Since it's “Focus on Learning” month, I'm really honing in on ways that I can be more organized, and efficient. One of the things I've started doing this year that has made a HUUUGGGEEE difference in my life is to use a simple timer! Not sure why it took me so long to figure it out. But using a simple timer has helped me solve (or at least greatly help) some recurring issues in my life:
- Nagging my kids to move faster, turn off the TV, get their chores done…
- Feeling like I was doing nothing but cleaning all day, but not really accomplishing anything…
- Not giving myself ample time to relax during the day, or relaxing for too long and feeling guilty for wasting inordinate amounts of time…
These and many more things can all be made better by using a simple kitchen timer, watch, clock feature on your phone, stopwatch, or sun dial (let's hope not…). Here are some of the ways I use a timer throughout my day to make my life much easier:
1. Use a timer to make meal times a breeze
My kids are young (I have 3 kids, the oldest is 4.5). They are NOT motivated by food. Meal times became a marathon event full of threatening, nagging, and punishing to get them to eat all their food. Sounds dramatic? Yes, it really was.
One day I had it. I went to the oven, set the timer for 10 minutes, and announced that anyone who was finished with their food by the time the timer beeped got dessert. The rest of the 10 minutes was filled with chit chat, singing, casual banter – because I wasn't yelling and nagging any more. When the timer beeped, neither of my two older kids (my baby is off the hook…for now…muahaha) had finished their dinner. I dumped their plates (they said they were finished), and Bubba and I enjoyed a huge bowl of ice cream in front of them.
They threw a fit, of course…but that's now their problem, not mine. It's all about transferring pressure from us, to that mean ol' timer.
Now, the “dinner's up” timer is a regular occurrence in our house! Here are some ways I've learned to make it ultra successful:
- Keep the dessert simple. We usually just do an Otter Pop or a frozen GoGurt. Sometimes it's a cookie, or even 1/2 a cookie. Sometimes it's 1 piece of candy. It doesn't have to be much, just enough to reward and motivate.
- We're careful to not give them more than they could/should eat, because they have to eat every bite of what's on their plate before the time runs out to get dessert.
- They don't HAVE to eat everything that's on their plate…but they do if they want dessert. They can declare being done eating at any time, but every bite has to be eaten (and eaten before the timer beeps) if they want dessert. And they have to remain sitting with the rest of the family, until everyone is done. If they are hungry after dinner, they can have more dinner. No snacks.
- I only use the meal timer as-needed. Some days I don't need the timer. They are starving, or love dinner, or the stars are aligned for whatever reason and dinner goes off without a hitch. I just play it by ear and if I feel like they need it, the timer comes out.
- We use the timer for any meal, not just dinner.
- This really comes in handy on mornings when they have school and it seems like a battle to get everyone out the door on time.
- Try to keep mealtimes fun and conversational, even if/when the timer is used. No one will be motivated to come to dinner if it's a total drag! See my “5 tips for making dinnertime something your family will actually look forward to” for tips.
2. Use a timer to keep your house clean.
Sometimes I look at my house and feel absolutely overwhelmed. Between the deep-cleaning, organizing, and just staying on top of the day-to-day messes, there are days where I just ignore it all because there is NO WAY I could possibly get it all done…
I started using a simple timer to help me stay motivated, and on-top of messes. When my kids go down for naps, for example, I'll choose one room to work on (like the kitchen). I'll set a timer for 5, 10, or 15 minutes (not usually longer than that). I'll work as hard and fast as I can until the timer beeps. Then I stop what I'm doing, even if it's mid-spray, and move on with my day, or move on to another room and do the same thing.
Let me tell you what…it's AMAZING what you can do in 5 minutes when you buckle down, focus, and you feel a sense of urgency. Here are some tips for how to make this work well:
- Start with general cleaning first, then move to fine details only if you still have time once the general cleaning is done. Start by picking things up and putting them where they go. If they belong in another room, put it all in a laundry basket, then take 1 of the minutes to run around and put everything back where it goes.
- Be sure to stop when the timer stops! You're setting the timer for a reason, mostly because you're short on time and want to stay motivated. If it becomes a marathon event every time you do this, your subconscious will want to do it less and less.
- Get your family involved! We will often do a 3 minute “blitz clean-up” before dinner and make a game out of it. Whoever can pick up the most items, or get their specific job done in the 3 minutes gets a piece of candy before dinner, or gets their stick moved up on their behavior chart, or gets a high-five from us.
- See more tips like this in my “spring cleaning tips” post!
One phrase that runs through my mind when doing this is… “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Think of your house as an elephant, and embrace tackling it bit by bit! (or bite by bite, if you'd rather…)
3. Use a timer to schedule guilt-free R&R into your day
As a mom the work is never done. EVER. (especially with Bubba being gone for work.) I, like my own mother, am a “doer”. I tend to feel guilty when I sit and veg out, and am not really “accomplishing” anything which is why I'm such a multi-tasker. (Can anyone relate?)
I found myself getting burned out and cranky with my hubby and kids because I wasn't taking time to take care of ME in the day. Ironically, it led me to being less productive because I was slugging through my day, unmotivated to accomplish much. Thanks to a little timer, R&R is more balanced for me now.
I will choose certain times in my day – usually once while my kids are napping, and once at night right after we put the kids down, before I tackle the dinner mess and tornado from the day. I will give myself guilt-free time to do whatever I want – social media, Pinterest, sit and watch pointless reality TV, read, nap, whatever! When the timer goes off, I feel reenergized and ready to tackle all of the things I need to accomplish before day's end. The amount of time I set on the timer varies from day to day, depending on how I feel or how much I do/don't need to get done that day.
Either way, it's helped me slow down, and focus on ME for a minute. Literally.
4. Use a timer to help manage screen-time
We aren't huge TV watchers in our house, but we certainly love a good show or kid movie to help ease the kids into the day, motivate them to “earn” screen-time, or just help keep them occupied for a minute so I can rush and finish something that needs finishing.
No matter what the day, time, hour, show, or reason, my kids almost always throw a FIT when I walk in and turn the TV off. I was so sick of it!
So now, I give my kids fair warning. When it's time for the TV to go off I will tell them, “3 minutes until the show gets turned off, even if it the [show or game] is not over!”. I set the timer on my phone, and set the phone right next to them. Once the timer goes off, I sing-song cheerily “Yay! You guys got to watch so much TV, how fun! The timer is telling me it's time to turn it off now, can't wait for you to watch it again next time!”. And CLICK. The screen (iPad, computer, TV, phone, etc) goes off.
It's AMAZING the difference. It's helped cut down dramatically on “screen withdrawal tantrums” especially.
It also keeps us parents in check and helps as avoid turning our kids into zombies by sticking them in front of a screen too much. I know some parents that have their kids earn minutes of screen time for every 5 minutes they play outside (or do something active, or read, etc.). There are lots of ways a timer can help make the screen-time battle more peaceful!
- Note: This timer method works well for ending any sort of activity for kids – playing at a park, leaving a friend's house, time to clean up toys, etc. By giving them even one minute warning and setting it on a timer, it helps give them time to mentally prepare for the fun to end, and again, transfers pressure off of you!
5. Use a timer to rescue bedtime.
My daughter Priya might only be 3, but boy that girl is a CHATTER BOX! At night when we're tucking her into bed, it's like someone put a quarter in her and gave her a shot of Red Bull. She talks at lightening speed, and finds any and all reason to keep us in the room; “I need a drink”…”I want another story”…”I want to tell you something”…”I want to wear different jammies”. We found bedtime with Priya dragging out to a 30, 45, even 60-minute process some nights. All the while my quiet 4 year old wasn't getting much quality time with us at all, simply because he wasn't demanding it.
Now we've started doing “tuck-in time” to even the playing field, and make sure kids are getting quality time at bedtime…while keeping the process down to an efficient timeline.
The way it works is:
- We read books and pray together as a family first. Then we separate the kids into their own rooms for individual tuck-in time.
- The kids get 1 minute of tuck-in time per year (so Hutch gets 4 minutes since he's 4, Priya gets 3 minutes).
- We can read extra books to/with them during their tuck-in time, or we do “talking time” if they prefer. Whatever it is, it has to be done in their bed, with them laying down.
- We set the timer, and I say “What would you like to talk about, Priya?” and off she goes! She rambles at record pace for the 3 minutes. We also use this time to talk about what is going on the next day, exciting things coming up on the calendar, etc.
- When the timer goes off we both put our hands over our mouths and stop talking, mid-sentence (whether it's “talking-time” or reading together). If Priya, for example, tries to keep talking I cut her off and whisper, “the timer is beeping! We can't talk any more, you'll wake your [stuffed] animals!” and try to make a game out of it. If she starts whining or fighting me on it I'll get more stern and say something like “Uh oh, if you talk after the timer beeps then we have to take away 1 minute of tuck-in time tomorrow” and that tends to do the trick.
Tuck-in time WORKS. Like. A. Friggin. Champ.
For Priya, she gets time to tell us all sorts of things that are on their mind, and there is a reasonable stopping point without us turning into mean monster parents.
It works in the opposite way for Hutch. It gets him talking, and helps us engage in conversation with him that we might not think to do otherwise, because he simply doesn't talk as much as Priya! He gets several precious minutes of undivided attention from mom and/or dad, which makes him feel loved and helps us get to know him better.
The kids can earn extra time on their behavior chart, or if we feel like they are extra wiggly or needy that night we will sneak in an extra minute or two.
So, there you go! Those are just 5 of the ways I use a timer in my day to help me stay efficient, and to ease tension and tantrums in the Page household.
Do YOU ever use timers? If so, how does setting a timer help in your day? Please fill us in by leaving a comment!
Have a good TIME today! (har, har, har…)