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Get Your Act Together

How to deal with constant interruption  

busy mom

Ask a room full of moms, Who let something slip through the cracks today?, and plenty of hands will raise. When little ones are under foot, chores, tasks, even conversations can take twice as long as in the pre-baby days. As a seasoned life coach to many new moms, KAO Coaching founder Katie O'Brien has some truly helpful tips on how to manage disruptions and break the start-and-stop cycle.

"With all the interruptions we face as mothers, it's important to focus on one task at a time," says O'Brien. "If you get interrupted, tend to your family or whatever it is that may have interrupted you, then go back to that one task."

StrollerTraffic: The problem is, even the interruptions get interrupted. It's constant. With that in mind, how can we organize the to-do list to ensure nothing is left in limbo?
Katie O'Brien: Simplify, systemize, and batch. Simplifying helps eliminate any meaningless tasks from your to-do lists. Then, create systems for the things that are important. And for batching, you simply want to batch the common tasks together to save time (and energy!).

ST: Tell us a little more about simplifying. How is it possible to shorten the to-do list when it all needs to be done?
KO: Creating lists of your “musts” for the day allows you to refer back to them, have some sort of consistent routine, and helps you stay focused. It's important to simplify those musts, so I'm not talking ten items, I'm talking two to three items. Ask yourself what's most important and then go from there.

ST: Any tips on determining what's most important?
KO: Prioritizing and balance all starts with getting crystal clear on your most important values. Ask yourself what is absolutely most important to you. Is it family? Your health? Abundance? This will help you prioritize your actions. Maybe that email to a client is more important than lunch with friends; or perhaps laughs with your little one are more important than a clean toilet bowl.

ST: Okay, but what if all ten things on your list feel right-that-second urgent?
KO: When you have an overwhelming list of to-dos and you can't seem to figure which ones to eliminate or push back, ask yourself why are you doing x, y, and z. It should be for no other reason than it's important to you or your family. I think a lot of moms feel trapped by obligation into certain commitments, or they're trying to make other people happy.

ST: So darn true. We'll work on it. Now, on to systemizing. Can you give us some examples?
KO: In our house, we have certain days for certain chores. Mondays are for the upstairs bathroom, Tuesdays are for the downstairs bathroom, Wednesday is laundry day, Thursdays are vacuum/swiffer days, etc. This enables me to spend no more than 15-30 minutes a day on chores. Having systems such as never going to bed without a clean kitchen can also be helpful–you'll wake up with a fresh start and without the mess of the night before. Run the dishwasher in the evenings, empty in the mornings.

ST: Got it. And what about batching? 
KO: An example of batching is to run all your errands in one day. Or batch cooking— make two meatloaves and freeze one for down the road. Go through the mail and pay bills twice a month—sift out the junk as you get it, but instead of spending 30 minutes a day going through mail and bills, do it weekly.

ST: Okay. Now let's talk about the kids. Should we always pause a conversation to address a child’s needs? What's the rule here?
KO: When a child interrupts a conversation, it's best to treat her with respect and teach her what's proper so she can understand how conversations work. You always want to acknowledge the child that's interrupting, but let her know that “mommy's talking and when she's through she'll be right with you.” Children should feel their comments are just as important and valued as any adult. It's important for them to understand that you can't just jump in and take over a conversation, but it's also important they're not being ignored or shunned.  

ST: And what about the balance between getting things done and spending time with the kids? Dare we try to engage them to help, or is that counterproductive?
KO: You can always rally up the kids for clean-up time, such as before bath time. Even if they're babies and can't physically help, make that a part of your evening routine, like singing the clean-up song as you tidy the family room.

ST: So, at the end of the day, it's not actually multi-tasking that wins the race?
KO: No, it's not. Whether working in the office or at home, multi-tasking is overrated. Focus 100 percent of your time on one project and you'll get it done much faster and it will be a much better quality. Multitasking only makes you feel like you're getting a lot done, when in reality you're wasting a lot of energy getting nothing done.

ST: Alright. We're off to make some lists. Thank you, Katie!