One of My Best Parenting Tricks

I was asked what it’s like to be a new mother. What is it like? It’s awesome! And also: really difficult! I remember a day shortly after my oldest child Ralph was born, I was feeling so good that day, so accomplished. I started thinking about WHY I was feeling so good and realized it was because I had managed to shower. When it hit me that my big accomplishment for the day was showering, I could not have been more shocked! I realized I needed to change the way I approached the day — that my pre-baby methods weren’t going to work any more.

One of the things that really helped me adjust to my new parenting life, and find some sort of work-life-balance, was figuring how to use smaller blocks of time. I might have an hour’s worth of laundry to wash and fold and put away, but I didn’t have a full hour to dedicate to it. Instead, I had to grab 15 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes during the baby’s nap, 5 after dinner and another 10 minutes when the baby was in bed. It’s not ideal, but for me, it has become second nature.

Taking advantage of small bits of time is actually one of my favorite parenting tricks. I’ve found that even a bit as small as 3 minutes can offer enough time to make me feel like I accomplished something practical and useful that day.

Five things I love to do when I find myself with 3 spare minutes:

1) Make an appointment. I always have an appointment that needs to be made — for the doctor or dentist, or for a haircut. And it doesn’t have to be an appointment. ANY practical (short) phone call is perfect. Today, I made a phonecall to order more firewood.

2) Read a book to June. Pat the Bunny only takes about 60 seconds. I can read it 3 times and June feels loved and attended to.

3) Put in a load of laundry.

4) Sit still and put myself in a better mood by doing something centering like deep breathing or a little prayer.

5) Check on my family’s blogs. : )

How about you? Do you work with small increments of time? What would you do if you had 3 spare minutes? I’d love to know!

P.S. — I bought the watch at top for Ben Blair at Muji. I love that the face is so simple!

70 thoughts on “One of My Best Parenting Tricks”

  1. With 3 minutes I like to empty the dishwasher. That would also be enough time to get the dirty dishes loaded. I feel so much better when the sink isn’t overflowing with dishes!

  2. Muji is amazing! I have a fab grey wool cape from Muji as well as a tunic…

    And how can you NOT work in small increments of time post kids??!! Actually, I found that to be the biggest adjustment – nit having large blocks of time for creative pursuits.

    If I had 3 spare minutes I would take a quick look around and gather up a few things that needed to go upstairs and take them. I rarely go up or down stairs at home without taking a few things along with me to return to where they “live”.

    1. Keeping a washing basket or cute box at the foot of the stairs to fill with stuff to take up when you next go up is a good idea too.

  3. so true! hadn’t ever thought of it that way, i like to think baby steps because sometimes there are only seconds left between numerous tasks! putting away milk left out on the counter or scrubbing down a bathroom sink certainly isn’t going to make my house instantly shine, but doing those little things throughout the day help me keep my house in order and for me, it’s vital!

  4. We do 5-minute “Room Rescues” where everyone races around trying to get as much done as possible in a room (picking up, dusting, sweeping, etc.). Everything seems more do-able when you make it into a game!

  5. jennifer reyes

    picking things up, putting away my cloths, tidying the desk, putting on some laundry, dishes….. it just makes me feel better when the house looks a little more cared for!

  6. I just used 3 extra minutes before we had to leave the house this morning to fold all the kids t-shirts and pj’s that had come out of the laundry. Now I’m happy b/c I now laundry folding is done and I don’t have to do before or after dinner tonight.

  7. I take a few minutes when one or both of my boys are playing in the bathtub to clean the bathroom! I clean the toilet and then grab the Clorox wipes and wipe down the sink, light switches, counter tops and I even use the wipes to clean the bathroom floor! (We have a pretty small bathroom so it’s a quick job!)

    The best part is that I’m still in the room, interacting with them (and making sure my youngest doesn’t get too crazy in the tub, standing up, etc.) but by the time they’re done the bathroom is clean! (Except, of course, for the tub which I usually clean on a weekend right before my own shower!)

      1. I did this last night during bath time! And with Clorox wipes too! I was thinking thank god our bathroom is so small it just takes a couple wipes to get it all clean.

  8. working full-time from home while my son is in daycare has been much more challenging than i had thought it would be, because in addition to doing my best to stay motivated and get ‘work’ work done, i also feel pulled to do things around the house. i feel so much better on the days when i take small ‘work’ breaks to:
    – empty the dish drainer and/or dishwasher and get any dishes in the sink cleaned.
    – start and/or finish a load of laundry
    – bring in the mail and/or bring the trash bins up from the street on trash day
    – tidy up by picking up stray pillows, toys, blankets, paperwork, or whatever else has found its way onto our floors and flat surfaces.

    taking 5 or 10 minutes at a time to do these things lets me give my brain (and eyes) a break from working at the computer, and makes me feel productive. not to mention it helps me feel like i’m contributing to our household more, since my husband does so much when he’s home (like cooking dinner every night!).

  9. I think laundry is one of the best small-time commitments. Very rewarding and usually I can get some small hands to help sort out socks.

    Another one is to empty the drying rack (we have a dishwasher, but somehow, the dishes manage to get handwashed anyway…).

    ALSO: a dance party to some Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or Gwen Stefani is always a great mood lifting choice if you have just enough time for the length of a song…: )

  10. 3 minutes: set the table for dinner and put out non-perishable food that I will use. It gives me a boost to be a little bit ahead during that crazy hour:)

  11. We don’t have a baby yet, but I can just tell how difficult it will be for me to adjust at first… I am so used to taking my time when cleaning up! I have the personality of a hurricane and I am prone to doing a million things at a time, which slows me down instead of making me more efficient.

    Thank you for this post, so many ideas to store for future reference! A happy women’s day to you all and may each of you feel special and loved today and every day!

  12. I’m remembering now something my mother would say: “Never underestimate the value of ten minutes!”

  13. I realize that I work like a ping pong ball – bouncing all over the house, doing whatever is in my path. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad, but I’m not sure how to handle it all otherwise.

    I have found that putting together my coffee pot for the next morning before I start on dinner helps. Any time that I’m able to cross something off oc my mental check list helps me feel in control.

    Ideally, I’d love to take 3 minutes and sit on the floor with my daughter as she does a puzzle, or sit next to my son as he reads a Magic Tree House book.
    More likely I’m cleaning up cat puke.

  14. Love and adore the watch!!! I also use snippets to read picture books!!!… and I am sure I could think of a million things to do in snippets… but often staring into space or making a coffee for myself is top of the list!!!

  15. I couldn’t agree more with #2. My 2 year old LOVES books, if I can take 5 min to read her all the books she hands me she feels loved and attended to 9as you say) and then she is much more willing to play alone for a while. As long as I give her 5-10min of my FULL attention every few hours she is a much happier camper! (if only it hadn’t taken me to the 3rd kid to learn this!)

  16. I actually just posted on my blog about possibly having more children (it pretty much scares me to death–how do you do it???). So I guess I really need to learn how to use small increments of time better. I can see how it would probably benefit my schedule instead of making an hour time block to do the laundry.
    When I have 3 minutes of spare time I check email/google reader or Pinterest (which then usually sucks away a few more minutes!), or I’ll get a dinner going in the crock pot, or I play with my kids with a little hide and seek.

  17. I sometimes clean the bathroom while my kids are in the bathtub. Granted, the tub doesn’t get clean at this time but I can do all the other surfaces in just a few minutes. Keeping the cleaning supplies under the bathroom sink makes it all even easier!

  18. Oh my goodness this is so true. Breaking up the tasks of our busy days is so important and our little ones need us to have our heads on start. Thank you for your little tidbits of wisdom Gabby, they really do encourage me to be a better, stronger woman and mother.

  19. Sandra Gonzales

    With 3 spare minutes- I can shred junk mail and credit card offers. I love the shredding sound- its soothing.

  20. Right before my kids get home from school I usually have about 10 minutes. I timed myself one time and found that I can do a quick vacuuming or empty the dishwasher or start or fold a load of laundry. Sometimes when we think about tasks we think they take longer than they acutally do.

    1. I definitely over-estimate the amount of time required to do these things…and don’t start them! This comment thread should help! Thanks!

  21. 3 minutes? I’ll check out your latest blog post! But I usually wind up spending 10 minutes because inevitably I click from one thing to another and delve into your archive of fabulous things.

  22. You are exactly right about having to work in smaller bits of time post baby! The hardest adjustment for me (housekeeping-wise) was cleaning the bathroom. It’s never ALL freshly clean at the same time, instead it cycles: first the sink, then the toilet, then the floor, then the sink again, then the tub… etc. I’ve also started leaving a basket at the top or bottom of the stairs so I can collect a load of toys, shoes, etc., that need to be taken “home.” I’m going to adopt the “never underestimate the value of 15 minutes” mantra too. That’s perfect!

  23. I write out my ‘To Do’ list of all I need or want to get accomplished in the day or next couple of days. Depending on the length of my list, I sometimes put ‘Play w/ Boys’ as an item. Just to make sure I spend the necessary time with my two children so they don’t feel lost in the shuffle of things getting done. The 3 minutes it takes to stop to gather my thoughts and prioritize tasks often leaves me with a bit of extra time (even if it only another 3 minutes) to spend with my boys, husband, as a family or on myself.

  24. oh my gosh, this is such perfect timing as it just dawned on me this very week that I might not ever find a chunk of time again for a long time although I’ve been aching for it and I have to make better use of small chunks of time. Just like you shared today! I actually started using some small chunks of time to do sit-ups or push-ups after I stopped making excuses for not exercising. This has carried over into housework, etc. Great post!

  25. Great post. while i complain about not having enough time (with 3 young boys), my husband is writing and recording songs 5-10 minutes at a time here and there. I just realized I might have cross over my husband’s your side more often. I do though seem to apply your method to small home repair jobs most :
    3 minute wall hole patch
    Next 3 minutes sand it.
    Next 3 minutes repaint.

    I also managed to quickly take apart a lamp last night and figure out what parts I need to fix it.

  26. these are the things that I do (and feel good about) in my small chunks of time: throw in a load of laundry, pay bills, make appointments, clean out a part of the fridge (maybe just one drawer), put away seasonal clothes, make the bed, wipe the sink/toilet down, do some small dinner prep, read a story to my daughter. can’t think of any others, but i definitely understand how even a small thing like unloading the dishwasher (i hate doing this more than any other chore) can change your outlook.

  27. Since I’m not allowed to touch the washing machine and dryer (that’s my husband’s domain, and he’s VERY particular about their functionality!!!), that usually means I search Pinterest for 3 minutes (or was that 30) for tonight’s meal!

  28. I really need to embrace this more. Meeting a man that included an instant family scenario didn’t give me a lot of time to ease into it. I think I’ve been doing this a bit, but I really need to see it in big letters and embrace the living daylights out of the concept!
    Thank you for giving me this survival tip that I am going to really maximize as we move forward!

  29. Great advise!!! I always think Mother’s make amazing organizers and strategist! … I would imagine that you never have an idle moment. Wishing you a great week! Gina

  30. 3 spare minutes here and there throughout the day goes a long way. I find it so liberating to say to myself or the kids, “Okay, let’s take the next few minutes to…”
    Good things can happen in small time increments. We have been able to: unload the dishwasher, put away a load of folded clothes, straighten up the toy area, make PB and J sandwiches for the family, and my personal favorite “get the wiggles out” (i.e., jump, dance around and stretch our muscles in between school subjects).

  31. First – I LOVE Muji – one of my favorite stores in NYC. I had a 12 and 17 year old when my son was born 3 years ago. I had just gotten a “taste” of having large blocks of time while the kids where in school all day (and sometimes longer if they didn’t come straight home). I completely forgot how you really do need to do things in “little bundles” of time – and I often think that I am now MORE efficient as a result! That, and getting up at 5:45 each day! :)

  32. If I have a spare three minutes my first thought is to try to clear up any random clutter…toys on the floor, mail on the coffee table, etc. I definitely start a load of wash or move it into the dryer a million times a day. Three one year olds means a never ending cycle of laundry and very few 3 minute breaks!

  33. I really really like this; I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it that way. I think it’s because I’m always looking for bigger chunks of time. Like to go for a run, or have some peace in the garden to move a perennial. My resolution has come in the big picture, now that my kids are older, I actually DO have some time. Sometimes, I’ll guiltily admit, I don’t know exactly what to do! Right now though, I am reading the Hunger Games series, so I luxuriously sit and READ! Going back to your original question/blog though, Gabby , I was thinking about a parenting tip, and thinking back to this funny thing my sister-in-law taught me, when I was a new mom, that I swore by: when your babies are fussy, you put them up high on your shoulder, and you pat-pat-pat-pat their backs and sh-sh-sh-sh over and over and do this funny mom-bob-dance. Patting and shushing and bobbing – and for some crazy reason, it works! pat-and-sh-sh that’s what we call it in our family. ; ) I so miss having babies; all you new moms don’t take one sweet smelling minute for granted. It really does go by so quick.

  34. thank you so much for this tip!! i’m having my first baby soon and since i’m a master procrastinator i’ve been worrying about getting things done around the house after the baby arrives. both the post itself and the comments – best new parent advice ever!

  35. My secret is laundry. I put a load on when I wake up. By the time I am ready, have woken my 5 month old up, fed him, etc… It’s time for the dryer. When I get home, I do a warm-up cycle in the dryer while I get dinner started. Clothes are ready to be folded as I watch my tv show after my son is down. Yes, I constantly am doing laundry, but we always have clean clothes and it makes me feel like I have done something worthy of a good night sleep ha!

  36. I feel so ahead of my life that I figured this out long before I had kids (I hate chores.)

    Three minutes? I can do lots of different things!
    – put away laundry
    – pick up all of the Tupperware my son strews about the house
    – strip or make the bed
    – load/unload the dishwasher
    – load/unl0ad washer/dryer
    – BRUSH MY TEETH (something I used to take for granted.)

    Seriously, Gabby: how you do it with 6 is totally beyond me. You’re a marvel!

  37. Very interesting post. I have no kids, but I work 9 hour days and spend 1.5 hrs commuting each day (on the subway in NY, which gives me lots of time for reading and podcasts)! I love this idea and know it’ll be useful now without children! One problem I have: how to get the motivation after a long day to actually USE the 3 min, instead of lazying around half asleep on the couch before bed…. any tips??

  38. One of my favorite things to do in a few extra minutes is some quick stretching – I have a ten month old and my back is still adjusting :) so a couple of forward folds or maybe some cat and cow and I’m back to whatever I was doing.

    I also often open blog posts that have a ton of links in them in new tabs in my browser (like your Friday “A Few Things” posts) and when I have a spare couple of minutes, I’ll go check out one of those links; I use Google Reader for my subscriptions so otherwise I’d have to go through each right away. Eventually I get through all the ones that interest me and then I can close that tab.

  39. Janelle Chapman

    Lovely to read all the tips from busy mums and to see the sharing of advice is heartwarming.
    My kids are grown up and I’m into grandparenting now. Please enjoy every minute of your bubs and children – they grow up way too fast!
    My tip is this – take a few minutes to go outside or look outside if its miserable weather. Point out the blue sky, the little birds, the sleeping cat, the weeds growing, the puffy clouds ……. All children love little details and you are giving them a small gift each time to stop and LOOK at our beautiful world.It will rejuvenate you too!

    1. This is such a good thing to remember! I’ve been trying to take my babe outside for at least a little while each day, but it’s hard to find the time somedays. Must remember that even 3 minutes can count!

  40. I make the bed… Beautifully, like in a hotel. Makes walking into your bedroom so much more tranquil than when the blankets are just thrown haphazardly over the bed.

  41. I love the idea of taking three minutes to be quiet. Often I cannot make it out to a yoga class (my favorite indulgence) but I can do one yoga pose for three minutes at home. One downward dog and some deep breaths are often just the boost I need to get to the next three minutes in my day.

  42. I usually have 10 minutes between when I get home from work and when I leave to get my kids from school. I either put in a load of laundry, vacuum the family room, or empty the dishwasher. Sometimes the tasks we dread (unloading dishwasher for me) really only take a few minutes.

  43. I like to tackle on random thing that isn’t part of my regular routine. Washing all the mirrors in the house, or all the doorknobs. Or washing all the screens– I never remember to clean the ipad, but my kids use it when they are under the weather… So, that’s gross.

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