timesavers, how-to, parenting, self-care
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1. Plan ahead

Ever notice how much time you waste when you don’t plan ahead for errands? If you fly by the seat of your pants instead of meal planning for example, you are likely making several extra trips to the grocery store or market every week to pick up ingredients you forgot or simply didn’t write down to restock. This same theory is helpful when planning any shopping excursion. Taking a few minutes to plan out upcoming birthday presents, home improvement projects, or holiday craft ideas will save you plenty of time (as well as gas!) in the long run and will open up windows of time for you to spend on other more nourishing pursuits. Planning ahead on ventures such as vacations also offers a mood boost since you know you have something to look forward to.

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2. Unplug (or plug in less)

Social media can be such a time drain, and jumping from site to site can cause us to feel scatterbrained and unable to concentrate for long periods of time, not to mention recent studies that link Facebook the higher rates of depression. I often sign in to Facebook for “just a minute” and then end up in a rabbit hole of links to interesting articles as well as pictures of my friends who live across the country. Even when I am on for just a minute here or there, those minutes really add up during the course of a day. Trying to check email or social media or favorite websites just once or twice a day will free up those minutes. You can even set a timer to keep you on track. You’re probably saying, “How much of a time benefit can that be? I can’t fit in a hike or a meditation session in that minute or two.” True, but using those minutes to clean up the kitchen or pick up a handful of toys or take the dog outside will potentially leave you with less to do at the end of the day or at your child’s naptime, meaning more time to write a poem, relax with a loved one, or read a book. Try an experiment. Put your phone somewhere out of the way during the course of one day. Without it close by, see if you are more productive and if you really need that media “fix.”

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3. Seriously, schedule “me time” in

I have issues with the name “me time” (since I firmly believe that time benefits my whole family), so call it whatever you want. But just like date nights have to be scheduled in (months ahead for some of us), it’s important to treat self-care like any other appointment or meeting. If you do, that weekly yoga class or bi-monthly massage or acupuncture appointment will go on the books (or on your smartphone) as a non-negotiable. It’s often easy to say, “Oh I can skip going to my pilates class today, I’m feeling pretty good.” Establishing a pattern or habit is often helpful because you are more likely to stick with something. A regular schedule will also give you something familiar to fall back on if you do need to skip your appointments/lessons for a week or two. If you are making appointments, book the next appointment while you are in the office or studio. That way you don’t have to add making that appointment to your to-do list (another time saver). And you can expand beyond “me time” by planning activities such as a weekly walk with a good friend, an outing that will benefit both your physical and social well-being.

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4. Try something new (or stick with the old)

Once we’ve mastered a craft or art, it sometimes loses its allure. And as parents, there is often little time to pick up a new hobby — most of us have enough trouble balancing the interests we already have! Challenging yourself to learn something new is always fun, but taking a skill you already have to the next level can make a new pursuit less intimidating (plus you likely already have the basic materials on hand). If you have high-school Spanish skills, take a conversation class or a class on Spanish cinema. There may be some fun people in your class, and then you’re doing double duty for your social and mental wellness.

Trying a completely new skill will give your brain a work-out, and you may find a passion you never knew you had. It’s so inspiring to see people pick up new areas of interest-and think about how cool (or at least how comical) your kids will think you are when you show off your new break-dancing skills.

health & body, illness, how-to, self-care
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5. Remember what can happen if you don’t take care of yourself

Most of us have said half-jokingly, “I don’t have time to get sick. I have too much to do.” We use the excuse of lack of time for skipping exercise, picking up less-than-healthy take-out food, etc. When I became ill, I realized how time consuming being sick is: along with being absolutely exhausted, I ended up with a variety of doctor’s appointments on a regular basis as well as appointments with an acupuncturist and a Chinese herbalist. Even once I was on the mend, my body took months to return to my “normal” levels of energy. We can’t avoid getting every single virus or illness that passes through our children’s schools or our workplaces, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help us curb the intensity and frequency of some.

What I realized is that you can make time for the things that are really important to you, and taking care of yourself should be at the top of that list. It’s better to do it when you can before you find that you must out of necessity. Also, there are certain physiological facts that we have to contend with — like the finding that we can build bone mass until about the age of 35 and then it starts to decline. Of course, creating healthy lifestyle habits when you are younger means you hopefully have longer to reap the benefits.

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6. Set a good example

I think taking care of ourselves sends a good message to our children as well. Achieving a healthy balance is going to be extremely difficult for their generation. Think of all the media advancements they will likely be contending with by the time they are adults. Who knows what their job market or even the environment as a whole will look like? I love to involve my kids in the simple things that nourish me as well: doing yoga, cooking healthy meals, taking our dog for a walk. Take moments during the day, whether it be everyone recalling the best and worst parts of their day around the dinner table or reading a book together before bed, and make them into a ritual. These little habits help kids learn to take note of the special moments in the everyday as well as how to focus and settle down.

Finding an enjoyable way to stay physically active is super important as a parent. If your child sees you dancing up a storm, getting excited about geocaching, or going for a swim, he or she is more likely to view physical activity as a fun part of life instead of drudgery.

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7. Rethink the way you spend the moments of your days… and how you perceive them

One of my favorite phrases is “Do what you are doing while you are doing it.” Basically, this means we should live in the moment and give our full attention to that moment. How often are we semi-engaged in a task, doing one thing but thinking of another? Most of this scattered thinking is unproductive, and using the power of positive thought to just relax and breathe (instead of wondering how the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles can possibly be as slow as it is and checking your watch every 10 seconds) can be extremely effective. I used to complain that I never had enough for a variety of things, but especially time to try to meditate. Now I remind myself that anything can become a meditation — washing dishes, making a cup of tea, anything that I just experience and give my attention to.

Especially in the first year or so of parenting, I was often overwhelmed by how much work one tiny human could create in terms of elements such as laundry and food preparation. Then I realized that I could complain about these things or I could re-frame them. Now when I get up early in the morning to fix my kids’ lunches, I give thanks that we have plenty of good food in our house and that I can provide healthy, nourishing meals for them. Instead of being frustrated by the mounds of laundry that will never truly end, I am grateful that we have a washer and dryer and also that we have clothes for every season that keep us warm when it is cold and vice versa. Re-framing these responsibilities is positive thinking at its simplest and best. Just changing the way we perceive an event makes us happier and can even make us healthier. Give some of these tips a try for a saner, healthier, more balanced you!