Dear Working Mother,

As a working mother you know better than anyone how difficult it can be to find the time to carve out some precious “me” time.

The problem is that even though we know we want more free time, we often force ourselves to finish the laundry, get the dinner prepped, sweep the kitchen floor, fix the broken pound shop ring that’s so important to the four year old, pay the overdue TV license and then maybe snatch five minutes before picking up the kids.

We are queens of postponing our free time.  We somehow have managed to fall into a culture of continuous work, be it paid or unpaid.  There are no boundaries, we often work without end.

There are a host of studies devoted to time management.  Men tend to fare better than women in terms of how much leisure time they chalk out each week.

My initial reaction when reading these studies is sure, men have more free time, that’s not surprising.  Women tend to put themselves at the end of a long list of priorities, making sure family, work and general commitments are met first.  We automatically sign ourselves up for more childcare, more house hold jobs etc.  I think it’s just our DNA.  Men are more selfish with their time and are better at taking time out when needed.  This is not a bad thing.

The free time that women have is often combined with running errands…taking kids to activities…household jobs…and play dates at the local kids indoor play centre, where you get your coffee in a to-go cup as your two year old doesn’t understand that the over fives play area is off limits and she constantly gets stuck in places she’s not supposed to.  Researchers call this “contaminated” time.  I can see why.

Of course, some laundry, meal preparation and cleaning is unavoidable – dinners aren’t going to cook themselves.  But how do we go from fragmented, five minutes here, five minutes there free time to actual real “mother only” serious quality free time?

Here are eight tricks to help you reclaim that much desired free time:

  1. Share the load – a lot of women have difficulty letting go the control or worse yet believe that their other half won’t do the job as good as they would.  This may be the case but if you’re not prepared to shed some of those tasks from the never ending to do list, quality free time will never happen.
  2. If you can afford to, pay for some extra help e.g. a cleaner or leave the kids with the child-minder for an extra hour or two.  Use this time for yourself, not for your to do list.
  3. Take a digital detox – as women tend to grab free time in small chunks we often waste it on our phones browsing Facebook or other social media.  This is not quality free time and does not help recharge the batteries.  Same with emails and online tasks – set a specific time of the day to do these and then shut down.  Otherwise you’ll find you’ve lost an hour doing nothing.
  4. Schedule your free time – we schedule and organise everything else so why not our own leisure time.  Make a plan and stick to it.  Whether it’s an exercise class, a catch up with your best buddy or a solo date to the local coffee shop with a book, it’s more likely to happen if it’s in your overall weekly schedule.
  5. Cut down on TV – assess how much time you spend watching TV each day – say it’s two hours a day, that’s fourteen hours a week.  If this was scaled back to ten hours that would free up four hours for personal fulfilment such as exercise, reading, relaxing, catching up with friends or working on a personal project.
  6. Get up a half hour early than normal – might be easier said than done, especially if you’ve had a rough night with a nocturnal child.  But this strategy works for a lot of people.  While your household sleeps on you can try some mediation, do some stretches or exercise or simply read your book uninterrupted.
  7. Have a plan for those five minute breaks – don’t just plough straight into the next chore on the to-do list.  Take the five minutes to sit, enjoy the sunshine, have a cup of coffee, dance around the kitchen to your favourite song, breathe, read, write but don’t log onto Facebook.
  8. And lastly – don’t feel guilty – everyone deserves a regular break, including working mothers.

My scheduled free time happens on a Saturday morning.  I take a pilates class each week and following the class I always go for a coffee, sometimes on my own, sometimes with a friend.  I return to my family feeling refreshed, relaxed and excited about getting back to Team Perry as my two year old calls us.

We’d love to hear from you.  Please share with other working mums how you manage to carve out free time in your lives.

Martina Perry