My grandchildren are great teachers. Three time-management principles were reinforced for me some years ago when I looked after a nearly walking one-year-old Matt and his three-year-old brother, Corin, for a week.

Complete actions the first time

This applies even to something as simple as getting dressed. On the first day I wandered downstairs in my dressing gown, thinking I'd have a shower later. Bad idea - I should have dressed as soon as I got out of bed. Once the baby was up, the quiet moments to attend to ablutions vanished until he went down for his mid-morning nap. Lucky no one knocked on the door or they'd have found me still in my nightie.

In your world, how often do multiple interruptions bounce at you? For most of us, parents or not, it happens frequently. So how do you handle the interruptions? Do you control them, or do they control you?

If we're not careful, we end up with projects and incomplete tasks layered all over every spare inch of workspace.


Instead, take that extra moment or two to complete things or, at very least take them to a natural stopping point before letting the next highly important matter railroad your good intentions.

Get ready first

On the second day I had a hair appointment. With two little ones, you can't just down tools and dash out the door (my normal style when going a couple of minutes down the road to my hairdresser for a quick cut).

Instead, preparation involved gathering raisins, bananas, water, nappies and, shoes, putting car seats in the car, taking the toddler to the toilet, getting a flannel for sticky fingers, plus extra time to get them in and out of the car ... Not knowing how long it would take, I got ready well ahead of time. We turned up at the hair salon so early even the hairdresser was surprised!

The same concept applies in all of life.

If you find yourself often running late for appointments, stressed, flustered or behind the mark in some way, perhaps you're not preparing early enough.

Instead, at the beginning of the day or even the day before, do a mental check list of the coming day's activities. Lay everything out long before you need it and then carry on with other tasks until it's time to change activity.

It's such a simple thing - yet it takes away a huge amount of pressure.

Cut the clutter - 'minimalism' is good

On the third morning I had a long-standing speaking engagement, booked months before I was asked to babysit. Time to call in the favours. Daughter Catherine and her slightly older pre-school sons came over to help look after the little cousins.

By the time I returned home that afternoon four small boys had pulled almost everything out of the large toy cupboard. Wooden blocks, cars, soft toys, balls of all shapes, puzzles, Lego, playing cards, books... you name it, it was there - carpeting the floor.

Cath offered to clean up before heading home.

'Don't worry about the mess, dear,' I said. 'The two little ones will only pull things out again as soon as you've gone. I'll pick up tonight when they're in bed.'

That night I was tired so I decided to leave things where they lay. The next morning Corin and Matt poked at the heap of toys but nothing much seemed to hold their attention for long.

No matter what the age, clutter equals confusion, lack of focus and irritability.


By the afternoon of day four I couldn't stand the clutter any longer. With baby Matt tucked up for his afternoon nap I swung into action, assisted by Corin. As you'd expect, there was great satisfaction in finding my carpet again. Clean space really works for me! However, the real 'aha' was in the behaviour of the boys.

While the floor was littered with 'stuff' they seemed quite scattered and irritable.

As soon as the house was tidy and they only had a few toy items to choose from, they calmed right down. And, whatever they then chose to play with got lengthy focus instead of the previous 'look and discard' treatment I'd observed when there was so much choice.

Whether you're a senior executive with a huge workload or a busy parent with a houseful of small children:

• Keep things pared down to basics.
• Put away what's not being used right now.
• Only get things out when you really need them.

No matter what the age, clutter equals confusion, lack of focus and irritability.

[This is an excerpt from Robyn's next book, Getting a Grip on Parenting Time - 88 Commonsense Lessons from the Trenches, which is due for release in November. If you'd like to be notified when it's available, just enter your details at]