Tag Archives: time management

Is having a Present Box insane?

presents

Over the weekend I replenished my ‘Present Box’. I remember hearing about Present Boxes before I became a mum and thinking such people were completely bonkers.

And now I’m one of them.

I like to think of myself as a thoughtful shopper. I love the idea of spending hours thinking about presents for the special people in my life; their habits and personal style or something they might really need at the moment.

Given that consumer goods are so cheap these days, many more people simply buy what they want when they recognise a need, hence the popularity of ‘experience presents’ and vouchers for services like a massage. (I always think such vouchers need to come in pairs; here’s a voucher and here’s some time in your diary to have it!).

Over the last year, I have come a convert to online shopping . And now I have a Present Box.

Friends will be pleased to hear that it’s not as thoughtless as it sounds. Rather than (as I had imagined) a set of generic ‘adult female’ type presents, if I see something you might like now, I buy it immediately and have it ready for your birthday. Last Christmas was my easiest Christmas ever.

There are some more generic style presents in my Present Box, like things for newborns and new mamas, as as well as presents for Four Year Old Girls. Simply because those invitations to parties from day care can sometimes stay in the bottom of the bag until the day before!

I also really hate trying to rush in shopping malls. In fact I hate entering a shopping mall and the Present Box has helped.

Here’s my system for how it has simplified my online shopping.

1. Create a ‘shopping’ folder on your favourites on your browser. Then if you find a good site you can start browsing on sites you’ve already enjoyed previously.

2. Once you’ve found a few sites and browsed them a little, set yourself up for a session with credit card and calendar handy.  While most Australian sites I’ve used deliver within a week, I like to prepare a couple of months ahead.

3. Working through birthdays and other celebrations I simply shop online as I would in a mall, working through my priorities, leaving a tab open if I am unsure about something and moving onto my next choice.  This is a good thing to do if you’re considering several purchases from the same store.  It not only saves on delivery costs but makes receipt of packages a lot easier too.

4. I also keep all of those annoying emails that you get when you join any kind of loyalty program in one email folder.  I then scan it for ideas when I am looking for something in particular; reminded of brands and stores I have frequented in real life.

5. Once I’m finished, I then check my stocks of wrapping paper and cards to check that they cover the same time period I’ve just shopped for. Nothing like realizing you’ve left out something important at the last minute.  You could do the fancy personalized photo card if you’re really keen, but I find most people are happy with something drawn by the kids or one of those cheaper ones from places like Big W.

6. For my recent Present Box replenishment, I used My Favourite.  I’ve found on previous occasions that their delivery is very quick and the products are made of high quality materials. (Not sponsored, I just like them)

7. I’ve also started to keep a Christmas List around this time of year, mostly to keep track of what I have bought and who is left.  Last year I was pleasantly surprised to discover most people had been covered off through ‘incidental shopping’ through the year.

Do you have a Present Box?  Do you think people who keep them are thoughtless – or a little bit mad?

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Christmas shortcuts for working mums – five tips for managing December diaries

It’s a manic time.  Some of it is fun.  Lots of it is high pressure.  And sometimes you just creep through to Christmas completely exhausted and in need of drying out and a meal at home.

I once realised on December 19 that I’d attended so many Christmas functions that I hadn’t eaten a meal with a knife and fork for about three weeks.  I’d survived entirely on meals consisting of hors d’ouevres and champagne.

Those were the days.

Today, planning during December is a precision event.  When’s your work do?  And the larger team function?  Oh yes and the one you’ve been invited to at your old work?  And then there’s the mothers group Christmas, a family function or two, and December is gone.  Without even mentioning your kid’s social commitments and school graduation ceremonies.

For working mums, you can feel particularly stretched because the Christmas function may not be held on your work day, and you want to do the things stay at home mums do too.  If Santa visits your day care centre, is it on a day your child usually attends?  It’s a lot to organise.

Here are some tips to help you survive the silly season.

1. Book some babysitting now.  If you haven’t already, stop reading and call your babysitter.  And your back up babysitter.  The last Friday in December is in high demand.  Call today.  You will use that free night for something,  I promise.

2. Work out between you and your partner/hubby/babysitter which events are REALLY important.  Do you mind if you miss your Christmas function?  Some people don’t, and getting sleep and proper meals is more important.  It’s ok to admit this but if you do love a night out with your colleagues, schedule it in.

3.  Schedule in all the other crazy stuff too.  Like a night at home online to complete your gift purchases.  That time doesn’t happen automatically.  If you send Christmas cards, or a Christmas email, schedule it in too.  Do you need your eyebrows waxed?  Make an appointment now.  If it’s booked up with Christmas parties for you and your kids, it won’t happen – or it will happen at midnight on some evening in mid-December.  Stressful for everyone.

4.  Remember all the stuff that makes your life work every other month of the year.  Exercise.  Meal planning.  Catching up on Glee. It’s all still a good idea.

5.  Notwithstanding point 4, give yourself a break.  Sometimes doing everything just isn’t possible. Can’t prepare something from scratch for the mother’s group Christmas party?  Stop in at your local bakery instead.  Shortcuts are ok  and an essential way of protecting your mental health – as important this month as ever.

Your December calendar might look a bit crazy.  My husband and I send appointment requests to each other’s work diaries when we need to book a night out.  Clashes get discussed in the evenings to sort our priorities.  Apologies for the nights we just can’t get babysitting are made as early as we can admit we just won’t make it.

It’s never a perfect system, but it helps us manage the insanity just a little bit!

How do you manage your time commitments during December?

Good news. Healthy mums mean healthy kids.

A new study today has found that if mums are healthy, kids are too.

Not exactly rocket science but the key findings, reported here in the Daily Telegraph, are:

For each hour mum increases her physical activity, their child’s play time increases by 16 minutes a day.

But if mum adds an hour of screen time, their child’s sedentary viewing expands by eight minutes, the study found.

..Mum’s screen time was “the only factor significantly associated with their child’s screen time”.

So now we have no excuse for not getting out for that walk!

When I had to do a lot of physiotherapy after a second painful  knee operation last year, I learned that, despite being busy like all working mums, it actually was possible to find time for exercise.   I had additional motivation because I was facing a permanent limp unless I actually did my thirty minutes every single day, but it was a great lesson to learn.

I’ve slipped back a bit since then but I found new ways of exercising I hadn’t considered before.  The best one was to do lunges and push ups on playground equipment.  You need to manage it so you can see enough to race over and stop your kids from waving that stick around or jumping off something and breaking a leg, and it feels a little silly at first, but it does actually allow you to do two things at the same time.  I also try and catch up with friends for a walk and coffee at the end, rather than just a coffee, or to meet with children at the beach or playground with a ball so I can get a little incidental exercise.  Chasing a three year old on soft sand gets your heart rate up!

Does this study make sense to you?  Do you have time to exercise, and do you think it influences your children?

Kirsten

Birthday party tips for working mums

I did not bake this cake. My friend Shehana who has more kids and a more demanding job than me did.

It turns out I can organise a party with punch for three year olds.

Miss Nearly Three turns Three this week and I’ve been panicking about her birthday party since she first shared the guest list with me… nine months ago.

As soon as she’d blown the candles out on Grandma’s cake last July, she started asking me what would happen for her birthday.  I said we could have some friends over and eat cake, if she wished.

We’ve discussed it Every Single Day since.

Each time it’s been somebody else’s birthday, we’ve counted the months/days/weeks until hers, and discussed our plans.  After day care there is always a new best friend to consider.  Mummy and Daddy have come on and off the guest list depending on the number of Time Outs issued.  But the need for cake has been a constant.

Somewhat naively, about a month ago, I sat down with Miss Nearly Three and the Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book.  I was inspired by my friend Shehana who posted the gorgeous work of art above on Facebook.  We had a lovely afternoon looking through cakes and working out which one we’d make for the big party.  And then I realised, I simply would not have time! I have not yet met a working mum with hours in her life for fabulously intricate baking.  Except Shehana, and I’m seriously thinking about defriending her on Facebook.

Fortunately, last week I read this great post from Mrs Woog at Kidspot, which helped me realise that many of the cool mums have learned to cut corners.

So here’s what worked for me.

Invitations

I did send out invitations, but since none of the kids can read, and I did it so late I had to text everyone anyway, I wondered why I didn’t just invite everyone by SMS?  Cheaper than a stamp, they have all the details ready to hand and a reply SMS means the RSVP is done too.

Food

This is a vexed issue.  Too much sugar and you’re the bad mum who rotted all the other kids’ teeth.  Not enough, and you’ve broken the kids’ hearts.  We opted for a fruit plate upon arrival, some store bought mini-muffins and a round of coffees for the parents, help yourself juice for everyone and a sausage sizzle.

The sausage sizzle was not my idea, but when we attended a birthday party for Miss Nearly Three’s friend Oliver last weekend it appeared to us as genius. Our local Woolies had packs of 24 sausages for less than $10. Plenty of food, something adults and kids love and by slicing the bread into triangle halves there was no need for plates.  Dishes done.

Numbers

Tips to remember in determining numbers for your toddler party.

  • DO NOT invite every small child mentioned in conversation over the previous nine months.  You do not need two dozen toddlers in your home.
  • DO NOT invite all of your adult friends with kids. You won’t get time to chat to them anyway, and kids in groups usually prefer ones close to them in age.  Others get left out or ignored.  Best see those friends one on one, like when you and your friends are having coffee and watching your differently-aged kids use a playground together.
  • DO NOT, under any circumstances, believe your child when she says that someone is her best friend.  This will change many times in the next few years, and almost immediately after you’ve finalised a guest list.
  • Reinforce the good decisions.  Remember to invite the parents you like and the kids you know your kid has enjoyed hanging with on several previous occasions.  Talk about how exciting it will be to see them constantly.
  • Above all, the rule about inviting the number of kids equal to your kids age seemed appropriate.  So we doubled it.

Toys

The most important thing we’ve learned, from previous hosting experience, is to PUT AWAY THE PUZZLES!  You will spend the next three weeks finding pieces wedged into your backside when you sit down to watch Grey’s Anatomy.  You know I speak from experience on this one.

So we left out a few larger toys but put all the good stuff in the backyard.  This worked on all the kids except for poor Sebastian, who remembered our paltry collection of Matchbox cars from a visit last December and spent the whole three hours looking for them.

Cake

I’m pretty sure that this was the highlight of Miss Nearly Three’s life so far. Even better than the zoo.  Even better than the time she convinced me to put the car window down so she could yell out when I’m at 80ks an hour, “You’ll never find my shoes now, ha ha ha!”  Yep, even better than that.

And it was all due to…. Michel’s Patisserie.

This is not the actual cake. There are only two pieces left of ours.

I realised a constant theme in the ever changing requests for cake was chocolate, so we went to Michel’s, flicked through the pictures and made a selection. Princesses of course. Only one day’s notice needed. The downside was that the one we wanted wasn’t available online as promised, so I needed some help to get to the shop.  Annoying for working mums Michels!  More expensive than homemade, but hours and  hours of my life bought back.  The kids loved it.

Last night, as I was patting a ridiculously over-tired little girl off to to sleep, she threw her arms around me and said, “Mummy thank you for my party.  It was the best party ever.”

Mission accomplished.

Childcare benefit – creating a society ‘dependent’ on handouts. Apparently.

Today in the Financial Review, Liberal MP Jamie Briggs has claimed that childcare support from the government creates a cycle of dependency.

Is he kidding? Let’s hope so.

The article isn’t online so I can’t provide a link but here are some choice quotes.

What comes with these big spending Labor Governments is a society that is more and more dependent on government handouts. Take, for example, childcare.

This cycle of dependency is reinforced by policies that make it harder and harder to get off the government teat.

Mr Briggs goes on to express concern about the changes the government is making to childcare and the potential increase in costs as a result of improvements in staff qualifications and staff to child ratios.

Strangely, the thing that irks me most is that he refers to quality childcare in inverted commas.

“Quality” child care

Umm, it’s not a joke, or a made up thing. It’s something most mums (and dads) want for their kids.

I can think of a few other areas of govenrment expenditure that might also create dependency.  Like a certain politician’s salary? It’s all about which government spending is worth it. Mmm

 Childcare support helps mums get back into the workforce – contributing to family income and rebuilding their careers.  Quality childcare (not “quality” childcare) helps kids learn and play well while their mums (and/or dads) are at work.

There are mixed views about the government’s changes to childcare. I’ve penned a view of mine below. Share your views here.   Or you can let Jamie know on Twitter (@BriggsJamie)

UPDATE 5pm: The full article still isn’t available on the newspaper’s website but it is on Mr Briggs’ webpage at jamiebriggs.com.au

Gwyneth Paltrow’s lessons for working mums – no thanks

I have a love/hate relationship with Gwyneth.  I love most of her movies, but her lack of self awareness, or the world most of us live in, is quite odd.

Last week in an interview with Harpers Bazaar, Gynweth  said what made her marriage work  was being at home when her husband returned home from work.

What??  Nothing like a bit more pressure and guilt from a high profile and wealthy mum to make the rest of us feel bad.

I don’t really care about what works for Gwyneth because her life is so unlike mine  –  although I am interested in how some of the amazing mums I know manage to hold it all together despite challenges like commuting, managing finances and imperfect child care arrangements.

Fortunately Michelle Beckett at the Huffington Post UK has managed to sum up my concerns about this.  She writes:

I’d love to stay at home in the day with my three daughters, baking organic recipes from your twee lifestyle website and getting my nose hairs detoxed with sea purslane or whatever.

Waiting sweetly in a pretty dress for my husband (if I had one) to return from work, so I can rub his shoulders and fetch him his pipe and slippers as his organic butternut squash and quinoa supper cooks….

Let me tell you about MY life. I know enough about your perfect one, thanks…

I’m a single self-employed full time working mum of three girls aged 15, 11 and nearly three. I won’t moan, I consider myself very privileged. I juggle my successful business with organising myself, the girls, the logistics of two ex husbands, the housework, the cooking, the… holy crap, please no one drop in and notice my kitchen floor…

My life is a whirl of missing school letters, frantic washing of school tights at 11pm when we’ve run out, trying not to shout at kids for missing homework left to the last minute, painting walls, potty training, nursery pick ups…

Mixed with… (deep breath) preparation of PowerPoints and booking trains so I can go speak on stage to business audiences, as I try to look immaculate, professional and as if I have it all together behind the scenes, perfectly, like Gwyneth does.

Check out the full version of Michelle’s piece here.

What do you think of Gwyneth?  Am I being unfair in resenting her lessons to working mums?  Or is she simply answering questions about her life and if any of us feel guilty is it our problem?

Back to School

This time of year, every piece of junk mail in the letterbox brags about Back to School Savings.

Even though my daughter isn’t yet three, I started wondering about Back To School Costs. It must be difficult to manage –  just after Christmas, you’ve had the kids at home for weeks, those extra expenses.

I asked the two most organized working mums I know about their costs, plans and whether they had any tips. Here’s what they said.

Emma, mum to Amelia (11) and Harrison (9), works four days a week.

I buy both kids a new drink bottle, lunch box, pair of shoes, socks, school hat, stationery items (even though school supply some) and pencil case.

I would spend between $250- $300. Most of this money is on shoes. Harry needs a pair every term and Amelia only once a year.

I buy my shoes generally later in the day as people tend not to be at the shops buying school stuff then.

I start putting the kids to bed earlier about ten days before so it’s not such a shock when school goes back.

I also start them reading to me or themselves before bedtime to get started with a homework routine.

Emma is one of my oldest and dearest friends. You can see why.

Kellie, mum to Kiara (6) and Tia (4) said;

My theory is that we can never be too organised. I have always talked to my girls about our plans, what is coming up etc.

We have calendars in the pantry and toilet that have things we are doing – including going back to school/kindy/work. It should not be a night before surprise!

We are also talking about going to bed earlier to get back into learning mode

We just do what we do! No real reason other than sticking with what is working and changing what is not.

Like I said, the two most organized working mums I know.