are accepting help from a friend, your mother-in-law, or even your significant other, it may not be the exact way you would do it. Let it go. Save these battles, they are just not worth fighting. You cannot care how the towels are folded or really even if they are all turned pink in the laundry. See #8. The goal here is to get you more time to take care of yourself and your baby. Let the other stuff go.
13. Have people over. This sounds totally crazy. But my husband and I used to say before kids, “We should have people for dinner more often, it’s the only way we clean up.” And this is really true now as well. If you have people over, two things will happen. One is, you will master the quick clean. We all know what this is: 20 minutes of dashing around the house, putting shoes and coats where they go, dishes into the washer, couch cushions looking decent, most of the dog hair off that one chair. The quick clean is your new best friend and should be employed more often than just when people are visiting. But people visiting will make you use it. The other reason is that having people over will force you to let it go. You will stop feeling like you have to have the perfect house, attire, baby, hair. You will feel better after talking to people and seeing people. And they are not judging you. Many of them have been (or are) exactly where you are.
What’s funny about this list is that many of these things I started when I had babies, but now with kids, it is life-saving and marriage-saving. As they grow, the to-do lists get longer and the stuff you have to clean up tends to multiply (and be less and less in your control). Don’t let this overwhelm you. Just take into account that you will need to be that much more merciless about getting rid of stuff you don’t need, not accumulating too much yourself, and transitioning into a routine that is manageable and makes you feel good about the home you are raising your baby in. I have too many friends who don’t want to have people over unless they can give the house a good cleaning or have a lovely spread of snacks to present. Let that go. Because we mamas, we understand! We don’t expect it. In fact, we appreciate knowing that we aren’t the only ones struggling with this balance.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Mamas, what are your favorite time-saving tricks for getting things done?
Megan Winfield is a mother of two, a software project manager for a Fortune 100 company, and a founder of Mama Seeds. She notes that managing software projects with a zillion moving parts and parenting two children are not that different really; software projects are just easier.