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How Setting a Timer Saved My Life

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In theory—you know, before I actually had kids—I was an amazing mom. I would play dress-up and make crafts and always have patience for the messes and mistakes, and my house would always be clean because I would teach my sweet little ones to help me get our work done before we did anything else. It was a beautiful picture.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself at home with an actual toddler and preschooler—and it was hard. I constantly felt pulled in too many directions. If I was doing housework, I felt like I was neglecting my kids, who just wanted to play and snuggle and have my attention. After all, I thought, doesn’t everyone say to enjoy these years before they grow up and leave me behind? But if I stopped working to spend time with them, I quickly felt guilty about the laundry and dishes piling up around me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t win. Why can’t I be a good mom? I needed a way to prioritize and focus before I completely lost my mind. And that’s when I discovered a miraculous invention: a kitchen timer. Here’s how this housekeeping tip has completely saved my sanity.

How It Works

Decide on a task and set a timer for 20 minutes. Before you start it, make sure your children are tended to—snacks distributed, potty taken care of, no pressing needs. Explain to them that mommy will be happy to help with anything they need as soon as they hear the “beep” at the end. (It’s not a perfect system, of course, but it really does help to cut down on interruptions.) Then it’s time to hit “go.” For the next 20 minutes, challenge yourself to see how much you can accomplish, almost like a mini race against time. And remember, you’ll get a break in less than one episode of PAW Patrol.

When time is up, stop. Don’t set it again and keep going. Don’t even push through for five more minutes. It’s time for a break. This could be a genuine break, like hiding in the bathroom and reading or catching up on Facebook (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything). Or you can set the timer for another 20 minutes and use that time to focus solely on the kids—play a game, make a craft, or have a dance party. Whatever it is, you can give them your complete attention. No need to be distracted by the thought of the housework you should be doing, because you have a plan in place for that.

Why It Works

Setting a timer allows singular focus on the task at hand. It also gives us a taste of freedom after a given amount of time, so we don’t feel sucked into one particular job for the entire day. And no matter how unpleasant the job, we can do just about anything for 20 minutes!

Of course, it’s not really about setting a timer at all—it’s about setting boundaries and giving ourselves grace. I needed to learn that it’s OK to clean the kitchen sometimes even though my daughter wants to play with her dollhouse and that it’s OK to play with dolls sometimes even when the kitchen is a mess. Moms, we need to find contentment in making progress without demanding perfection. We need ways to balance the many hats we wear, and I found one easy trick at the push of a few buttons.

What is your best sanity-saving tip?

Katy Epling is a writer and speaker who loves to share about motherhood, special needs parenting, faith, and more. She and her husband Jon live in northeast Ohio with their three wonderful children.

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