When I put my toddler down for a nap, I feel overwhelmed with all the things I should get done in the next 90 minutes.
If I don’t have a plan, I might make a cup of coffee, then notice the pile of mail in the kitchen and start to sort through it. I probably find a bill, but when I call to pay it, the billing department is at lunch. And then I suddenly remember that my invoice for the freelance work I’ve been doing is due. As I start to work on it, the dryer buzzer goes off and I collect half a load of laundry to fold, but then I get a Facebook notification. Then all time and space disappear as I scroll through my feed.
Suddenly my child wakes up and I look around at my half a cup of cold coffee, half a pile of papers, half paid bill, half finished invoice, and half out of the dryer laundry, and I remember that I forgot to each lunch.
So how can you and I prevent this pile of half accomplishments and make the most of the precious time we have while our kiddos nap? How do we accomplish things and still feel like we got a little time for ourselves?
Here are six tips to help us get the most out of those precious nap hours.
1. Always do the same thing first
Create a habit of doing one thing that helps you transition from focus on your child to focus on you or your work. It has to be something that takes a relatively short amount of time and keeps you in the present.
Avoid an activity you can get lost in like checking emails or watching TV. You could sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while it’s still warm. Do 10 minutes of yoga (I DVR Rock Your Yoga on the Z Living channel and do one section from commercial to commercial). Light your favorite candle and straighten up the living room for five minutes so it feels like a semi-adult space again.
Whatever it is, try to be consistent. It’s the thing you always do to transition into "you" time.
2. Reserve half the time for yourself
If you were in an office setting, you wouldn’t consider it an indulgence or a luxury to have a lunch break. You’d consider it the law.
Make break time a law in your house too. Not only do you deserve it, you will be a better parent if you take some time for yourself.
Prioritize a set amount of time to do anything you want; meditate, exercise, read a book, watch TV, take a shower, call a friend, or sleep.
It’s up to you whether you prefer to take time for yourself first or get some things done and then take you time.
If you work from home and you can’t take half of naptime for yourself everyday, at least make your transition time (from tip #1) something you enjoy doing, and try to schedule longer breaks one or two days a week.
3. Make a short task list and set a timer
Make a list of tasks (in order of importance) that you could easily accomplish in half the amount of time your child’s nap.
If your kids usually nap for an hour, write down two or three things you can accomplish in 30 minutes. Set a timer for half an hour, and stop working when the timer goes off (this is especially important if you schedule your break for the second half of naptime).
Make sure you tackle the most important task first, and check the items off so you get that sense of accomplishment.
4. Complete one task at a time
Multitasking is not really a thing. We’re not able to focus on two or more things at the same time. What we do is switch from thinking about one thing to thinking about another, and research shows that switching tasks is not the most efficient way to get work done.
As in my example above, I am guilty of starting five tasks at once. It makes me feel like I’m getting a lot accomplished, but really I’m just getting a lot started. When my time is up, no task is completed.
Pick one task and work on it until it’s done.
5. If someone else can do it, let them
You could stay busy doing housework every second of the day, 24 hours a day. Don’t do that. Let your partner help.
You have such a short and precious amount of time to yourself each day. Don’t spend 15 minutes of it taking out the trash when your partner can do that later.
If you work from home, let your co-workers or employees do some things that you don’t absolutely have to do yourself.
As a general rule, if anyone ever says, "Do you want me to do this?" The correct answer is, "Yes!"
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6. Stay off email and social media
Interaction on the internet is a time and energy sucking vortex. If you must check your email or social media for work purposes, I suggest making it your final task and stopping when that timer ding signifies that it’s time for you.
Personally, I don’t find being on social media all that relaxing, so I don’t suggest it for the personal portion use of your child’s naptime. But I’ll leave that to your discretion.
On days I follow my own suggestions, I feel good. The transition time helps me focus. I tackle some work with efficiency, and then I catch up on my TV shows with a hot cup of coffee.
Of course, some days I have to work the entire naptime, but then I don’t feel one bit guilty when I take a nap myself the entire next naptime. It’s all about balance.