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Life after you return from maternity leave simply isn't the same as before you had a baby. Pre-child, you might have had time in the morning to pack your lunch or flexibility in the evening to stay a little later to finish a project, but those days are gone. To help life stop from feeling so frantic, sit down every Sunday afternoon and make a workweek plan for the mornings and evenings—and don't forget to pencil in a little time for yourself.
Create a Calendar and To-Do List
Each Sunday afternoon, talk to each family member about what activities are going on that week. Compile paperwork from school or day care that notes any special events and sit down with a daily planner or calendar. Jot down the days you need to send snacks to school, when your spouse has a late-evening meeting and won't be home for dinner and when you're meeting a gal pal for a tennis date. "Once your plan is in place, work from a handwritten daily to-do list," suggests Carly Fauth, working mother and head of marketing for the website Money Crashers in Boston. "It should have three categories: Things that have to get done that day, items that need your attention but can wait a bit and several small errands that would be great to get to if there's time. Anything you don't get to from your last two categories goes on the following day's list."
Make a Meal Plan
On that same weekly calendar, create a meal plan. Determining in advance what your family is eating each night cuts down on last-minute trips for the grocery store (because who has time for that?) and precious time spent in front of the fridge each evening wondering what to cook. On Today.com, Laura T. Coffey recommends focusing on easy options that are kid-friendly, such as breakfast-for-dinner, quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches. She adds that if it seems too daunting to put together a meal plan, pretend that your boss requires it for work -- that motivation could help you knock it out in 20 to 30 minutes. Fauth recommends buying a slow-cooker, which allows you to prep dinner in the morning before letting it cook all day. "It helps tremendously when planning and creating meals," she says. Add at least one or two slow-cooker dinners to your meal plans. Take an extra hour to prep some easy breakfasts that you and your family can eat in the car; options include hard-boiled eggs, egg-and-cheese breakfast burritos—throw those in the freezer after they are prepped—and fruit salad.
Develop a Post-Dinner Routine
An evening routine not only helps you get everything done, but can also be helpful for your kids—the act of going through each required task, such as bath time, PJ time and story time, helps wind them down and prepare for an easy bedtime. After the kids are sleeping, look at your to-do list and determine which minor tasks you can do before you hit the hay yourself. Easy routine items include packing lunches and setting out clothes for the next day, for you and the kids. "Last-minute items tend to pop up quite a bit, and they'll throw less of a monkey wrench into your plan" when you have gotten other routine tasks done, Fauth says.
Plan for the Morning
In your workweek plan, jot down what you need to do each morning and aim to get up one hour before your child does to accomplish these tasks. Important things to do include walking the dog, feeding all pets, prepping breakfast and lunch—if you didn't do it the night before—and showering and getting ready. Plan to arrive at work or the day care location 30 minutes early, with the notion that it's unlikely you'll ever make it anywhere early—but planning this makes it more likely you will be on time.
Work in Time for Your Child and Yourself
When you're creating your workweek plan, pencil in some time for three people: your kid(s), your spouse and yourself. In the evening, do a relaxing ritual with your child, suggests the website Family Education, and be generous with the hugs and kisses. Take time to reconnect with your little one. Carve out some time for a date night with your spouse every week, even if it's just sitting on the couch with some popcorn and a movie after the kids have gone to bed. Putting this evening on your calendar makes it feel more like an actual date even when you don't leave the house. Of course, don't forget to plan your own time each evening to focus on you. "Just 15 minutes before bedtime when the TV gets turned off, the smartphone goes in the drawer, and you do something that brings you happiness—even if it's just sitting in total silence," Fauth says.