The last few weeks before summer holiday are a manic flurry of activity. In a high mobility expat community such as the one I live in, end of year celebrations at school are joined by leaving parties for friends moving on and distraught children (and adults) saying farewell to important people in their lives. Combine this with pressure to tie up work before a long off-the-grid summer for both parents, and it’s fair to say that my household has been a stressful place lately.

I don’t handle stress well.  Indeed, the last time I felt an overwhelming sense of not coping, I ended up in a hospital bed strapped to a heart monitor counting 220 beats a minute. I knew I had to make some priorities to manage my timetable – or risk another mummy meltdown. I just didn’t have the time to work out a solution.

So, when Lisa Ferland of Knocked Up Abroad advertised a webinar on productivity, I decided to give it a go. I’m sure there are heaps of excellent resources out there, but when time is scarce, I tend to trust familiarity. Lisa is an expat in Sweden, raising two young kids and I assume her everyday life is no less manic than mine. Still, she manages to be a successful editor, writer and publisher so I thought, whatever she has to share about time management is probably well worth the 18 minutes the webinar lasts.

Here are the three tips I found most useful:

Organize your work space:

This is sound advise, but can be remarkably challenging to manage. I have three kids and despite my persistent efforts to reduce our mountain of belongings they seem to have stuff everywhere! I’m not normally in favour of banning the kids from areas of the house but I have put a temporary play ban on my study. No crayons or Lego allowed.

Make a to-do list:

I love lists. They help me remember and I especially love ticking off tasks once complete. My list was loooong. Lisa recommended starting with only five items on your list. Here are mine:

  • Finish my texts for the Families in Global Transitions Insights book before flying mid June
  • Do background reading to help one of my children resolve a challenge at school
  • Deal with mother language paperwork
  • Be more present at school and help with end of year celebrations and friends leaving soon because the community depends on volunteers and this is important to my kids and my family’s social life
  • Organize gifts and things for summer holiday

All these entries are really just headlines for lists of their own. Writing them was sore, too, because they touch on finding the time and energy to be the parent I want to be while at the same time being able to work when the kids are at school. The prospect of ranking ‘finish my texts before June 15th’ as more important than ‘help my child solve issues’ or ‘be more present as a parent at school’ was harsh. What helped me was this:

Prioritize your list in terms of importance and urgency

I have a tendency to do everything at once, creating a state of frenzy which again leads to stress. Prioritizing your list in terms of importance can be challenging, but I knew it had to be done. Prioritizing your list in terms of urgency, however, was new to me; and an eye-opener.

By adding a timeline, I could label

  • ‘finish the texts’ and ‘help with stuff at school’ as urgent – needs to be done before summer holiday starts. I pushed back the
  • ‘ongoing issue needing research’ and ‘deal with mother language paperwork’ a couple of weeks, and, brutally, got rid of
  • ‘gifts for family’ altogether. There is a gift store at the airport.

Not everything has to happen today. Today, I’ve scrapped my list. Today, I’m having lunch with friends I haven’t seen in months.

If you have 18 minutes to spare, head over to Knocked Up Abroad and listen to Lisa talk you through how to prioritize your list, get rid of your time-wasters and pivot when things are not working. I think it’s worth your time.