Smart strategies to keep your day running like clockwork.
Woman and clock
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Anxiety-Free Mornings

After slowly, lovingly settling my toddler and baby down for their after-lunch naps, I morph into an Olympic sprinter. I dump in a load of laundry, check my e-mail, clean up the kitchen, make some phone calls. The clock is running, and I'm determined not to waste a minute! With two kids under 3, every second counts. Sound familiar? Below are some strategies I've learned to make the most of my day. One of these afternoons, when I get everything done with five minutes to spare, I'll be kicking back with a cup of tea to celebrate!

Anxiety-Free Mornings

  • The number one way to keep your mornings sane: Prepare the night before. Choose an outfit for you and for every child. Pack lunches. Stock the diaper bag and your work bag so you can just grab and go in the morning.
  • Designate an area on your to-do list, calendar, or PDA specifically for the morning, says organizing expert Jamie Novak, author of 1,000 Best Quick and Easy Time-Saving Strategies (Sourcebooks). Outline musts such as giving baby her medicine or baking cupcakes for your toddler's playgroup.
  • Wear your keys on a stretch coil bracelet so your hands are free to carry your child or whatever gear you need as you head out the door.
  • Hang a mirror outside your bathroom, Novak suggests. Instead of competing for time in front of the sink, you can do a quick check as you dash by. (No baby-food bananas smeared on my shirt? Yay!)
Woman and clock
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Easier Errands

  • Whenever possible, schedule appointments (say, your kids' haircuts or doctor's visits) back to back or simultaneously.
  • Become the queen of calling ahead. "Call in advance for restaurant seating, call the store before you go to make sure it has what you need, call before appointments to see if the doctor, hairstylist, or whoever is running on time," Novak says.
  • For away-from-home emergencies, pack your trunk with an extra diaper bag stocked with diapers, wipes, a blanket, and a change of clothing.
  • Don't throw away those return-address labels that keep coming in the mail -- stash them in your bag. "The next time you need to provide your name and address, simply stick on a label," Novak says.
  • Keep a small trash bag in your car. When I pull into the driveway with my kids asleep in the backseat, I use the time to gather wrappers, cups, and other trash that has accumulated in the car.
  • Also store a small bin (a folding fabric cube works well) in the car to gather toys, sippy cups, and other items that belong in the house. Toss the items in the bin for easy transport inside.
  • Hire a babysitter or swap babysitting duty with another mom so you can quickly knock a few to-dos off your list without the kids in tow, Novak says. "If you've already booked a babysitter for a particular event, fit in an errand or two before returning home."
Woman and clock
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Hassle-Free Chores

  • Wear your baby in a carrier while you vacuum, clean up the kitchen, or tackle other tasks, as Scotch Plains, New Jersey, mom Sandi Tortorella does with her 3-month-old son, Luca. You'll have your hands free while keeping your little one close.
  • I like to place socks in lingerie bags (one for each family member) before dropping them in the washing machine. No more hunting for tiny baby or toddler socks gone MIA.
  • Store sheets (tucked into pillowcases) in the room in which they'll be used instead of in the linen closet.
  • Make your house a shoe-free zone. "Eighty percent of the dirt in your home is tracked in on your shoes," Novak says.
  • "When my 3-month-old son, Nolan, is napping," says Sara Dadyar, of Monroe, Connecticut, "I pop in my cell phone earpiece so I can do things like banking and calling the insurance company while my hands are free for washing bottles or doing laundry."
Woman and clock
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Dinner Without Distress

  • Start early. Put together a casserole or slow-cooker meal during breakfast, when you're in the kitchen anyway.
  • Involve your children in making meals. Toddlers and preschoolers can sprinkle cheese on quesadillas, tear up lettuce for a salad, or arrange potato slices on a baking sheet. You don't save time because of the help you're getting (of course you could do it faster yourself), but you don't have to leave the room every two minutes to find a crayon or referee a fight.
  • Make Sunday your weekly meal-prep day. Portion out snacks into individual servings, cut up veggies to be used for dinner later in the week, and make a double batch of a freezer-friendly meal to pull out on a busy night.
  • Fire up the barbecue. "It takes less time to cook fish on the grill than it does to make chicken nuggets in the oven -- and it's much healthier," says Jenn Hervy, mother of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old in Towson, Maryland.
  • While you're cleaning up after dinner, set the table with breakfast dishes and nonperishable items such as cereal so you have a head start in the morning.
Woman and clock
Credit: Kaysh Shinn

Peaceful Good-Nights

  • Make a 15-minute tidy-up of the family room or playroom part of your family's bedtime ritual, Novak suggests. You can even set a timer. The payoff: You'll start the next day clutter free.
  • Have a routine -- bath, teeth brushing, story, then bed, or whatever works for you -- and stick to it.
  • Keep a small cup of water in the bedroom so you can respond quickly to last-minute requests for a drink.
  • Team up with Dad. While my husband bathes our 7-month-old, I help my just-washed 2-year-old get into her pajamas and select bedtime stories. My husband and I switch off regularly so we get time with each child.
  • Take your own bath or shower at night. "I get a peaceful soak once the kids are in bed," says Karen Webb, of Westfield, New Jersey, mom to 2-year-old Amelia and 4-year-old Lillian. "In the morning, I can just roll out of bed and into my clothes."
Credit: Nicholas Eveleigh

More Time Savers

  • Always running late? Set a timer to ring 10 minutes before you need to leave.
  • Laminate a list of must-haves for the diaper bag. Scan it every time you leave the house so you don't forget anything.
  • Institute a two-minute rule: If a task can be accomplished in two minutes or less, do it then and there. Things always take less time at the moment.
  • Label toy bins with photos of the items that belong inside to encourage your child to help with cleanup. You can add words as well to foster reading skills.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the January 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.

American Baby