How to stop managing your time and start owning it

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Hi, my name is Kendra and I am a recovering to-do list junkie.

Boy, did that feel good to say out loud, err, in writing.

But seriously, I am. Crossing things off to-do lists gave me a high like no other and I used to get my jollies from making as many lists as possible just so I could feel that rush.

That should have meant that I was getting mad things done, yo. Right?

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

In fact, I was less productive than ever when I was in the throes of list-making madness.

I should probably say that making lists has been a hobby of mine since I was a youngster. Even as a kid, I can remember making lists of what I needed to “do” on a weekend, or what I needed to bring to a sleepover, and eventually the workflow of a school project. In hindsight, these lists helped me, but they quickly turned on me and became a dark obsession and form of procrastination.

You see, making the list became more fun than the actual doing of the list items. Raise your hand if you can relate. Lists make us feel productive. They make us feel important. They make us feel powerful. They give the illusion that we are managing our time and isn’t that the phrase of the moment, time management?

Unfortunately, it is all an illusion and the thing that brought me back from the brink of drowning in a pile of sticky notes and iPhone note reminders was giving up managing my time and instead learning how to own it.

It seems like such a small change in words, but it makes all the difference. Managing your time means to take charge or care of it, while owning your time means to take possession of your time and make it belong to you. Subtle, but crucial.

You don’t just manage your car, you own it. You don’t just manage your favorite pair of shoes, you own them. You don’t just manage your wine bottle collection, you own it, girl. It is yours to do whatever you want with it. When you stop trying to manage the time we are given and instead take ownership of it, it’s a whole lot easier to be productive and let go of the crap we don’t want to be doing.

Now, because I am so good at my job, I can already hear some of the moms out there rolling their eyes (eye rolling makes a distinct sound) and saying, “Right. Sure. I’m gonna “own” my time with 3 kids involved in activities, a husband, a job and volunteer stuff on the side.” Well, yes. Because everything you’re doing each day is a choice and while most of us live our lives thinking we have no choices, those of us that take time by the throat and lead it where we want are the ones that become fulfilled and happy, rather than constantly complaining and stressed. That’s just a hard pill for some people to swallow.

To make the pill a little easier to take down, here are some tips for taking ownership of your time and get rid of the antiquated time management thought

Stop making long lists. I was the queen of the long list. “No, no. You don’t get it. I have to get these 27 things done today or the world will implode.” There isn’t a person on earth that needs to get that many things done in a day, and if they do, they have others do it for them. You are only as productive as the things you do in a day. Long lists only waste your time on minutia, usually filler that we put on the top of our lists so we can avoid the really important things near the bottom. Which brings me to my next tip…

Start with priority one and don’t move on until it is done. If I told you that you could pick one and only one thing to get done today, how would that affect your to-do list? You’d be a lot choosier, right? The truth is, you can be that way every day. What is the most important thing that you need to accomplish on this day? It doesn’t have to be big or grand or even exciting. It could be that you need to make dentist appointments or pay that bill that’s been sitting on your desk, or perhaps you need to call a caterer for a party you’re throwing, or declutter the linen closet. Whatever the task is, own it and put it at the top. Everything else you accomplish that day is gravy. When you start with tasks that don’t matter, you fill your day with busy work and never actually accomplish the things you said you would (I speak from experience.)

Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
— Greg McKeown

Start saying no. If you want to become an owner of your time, say no, a lot. I think this is just a rolling tip of mine for every situation in life, especially for moms. Want more time for yourself, for your kids, for your family, for your spouse? Say no. Say no to things that people ask you to do. There is a quote that has been going around lately that is so true, it hurts. “If it’s not a hell yes, it's a no.” Has someone asked you to bake 4 dozen cupcakes for the PTA bake sale? Unless you can say hell yes, it’s a no. Has someone asked you to watch their kids after school for 2 weeks while their sitter is on vacation? If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. The only person in control on your time is you, so own it and say a hearty no to the things you don’t want to do, so you can make room for the things you do want to do.

Keep and share your electronic calendar. I am a Google calendar freak. I put everything on it. Every appointment, every reminder, every call. Why? Because if it isn’t on that calendar, I’m not doing it. The trap I see many moms fall into is keeping only a paper calendar at home. While I have and use a large calendar at home, it is a backup for my main phone calendar. We live electronic, busy lives and when we rely only on our calendars at home, we end up over-committing ourselves and not realizing it. Also, electronic calendars can be synced with everyone in your family, so everyone knows what is going on and when. Boom.

Start delegating. The most successful people in the world do something that the rest of us need to take serious note of: they delegate. Delegation is just a way of giving away tasks to others, whether that means in your own family or someone you hire. Your kids can and should be doing chores. You spouse should be helping around the house. You should not be doing it all. Plain and simple. How you delegate is totally up to you and your lifestyle, but if you make it a point to be a mommy martyr and do it all, you will find that it is not only hard to own your time, it is actually impossible. Look into hiring a mommy’s helper for a couple hours a week so you can get work done, go shopping, take a nap, get your nails done or take a walk. Hiring a young teen is much cheaper than you’d expect and those extra hours of focused time and self-care can make all the difference.

Ready to own your house cleaning schedule so it no longer owns you? Grab your free copy of the Everything and the Kitchen Sink house cleaning list.

Go to bed later or get up earlier (or both) This is a delicate subject when I bring it up with mom clients. I will say right off the bat that if you are in the season of “my infant doesn’t sleep”, perhaps this isn’t the tip for you, but the rest of us should take note, myself included. Every time I find myself complaining about not getting things done, I ask, “Well, Kendra. What time did you get up this morning? What time did you go to bed last night?” The answer is usually embarrassing and shines a bright light on how much more time I could have had if I had woken up even 15 minutes earlier. Again, this is all about ownership. Your kids don’t control your time, you do. Your alarm doesn’t control your time, you do. If you know you need an extra 15-20 minutes in the morning to get a quick workout in, take a shower, or just drink coffee in peace, then wake up earlier. Complaining won’t fix the problem. I know, I’ve tried.

Use timers. If keeping tabs on your time just isn’t your thing and you fall into the Pinterest rabbit hole easily, use timers. If you want to clean the house, but only have 30 minutes, set a timer. If you want to research the best curtain for your living room, set a timer and don’t go over it. Timers keep you in control of your time by forcing it upon you. Most of us could easily fall down the black hole of busy work, so set a timer and only allow yourself a certain amount of time to get it done.

Make decisions fast. One of the biggest time wasters I see moms making is hemming and hawing over every single decision. Taking 5 weeks to decide on the perfect car seat for their toddler, making Pinterest board after Pinterest board for meal plans, but never actually making them. Knowing they want to declutter the toy room, but sitting on it for a month deciding which day to start. This, my friends, is called procrastination. It is wrapped in a pretty bow and sold as decision making, but the truth is, it is a waste of time if you aren’t make decisions swiftly. When you take ownership of the decision, you take ownership of your time and can move on to other things that need your attention. So do the research on that car seat, narrow it down to two and make a decision, today.

Be flexible and give yourself grace. Moms aren't nearly flexible enough and don't forgive themselves as easily as they should. Don't be a slave to the clock or the schedule. Have fun, be flexible,  show time who's boss. And every now and then, give yourself grace to write down "Keep kids alive." on your list just so you can have something to check off.


Now that you know you've got a better handle on how to own your time like a boss, applesauce, it's time to get down to business with what you use that time for. House cleaning is usually a nagging chore for most moms, which is why I created the Everything and the Kitchen Sink cleaning list. Sign up to receive your free house cleaning list, broken down by room. Print it out, keep it in a binder, hang it on the wall (it's colorful and pretty) and use it to create your cleaning schedule or just as a useful guide for #allthethings that need to be cleaned in your home. Own your schedule so it doesn't own you.