Any parent knows back-to-school time can be hectic. Schedules are more rigid with more packed into them like homework and extra-curricular activities. It can be a lot to balance for anyone, but for parents who are also students it can be near impossible at times. That doesn’t just mean trying to squeeze in an extra hour or two a week for classes. It means an additional hour or two per class on top of that in study time.
But take heart; if you are a parent in school, you are not alone. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, 27-percent of all undergraduate students have children. If you are one of them, here are some ideas to make the most of your time and help keep you sane.
Map Out Your Life
Start by arranging your priorities to ensure nothing gets forgotten. Write down all your personal and household commitments in two columns. The first column should be non-flexible commitments like work and school. The second column should be things that need to be done, but not at a specific time or can be flexible like studying, laundry and meal time. Make sure to include everything including spouse’s schedule and kids’ obligations.
After that is complete make a sheet for each day of the week. Have a line for every half-hour from when you wake up until you go to bed. Transfer the non-flexible commitments to the appropriate day and time of the week until all are crossed off the original list. Make sure to account for travel time too. Once all the non-flexible events are on the schedule, highlight the remaining free time.
In the highlighted area fill in the flexible activities starting with ones that have to be done, like meals, laundry, studying and other chores, working your way down to the ones that are less important or necessary. Be sure to schedule personal time and date nights too, so they don’t get sacrificed. They are important to help avoid burnout and recharge your battery.
Once your entire list is crossed off you have a master schedule that will help you better manage your time and alleviate a lot of stress in your life. Being organized and in control also helps you focus better and enjoy your day. Consider sharing or syncing your calendar with your spouse to make sure you are all on the same page. There are several online services like Google calendar you can use.
Plan Ahead and Find Shortcuts
Planning ahead and finding a few shortcuts when possible can help free up even more time in your day. Fast food is tempting when you are busy, but a little planning ahead can save you money and keep your family eating healthier. Find easy, fast recipes online. Search five ingredients or less on the Internet and you will find hundreds of recipes sure to please most palates. Block an hour or two off on the weekend and make meals ahead for the week to freeze. Even breakfast food like pancakes can easily be frozen and reheated in a matter of seconds. Make school lunches before bed to help keep you moving in the morning.
If possible, shower before bed to relax yourself for bedtime and save you time in the morning. Also, arrange carpools for your kids, and be sure to block off time to reciprocate.
Multitask When Possible
Look for opportunities to multitask when appropriate. Throw a load of wash in before you leave the house, so it is ready to go in the dryer when you get home. Tidy up while you are waiting for food to cook or get phones calls out of the way while you are ironing. Keep a tote with your personal to-do items, things like paperwork, bills and thank you notes in your car. Pull it out while you are in carpool line or waiting for a soccer game to start. You may be surprised how much you can knock off in the random few dead minutes between events.
But be careful. Some tasks like studying could actually take longer and be less effective if you try to multitask while doing them. Ample time should be set aside each day to study. Schedule that time when your kids are studying. It is more likely to be quiet and your kids are more likely to stay on task if they see you doing the same.
Ask for Help, Delegate and Say No
Last, but certainly not least, do not be afraid to ask for help or delegate. Split up chores among family members. Talk with your spouse about what extra tasks they may be willing to pick up to lighten your load. Let go of others for the time being, and don’t be afraid to lean on friends, extended family and neighbors in a jam. Most are more than willing to lend a hand when they can.
Also, do not be afraid to say “no”. Many of us have a tendency to bite off more than we can chew - volunteering at school and picking up extra duties at work. Realize your limits and don’t be afraid to say no. The day will come soon enough when you are out of school and can start saying “yes” again.