How to create effective systems to help you achieve more

One of the most common problems many working mums face is how to maximise their time to achieve everything they need to in a day. When you’re juggling so many hats and tasks, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your workload, and panic about where to start.

Life coach and mum of three Jaelithe Leigh-Brown shares her personal experiences and tips on creating effective systems to help you stay on top of life – and feel more in control.

Juggling family and work

Last year my boys were aged two years old and one year old and I had just handed in my notice to my part-time secure job (previously full-time before the kids), to go it alone as a life and fitness coach, as well as a freelance PR consultant.

I was determined to make my business work, and was delivering four fitness classes and coaching one client every week. I also landed a big international client who wanted to use my PR skills and I was working four days a week for them.

My husband works shifts, our boys weren’t in nursery and our nearest family are three hours’ drive away. We were juggling everything all of the time, but we made it work.

I’m not saying anyone should work this much and I certainly wouldn’t do as much work as this now – especially not since baby number three is here! However I learned some valuable lessons as to how to keep on top of things, even when you are juggling so much.

Treating household tasks as a business

The key was to think of my home life and work life as one and the same – a business. Rather than get bogged down in the washing and cleaning and putting pressure on myself to do things as soon as they happened (and we all know that as mums there is always something that needs our attention) I decided to treat my chores as a work ‘to do’ list and set aside time for each task.

I realised that if I had set systems and routines I would be able to explain them to people willing to help me – just as you would be able to explain what needs to be done on a daily basis within a business. For example, rather than stare at my ever-growing pile of filing each day and feel guilty that I wasn’t getting time to do it, I decided that every Sunday I would file. Since then, if I ever catch a glimpse of the pile I think ‘fine – I’m doing that on Sunday’ and it only takes me five minutes to do because I am up-to-date with it.

The same with changing the bedding – instead of working out if I’ve changed the beds recently I make sure I do this whenever the bins go out. A load of washing goes into the machine each night and is hung out to dry each morning when the kids are eating their breakfast. I then put it away every two days as I know if I leave it any more than that it takes me forever to put away.

Saving time by planning ahead

The list goes on. I’ve set up a shopping list online to coincide with the two fortnightly meal plans I have and I just swap which list I buy from. This has saved me lots of time, ensures that I stay on budget and we all eat healthy meals, instead of me scraping around for something to eat at the end of the day. Generally I cook the dinner each morning when my kids are happily playing. My two boys have started to help me too, which is nice as it means that we spend quality time together whilst completing a daily task.

Planning is the key to success for any business. You need to know where you are going and how you are going to get there; this is then communicated to your staff. To help me with my day-to-day planning I started a folder with 31 dividers. I write birthday cards out for the month ahead, pop them in an envelope and put them in the folder (in a poly pocket) on the day I need to post the card. Birthday presents are purchased in bulk as any sales happen, or in the previous month. Any letters from school that need to be ‘actioned’ go in the folder for the day I need to do it. I have a quick flick through the folder each night when I’m having a cuppa.

I also have Google calendar on my laptop and Jorte on my smartphone. These are synced to my husband’s account so that we know what we are doing and when. My Google tasks list is also synced to my calendar which lets me prioritise my tasks for each day and then forward any that don’t get done.

In the beginning I used to believe that I could achieve lots more than was practically possible. It’s the superwoman within all of us. Now I aim to complete one main task for the house, one for the business and one for me personally. Anything else is a bonus.

Making time for exercise

Since I am a qualified fitness professional I squeeze in effective exercises whenever I can. When my baby girl is on her play mat I talk and sing to her whilst doing the plank and the side plank to tone up my stomach and love handles. I’ve created games for my two boys to play that help me squeeze in some cardio and I do squats when I brush my teeth to tone up my bum and thighs!

Outsourcing and skills-swapping

In business you come to realise that you’re better off paying someone else to do a job that you’re not that great at, or which will take you ages to do. I learned this the hard way. I spent months building a website from scratch that is not fit for purpose and am now looking to pay someone to design one for me.

If you don’t have the money to do this then why not skill swap? My cousin is an IT consultant so he has helped me with anything technical for my business, including my website and in return I have devised a PR plan for his business. You can do the same with your home life. I am rubbish with gardening so my husband takes care of that, in return I do all of the finances – something he hates to do. I also have friends who would happily come and iron for me in return for me dusting their house and so on!

Giving up on things that don’t work

In business you learn to drop things that don’t work for you, so why not do the same in your home life? I used to like ironing – I would sit on the couch and have the ironing board low enough for me to do the ironing, whilst watching a chick flick. Now, I’ve come to realise that with three kids, anything I iron pretty much looks crumpled within minutes, so I don’t iron anymore – unless of course it’s a special occasion such as a wedding. Instead, I buy clothes that don’t get crumpled easily and as soon as they come out of the washing machine I either hang them up to dry on a coat hanger, or hang them up and then fold them carefully once they are dry so as not to get any creases in them.

Another important system I have is simple preparation – I put all of the breakfast dishes and cereals out on the table the night before – that way if any of the kids wake up grumpy or are clingy the others can tuck in! I also put everyone’s clothes out the night before too as it helps with the usual mad morning rush.

Review what’s working – and change what’s not

With everything you have to do on a daily basis you can easily become overwhelmed. Take time out to review what is working for you at the moment and what is giving you a headache. Be honest with yourself and see where you can make changes and introduce simple systems that will help ease the pressure. Most importantly don’t forget to schedule a regular time for you to take time out.

Want more tips and inspiration? Follow Jaelithe’s Facebook page.