16 Ways to Make Time When You Don’t Have Any

Most parents I know can’t call in sick or take a personal day when things get crazy. Taking care of children, and maintaining a job – whether it’s running the household or going to the office – makes for a full life. When we add something else to the mix, like starting a new school or a dealing with a child who doesn’t sleep, life stretches us to our capacities.

That’s where I am right now. I’m not even sure how I found time to write this post. With a lively baby who enjoys waking up at 5 a.m., a long-distance move in less than three weeks, and writing assignments for as far as I can see, life is starting to brim over.

While I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic – fueled by “getting things done” – this unusually busy time means I have to make every hour work. Here are some of the ways I’ve made time out of nothing:

1.  Transform tasks into rewards

If I need to buy a bathing suit or even something as mundane as diapers, I will save that little shopping trip as a reward for clearing off my To Do list.

2.  Never talk on the phone without doing something else

Of course a friend in need requires your full attention. But most of the time, chatting is a perfect time to empty the dishwasher, fold the laundry, or pull weeds.

3.  Get your kids to help out — they’ll enjoy it more than you think

Don’t worry about making your children into little Cinderellas. I actually heard my daughter, Sofia, saying, “It’s fun cleaning out the fireplace.” Then Virginia started whining that Sofia always gets the “good chores.”

My kids have daily jobs – like setting the table, sweeping up after dinner, playing with the baby, or straightening the living room. But they also do chores for not following rules, such as raking, tidying up, dusting, or organizing.

For more ideas, see The Happiest Mom’s 6 Ways to Get Your Kids to Help Out Around the House.

4.  Do physical work when your kids are around; mental work when they’re sleeping

I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to work on the computer when my kids are about. But I can clean out a closet, whip up dinner, rearrange the basement, or wash the windows while they talking and playing around me.

5.  Take advantage of those 5-minute pockets

Instead of just standing there waiting for the pasta to boil, I have begun to pick up the phone and make an appointment, write a teacher note, or pack a lunch. I’m amazed that I don’t need to wait until I have time to do these things – most tasks take less time than I think. It’s the dread of doing them that makes us imagine them to be bigger than they are.

6.  Delegate errands and other jobs

So I don’t always get the brand of crackers that I prefer, or the just-ripe fruit I would have picked, but when Enrico does the grocery shopping (and takes my toddler, Mark, with him), he gifts me almost two hours of time.  He also helps me with trips to the post office, dropping off prescriptions, and picking up kids after work.

7.  Pay for help

Yeah, I know, this is a frugal blog, but it’s also a good life blog. If you can make room in your budget to hire someone to clean or do errands (like Jane’s Gotcha Covered Errands), and it makes you happy, then by all means do it. As Meagan Francis recently pointed out in The Help: the truth about hiring a cleaning service, we don’t have to do it all, even if we can.

8.  Avoid taking on more at all costs

Save the elaborate recipes, parties, and weekend trips for another time. Your family would much prefer a mom who can laugh and listen and who has time for the bedtime chat, so readjust expectations for now.

If you are a “yes” person like me, it’s very hard to scale back your life and your willingness to help or join in. But if you are at overcapacity, it’s OK to say, “Maybe next time.”

9.  Know when to sleep (or use caffeine)

Even machines need fuel to keep going. Sometimes a 20-minute nap will do the trick for me; sometimes I can power through by popping a chocolate-covered coffee bean. But sooner or later, I have to turn in at 9 p.m. to fill the well completely.

10.  Rethink accepted ideas

Does going out to eat really save time? By the time you get everyone ready, out the door, wait to order, etc. – you’ve spent much more time (and money) than eating at home. A change of scene, but less work? Debatable.

11.  Make lists – and include every little thing

So that you’ll know what to do when you find a free 15 minutes, or your children need a chore. Another reason to list every task you can think of? If you don’t write it down, you rob yourself of the satisfaction of crossing it off.

Tsh Oxenreider at Simple Mom likes using a Daily Docket to organize her day and make sure she stays on track. Buttoned Up also has some great printables including these two colorful forms which help you schedule in your to do’s. And if you have an iPhone, there’s the simple list app Cross It Off!

12.  Mix pleasure with business

I can’t cut out TV to make more time, since I gave it up long ago, but I could spend less time poking around the Internet without accomplishing much of anything. If American Idol is on your have-to list, can you iron at the same time? Reorganize a drawer, snap beans, or mend clothing?

13.  Limit yourself

There is a saying that goes something like this:  work expands to fill the time you give it. I found this to be true with my blog. In the beginning, I lavished time and attention on every post. As I take on other writing assignments, I cannot do that anymore. I’m amazed at how much I can get done when feel the heat of a deadline.

Try giving yourself an hour to finish something you would normally do in two hours. Humans are amazingly resourceful.

14.  Ask for a break

I agonized over this decision, but in the end, I decided to ask my editors if I could reduce my writing commitments during the crazy weeks this summer when we’ll be moving and traveling to Italy. No one is going to offer you a free pass. Gather up your courage and ask.

15. Give yourself a break

Yesterday I was unloading the groceries while Mark was playing outside. When I saw his scooter rolling toward the street, I ran after it but ended up wiping out big time on the driveway. I feel kind-of ridiculous, because I’m covered with scrapes and bruises.

I laugh now when I tell my husband that I’m a “wounded woman,” but the message here is: it’s OK to relax your standards regarding outdoor time or screen time. You’ll get back on track when life normalizes.

16.  And finally, keep it all in perspective

Nihara at Doing Too Much has a thoughtful post up now — serendipitously named Making Time When You Have No Time — about how the little things in daily life can sometimes edge out the big things. If we find ourselves on the treadmill going nowhere, maybe it’s time to stop everything and make time for one of the most important – if not the most important – thing in life:  friends and family.

All right, I’ve got to take his aching body to the kitchen to make lunch, but please let me know in the comments — if you have time — how you manage to maximize the minutes.

Share this post:


  • Vicki June 11, 2011, 7:00 pm

    I already do several of these things: I fold Laundry while I watch TV (on Hulu or Netflix) or chat on the phone, I delegate what I can to my husband (who has a long commute and longer hours), and just recently I’ve learned how to ask for a break and limit myself. Those are the hardest for me, a yes-woman to the core. Having a baby has changed that, though I can still feel the urge.

    • Amy June 15, 2011, 10:45 am

      Hi Vicki,

      Nice to hear from another yes-woman. I think saying yes can really improve one’s life in many ways, especially through making connections with other people. But there are times when we need to draw the line.

      Thanks for writing in — and congratulations on your baby!


  • Abbie Allen June 9, 2011, 7:40 am

    Great post! Particularly relevant to me at the moment. As a personal concierge based in Australia I particularly enjoyed point number 7 :) It is interesting how often people think the service is only for the rich when really it is about choice and the best use of your money and your time. For me I am going to focus on number 5. I am amazed how much I can do in the 1 minute and 30 seconds my porridge is in the microwave!! Imagine what I could do while waiting for the kettle to boil or the bath t fill!

    • Amy June 11, 2011, 3:48 pm

      Hi Abbie,

      You are so right. I should have entitled that point 1-minute pockets, because it’s really unbelievable how many things can get done in tiny amount of time.

      Thanks for your comment!


  • Stefanie Cloutier June 8, 2011, 3:16 pm

    I especially love #2 — not only do you save time, but it can make an unpalatable chore much more enjoyable! Love finding little pockets of time.

    • Amy June 11, 2011, 3:49 pm

      So right, Stefanie. Pulling weeds is not my favorite thing, but I don’t mind if I’m also catching up with a good friend!

      Thanks for your comment,

  • Meagan @ The Happiest Mom June 8, 2011, 3:09 pm

    Fabulous post Amy! I love #2 and #4. I set aside an hour in the afternoon for cleaning, getting dinner started, etc. The kids are running in and out and around, but somehow I can still manage to get a lot done (including delegating tasks to them!) I save computer work or things that require more concentration for while the kids are sleeping or distracted. Working smarter, not harder!

    • Amy June 11, 2011, 3:46 pm

      Hi Meagan,

      So into working smarter! I’ve gotten so much faster at writing by turning off email and other distractions and not allowing myself to get carried away with research. Thanks for writing in!

  • Cate @ Liberal Simplicity June 8, 2011, 3:07 pm

    My favorite tip is #4. I find that I get so frustrated when I try to do mental activities while my daughter is awake, whether it’s reading, blogging, writing a letter, or whatever. (Which isn’t to say I NEVER do these things while she’s awake). So I’ve learned to get all of my housework and other physical tasks out of the way during the day, and that way, by the time she’s asleep at night, I can sit down and relax with a book.

    • Amy June 11, 2011, 3:45 pm

      I so agree, Cate! It’s frustrating, and I also feel bad, because I’m not present for my kids. Luckily they all sleep sooner or later, and I have now started using a sitter 9 hours a week for my toddler. Thanks for writing in!

  • Amy June 8, 2011, 12:47 pm

    Hi M.T.,

    I’m so glad you hot help for your move-out clean. I don’t know how families would do it themselves. It’s all just so exhausting, and honestly, seeing your house all empty and dirty is pretty depressing too.

    I’m off to check out your blog today!


  • M.T. June 8, 2011, 10:19 am

    Oh, thank you! I’ve just hired help with getting our place cleaned for moveout. I don’t know how I thought I was going to do it alone!

    And I just blogged about how cute my son can be when he “helps” with the laundry – a special treat for him :)

    • M.T. June 9, 2011, 4:32 pm

      Thanks so much for the mention!

  • Nihara June 8, 2011, 10:03 am


    This is a terrific list, and very helpful! Thanks so much for mentioning my post — that was very thoughtful of you.

    My favorite tip is #15. When I feel like I am doing way, way too much, I stop to ask myself: am I holding myself to ridiculously high standards?

    How old is your Sofia? (I have a daughter named Sofia too — she’s almost five.)

    A couple of thoughts to help you maybe save even more time (but only while you’re in the States, these tips won’t work in Italy):

    -I always grocery shop online (I use Peapod or A&P online). Because my lists get stored automatically, it only takes me about fifteen minutes to order groceries online — and I can get that time down to under ten minutes if I’m not trying to order something I haven’t ordered before.

    -I always order diapers online (at diapers.com). They come in two days flat, and I can order all of my family’s toiletries at their sister site, soap.com. Shipping is free.

    Good luck with your move!

    • Amy June 8, 2011, 12:45 pm

      Hi Nihara,

      Great to hear from you! You have wonderful tips on your blog too.

      You are so right about the too-high standards? I’m sure I would have a lot more time if I could only lower them more often.

      Amazing you have a daughter named Sofia, spelled with an F, too! My Sofia is 9.

      I love your suggestions about shopping online: I would if I could here in Syracuse, but there is no grocery delivery here. I loved it in New York City.

      And yes, Diapers.com is great — I use them all the time. My only beef is that they don’t have generic diapers, but I love the convenience of online shopping, and their prices on lesser-expensive brands like Luvs are good.

      Thanks for stopping by!