How She Does It

“How do you do it?”

Busy mothers hear this all the time. Time management is an important yet elusive goal. Everyone wants to know “the secret.” I’ve been blessed to know some very holy and efficient mothers. Let me introduce a couple to you and then we’ll talk strategy.

My mother had 13 children, yet always found time to read to us, spend time with us and do special projects with us. I remember taking ceramics classes with her, a self-defense class with her, spending time baking with her, and just chatting over coffee with her. Yet, she is known for her immaculate house and penchant for perfectly ironed clothes. Mom (and Dad) also found time to foster parent, and made time to welcome into their home a couple of unwed pregnant teenagers for a short time.

Mom is not an organization-joiner. You won’t find her name on the board of directors of any agencies. She is what I call a “fill-in-the-gapper.” Mom’s strategy is like the Nike advertisement slogan: “Just Do It.” She doesn’t fret a lot about how she is going to accomplish her many duties. She simply prioritizes, makes a list and digs in.

My friend Andrea is another such efficient Catholic mom. She is a college professor turned stay-at-home, home-schooling mom (for 16 years at last count). She and her husband are raising six children. Her oldest is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. She’s managed to squeeze in reviewing books, and running a Web site of resources for other moms. Did I mention that she has a doctorate in psychology, has written some educational diagnostic learning style tests and runs a small academy in New York? Andrea arranges her day around an “Avilian” (as in St. Teresa of Avila) method. She looked to the disciplined example of the Carmelite sisters and studied their schedules. They have a firm yet realistic schedule. They create time to pray and even to relax. Space doesn’t allow me to explain this system entirely in this column, but suffice it to say that planning and following a daily rhythm, as well as putting God first, are key components.

Look around and I’m sure you’ll see many other examples of motivating Catholic mothers. Don’t be intimidated by them. Be inspired by them! Pull them aside and pick their brains when you have the opportunity. I’m sure they won’t mind.

Now, let’s talk strategy. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Relax. Being stressed doesn’t help accomplish anything. A peaceful demeanor actually improves efficiency.

Start your day with a prayer. Ask God for help in prioritizing and implementing your plan. Ask ahead for his guidance and strength. Thank him for the blessing of the children he has trusted you with and the husband who will help you gain heaven. (One major function of marriage, remember, is to help each other get to heaven!)

Set goals, prioritize and tackle one thing at a time. Don’t focus on something other than the task at hand. In other words, don’t fret about the messy basement when you are writing checks to pay the bills or reading your child a story.

Use a list and check off tasks as you accomplish them.

• Always put people before things and projects, even worthwhile things and projects.

Be flexible and trust God.

I like to keep a small notebook in my apron pocket so it is handy to write down everything I think of or need to handle that comes up during the day. I transfer relevant items to my master goal list, which I compile each month and from which I pull off daily goals.

My long-term goals are probably much like yours:

• Maintain a daily communication with God. Frequent the sacraments. (Tend to spiritual health.)

• Nurture relationships with husband, family and friends (Tend to social and emotional health.)

• Exercise (Tend to physical health.)

• Keep a generally clean and uncluttered home

• Prepare nutritious meals daily

• See to the proper education of children

• Tackle other projects of interest and need.

Managing time is a constant adjustment for me. I succeed. I fail. I adjust. I keep going. I learn from other smart moms.

A couple of other observations: Many efficient Catholic mothers hardly ever watch television, not because television is so bad (which it can be), but because there is so much more that is edifying to do, even if it is just having a conversation. Also, remember God did not intend for us to be machines. We should make time for relaxing and rejuvenating. Actually, that’s what Sunday is specifically for! Yes, every week!

I’d like to finish with an inspirational quote. Stick it on your refrigerator and read it often: “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) Have faith, mama. You can do it!

Theresa Thomas lives in northern Indiana with her husband David and their nine children. She can be reached at TheresaThomasEveryDayCatholic@gmail.com. She is the author (with Patti Maguire Armstrong) of  Stories for the Homeschool Heart the About.com winner of the best Catholic book of 2010, available from Bezalel Books.